May can be a frenzied time for gardeners, as our outdoor obligations fully awaken from their long winter’s nap. Temperatures — of the soil as well as the air — are rising, and plants are popping up. Like newborn babies, they demand attention immediately, and we’re all too happy to oblige. So pull on your gardening gloves, inhale the scent of the lilacs, settle vegetable seedlings into their beds and, of course, start pulling those weeds. Here’s a chore or tip for each day of the month to help you stay on track.
1. Treat yourself to some new perennials and start planting them now.
2. Mulch beds and borders to suppress weeds, retain moisture and improve your soil. Never create “volcanoes” around trees or mulch deeper than 3 inches.
3. If you didn’t last month, aerate and dethatch the lawn now.
4. Incorporate compost into planting beds to enrich the soil.
5. It’s Cinco de Mayo! Plant cilantro to give your summer recipes a Mexican flair.
6. When buying cell pack annuals, seek out young, bloomless plants. They’ll be healthier.
7. Fertilize cabbage, lettuce, spinach and other cool-season vegetables.
8. If houseplants are outgrowing their containers, repot them, but go up only to the next size.
9. Keep on top of weeds. To make the job easier, wait until after rainfall or hose down the area first.
10. Clean and store bird feeders.
11. Plant roses.
12. Begin planting gladiolus: Place corms pointy end up in full sun, 4 to 6 inches apart. Repeat weekly until mid-June.
13. Sow seeds of summer-blooming perennials and biennials directly into the garden.
14. Happy Mother’s Day! Kids, do the weeding and watering today.
15. It’s time to plant corn.
16. Prune gray tips from juniper branches.
17. Check the undersides of hollyhock leaves for orange pustules, telltale signs of rust fungus, and remove affected leaves.
18. Set a soaker hose over roots around newly planted trees. Water deeply now and throughout their first year.
19. Prune spring-flowering shrubs as soon as their blossoms fade.
20. If the lilacs are blooming, it’s time to plant dahlias.
21. Transplant herb seedlings outdoors. Give them water, but not fertilizer.
22. Check asparagus daily and harvest when spears are 6 inches tall, but not if plants are less than 2 years old.
23. If nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55 degrees, it’s safe to plant annuals outdoors.
24. Start hardening off vegetable seedlings: Set them in shade for longer periods each day for a week before transplanting.
25. Avoid synthetic chemicals: Deal with pests with pyrethrins, Bt, insecticidal soap or neem oil.
26. Gradually move houseplants outdoors, but never African violets.
27. Move tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons and other summer crops into the garden and apply mulch.
28. Fertilize tulip bulbs but don’t remove foliage until it has browned and withered.
29. It’s Memorial Day, time to fertilize the lawn. Apply one pound of slow-release nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
30. For bushier plants, shear an inch off dianthus and creeping phlox when 6 inches tall.
31. Replace fading pansies with your favorite summer annuals.