The month marking the return of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is upon us, so if you’re feeling inspired to sow some flowers, grow those vegetables or fancy creating your very own houseplant haven, Head Gardener Ashley is on hand with all his very best advice!
May brings about a transitionary period in the garden, with spring flowering plants beginning to fade and summer herbaceous plants exploding into growth.
In the Garden
As spring flowering daffodils fade, deadhead them so they put their energy into bulking up bulbs for next year.
Although daytime temperatures can be deceptively warm, be sure to check your local last frost dates. Night-time temperatures can still dip below freezing outside of cities, so it’s always a good idea to have horticultural fleece at the ready to wrap up any tender plants.
If you live in an urban area, you’ll most likely be able to get away with planting out tender plants in May. If you’ve been growing them from seed indoors, make sure to harden them off to adjust them to cooler temperatures. At Horatio’s Garden London, we have now put out our salvias and scented pelargoniums for summer pots. The garden here is surrounded by the hospital building and trees and so creates a microclimate a few degrees warmer than the average temperature. It has the effect of a protected walled garden.
Where there is warmth, sunshine and rain, there will be weeds! Hairy bittercress, Cardamine hirsute, is one of quickest to set flowers and seed. When the seed pods are ripe, they explode with the lightest touch and the seeds can be flung over a metre. There is a saying: one year’s seed is seven years’ weeds. The key is to pull it before it has the chance to flower. It’s edible as the name suggests, so why not add it to your salads rather than the compost heap? Always be sure on your identification when foraging to avoid eating anything toxic.
It’s not too late to sow hardy annuals straight in the ground where you want them to flower. This is a great way to fill any gaps you may notice in borders.
If you have lawn in your garden, resist mowing during May so that pollinators can enjoy the rich source of nectar from buttercups, dandelions, daisies, clover, and other common lawn flowers. It will look far more interesting than a stripy flat lawn.
In the Veg Patch
If you have a vegetable patch, there are many crops you can direct sow now including beans, carrots, parsnips, cabbages, chard, kale and many more. You can sow more tender veggies such as courgettes, cucumbers and squashes indoors and plant out towards the end of May/mid-June. Continue successional sowing of salad crops and herbs to provide a constant supply for the kitchen. If you’ve missed the chance to order seeds or simply don’t have the space to grow seedlings, you’ll find many small vegetable plants for sale at your local garden centre.
Watch out for aphid infestations as temperatures warm. Brassicas are vulnerable to cabbage white butterflies this time of year as they lay their eggs during April/May. Netting or fleecing your brassica is a good way of creating a physical barrier and planting nasturtiums as a sacrificial plant can draw away the butterflies’ attention.
Check your houseplants for pests especially under leaves and begin to liquid feed them weekly. You should notice new growth on your plants as light levels increase. Washing your windows (a chore I’m guilty of neglecting) will also allow your houseplants maximum light. Wipe the leaves of your plants to remove dust, or even pop them in the shower. If you have climbers like the millennial favourite Monstera deliciosa, tie in new growth or attach to a moss poll to really show it off!
It can be easy to become overwhelmed with a long list of jobs to do in the garden during May. Whilst it is true that putting in the hard work now will allow you more time to lounge in your garden during the long days of summer, make sure to take time out to enjoy observing the growth happening around you. You’ll be amazed as buds break in a day and seedlings seem to emerge by the hour. Watch birds busily collecting food for their young and insects feeding from flowers. Gardening should be enjoyable, so don’t punish yourself for not getting everything done in a day!
Never were truer words written – we hope you’re downing tools and making the most of all things great and green as we speak.