May Garden Tips and Seed Starting

by Isabel Vinton

Welcome May. While the combination of 90 degree heat and bursting bloom of daffodils has felt a little odd this past week, we can’t deny that we are delighted with May’s arrival. Each day has brought its own excitement from the opening of a new bulb, to direct sowing our Swiss Giant Snow Peas, to transplanting and hardening off our adolescent seedlings. With all office employees shedding several layers, it’s not only our hearts that are feeling lighter! Of course, now the real work begins....

Mind the frosts (and as this week is proof, the heat too). Our last frost date falls right around Mother’s Day (you can check yours here), which means it should be safe to transplant or sow all tender crops after then. But, be sure the weather outside matches calendar’s sentiment on paper. A frost in late May is not unheard of in our region and beyond. To prepare yourself and your tender seedlings, read our post on late frost: Frost? Don’t Freak Out. Doug’s video tutorial on potting-up tomatoes.

Cold-frames and plastic row covers are great for keeping plants warm on cold nights and speeding up growth (and thus, time till first harvest!), but on the hotter days, the extra layers could start to cook some varieties. If it’s warm and sunny, open up the glass/plastic at least part of the way to create airflow and lower the temperatures.

Here are some other tasks to be thinking about:

  • Hardening off: Seedlings that have been raised in a cozy indoor environment need time to adjust to the elements. Before transplanting into your garden, bring them out during the day, and back in at night for a few days so they can get used to the new temperatures and wind gradually.

  • Transplanting: After hardening off, it’s time to transplant your tender crops into the garden. Stay tuned for next week’s blog on with tips and tricks for transplanting.
  • Weeding: Everything is about to take advantage of the warmth and light and grow, grow, grow. Weeds are, by no means, an exception. Take a look at a few of our tips on efficient weeding. And, a few ideas for how to make use of these "pesky" plants in the kitchen.

And finally, there's a whole lot that you can direct sow this month. In fact, it’s hard to find a more exciting month than May for direct sowing opportunities in a northern garden. It’s not too late for a wide array of spring crops -  it’s just the right time for tender summer crops like corn and beans, and it’s not too early to start thinking about long season items like Brussels sprouts for the fall garden. Don't forget tender herbs such as basil and in terms of flowers, the sky is almost the limit, from zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, and so much more.

beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chard, corn, cucumbers, fennel, kale and collards, kohlrabi, lettuce, melons and watermelons, radishes, scallions, spinach, summer squash, turnips and rutabagas, and winter squash.

Herbs include: all tender herbs (such as basil).

As for flowers, the sky is almost the limit. While it's a bit late for some early spring varieties (such as Johnny Jump-Ups, Primroses and Poppies), almost everything else can be direct sown in May. And, even if you have some early spring varieties left over, not to worry! Many of these varieties can also be planted in the fall.

Happy May!