Gardening in May

Taking steps this month will lead to a beautiful and productive garden all summer long. Read on for some ideas.



Although we are often told that tulips should be treated as annuals, this leads to bulbs being thrown away unnecessarily. Some varieties can flower year after year - the bloom may be a little smaller in the subsequent years but it is still beautiful, particularly when planted in groups. It is important to prevent the tulip from wasting energy by going to seed, so cut off the flower head after the petals start to fall. Keep the leaves on the plant, allowing them to photosynthesise and watering well until they look yellow - this is what feeds the blooms for the next year. You can give them a dose of tomato feed to really promote health in the bulb. If you don’t like the look of the messy foliage, try camouflaging it with other planting nearby - honesty, sweet rocket and aquilegia quickly cover unsightly tulip leaves. Although it is hard to tell which varieties of tulip will return next year, it is worth treating them all as if it could be a possibility - you might be pleasantly surprised!



Half-hardy seedlings can be hardened off with some time outside each day before returning them undercover overnight. You can continue dividing perennials and prune penstemon plants now, and pull up forget-me-nots if you’d rather they didn’t self seed. If you haven’t already sown annuals in your flower beds, now is a great time - group packets of seeds by the height of the eventual plant and sow them where you would like to see them flower directly into the border. Plenty of seeds can be repeat sown from now on - a scattering of California poppy seeds in the borders and pots will keep everything colourful right through to autumn. You can also stock up on biennial seeds ready for next spring - I will be buying foxgloves, sweet rocket, wallflowers and honesty ready to sow at midsummer and plant out in September so the garden is packed with flowers this time next year. Last year I forgot to grow my biennial plants and I’m really missing them this year. 



Keep watering salad leaves and spinach, and repeat sow every couple of weeks to ensure you have a good supply throughout the summer. Tomatoes, courgettes and pumpkins can be hardened off, and you can weed around onions and garlic to ensure they grow well. If you have been growing rhubarb you can pick one third of the stems now to use in your baking. If you net soft fruit to prevent the birds from eating it, it’s a good idea to get that sorted this month, and pack straw beneath your strawberry plants to prevent the fruit from being damaged. Sweetcorn seeds can be sown into deep pots, and peas and beans can be tied in to support their growth. Cover potato shoots with soil as they appear this month.