When May arrives, you are very likely already busy in your garden. Perennials are popping up, Spring bulbs are beginning to slow down, and the garden centers are full of gorgeous plants, tempting all of us to plant more!
This is the busiest time of year in our gardens. We bustle around like little bees getting everything neatened up so we can enjoy our hard work all summer long.
The key to unlocking beautiful flowers this season is to get maintenance right at the beginning of the summer. Read along as I share my favorite May gardening tips for beautifully blooming summer flowers this season!
Start With a Sowing Plan
Spring is a great time to plan which seeds you would like to plant, and May is a great time to start planting!
This will largely depend on where you live and what your temperatures are. I live in hardiness zone 6, and I will be getting ready to get my seeds in the ground starting in mid-May. Ensuring that your soil temperatures are warm enough to sustain the seeds and the life within them is crucial to the success of your plants. People in warmer zones, like zones 9-10, often are already transplanting their seedlings in May (but may still be direct-sowing some plants, like veggies).
When you head to the store or are shopping online for your seeds, take note of the suggested planting timeline. Seeds sown at the correct time can add real beauty and a splash of color to summer gardens, not to mention the pride that comes with growing your plant babies all by yourself!
Most of our shrubs and perennials will benefit from fertilization, which should happen sometime in the spring or early summer. You can add granular organic fertilizer around the base of your plant as soon as your plants begin showing signs of life. It will need time to break down before it’s plant-available, so for a quick start, a diluted liquid fertilizer may be a benefit.
A basic 10-10-10 fertilizer is always a great option. It covers all the bases and will help your plants get off to a healthy start. But doing a soil test before fertilizing is always a good choice to make sure you need to fertilize at all — you may not!
For those wanting to focus on blooms this year, I would suggest selecting a fertilizer that is meant for flowering plants. Pick a fertilizer that has a closer analysis of 3-4-5. The higher middle number represents the amount of phosphorus in the fertilizer. This is the nutrient needed to produce flowers.
Whichever fertilizer you choose, following the application instructions on the bag is crucial. This will prevent over-feeding and, for chemical fertilizers, will reduce the risk of fertilizer burn to the root system.
Add Fresh Compost
Spring is an excellent time to add some compost to your gardens. Compost is a great way to boost your plant’s nutrition while improving your soil structure at the same time.
I usually buy my compost from my local garden center, but you can also buy it in bulk from a landscape supplier or a nearby farm. You can add compost around certain plants, or you can cover your entire flower bed with an inch or so of compost after your seeds have all germinated and come up.
This may not be the most glamorous task, but it is pretty straightforward. Simply add your compost into your garden and rake it out so it is even.
Check your plants’ crown to ensure they are not buried with compost and can still breathe. If you are adding compost to new plantings, you can get into the soil with your hands to combine the compost with your existing garden soil for a boost!
Use Plenty of Mulch
Mulch is the ultimate finishing touch to any garden. It instantly gives your flower beds a facelift while also helping to keep weeds away and your plants nice and hydrated.
Mulch itself may not directly affect the beautification of your blooms, but it can support a healthy and happy plant. By keeping weeds away and water from evaporating too quickly from the soil, plants greatly benefit from the presence of mulch. If you use high-quality mulch, it will eventually break down and aid in producing a healthy soil structure.
One or two inches of mulch is advised for proper coverage of your gardens. Shovel scoops of this gardening gold into your gardens and smooth it out with your hands or a rake. When you are done, it is really important to check the trunks of trees and shrubs as well as the crown of your plants to make sure that they are not buried by the mulch.
Start Watering Regularly
April showers may bring May flowers, but what happens if there are no showers in May? It is time to start watering! The days are getting longer, so your plants are getting more sunlight, and the soil is warming up.
Every gardener has a different way to get their gardens watered. It could be irrigation, soaker hoses, or hand watering with a hose or a watering can. Whichever way works best for you is the best way to go.
In general, plants need about one inch of water per week; this can change depending on where you live and what plants you are growing. Of course, if you have a week with a lot of rain, you will not need to go out to your gardens to water.
Either way, May is the time to begin watering your gardens regularly. This will allow your plants to begin drinking and producing new foliage, flower buds, and healthy roots.
Check Your Plant Locations
Have you ever planted something in your garden, and a few years later, its growing conditions have changed? This recently happened to me.
I had a couple of dappled willows growing beautifully in my front yard, and over the last few years, the shade from our deciduous trees has become too great for them. So, this spring, I decided to transplant them to a sunnier location.
I urge you to take walks around your garden and take note of what does not look as good as it used to, and then look around and see if your plant may need a new home. Things can change over time, or sometimes things just get planted in a spot that does not work for them.
You may not be able to get the perfect picture of your planting sites in May, especially if your plants have not leafed out yet, but you can begin to take note at this point in the year and plan for a transplant in the fall if needed.
Transplant and Divide
The cool temperatures that early May can bring us create the perfect environment for transplanting and dividing your perennials.
You may want to transplant your perennials if you think they need more or less sun or simply if you want to move them to a different location in your garden. Divisions help extend perennials’ life while also creating new plants for you to add to your garden.
If you are noticing that your perennials are dying out in the middle or simply not looking their best, it may be time for a division. To do this, you simply find a spot within the plant where you notice a natural break.
Using a sharp spade, slice the plant as cleanly as you can. It is usually easiest to dig the plant out of the ground before doing this but use your best judgment. Transplant your new division and water.
Transplanting to a new location in your garden can help your plants bloom. All plants need some sunlight to produce flowers, but some need more than others.
Do a little homework to find out exactly how much sunlight your plant needs, and you will be ready to select the perfect location. Remove the plant by digging around the root zone of your plant. Once you have removed the plant from the ground, dig a new hole the same size as your plant. Place your plant in the new hole, and backfill it with soil and water.
Deadhead When Necessary
Deadheading in May might not be a huge task, but it is a great way to get your garden set up for a full summer of blossoms. On most plants deadheading, or the removal of spent flowers, will encourage your plants to create new flowers.
Grab your favorite pair of garden snips and head out to your flower beds. When you have located any spent flowers, use your garden snips to remove them just above a set of leaves.
By deadheading your plants, you signal to them that they need to produce more flowers because the previous round of flowers did not go to seed. However, many shrubs will not react to deadheading this way, so get to know your plants before you make any cuts.
May is an excellent time to neaten your shrubs. Over the winter, our shrubs can suffer from damage caused by cold weather and the weight of snow. In early summer, we can get an excellent view of what branches need to be removed.
Do this carefully so you don’t remove any flower buds. This is also the time to prune your panicle hydrangeas to remove older canes and make room for new stems and blossoms.
Pruning can promote new growth in your shrubs, leading to more blossoms. Spring pruning will increase the airflow within your shrubs, which will help eliminate any disease issues, but it will also make more room for your flowers to bloom to their maximum ability.
Before you begin pruning, give your pruning tool of choice a good cleaning. This may be the first time you have used your pruners since the fall, and they may have collected dust or other debris. Use rubbing alcohol or diluted bleach to wipe down the blades of your pruners, and allow them to dry completely before using!
Remove Dead Wood
Dead wood occurs in shrubs that are woody as opposed to tender or herbaceous. It’s not bad, but allowing it to linger within your plant can prevent your shrubs from thriving.
I will use hydrangea as an example here. You have a bigleaf hydrangea in your garden. It’s beginning to leaf out at the base of the plant and produce buds on some of the older canes. Now, you may notice some canes within your hydrangea that do not have any buds. These are dead wood.
Deadwood is easy to remove. Sometimes you can pull it right out with your hand. In other instances, you need to cut it back as low to the ground as you can. Removing this deadwood will allow your plants more airflow, which benefits all systems of the plants, including flower production and survival.
Spray for Wildlife
Once your plants are producing leaves, beware. The critters are coming! There is nothing more depressing than seeing your plants get nibbled away by bunnies or whatever critter likes to hang out in your gardens.
These first signs of life are crucial to the health of your plant because they will be creating food so the plant will be able to thrive this season. Many products on the market are great at keeping critters out of your garden.
They typically have an awful odor or taste that deters the animals rather than hurting them in any way. You will usually need to apply these sprays once a week and after it rains. Head to your garden center to get recommendations on what will work best in your area.
Start Summer Blooming Bulbs
This is the time to get your summer bulbs started. Summer bulbs such as dahlias, lilies, cannas, and gladiolus add stunning color to our summer gardens. These bulbs behave like annuals, but you can dig the bulbs or tubers out of the ground in the fall and save them over the winter to be replanted again next spring.
Depending on the type of bulb, the planting instructions will differ slightly. The process is relatively simple, requiring digging a shallow hole and placing the tuber in the ground.
You can also plant your bulbs in pots a little earlier in the season if you have a nice sunny window or a small greenhouse. Once your bulbs have begun to produce stems and leaves and your weather is warm, you can transplant these bulbs outside.
The quickest and easiest way to add flowers to your garden is by well, adding them! At this time of the year, garden centers are filled with colorful annuals that are so easy to add to your garden.
Again, depending on where you live, the selection will vary greatly. But no matter where you are, you will be able to find gorgeous annuals for your flower beds.
If you live in a cooler region as I do, I like to start small and add annuals to a few of my containers and hanging baskets. Sometimes the weather is a bit too chilly for annuals, but plants such as pansies should still be available and will grow easily through June. You can also stick with annual plants that will do well in full sun.
Watch For Snapback Frosts
It might be May, but depending on where you live, there could still be a threat of a late frost. This can be devastating and can lead to major plant loss if you are not prepared. Keep your eyes on the forecast to ensure you have no chilly weather coming your way.
If you live in a chillier climate, you are probably familiar with this. Keeping burlap or extra bed sheets on hand is a great way to keep your plants safe.
Gently lay the fabric on top of your plants when you know chilly weather is on its way. Do your best to keep any buds safe from rubbing against the fabric. Bring any potted plants indoors for the evening to keep them from getting frostbitten as well!
Keep Your Garden Clean
Even after your spring clean-up is complete, it is important to keep your gardens free of debris. This could include weeds, twigs, leaves, or spent flowers. This type of plant material may seem harmless, and it typically is, but if you let it get out of hand, you could have some trouble and a big mess on your hands.
Weeds can be aggressive in your gardens. They will suck up water and nutrients that you would rather go to your precious plants. Other plant debris could harbor fungal spores that could negatively affect both the health of your flowers as well as the overall health of your plant.
Head out into your gardens at least once a week to give them a once-over and see if any weeding or hand raking needs to be done!
Enjoy this final month of spring in your garden. Before you know it, the heatwaves will be upon us! Take this time to strengthen your plants, and get large tasks out of the way. If you can do this, you will have set yourself up for a great gardening season!