In the Garden – May


Isn’t this just a beautiful time of year in the garden? The horrors of the past year’s extreme weather are behind us. Hopefully, plants that did not survive have been removed and composted or chipped already. The thirst and drought of high summer is many weeks in the future.

Everything is bursting with color, life and promise. Early vegetables and herbs are yielding their bounty. It’s warm enough most days to wander leisurely in the garden rather than make mad dashes to work in between rain showers or bundle up to tackle the latest chilly garden task. I am quite skilled at finding indoor tasks to do when the weather does not beckon me outside. Oh, is that a spot of rain? I better not go outside then. But as May approaches, our rains decrease, our days are warmer, and it becomes a pleasure to work outside, even if I must take shelter in the garden shed from the occasional sudden spring rain.

I like to think of May and June as months to putter and relax in the garden rather than turn my hands to labor. There are things that need to be done, especially in early May, but the pace of work slows across the month. Yes, I need to plant the warm weather vegetables like tomatoes in May, followed by cucumbers. The last of the veggie seeds like carrots and broccoli from which I want a summer harvest should go in. But I don’t think of seed planting as very time-intensive as long as the garden soil does not need major amending. It can be done in fits and starts as the mood dictates.

I find that new plantings take more time. However, since my garden is relatively full already, I don’t have to invest much time siting, planting, and nurturing new plants. That said, I absolutely must take a day to go shopping for starts and garden plants at the Point Roberts Garden Club Plant and Garden Sale on Saturday, May 7. Or I could check out Lady Bug Nursery or The Garden Stand in case I feel like adding something new to my garden.

Perhaps the only sad thing about the garden this time of year is that spring bulbs have generally finished blooming. That means I have to spend time removing spent flowers so that energy is diverted from seed growing to nurturing good, fat, healthy bulbs for next year’s blooms. This can be somewhat time-consuming, but it doesn’t need to be done all at once. Even casually snapping off a seed head or two as I pass can lighten the load and feel satisfying. As I remove each spent flower, I remind myself that next year I will be rewarded for my effort.

If you have heaths (heather-like low shrubs that bloom in spring), aubrieta, and other early spring bloomers like I do, these can be sheared just to keep them tidy. I sometimes use nicely sharpened grass shears for this because they make quick work of the job. If you’d rather spend your time sitting on your patio with a drink in hand, you are certainly not doing these plants a disservice. No one shears them in their natural habitats and they do just fine.

Just about the only task that really needs to be done now is fertilizing, unless you were a really good gardener and laid down a lot of compost, composting mulch, and other amendments last autumn or winter. Plants adapted to our climate generally experience their biggest annual growth push right now as sunshine becomes more plentiful yet the occasional rain is available for production of luscious new growth. Chances are that untended soil has become depleted of the nutriments necessary for growth through plants’ natural consumption or because winter rains flushed them out. (That’s why it’s best to lay the compost or mulch down late in the year or at least before our seasonal rains peter out, so that surface nutriments will be flushed into root areas.) If that is the case, fertilize now.

The plants on my must-fertilize list for these months are garlic, roses, choiysa, and cole crops like kohlrabi and broccoli. Waiting until full summer is not only wasteful but can actually stress many plants. You’d rather laze around than fertilize now? Then at least make a note to put down fresh organic mulch or compost next autumn, winter, or very early spring.

Now, sit back and relax. As the months roll on, there will be fewer garden tasks and more garden enjoyment. So why not just take in the sights and aromas? Or take a walk and see what your fellow gardeners have done? Perhaps you might even spot one sitting in the sun or idly puttering around the garden.


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