Take advantage of May’s warmth to prune spring blooms and plant vegetables and annuals for a summer bounty.
May is the first month when the Pacific Northwest really starts to shake off the dreary doldrums of winter. All that sunshine means it’s a good idea to check irrigation systems in time for summer watering. We also get to look forward to the bounty of blooms and vegetables we’d like to enjoy, since now’s the time to plant heat-loving flowers and crops. But don’t forget to clean up after spring’s plants so they can preserve nutrients and be ready for a repeat performance next year. Read on to learn how to do these tasks, plus more, to have a beautiful May garden.
Choose flowering clematis vines at the nursery. Clematis vines have some of the biggest, most dramatic blooms of any plant in the Northwest, and now is the time to buy them at the nursery for the best selection. They’re newly out of dormancy and just starting to bloom, so you can see the color from the flower itself, not the tag. Favorites include Clematis “Niobe” with deep red blooms, and Clematis “Jackmanii” for a rich purple. Harvest rhubarb. Now’s the time to harvest cherry-red rhubarb stems to make delicious pies, desserts and crumbles. Rhubarb is at its most tender right now, and since the plant often goes dormant in summer’s heat, this is the perfect time to pick. However, don’t cut the stems, since that can cause rot to enter the crown of the plant. Instead, grasp each stalk at the base and pull with a gentle twisting motion.Remove spent flowers from spring bloomers. May is also the time of year to begin deadheading rhododendrons, which bloom in spring. Once the petals have gone brown, grasp each flower cluster at the base and bend sideways to snap off the dead bloom. This preserves the plants’ energy, since they won’t waste nutrients making seeds, and also helps prevent diseases, which can linger in old flower petals.
Mind the bulbs. Spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils put on quite a show, but once they’re done it’s important to remove their spent flowers to help preserve energy for next year’s bloom. Simply cut each finished flower stalk at the base. Don’t be tempted to cut down the foliage, however. The plant will naturally die back over the coming months and will slowly reclaim the nutrients in the foliage to store in the underground bulb. Once the foliage is withered and brown, you can rake it away.
Check your watering system. Now’s the time to make sure your irrigation system is in good working order. As the days heat up, you’ll be relying on it to provide your plants with water just as it’s needed. To test, run each system manually for at least five minutes to make sure there are no leaks or no repairs needed. Leaks are usually obvious, with geysers of water and noisy splashes making the source apparent.
Set out starts of heat-loving plants. This is the time of year to set out starts of heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, eggplant, corn and beans. Just check to see when the last frost date for your region occurs. Once that date has passed, you should be safe to plant these frost-sensitive plants.
Tote out the tomatoes. For a bountiful harvest even in cool coastal climates, try grafted tomatoes from Log House Plants. These tomato varieties are grafted onto a more vigorous root stock, so they have better disease resistance, grow more quickly and, of course, bear a lot more fruit. While they’re more expensive than a normal tomato, they’re a great solution for small gardens, as they give you a bigger yield from far fewer plants.Don’t forget the accessories. While you’re planting your summer vegetables, don’t forget to pick up a few plants just for beauty as well. Now’s the time to plant frost-tender and heat-loving plants such as impatiens, petunias, million bells, coleus and more. This ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper coleus from Proven Winners would make a great addition to pots or garden beds. Plant it near purple flowers or dark black foliage for a modern, fresh display.