Not sure what you need to accomplish in May to keep your gardening endeavors productive and fruitful? Well, continue reading and see which ones apply to you. There will be some that may or may not apply to you, depending on where you live and the climate there. For information on which hardiness zone you live in, consult the USDA hardiness zone map here. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into ten-degree (Fahrenheit) zones, and is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The USDA has recently updated this map to reflect the changes in the temperatures across some of the regions of the United States, so it would be a good idea to check things out to see if you’re still in the same hardiness zone as you have been in the recent past.
With that in mind, let’s get started with May gardening chores!
- For those of you in the upper northern parts of Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, parts of Michigan, and parts of Wyoming (Zone 3), you’re still looking at the possibility of temperatures dipping below freezing, so don’t put up your winter protection just yet. Seed your cold weather crops and be prepared to plant your potatoes and warm season crops toward the end of May.
- For those of you living in Zone 4, go ahead and start your squash, cucumber, and melon seeds indoors or in a cold frame. Wait until the end of the month to plant those frost sensitive plants such as tomatoes, beans, and squash.
- Zone 5 temps should be warming up, but you still have time to get some cool season crops thrown in. After the soil reaches 60°F and stays that way, however, is the time to put out those warm-weather-loving veggies such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, and melons.
- For those of you in Zone 6, put out your transplants—tomatoes early in the month, peppers, and eggplants by the end of the month—and seed the garden with squash, beans, okra, and corn. Beans like really warm weather and soil (as do squash), so make sure a cold snap isn’t coming your way. You may be able to squeeze in a few leafy greens.
- Zone 7, it’s time for those heat-lovin’ vegetables! Plant your tomatoes, okra, eggplant, peppers, sweet potatoes, purple hull peas (or crowders, or whatever peas you want!), squash, corn, cucumbers, etc. Mulch your peas and water them regularly. If you’re growing fruit trees, thin your emerging fruits (peaches, plums, pears, apples, etc.) to about six inches apart.
- If you’re in Zone 8 and have planted for a spring harvest, begin harvesting! Do this daily to try to keep them producing as long a possible. Like Zone 7, you’re good to go with those heat-lovin’ vegetables. You might want to think about putting in a drip irrigation system. They’re a blessing when things dry up and the sun bakes everything in place.
- Zone 9, you may be able to plant some last-minute runs of lettuce, but make sure they’re the heat-tolerant kind that are slow to bolt. Mulch is your friend, as is drip irrigation. You and Zone 10 can plant things like sweet potatoes, okra, and field peas such as purple hull peas. A mixture of fish emulsion and seaweed spray will keep your heat-tolerant herbs going stronger. If you have an unused garden bed or garden spot that you’re allowing to lay fallow, cover it for a month or so with clear plastic to kill weed seeds, nematodes, and pathogens in the soil.
Chores that can be done no matter which zone you live in:
- If you haven’t already done so, early in the month, add compost to the soil and turn it in gently (don’t till).
- Have your soil tested to make sure all the nutrients are there and your pH levels are adequate for the produce you’re trying to grow. Your county extension agent will be able to help you with this.
- Weed, weed, weed!
- If your gardening tools need reworking, now’s the time to do it. Sand and refinish wooden handles, tighten and oil metal parts.
- If your gardening stuff is scattered here and there, consider building a storage shed to house everything—from your tools, to hats and gloves, fertilizer, etc. If you’re feeling especially frisky, build it large enough to house the lawn mower, tiller, and whatever else you need to get out of the weather.
- Find out what beneficial bugs and insects live in your area. Start making plans to attract them to your garden.
- Find out what insects are destroying your garden and make plans to bring in natural predators to handle the problem. This may include bats, a variety of birds, or other insects.