What to do in the May Garden

MAY GARDEN HAPPENINGS

It’s official! Wherever you live, spring has sprung and gardeners everywhere are hitting the ground running. With so much to do, it’s easy to get side-tracked and lose focus. But lucky for you, we’ve got you covered with our zone-by-zone list of chores and activities. Ready, set, GO!

Zone 3: If you’ve sown seeds indoors, begin slowly hardening them off. Get a head start on next season by starting your cold weather crops. Weather permitting, plant potatoes and seeds of warm season crops outside. Got broccoli and cauliflower plants? Protect them from root maggots with 4” x 4” heavy paper collars placed at the base of each plant. Be ready to protect tender plants in the event of a late freeze.

Zone 4: Sow warm season annual flower seeds like marigolds, zinnias, and bachelor’s buttons, and start squash, cucumber and melon seeds indoors. Keep an eye on the weather, but plan to plant your tomatoes, beans and summer squash towards the end of the month. If you have spring-flowering shrubs like lilacs, spirea, and azaleas, wait until after they’ve bloomed to prune them. And if you have flowering perennials that are overgrown and need dividing, now’s the time — dig up your daylilies, hostas, coneflower, bee balm, and astilbe and gently replant the divisions in other parts of your garden.

Zone 5: Check your soil temperature, and when it’s about 60 degrees, go ahead and plant your warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons, sweet potatoes, and cucumbers. Use support cages for your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Place row covers over young cucumbers, melons, and squash plants to protect them from pests, but remember to remove them when the plant blooms. If you have summer and fall-blooming perennials that are overgrown, dig them up, divide them, and replant them where they can thrive. Plant your warm season annuals for quick spots of color.

Zone 6: Tomato transplants can go out during the first week or so of May, with peppers and eggplants going out towards the end of the month. Okra, corn, beans, and squash are great candidates for direct seeding into the garden this month, as are sunflowers, zinnias, marigolds, and cosmos. Apply a 1-inch layer of compost around your roses.

Zone 7: If you’ve had an unusually cold winter, play a bit of a waiting game with your tender perennials like dahlias, cannas, datura and Mexican bush sage — while they may look dead, they may just be waiting to put out new growth a little late. Love warm weather color like zinnias, coleus, caladiums, moonflower, and marigolds? Plant them outside now, as well as your warm-weather veggies like okra, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, and Southern peas. Water all new transplants regularly to keep the soil moist.

Zone 8: Before the annual heatwave hits (you know it’s coming), make sure your irrigation system — particularly your drip lines — are functioning properly. Plant warm season veggies like okra, beans, sweet potatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, squash, melons, and peas. Plant heat-tolerant tomato varieties like ‘Heatwave’, ‘Sunchaser’ and ‘Sweet 100.’ Plant warm season flowers like coreopsis, sunflowers, marigolds, asters, daisies, and zinnias, giving them plenty of water to establish strong roots for the upcoming hot temps.

Zone 9: If you have any leftover cool season annuals that are past their prime (pansies, violas, primula, calendula), remove and compost them to make room for warm season moss rose, marigolds, sunflowers, and vinca. Start new plantings of Southern peas, okra, squash, and melons, and finish up with your heat-tolerant lettuce plantings. Any spring crops that are already producing should be harvested daily to encourage new growth. Conserve moisture in beds with drip irrigation and organic mulch like dried grass clippings, leaves, or pine needles.

Zones 10 & 11: All heat-loving veggies, herbs, and flowers can be planted this month from sweet potatoes, okra, and Southern peas to basil, thyme, lemongrass, sunflowers, vinca, marigolds, and zinnias. Use the sun’s strong rays to your benefit by solarizing empty beds with clear plastic — this easy practice saves time and energy by killing off weed seeds, nematodes, and other pathogens in the soil. Keep new plantings well watered to get them established — remember to water more deeply and less frequently to encourage deep, healthy roots.

All Zones: Bugs are very active in the Spring — stay on top of plant health daily to observe when pests are moving in, and be prepared to treat accordingly to avoid an infestation. The same goes for plant disease issues like mildew — the earlier you catch it, the better.

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