VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

May Garden Tasks

What should I do in my garden in May? 

by Vancouver Island Master Gardeners Association

May is the month when everything happens. Garden bed and planters are resplendent with blooms, the last April tasks are getting finished, the early May tasks begun. Waiting are the new projects, and the “we’ll build that next year” garden structures we promised ourselves, and oh -- is that a pest? -- oh, and, and, and!

Hurry Up and Wait

            The keys to a pleasant May: put on your sunblock, check your planting dates, and do one thing at a time.

Stroll through your in-ground and container gardens. It never hurts to take notes. What have you already done, so you’re ready for the next tasks? What spots are still at step one? Must these places be attended to now? Why? What can you begin next week, or schedule for later in the month so you can work at a pleasant, efficient pace?

            An effective way to schedule your planting times is to count backwards from the package’s maturity date. Seeds take about 5 days to sprout, another week to grow true leaves, and 2 weeks to harden off.

            The best way to not lose direct seed or shock seedlings you’ve nurtured is to test your soil temperature. Tender ornamentals and hot season crops like cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and squash need soil above 60 F (16 C) an inch below ground. Hardy ornamentals and crops like leeks, broccoli, salads and mustard greens can be direct seeded when soil is above 45 F. (7 C). Test your soil in the morning. Your kitchen meat thermometer will work as long as the low end is 45 F. (7 C). Scoop a 3-inch hole (about the length of your fingers). Push the sensor into each side at the bottom “corner,” the critical area for small roots, for a minute.

            If it is a cool month, hot weather plants that are pushing their pot size will benefit if you pot-up one more time. Harden off towards the end of May, and transplant. By July they will be further ahead than if you plant them in cold soil. You’ll have resilient ornamentals. Crops will set more (and tastier) fruit earlier.


Pest Patrol

            May is one of the deadliest months for pests. The young plants are tender, the pests are ravenous as teenagers. The grub stage of many pests is often the most destructive. It is helpful to remember the 80-20 rule (that most of what you see are beneficials), so crack a pest book and learn who is harmful, like the click beetle, and appreciate their beneficial look-alike cousins, like the rove beetle. Some grubs of beneficials are visible now, too, like the fierce-looking ladybug grub. This homely child is more voracious than the much-loved adult. So grab your cuppa and begin early morning patrols. This year -- and next -- you’ll see a healthier landscape.


Pest-hunting Tips:

● Check in the leaf nodes of cole crops for the fat green caterpillar, ingeniously camouflaged.

● Check rose buds for aphid. Gently pulling up the sides of the bud between thumb and forefinger will crush

    them, or a gentle water spray will knock them to the ground where the beneficials, including ants, will feast.

● After sundown, check rhododendrons for the nocturnal adult root weevil chewing the edges of leaves.

● Protect carrot beds with row cover against the ubiquitous rust fly.

● Bury potato slices (with just the tops showing) along the bed edges near lawns for wire work. These traps

    are guaranteed!

● Check trees for the first tent caterpillars. Cut off the whole branch tip and burn.

● Check for evidence of the spit bug sitting in its bubble bath on tender stems. A quick squish or water spray as

    with rosebuds will remove it. Although spit bugs don’t do great damage, a tender stem is weakened by the

    bug sucking its juices, and the wound can invite bacteria and molds.

All that said, in most circumstances don’t get blood thirsty. Unless a pest is a serious threat a little damage won’t hurt. You have enough else to do, and besides, your predatory beneficial insects need something to eat!


Additional Planting & Care Tips:

● Indoor plants: lift Hippeastrum bulbs, lay them on their sides, and keep cool and dark until autumn. Move

   ferns, Christmas cactus and jade trees away from windows to guard against sunburn as the afternoon light

   becomes more intense.

● Flowers: remember to include as many pollinator and beneficial insect attractors as possible in every bed.

● Shrubs: fertilize roses. Prune lilacs and other spring flowering woody plants as soon as they’ve finished.


And Finally…

            Take a few moments each day to acknowledge what you accomplished last autumn and this spring. All the primula, pansies and autumn-planted bulbs have brightened your mood in the grey days of late winter and early spring, and are ready to go dormant. Say thanks to the last of the overwintering food crops and hello to your young seedlings. Let your mouth water at the prospect of succulent early salads and piquant garlic scapes, heralding a warmer season’s feasts.  Listen to bumble of the wild pollinators, and marvel at the iridescence of the hummingbirds. Like the song says, “Here comes the sun, Lil’ Darlin’ … and its alright!