Top 10 Things to Do in the Garden During May
There’s still plenty to do in the garden as we head towards winter.
The cooler weather and increased rainfall (for some of us) creates the ideal conditions for planting new trees and shrubs, or moving existing plants to a new position. Some herbaceous plants such as Astilbe and peonies (Paeonia) should be cut back and put to bed for the winter at this time of year, while tender species might need to be moved to shelter or covered in frost cloth in colder areas. Cold-hardy vegies can also also be sown or planted in May, so it’s really all systems go!
1. Pot up Mother’s Day gifts
Since 1924, we’ve been giving special gifts to our mothers every second Sunday in May. Put your own green-fingered stamp on that tradition by potting up a lovely container of her favourite flowers such as these Hibiscus and Phlox.
Or if she has no space for large containers, consider making her a teacup planter instead, using unwanted china. Either drill drainage holes in your teacups or place a layer of pebbles on the bottom of the cup before filling it with potting mix. Ideally, you should use plants that don’t require much water, like thesePortulaca.
2. Plant fruit trees
If the ground is not too dry in your area, May is the ideal time to plant evergreen fruit trees such as Citrus, guava (Psidium)and feijoa (Acca sellowiana). The cooler weather and increased moisture in the soil means they can establish new roots before their growth slows down in winter.
Choose a well-drained, sunny part of the garden that is protected from cold winds. Make a hole as deep as the container the tree comes in, so the base of the trunk is level with or slightly above top of soil. The hole should be 30cm wider than the container, so you can mix in some compost to existing soil.
If you’re planting a lemon tree, keep the ground around the root zone free of weeds or grass, as their feeder root systems are close to the surface and do not like to compete for nutrients and moisture. Weeds also harbour pests and diseases.
In colder areas, mulch under trees to keep soil warm in winter, but make sure mulch is not too close to the stem or it may cause rotting.
TIP: If you remove one third of fruit while plants are very small, you’ll get a better crop the following season.
3. And broad beans
Yummy broad beans are great for using in risottos, salads and stir fries. They also add valuable nitrogen to the soil through their roots. Plant or sow broad beans (Vicia faba) directly into well-drained soil, spacing seeds about 5cm apart and 4cm deep. Keep plants well weeded and support taller varieties with stakes. Beans should be ready to harvest in about 10 weeks.
4. Sow seed for winter greens
Keep your nutrient levels up during winter by growing cold-hardy greens such as bokchoy (Brassica rapa var. chinensis), cabbages (Brassica oleracea var. capitata), kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica), spinach (Spinacia oleracea), and watercress (Nasturtium officinale). Buy seedlings or sow seeds into punnets, so seedlings can be planted into the garden when they are strong enough to cope with wintery weather, and are more resistant to pest attacks. Protecting delicate seedlings in the garden with cloches (make your own from plastic soft drink bottles) is also a good idea.
5. Harvest autumn fruit
Pick citrus and other autumn fruit as it ripens or the bugs will eat it for you. Some lemon varieties become coarse if left too long on the tree. If fruit is dropping before it ripens, it’s a sign of uneven watering.
6. Plant salad greens
Salads don’t need to be off the menu just because winter is on the way. There are many cold-tolerant lettuce varieties available now as well as hardy salad greens like mizuna (Brassica japonica), orach (Atriplex) and miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). Plant in a sunny position in fertile, free-draining soil. Miner’s lettuce will tolerate shade. Pick leaves regularly so plants will keep producing more. Feed established plants with liquid fertiliser.
7. Cut back autumn flowering perennials
Astilbe, daylily (Hemerocallis), Canna, Heuchera, hellebore (Helleborus), Liriope and other perennials should be cut back now in preparation for winter. Divide large, old clumps and replant to create lovely bold blocks of one plant, or to fill bare gaps in the garden.
8. Tidy up container plants
Many summer flowering annuals will be past their best by now. These should be removed and replaced with winter flowering annuals such as pansies (Viola tricolor subsp. hortensis), Polyanthus and Primula. In warmer, frost-free areas, also try Alyssum, Lobelia, Calendula and marigold (Tagetes). Weed all pots thoroughly and either top up or completely refresh potting mix so plants can put on their best show to liven up your deck or balcony during winter.
9. Plant winter flowering shrubs
If your garden tends to look a bit dull in autumn and winter, it’s a good idea to plant a few shrubs that bloom at this time of year, like the Banksia pictured. Camellia have so many varieties, you can have some in flower from autumn to spring, too. Also consider Echium, Gordonia, Hibiscus, Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica), Leucospermum, Leucadendron, Pieris, Tibouchina and Viburnum.
TIP: Planting holes need to be wider than the root ball of the plant, but no deeper.
10. Cut back peonies
Remove brown leaves and old stems off peonies. Divide older plants by sawing woody roots into pieces with two to three buds each. Plant divisions and new peony tubers in a sunny, well-drained position in fertile soil. Tubers should be planted around 5cm below the soil.
Source: Carol Bucknell, Houzz NZ Contributor, Houzz