May. Prune, Tidy and Sow!

With apologies in advance for the fact that this month’s To Do blog sounds suspiciously like an episode of TV’s Casualty or Holby City because as we move this month (May) from Spring to early Summer we need to remember PTS.

In the medical world, this of course stands for Post Traumatic Stress or Shock but in the less alarming dictionary of gardening, it is short for Prune, Tidy and Sow. If you remember nothing else about our garden tasks this month, just remember these three letters because between them, they cover just about everything we need to do in the month ahead. Let’s start with the pruning or what seasoned gardeners like to call The Chelsea Chop. They are referring of course to the annual Chelsea Flower Show later this month because this is the perfect time to cut back straggly perennials to encourage healthier growth and stockier plants.

On the subject of healthier growth (oh dear, we’re back to medical terms) for a good show of bright red or pink perlagoniums this month, take the trouble to repot last year’s plants in fresh, new soil and pick off unsightly dead foliage. Prune back to healthy new shoots then sit back and admire the burst of growth these lovely and rewarding early summer plants will thank you with. Your Spring bulbs should now be over but if you can bear to resist the urge to cut the grass taking the remaining tops of those bulbs off with you then try and do so. Leaving well alone for five or six weeks after the last flower has died back will allow the plants to replenish spent energy stores and encourage a good strong and vigorous showing next Spring.

You also need to try and avoid giving any of your plants Transplant Shock (sorry Holby City) this month because although we should be clear of the last of any frosts by the middle of this month, the ground will still be cold and so half hardy annuals will suffer if you don’t take steps to harden them off before transplanting.  If you are lucky enough to have cold frames, then use them, if not you can harden off your more tender plants by keeping them under fleece for a few weeks alongside the walls of your house for further warmth and protection.

Keep tomatoes, which originate from South America, under cover until the temperature stays firmly above 10 degrees C and when you do plant them out, find the warmest spot you can but one that is aerated to try and avoid the risk of blight which loves humidity. If you’ve planted potatoes, don’t be tempted to dig them up before they are fully flowering but do make sure you water them from now on to ensure a good early crop, especially if we get a few days without rain.

Pinch the tops of your broad beans once the flowers are visible but wait until the end of this month to plant your French beans. Take the time and trouble to sow lettuce and salad leaves in succession so you can expect a continuous harvest through summer and plant radish between rows of slower growing veg to add an extra kick to your summer salads. Stay on top of your garden tidy ups – I favour little and often – and if you have missed out on Chelsea show tickets this year, don’t miss out on what is always great TV over the five days of May 24 to 28th which is when Chelsea is on this year and which I always find gives me loads of ideas to try out and introduce in my both my own garden and those of my clients.