May is the month when temperatures rise and the day length increases. The growth rate and workload springs into overdrive. The bare earth of the spring has disappeared and in every corner of the garden plants are shouting for attention: feed me, trim me, plant me out, stake me, so start now. May can also be a relatively dry month and this dry weather can be combined with late frosts, so be warned! Take care planting out the summer bedding plants harden them off to the weather, and don’t let anything dry out in a drought spell.
Your greenhouse, if you have one, now becomes a hive of activity. You can use it to start off and grow on all your seedlings and seeds. You can also plant it up with tomato plants, varieties available are Moneymaker, Gardeners Delight, Red Alert (Cherry) and Tumbler, Green peppers and cucumbers. All the various lettuces can also be sown inside with scallions, beetroot, etc.
Now that the grass is growing, it is important to cut it at least once a week or 10 days. You can still put out your 3:1 lawn weed and feed out on the lawn. This has all the general fertilisers that will feed your lawn, in a slow release form so as not to double your cut overnight. It also has sulphate of iron that does two jobs—kills the moss and gives the grass a dark green colour, and lastly it has two different weedkillers that will kill most of the weeds in the lawn. For those that have compost heaps and want to keep them as organic as possible, don’t put the grass clippings on the compost heap until the lawn has been cut at least three times; after carrying out any treatment of hormonal weedkillers on the lawn.
You can give evergreen hedges their first clip of the season now. Slope the sides so that the top is narrower than the base. This will allow light to get to the lower branches and then the hedge will have leaves/foliage almost to the ground. Before you start, check that there are no birds nesting in the hedge. If there are, delay cutting until the young have flown.
In the vegetable garden, mould the soil up around the shoots of the early potatoes. This will help kill any germinating seeds, improve the weight of the crop and they will be easier to lift at harvesting time. If there is a chance of frost, cover the young growth completely to protect it from the cold. Weed growth also picks up momentum in the month, so keep them in check with a hoe. You can also use a pre emergence herbicide (Linuron) for weeds with crops such as potatoes, carrots, parsnips and parsley. This is a good month for sowing seeds of vegetables, including parsley which likes high soil temperatures to germinate. You can also sow transplants from sections now with various cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, beetroot, scallions, onions, various lettuces all available.
Apple trees will need spraying for apple scab disease if they are not resistant varieties. Pear trees are usually free from scab diseases. You can control scab by spraying with any systemic fungicide. Check currant bushes, raspberries, strawberries for greenfly, as apart from the damage they do, they also carry viruses. An organic way of getting rid of greenfly is to use washing up liquid with tepid water, spraying the top and underside of the foliage. You can also use bread soda and tepid water solution as an organic fungicide. Gooseberries will be the first fruit of the season. Pick the fruits young before they become full of seeds.
The bedding plants for the summer season are beginning to come on stream. Because the way the weather has been, it is probably best to be a little cautious. Another few mild days going in to mid May will probably see the fear of frost through. All the usual varieties are available—Pansies, Antirrhinums, Lobelia, Alysum, Salvias, Marigolds, Godetias, Stock, Begonias, Busy Lizzy, Petunias, Ageratums, etc. plus a huge selection of Surfinia Petunias and some new Double Busy Lizzy and patio and trailing plants. How to plant up a hanging basket in four simple steps:
- Place the basket on a bucket, which will help keep it steady. With moss or a bought liner, line the basket packing moss firmly in place. It is easier to use if you moisten it lightly.
- Use a multi-purpose compost to fill the basket, gently firming it down, but not packing it. A lot of people add swellgel or basketmate which is a water retention crystal (turns into a gel) and helps retain moisture, not drying out as easily.
- Remove well watered plants from their pots, plant the centre working outwards, firming the plants in place as you go.
- Water the basket evenly and hang in a greenhouse or well-lit sheltered place for about two weeks so that plants can establish.
Practical tips for this month
Keep all forms of styrofoam packing material, for example hifi, tv and fast food boxes, for breaking up to mix in compost or to place in pots before filling them with compost. The styrofoam opens up the compost to allow air in to the roots and provides very good drainage and you are recycling material!
If you get your chimney cleaned, hang on to the soot for your vegetable garden. It contains some nitrogen fertiliser and other minerals especially sulphur. Both are necessary in producing healthy growth. Traditionally soot was applied to the ground to be used for onions. A domestic chimney can produce a few kgs of soot and will be enough to apply to about ten square metres. Onions benefit from nitrogen and sulphur directly but they also benefit from increased soil temperatures. Being black in colour soot radiates back less of the sunshine that falls on the soil surface. A raising of temperature of a couple of degrees is possible and that aids onion development. While soot has been used with onions, it can also be used for other vegetables. It would benefit leafy vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, spinach, plants that effectively use nitrogen.
Lastly, a few plants to beware of in the garden, particularly if you have young children! Daphne mezereunn and P. Laurcola can cause skin allergies and are toxic if eaten. The berries are very poisonous. Lily of the Valley, although delicate in appearance should never be eaten as they are toxic. Heleborous are said to have a nauseous taste and results can be fatal if eaten. H. Poetidrus is the most poisonous when eaten and the lack shiny berries are again very tempting to children. Ligustrum ovalifolium (privet) has very unpleasant smelling flowers followed by black berries. This plant is toxic when eaten. The berries of Taxus Bacatta (Yew) are poisonous to animals and humans. Some of the euphorbia family can also cause skin allergies, particularly if you come in contact with the sap.
So that’s it for now, happy gardening and husbands beware if you see any of the above plants have been bought by your wife or in your dinner!
Bosco McDermott, Jnr, Glynn’s Garden Centre, Lydican.