The May Garden

May is clear blue skies here. The air is cool, but the soil still warm.It's the time when you wait for the first frost to mark the beginning of winter.

May is the gentle time, not too hot or cold, perfect for garden projects. A new garden path? Sandpit or bike track for the kids. Time to terrace that slope out the front?

What to do in May
This is the time to think about last minute seed saving. Transplant any carrots, parsnips etc you may be saving for seed into a less used part of the garden if they are going to be in the way where they are. Transplanting them now will only make them go to seed quicker.Stake them well- they'll get top heavy when the seed heads form and may fall down, causing the seed to rot or sprout prematurely.

 

Mulch soil well before it cools down to keep plants growing longer( black plastic and aluminium foil can be used to increase heat to plants). once frosts start, however, thick mulch can mean more leaf damage- it may be best to rake it off.
 

Dust wood ash over areas where you're going to plant broad beans, or in between the rows to help prevent brown spot
 

Think about green manuring unused ground to prepare it for spring, clearing weeds, fixing nitrogen, adding hummus- lucerne, broad beans, peas, field peas.

 

Money Savers
A garden needn't cost you heaps!
Free fertiliser: make compost from all your kitchen and garden scraps
Free Mulch: grass clippings mixed with fallen leaves make great mulch. Ask next door if you can have their fallen leaves too!

 

Free plants: This is a great time of year to collect seeds from flowers and shrubs to plant in spring, and to take cuttings of geraniums/ pelargonium, flowering shrubs like lavender, hibiscus, oleander, roses, daisies. Just have a go, no matter what type of shrub it is! You may be surprised how many grow. And if they don't, all you have lost is a couple of minutes work.
How to do it: Snap off a bit of wood as long as your hand, cut off nearly all the leaves, dip the end in 'cutting powder' from the nursery, then plant the cutting in a mix of half sand, half potting mix, so that half of it is below the soil. Water well, then tie it pot and all in clear plastic bag and leave in a warm, semi shaded spot. When the cutting starts to grow take off the plastic bag, and keep moist for another six months to a year. Then plant it!

 

Other jobs:
Prune: Summer flowering shrubs that have lost their leaves; cut back grape vines as leaves die from mildew or cold. Cut back ornamental grasses too. Most die back in winter and can look messy.
Watch out for: Slugs and snails as snail eating lizards grow sleepier.
Spread: The contents of your compost bin, so you can fill it with prunings and perennials that die back in winter.
Plan: A rose garden to plant this winter; a hedge of fruit trees; a scented plant beneath your bedroom window; a tall native tree for the birds.
Harvest: Rose hips for winter teas and syrup…every rose bush will produce some hips, and as long as they haven't been sprayed with pesticides or fungicides you can use them in cooking, or save the seeds to plant in spring. Roses too can be grown from seed! The seedlings probably won't be like their parents, though- each one will be an adventure!

 

Planting
Don't be tempted by blue sky. Even if the soil still feels warm any soft new growth may be frosted off. Stick to broad beans and other hardy plants that will mature in spring.

 

Pests
This isn't a bad time of year for pests- the great population explosions have been and gone and predators should have built up to cope with the remnant.
If you have winter maturing fruit keep up your fruit fly traps and orchard hygiene. Otherwise just make sure that you don't have any old fruit in nice warm slowly decomposing compost heaps or pits- places where fruit fly can cozily over winter.
Check any late maturing apples like democrats or grannies or Lady Williams every few days for the sawdust like deposits from codlin moth larvae. If you find any pick off the apples and either feed them to the animals or stick them in a plastic bag to anaerobically compost over winter.
Remove any old ladders or boxes near the trees where codlin moth can hibernate, pick up any windfalls or let the chooks do it for you.
If you're troubled with harlequin beetles in the garden- sometimes called push-me- pull- yous because of their active sex lives- stick some broad pieces of cardboard on the ground around the garden. Check each afternoon for sheltering beetles. This should reduce the numbers in your garden next season considerably.
Stick hens or other animals under fruit trees now if you can, and in the old tomato patches- they'll help clean up any fruit residues that might help fruit fly overwinter.

 

Harvests
Potatoes should have been harvested by now- and another crop put in if you can grow them in above ground beds of old tyres where they will get little frost. It's much too frosty here for winter potatoes- but the tyre beds sheltered by the avocados produced small new potatoes for us by the end of winter.

 

Other jobs
Clean out green houses now, and leave them open to the sun for a time. Take shelves out to air, and wash them in disinfectant or vinegar if they may be harbouring fungus or disease spores.
Make use of a slow garden and warm weather to revamp the chook house for next spring's chickens; build a mobile hen run to keep down the grass; build more compost heaps; make pot pourri with the last of the rose petals and scented leaves before they are frosted.
Nail tin cans with a hole punched in the bottom to brick or stone or white painted walls. Fill with compost or potting mix and geraniums, or strawberries or herbs or even lettuce. Paint the cans to make them prettier.
Pests
This is a month of prevention. Prune off dead twigs, mummies, band apple trees with grease or corrugated cardboard or old wool to help control codlin moth and oriental peach moth, and clean up old ladders and fruit boxes where moths may be sheltering. Let hens scavenge round the orchard to pick up old fruit or insects on the ground.

 

What to Plant in May
Frost-free climates
Plants to eat: Just about anything can be grown now! Put in lots of mixed salad leaves, apple cucumbers, basil, butter beans, huge New guinea beans, coloured capsicum, Chinese cabbage, chillies, chokos, sweet potatoes, long oval eggplant, melons, okra, rosellas, pumpkin, shallots, sweet corn, tomatoes. Try above ground beds for parsley- the roots may rot in hot damp soil.
Plants for beauty: alyssum, calendula, cleome, coleus, gerbera, petunias, phlox, salvia, torenia, zinnia,

 

Cold to Temperate:
Don't be tempted by blue sky and warm breezes. If you live in a very frosty area stick to onion seedlings and broad beans and lots of seedlings of brocolli, cabbage and cauliflower.

Plants to eat: seeds of radish, onions, winter lettuce, silver beet, spinach, broad beans, peas, snow peas, winter lettuce, spring onions, parsnips, fast maturing Asian veg like tatsoi, pak choi and mitsuba. Seedlings of beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, leeks, lettuce, leeks, onions, spinach.
Plants for beauty: seeds of alyssum, calendula, lunaria. Seedlings of Californian poppy, evening primrose, gazanias, primulas, pansies, polyanthus, Iceland poppies, viola.

© Jackie French