May garden planning is rooted in the fact that this is the month that holds the promise of the entire gardening year. We get down on our knees in a communion with warm, moist soil in an obsessive craving for nourishing connection with the earth. It is in May that we see the true miracles of seeds, that each seed contains a whole and perfect plant. Here are the ten tasks you can do to get the most from May in your vegetable and flower gardens.
May Garden Planning: 10 Must-Do Tasks for Zones 6 and 7
The big picture planning is behind us, like the fading memory of winter. Now, we are in the busy time of daily plans. In the garden, May can be seen as a season in and of itself. Each day turns more verdant, a new plant sprouting a blossoming before our senses.
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1. Download our seed starting and planting guide from the Seasonal Living Resource Library.
Simply go to the resource library and enter the password. There you will find a wealth of supporting documents to help you create your seasonal life. Use the monthly planting guides for your May garden planning. It will help you miss frost damage, but get the most from the month as soil temperatures rise and we move into planting heat-loving plants. Tomatoes, peppers, melons, corn, and beans! Oh, myyyy…(Don’t have the password? No problem, get it here!)
2. Watch for bolting cold-hardy plants.
As the temperatures rise, your cold-hardy plants will begin to bolt. There are several ways to work with this seasonal celebration of fertility in the garden:
- Simply remove them, amend the soil and replant using the May-June guide from the resource library.
- Let them bolt and use the flowers as a decorative and tasty addition to salads. Beautiful yellow blossoms from collards and mustards can be sprinkled over sautes. Bolting arugula can be added to salads for a bit of hot and bitter flavor as well as beauty.
- Allow the plant to go through the bolt and make seeds. You can either save the seeds for fall planting. Perhaps you will allow them to fall into the garden for a self-seeding, regenerative garden experiment. Remember, cilantro will bolt quickly in the warm weather. Those seeds are coriander.
- What plants will bolt in May? Here’s a list of common cold-hardy vegetables and herbs to keep an eye on in May: spinach, arugula, cilantro, rhubarb, lettuce, radishes, collards, and mustards. All have edible flowers except the rhubarb.
3. Mark the frost date on your calendar to help plan your tomato patch.
There are a number of heat-loving plants that have a 90-120 day period from planting to harvest. Tomatoes, peppers, and melons will do well to be planted as soon as the frost date has passed. I use The Essential Calendar to mark these dates as the calendar is seasonal, encompassing 12 weeks on one sheet. Very helpful.
The planting guide in the resource library is designed with the frost date for zones 6 & 7 in mind. It has frosted every Mother’s Day for the past 9 years here at Stony Ridge Farm. One of the few consistent weather-related events to mark the changing of the seasons.
4. Watch for bugs!
As the soil temperature rises bugs will appear. Many garden pests have a lifecycle that includes a grub stage in the soil. As the larva matures, the bugs emerge hungry and intent on enjoying the fruits of your labor. In a chemical-free garden, agribon, floating row cover, is one of the most effective measures for protecting your plants. If you are growing an open pollinated crop that is susceptible to pests, like summer squash and the squash bug, remember to remove the cover once the blossoms appear on your plants.
A useful resource for learning more about garden pests is The Big Bug Hunt. It is a crowdsourcing site that helps members alert each other when a particular bug is in an agricultural region.
Keep on top of the weeds in May and you’ll have a more productive garden season all year long. Some beds will do well with hand weeding, other will benefit from a layer of landscape fabric as a weed barrier. I like to place layers of newspaper around my squashes as a weed block until the leaves get big enough to be a sunblock on their own. It’s important to set up a system for weeding where you do not step into your garden beds. This will compress the soil, over time turning it into something akin to concrete. All that hard work of building your soil can be undone in a couple of steps. You don’t want that!
6. Check your irrigation systems.
Now that those spring showers are ending, summer droughts are right around the corner. Hand watering is time-consuming and top watering is hard on your plants. Install irrigation systems in your garden beds and check existing systems. This is a great way to conserve water as well!
7. Clean up the remains of spring flowering bulbs.
By now your tulips and daffodils are bloomed out. You may wonder what is the best way to care for them so you get beautiful blooms year after year. Simply cut away the burnt out blossom and compost it. Leave the greens to grow as they feed the bulbs. If you don’t like the greens sprawling in your garden you can loosely bind them with a rubber band. When the greens die back by the end of the month, remove the debris and compost it too. Keeping garden beds free of plant detritus is an important way to keep pests and disease out of the garden as well.
8. Plant summer flowering bulbs.
There is a vast and colorful variety of bulbs that can be planted in early May. I use them among my perennial flowers to fill out the bed and add color. Some of the bulbs are for leafy plants like elephant ears and caladium. Others are for flowering plants like begonias, lilies, and freesias. Read Easy Summer Bulbs for Beginners to learn more.
9. Plant a dahlia garden.
One summer flowering bulb that deserves its own category is the dahlia. This large, bright plant brings color to the garden in August, just as many other flowering plants are seeding. I created my first dahlia garden last year and learned so much about the plant. It just keeps giving, the more you cut flowers the more generous the plant. I dug up the bulbs last October and will be adding them back to a new bed with better soil this May.
Here is the how-to from the American Dahlia Society. It is an informative and visually appealing website. Enjoy!
10. Learn about companion planting.
Resources on companion planting will help the gardener know which flowers and vegetable plants support or inhibit the growth of other plants. They also include lists of plants known to deter garden pests. Some common companion planting combinations are:
- Tomatoes and basil
- Marigolds and melons
- Corn and beans
- Cucumbers and nasturtium
To learn more, check out this guide from Planet Natural.
May Garden Planning
May garden planning involves research, creativity, and time down on your knees. Follow these 10 must-do tasks and by June you’ll have a garden of abundance and beauty. You’ll also be battling nature a little less as many of the steps are preventative (as with bugs) or preparatory (as with irrigation).
While you are in the garden this May, why not make tabletop herb gardens?
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