We once went away on holiday for two weeks in May and came back to a completely different garden: lush, gloriously green and completely overgrown! It’s a month for keeping an eye on the weeds too as they compete with seedlings for nutrients and moisture.
Making the most of the sunshine
Statistically, May is a pretty sunny month. In fact, in Scotland and Wales, with about 170-180 hours of sunshine May averages as the sunniest month of the year. In southern England, sunshine averages at about 200 hours throughout May. All that sunshine helps plants get fully established without the risk of them drying out too much as later in the year. The greenhouse can get pretty hot on a sunny day so make sure to open up all the vents, but close them again in the evening as nights can still be cold. If the weather is very hot, put up shading in the greenhouse to prevent the scorching of little seedlings.
Ideas for children
May is also a time when children can get really engaged with gardening. There’s less convincing needed to get outside if the weather is warm and bright, and kids will get to see the fruits of their labours quickly. Try a couple of pots of cherry tomatoes – little ones will love picking these themselves and they’ll be abundant by summertime. This is also a great time to plant courgette and squash plants. These can grow to epic proportions so make sure they have lots of room to spread out in the vegetable bed. Later on, children can get involved with harvesting and cooking – there are myriad different recipes that include courgette and squash and a favourite is sure to be courgette bread, deliciously moist and tasty with a slathering of butter. In terms of flowers, marigolds, nasturtiums and sunflowers are all pretty fail-safe and create an abundance of bright colour. Marigolds and nasturtiums can be added to summer salads for a peppery zing. Planting bright flowers like these amongst your vegetables is called companion planting, beneficial because they attract pollinating insects but also deter pests. The smell of marigolds is said to put off aphids, for instance. A garden full of flowers and vegetables is also incredibly pleasing to the eye and attracts happy bees and butterflies.
Tasty treats for the summer
Now is the last chance to plant second early and maincrop potatoes to provide plenty of nourishment throughout summer and autumn. The difference between home-grown potatoes and shop-bought is incredible; once you’ve tasted your own fresh from the garden you won’t want the flavourless shop ones again. Other things to sow direct include rocket, spinach, broad beans, parsnips, turnips, onions and peas. Once the beans get established, provide them with canes or slim tree branches erected in the ground as support. They’ll scurry up them in no time.
The ground is warm enough to plant out delicate seedlings – there is very little risk of a frost now even in Scotland. If you’re worried there might still be a frosty morning on the horizon, stick to planting out at the end of the month. You can now start off a cycle of crops, sowing seeds every few weeks to ensure a steady supply throughout the coming months. Carrots, beetroot, salad leaves and radishes can all be grown in succession as you enjoy them. Salad leaves provide plenty of colour and interest to a garden and grow quickly without too much fuss. A fresh salad from the garden is one of the treats of the summer; just dress with a dash of olive oil and balsamic and top with some crunchy toasted seeds and you have a delicious, simple lunch.
Imagine the harvest
If you fancy sweet and juicy sweetcorn in summer, now is the time to plant the seeds in deep pots. The seedlings will be ready to plant out in June and really make a majestic addition to the garden when fully grown with the leaves shushing. Peeling back the layers to discover a fresh corn cob is a real treat for both small and bigger folks. Herbs are a wonderful addition to any garden and May is a good month to plant seeds such as parsley, basil, dill, rosemary, fennel, chives, coriander, mint and thyme. Plant these close to your back door so you can pop out and grab a handful of whatever you need when you’re cooking.
May is a busy month in the garden and if you’re growing things from seed in the greenhouse you’ll find that you are planting out and starting again in quick succession. If you want quicker results with less effort, or you simply haven’t as much time to devote to the garden, you can pick up plug plants very easily and this is a good way to get a new vegetable garden established in very little time. If you’re feeling green-fingered, May is certainly a time to harness the gifts Mother Nature bestows in the form of warm sunshine and rain showers. Have fun planting out and just imagine the harvest in autumn!