Lilacs take center stage in the May garden.

Lilacs take center stage in the May garden. Credit: Photo by Dow Gardens Archive

May can be a frantic month for gardeners, but frantic in a good way: After months of sitting around waiting, finally, it's showtime. Life seems to be springing forth from every square inch of soil. Lilacs perfume the borders (clip some, stick them in a vase and let them perfume the house, too). And vegetable seedlings find a new home outdoors at the end of the month. Weeds, too, appear with a vengeance, as do hornet stings and poison ivy rashes. But we take the bad with the good. OK, everyone: Time to get busy.

1. Visit public gardens like Old Westbury, Planting Fields, Clarke or Bayard, among others, and jot down ideas to use at home.

2. Incorporate compost into beds to enrich the soil.

3. Plant perennials.

4. Mulch around cool-season vegetables like cabbage, lettuce and spinach, and give them a dose of fertilizer.

5. Plant Cinco de Mayo and other roses and have a fiesta.

6. If you didn't last month, aerate and dethatch the lawn now.

7. Weed perennial beds and borders, edge and apply mulch.

8. It's World Naked Gardning Day! Join me at Clarke Botanical Gardens in Albertson at 10:30 a.m. for a talk about herbs. (But please wear clothes.)

9. Happy Mother's Day! Relax - you deserve it. Maybe treat yourself to some annuals, but avoid buying plants in full bloom.

10. Sow seeds of summer-blooming perennials and biennials directly in the garden.

11. Begin planting gladiolus: Place corms pointy end up in full sun, 4 to 6 inches apart. Repeat weekly until mid-June.

12. Set a soaker hose over roots around newly planted trees. Water deeply.

13. Plant dahlia tubers outdoors when the lilacs bloom.

14. Plant sweet corn.

15. Deadhead sweet peas to keep the blooms coming.

16. Prune gray tips from juniper branches.

17. To make the job easier, wait until after a rainfall to pull weeds.

18. Prune spring-flowering shrubs when they're finished blooming. 

19. Transplant herb seedlings outdoors. No need to fertilize. 

20. Check asparagus daily and harvest when spears are 6 inches tall, but not if plants are less than 2 years old. 

21. Plant annuals, as long as nighttime temperatures are above 55 degrees. 

22. Start hardening off vegetable seedlings: Set them in shade for longer periods each day for a week before transplanting. Keep watering. 

23. Fertilize potted houseplants and acclimate them for their summer outdoors just as you would vegetable plants. (See May 22.) 

24. Keep African violets indoors; they have no appreciation of the yard. 

25. For bushier plants, shear an inch of Dianthus and creeping phlox when 6 inches tall. 

26. At the nursery, seek out short, full vegetable plants, not tall, leggy ones. 

27. Fertilize tulip bulbs; remove foliage only after it turns yellow. 

28. Plant cucumber and squash seedlings around a support. You can also sow seeds directly into the ground now. 

29. Replace fading pansies with impatiens, sweet alyssum or Calibrachoa Superbells. 

30. Set tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and melons into prepared beds. Add compost to planting holes and mulch. 

31. It's Memorial Day - time to fertilize the lawn. Use one pound of slow-release nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

Newsday Logo

ONE-DAYSALE5¢ a week for 5 6 months

Get Unlimited Access

Cancel anytime