May is here and summer is on its way. Sue Bradley gets ready for action in the garden
The garden comes into sharp focus for many people in May. The month begins with the Fête du Muguet on 1 May, or International Labour Day, when it’s the tradition to present friends and relatives with posies or pots of lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) as a symbol of good luck.
This sweet-scented, but very poisonous plant, grows well in cooler parts of France and pots received as presents can be planted out in partial or full shade in soil that’s rich in leaf mould.
In just under a fortnight later, gardeners and farmers will be observing the so-called ‘ice saints’, or les saints de glace, the saint days between 11-13 May – and Saint Urbain on 25 May in the coldest regions – after which it’s usually safe to assume that the last night frosts have occurred and the time has come to start removing tender vegetables, such as tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes, Pelargoniums (also known as geraniums) and annual bedding from the greenhouse to plant outside. The same goes for hanging baskets, which can be planted up within a frost-free environment earlier in the month.
Of course, temperatures vary between regions and every year is different, so it’s always wise to listen to weather forecasts and be prepared to bring in baskets and wrap tender plants in horticultural fleece if the mercury drops. At the same time, it’s essential to water new additions to the garden regularly, especially when they’re sinking their roots deep into the ground. Along with planting out, it’s also a good time to sow seeds straight into wellprepared soil.
Summer salad crops such as lettuce and rocket grow especially well in temperate areas and can be put in at regular intervals to ensure a succession of leaves throughout the summer.
Other seeds that can be sown now include beetroot, French and runner beans and brassica such as broccoli and cabbage.
Elsewhere in the vegetable garden it’s time to earth up potatoes, which involves pulling soil around the stems to protect them against frost and prevent light from turning emerging tubers green.
Regularly hoe off weeds to stop them from robbing other plants of nutrients and moisture. Doing this on a sunny day causes these unwanted specimens to die quickly while simultaneously providing a moisture- retaining mulch to the benefit of other plants.
Pests are another cause for vigilance, especially lily and viburnum beetles, greenfly and molluscs such as slugs and snails, and it’s well worth taking early action – whether physical, biological or organic – to keep numbers as low as possible.
Lawns will be growing at full pelt at this time of the year, which makes weekly mowing a necessity to maintain a neat sward.
Make the most of the clippings as a mulch around shrubs, herbaceous plants and fruit bushes, something that especially pays dividends in areas that become particularly hot and dry during the summer months.
Hedges will also be putting on plenty of growth, leading many people to reach for their clippers and shears, although check any nesting birds have departed before getting stuck in.
All in all, May is a busy month, but also a beautiful time of year, so don’t forget to make the most of opportunities to sit and enjoy the lush growth and gorgeous blooms. Lift and split overcrowded clumps of daffodils and other spring bulbs.