May gardening jobs and tips

Tiffany Daneff / 18 May 2017

Find out what jobs need doing in the May garden, including what to plant, what to prune and what needs doing in the vegetable patch.

In flower beds and borders

Plant out bedding once frost danger is over. This is the perfect time to get in petunias, violas, begonias and fuchsias.

Give your garden a makeover and save money at the same time with a special Thompson and Morgan offer of 10% off.

Pick off scarlet lily beetles and their brown grubs. Telltale signs of trouble are holes in the leaves of affected plants, eg lilies and fritillaries. Left alone they can soon eat their way through all the leaves.

Keep weeding although it has been a dry spring the recent rain will have repercussions – lots of weed seedlings. Five minutes here and there (rather than a whole afternoon) with a hand- or long- hoe saves fingers and backs.

Thin out gluts of self-seeders such as poppies and fennel leaving the strongest where you want them to flower, remembering that its best to keep them from flowering too close to the edges of beds.

Any frost damaged leaves should be pruned back to the next healthy bud or side shoot. Frost damaged plants often recover so don’t immediately pull them up but wait until summer, giving them time to regrow. If there’s no sign by mid summer you can pull them up.

Prune forsythia after flowering If you don’t do this every year they quickly get unmanageable and flower less well. Using sharp loppers and secateurs cut a quarter of the old growth to the base. Also remove diseased, dead, dying and wispy stems cutting them to the ground. Finally prune stems that have just flowered to two buds above the previous year’s growth.

Tie in climbers If you haven’t tried it before Flexi-tie is a great boon, stretching as the plant grows. It is soft against stems and is frost proof. You can also keep the cut lengths and reuse them.

Bean wigwam
Create a wigwam for beans using canes or hazel

In the vegetable plot

Start hardening off seedlings of beans, tomatoes and other plants sown indoors or under glass. Allow a couple of weeks for the process gradually acclimatizing the plants. French beans can be particularly delicate so take care not to expose them suddenly to strong winds or rain or scorching midday sun.

Keep a weather eye on slugs, especially when its been raining. Indeed during a rain shower is the perfect time to get outside. Snails and slugs should be having a gay old time. Collect them in a bucket and dispose somewhere far away. Look behind pots and bricks and anywhere nice and dark. If you are really suffering you might want to try Nemaslug, a new nematode that predates on slugs and is safe to use around edibles and near pets. 

Find out more about controlling slug and snail populations

Keep sowing seeds in small batches roughly fortnightly so that you avoid having a glut but give yourself a longer more manageable harvest.

Repot supermarket herbs, dividing them into smaller pots, a couple of stems per small pot should do for starters. You can use this trick on mint, coriander, basil, thyme – pretty much anything.

Pinch out the tops of chillies to encourage new branches to grow and create a bushier plant. Find out more about growing chillies.

Thin out seedlings already planted allowing space for individual plants to flourish. Wash and use thinnings of lettuces and beet tops in salads.

If you haven’t started growing yet now is the perfect time to get in young plug plants or buy young plants from garden centres and nurseries. There is so much to choose from to grow in raised beds and allotments.

Browse a wide range of fruit and vegetable varieties from Thompson & Morgan, where Saga customers can get 10% off.

Make a bean wigwam Use canes or hazel stems to make a support for growing beans. Either tie the tops together to form a wigwam or else arrange the supports in long X s that cross either half way up or close to the top. Sow a couple of beans to each cane and a few at the ends of the row as replacements for any that don’t come up. Beans are greedy plants so they’ll enjoy being grown above a trench filled with rotted manure or kitchen compost (even part rotted will do). Cover the trench with soil and then plant the beans. Once the beans are up make sure that the slugs cannot get to the growing tips because they’ll destroy the plant.

Make a potager – buy in young plants of differing colours and textures and arrange them in patterns. Red and green lettuces, parsley and chives….the options are endless.

Grow some comfrey and make comfrey tea. Find out how to make comfrey tea here.

Check strawberries – protect flowers from frost damage in colder areas. Net plants against birds and lay down straw under plants to protect them from rain.

Pulled tulips
Pull spent tulip stems, leaving the foliage to die down and feed the bulb

For pots

Pull spent tulip stems and allow the foliage to die down, feeding the bulb for next year. Come summer, when the leaves have faded away, you can lift the bulbs, allow them to dry on wooden racks or newspaper and then store them indoors somewhere cool and dry to replant in the autumn.

If there’s a lot of rain check that plants aren’t standing in water. Tip out saucers regularly.

Plant up some summer containers Scented pelargoniums will last all summer, herbs make great pots too.

Around the garden

Clear paths of moss and weeds to avoid slipping in damp weather. A little picking here and there is good as a general rule but at this time of year, when growth is fast, it’s best to use a long handled steel brush to sweep greenery and other debris from between cracks. Or, if you own or can borrow a power washer the water jet will make even quicker work.

Read our tips for cleaning a patio and cleaning decking

Slippery wooden steps can be improved by tacking down chicken wire.

Trim hedges before they get out of control.

Last chance to…

Pull tulips – pull out the flowering stems of tulips planted in beds and lawns once they have faded, leaving the foliage to feed the bulb.
Harden off tender plants ready for putting into the ground once all chance of frost has passed
Get in supports for floppy plants before they grow away
Do the Chelsea Chop to encourage more flower growth. Find out how here.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.