As GardenSIte's plant specialist I always keenly anticipate the HTA National Plant Show. This is my chance to visit nurseries, find out what's trending in the horticultural world and source new stock, all from under one roof.
With little chance of frost for most of the country and the weather becoming increasingly warm, May is a very busy month in the gardening calendar. Nathan James Dodd explains what should be happening in your garden.
As the chance of frost has largely passed and warmer weather has arrived, May is a month that you really want to make the most of with lots of garden activity.
Continue to sow successive rows of vegetables. Keep hoeing, hand picking and digging up weeds before they set seed, making sure the roots of perennials are completely removed. If it's too cold for some crops such as French beans, pumpkins and squash, sow them inside to plant out when the weather is warmer.
Plant out sweat peas in a moisture retentive soil, water in well. Tie to support sticks for the first month to six weeks.
If you need space that has been taken up by bulbs that have finished flowering, lift them without damaging the foliage and place them in a shallow trench. Cover the bulbs with earth and wait until the foliage has died down before lifting, cleaning and storing. Remove seed heads from daffodils and tulips but not the foliage.
Sort out any herbs that have become woody over winter by cutting back to encourage new growth.
Begin to lower the blades on the lawn mower. This will keep the lawn neat and slice through annual weeds. If you want a pristine lawn, a regular regime of feeding and weed control should be adopted.
Cut any suckers from shrubs and fruit trees to just below ground level and use a thick mulch to discourage them.
Actively encourage birds into the garden with food and a regularly replenished bird bath but avoid trimming hedges as you may damage the habitat of nesting birds.
Net strawberries to discourage birds and remove blossom from first year plants. Ensure that other fruit is well watered and thin out gooseberries to encourage larger fruit. Remove excess raspberry canes before they become too congested that will encourage disease.
Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as viburnums, lilacs and forsythias once their blooms have faded, to ensure their shape is maintained, new strong growth is encouraged and weak, old and unproductive stems are cut out.
Earth up potatoes when new shoots show through. This protects them from a late frost and also direct sunlight that will turn the tubers green. If there's a dry spell they will appreciate some water. Support broad beans with twine.
It’s already time to start thinking about Halloween and a job that might interest children is to sow pumpkin seeds on their side in a 3in pot about 1in deep and cover with cling film to help retain moisture and warmth. Place on a windowsill, pot on and finally plant out in a sunny fertile spot.
To avoid carrot fly, sow later in the season, choose a resistant variety or try companion planting with onions or garlic and sowing amongst other vegetables, covering with fleece or surrounding the plot with 2ft high barrier of polythene or similar material.
Lift and divide primroses after flowering.
Plant out cabbages and to protect these and other brassicas from cabbage white butterflies from laying eggs, cover with netting. Deter cabbage root fly by fitting brassica collars that can be made with roofing felt or carpet underlay.
You might not be familiar with the 'Chelsea Chop' but it’s useful if you want to extend the flowering period of herbaceous perennials. Asters, campanulas, heleniums, phlox are amongst those that can benefit, delaying flowering and leading to stockier growth and perhaps smaller but an increased number of blooms. Cut back the stems by two thirds in the last week of May or only a proportion for a long succession of flowering.
Greenhouse tomatoes will now need plenty of water, perhaps twice a day but less for cherry tomatoes. Spray them with water to encourage pollination and use a liquid tomato fertilizer as directed. Don't forget to pinch out side shoots.
If you are also growing a greenhouse grapevine, allow only three leaves to develop after a fruiting truss before pinching out the tip.
Plant runner beans in the trench that you've filled with organic matter over the past few weeks. Put in place a double row of bamboo canes, 9ins apart with a 2ft gap between the rows. Alternatively grow up a wigwam of four or six poles tied together. Plant two seeds at the base of each cane at a depth of 2ins.
Support broad beans with canes and string around the perimeter of the plot.
Nathan James Dodd
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