May Gardening tips

April has not lived up to its ‘April showers’ reputation. Where I live it’s been one of the driest months on record, with just 10 per cent of the normal annual rainfall. So, we go into May with ground that looks like concrete. 

This means that, unusually for this time of year, you’ll need to water, especially if you have plants in pots, window boxes, hanging baskets or anywhere the soil is finite. But as we can see, water is a limited resource, so water mindfully. The easiest way to do this is to use a watering can rather than a hose. You’ll see how much water you’re using, and can feel the soil, stopping when the plant has enough water. 

It’s also a good idea to give plants a soak once a week rather than a little drop every day. This allows the roots to go down deep into the ground, making the plant more stable. If you just offer the plant a few drops of water, its roots will stay close to the surface in order to absorb the water and your plant won’t be secure. 

If you planted bare-root trees during the winter, they’ll need a bucket full of water each week for at least a year to help them settle. Water isn’t just for seedlings and flowers, it’s for trees too. 

However, if you’ve started off seedlings at home or in the greenhouse, they’ll now be getting to the stage where they need potting up – transferring into a bigger pot. When you do this, always hold the leaf of the plant rather than the stem to avoid crushing it, and ease it out of the soil using a teaspoon. Water in once the seedling is in its new pot. 

Once all risk of frosts is past and your seedlings have grown into small plants, they can be planted outside. It really isn’t worth the risk of putting them out early, only to see them perish in the last frost. So no matter how crowded your window sills, keep everything inside until you’re sure the last frost has happened. Where I live, in southern England, that’s traditionally the first week of May. Keep an eye on the long-term forecast to be sure. 

If you have never sown a seed in your life, now’s the time to get going. May is the perfect time to sow seeds of any kind of bean plant. This year I’m growing runner beans, purple climbing beans, dwarf French beans and something rejoicing in the name of metre-long beans. Beans are tough and can be sown direct into the soil. They’ll need something to grow up, food and water, but will repay you with something to eat in a couple of months’ time. 

If vegetables don’t appeal, try sowing some annual flower seeds. You get a huge amount of bang for your buck when growing from seed. If you buy a plant from a good nursery (and who doesn’t enjoy doing that?) you may be separating yourself from £5 to £10 for one plant. But if you buy a packet of seeds, you can have dozens of plants for £2 to £3. So choose something you like and give it a try. I’ll be sowing some more sweet peas this month, to plant out in a few weeks’ time. I adore the heady scent, and the wonderful idea that the more you pick, the more flowers you get. But, if you have children, a fun thing to do now would be to sow some sunflower seeds now and have a competition to grow the tallest. I’m having a competition with myself with a variety called Russian Giant. The clue’s in the name. But there are plenty of smaller versions if height isn’t important. Try Vanilla Ice for a lovely, smaller white variety that will add a pop of colour to any sunny border. 

May is also a good time for sitting and enjoying the beauty of a garden. Even if you don’t have your own, you can do this now. And, as you do, ponder whether you could be part of a Psalm 23-inspired community garden. There are handy resources to help you achieve this dream at

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