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May's Chores PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bakker Company & Parag Nawathe   
May 05, 2006 at 08:36 AM

May is a festive month! New life and blooms are springing up all around us. But do be careful when planting out your annuals and putting out valuable tub plants. Depending on your part of the country, there may still be a reasonable chance of night frost.

Garden General

  • Regularly remove weeds, but do take care in doing so. Seedlings from last year are already coming up, so check before you pull.
  • Persistent weeds can be treated with a selective weed killer but do take care. Limit the use of these products as much as possible and either cover neighbouring plants or use a sheet of plastic with a slit to pull over the plant you want to control. Otherwise plants you want to keep may be killed too!
  • Clear weeds and moss from garden paths and patios.
  • Give young trees, half-standard shrubs and standard roses a sturdy support stake and check the ties regularly.
  • Place plant supports between tall growing perennials now. It may not be so easy to get in there later.
  • Early-flowering Clematis can be tidied and shaped.
  • Remove overblown flowers and seed boxes from ornamental flowering shrubs, like Rhododendron and Lilac, by pinching them out. Forming seed exhausts the plant and will result in fewer flowers in the next flowering season.
  • Check your plants for snails and slugs at least once a week, but preferably daily. Young leaves in particular are very appetizing to them. A Hosta that is just coming up can be entirely devoured in one night!
  • Fertilize your plant borders with manure.
  • Ornamental shrubs need some manure too. And hedge plants need a higher dose since, standing close together, they have to compete for nutrients.


  • Halfway through May seedlings from annuals can be planted out.
  • While pot-grown plants can be planted out all year round, May is a particularly suitable month as the soil has warmed up a bit.
  • Before you plant pot-grown plants submerge the rootball in a bucket of water until it is saturated. However, never plant in waterlogged soil.
  • If you didn't get round to planting roses or shrubs in autumn, now is your chance. Roses that are planted now will flower this summer.
  • Summer-flowering bulbs and tubers can now be planted too. They compliment your perennials and annuals and the choice is huge. Besides the well-known Dahlias, Begonias, Cannas and Gladioli, try the more unusual types like the very special white 'Hymenocallis Ismene', Freesias, Harlequin flowers, Arum lilies, Ranunculi, African corn lilies and the very long flowering Ornithogalums.
  • Seed for annuals or perennials can be sown straight in the ground. Try Busy Lizzie, the many types of Poppies, Campanula, Violets, Aster, African marigolds, Lobelia, (Livingstone) and Daisies. And don't forget the taller seed plants like the many different types of Sunflower, Mallow, Cosmea and Helichrysum.
  • May is also a good month for sowing bi-annuals like Forget-me-nots, Snapdragon, Sweet William and (again) some Campanulas.


  • Remove patches of course grass from the lawn and re-seed them.
  • Check the lawn for diseased patches.
  • For a quick-fix, cut diseased or unsightly areas out and replace them with cut-to-size pieces of new turf.
  • Large moss-infested areas can be treated with iron sulphate.
  • If you find moss throughout your lawn, it will need aerating. Sprinkle some shade-loving lawn seed.
  • Scarifying will remove thatch from your lawn. But never use a scarifier on a wet lawn, as this will have entirely the opposite effect.
  • After aerating, scarifying and, possibly, seeding the lawn, you can roll everything back in its place with the roller.
  • Cut the edges of the lawn. This is easiest when the ground is moist.
  • The lawn will need regular mowing again as well.
  • Feed your grass every month to keep it in good shape.
  • If there are waterlogged patches in your lawn, improve the drainage by pushing a garden fork into the soil and angle it back and forth.

Tub Plants

  • In the second half of this month refill your planters and hanging baskets with annuals or other plants of your choice.
  • Summer-flowering bulbs and tubers are also very suitable for pots and tubs. Plant them a bit closer together than you would do in the garden and try layering bulbs. This is done by placing late-flowering bulbs at the bottom of a pot, and earlier flowering ones on top.
  • Plant a combination of annuals and summer-flowering bulbs and get a sea of flowers this summer.
  • All kinds of tub plants (those that are not hardy and have spent the winter in a frost-free place) like Datura, Agave, Oleander, Yucca and Marguerites can be moved out again in the second half of May.
  • However, don't do this on a warm, sunny spring day. Although this might seem like a good time to do it, chances are that the foliage will scorch in the sun. It is better to move the plants outside when the weather will be rainy and overcast for a few days.
  • In May, allow Citrus and other fruit trees, like apricots, to slowly get used to the cold again.
  • These trees can withstand temperatures down to 10°C, and in spring they can regularly spend some time outside to harden-off. However, in sub-zero temperatures they must be moved back indoors again. When properly hardened-off, they will be able to withstand a few degrees of frost for a short time. If in doubt, you can wrap the pots in bubble wrap at night.
  • If your plants need re-potting it is best to do this before the hardening off process begins.
  • If you don't re-pot, replace some of the old soil with, for example, Pelargonium soil which contains clay and retains more moisture.


  • May is the perfect month for pruning evergreen hedges, like Taxus, Buxus, Holly, Conifers like Thuja and C. leylandii. You can do this until August, but young shoots will develop better if you do it now.
  • Prune flowering ornamental shrubs immediately after flowering. Newly planted shrubs should not be pruned until the third year.
  • Pruning should always be done on an overcast day.
  • Cut Broom back to just above the old wood after flowering.
  • Remove old branches from Hydrangeas.
  • Trees that bleed easily like Birch and Acer can be pruned now.
  • Topiary Buxus, Taxus and Privet can be shaped again.
  • If you have not yet pruned your Roses, try and do so as soon as possible.
  • Rose bushes can be pruned back to about 45 cm .
  • Standard roses should be pruned above the grafting point. Cut the branches back to a maximum length of 40 cm, to just above an eye (sprouting bud). Fountain roses can be left a bit longer.
  • Do not prune the main branches of climbing roses. Side branches can be cut back to just above the fifth eye. Old climbing roses can be rejuvenated by cutting one leader back to the ground.
  • Remove the so-called suckers. These are the fast-growing wild branches with lots of small thorns.
  • Bamboo branches that have suffered frost damage can be cut back to the ground. This will stimulate new shoots. However, as this will cost the plant a lot of energy be sure to provide it with sufficient food and water.
  • As low-growing bamboo does not suffer so much from cutting back, it can be cut back entirely to about 2 cm above the ground without any problems.


  • Dead foliage and other debris should be removed from the pond. Special secateurs are available with extended handles that will enable you to prune them from a safe distance.
  • Check whether your water-lilies have come loose. If they have survived the winter they should start to sprout again around this time.
  • Along the edge of the pond you could grow the impressive Loosestrife or Reed mace.
  • Add new oxygenating plants if necessary.
  • Drifting plants that have been taken indoors for the winter can be put back in the pond in mid-May.
  • If the weather is warm in May, it is high time to feed the fish again.

Kitchen Garden

  • When you have dug and fertilized your vegetable plot you can start sowing all sorts of vegetables from the beginning of May.
  • Check the beds for weeds.
  • Give Strawberries (potted ones too) a soluble potassium rich fertilizer once a week.
  • Kiwis can be planted between mid-May and the end of June. Always plant one male plant for approximately every five (maximum six) female plants. The male, pollinating, plant should be cut back after flowering.
  • Thin the fruits of Prunus types like Almond, Cherry, Peach and Plum now to ensure a rich crop later on.
  • Remove any continued blooms from Pears in May and June to reduce the risk of fireblight.
  • Check apple trees for mildew (white powdery shoots) weekly. By removing affected branches straight away you will prevent the spread of this fungal disease.
  • As soon as the Apple has flowered there will be predators lurking. The Apple sawfly and Plum sawfly lay their eggs in the flower hearts. The grubs develop rapidly and munch away at the inside of the fruit. The apple will grow on as normal but it will be wormy.
  • All new shoots on ribes types, like Redcurrant, Blackcurrant and Gooseberry, can be pinched to about 10 to 20 cm. This will limit growth and stimulate the development of flowerbuds for the following year.
  • Check all berry plants for caterpillars, preferably on a daily basis. They can devour an entire bush in a matter of days.
  • Herb seeds can now be sown in the garden. If you haven't got a herb garden, why not sow some herbs in the border or in pots. Almost all herbs are suitable and give an extra dimension to the border with their unusually shaped foliage and lovely scent.
  • If you have kept your herbs in the kitchen over winter, you can plant them out in the garden again. If you prefer to keep them potted you can give them some fresh soil and maybe a larger pot.


  • When you water your houseplants, add some soluble plant food to the watering-can once a week.
  • Remember that, when the outside temperature rises, the plants inside will also need more water.
  • Indoor Azaleas can be pruned back to half their size after flowering, and planted out on a sunny spot in the garden.
  • Amaryllis need to be watered regularly, even after flowering.
  • Give houseplants like Arum a resting period after flowering. In this period they also need less water.
  • Succulents have a resting period in spring. Water them as little as possible, keeping the soil dry and loose.
  • In the second half of May, your forced flower bulbs can be moved into the garden.
  • The same also applies to seedlings that have been started-off indoors.

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