May in the garden

Longer days, increased warmth and rain make May the busiest month in the garden. Plants are growing rapidly and a day in the garden alternates from harvesting to planting out seedlings and sowing. Take some time to sit and enjoy your burgeoning vegetable and fruit areas, and place a seat where you can enjoy a well-earned cuppa and watch the ripening crops. Weeds are also growing well, so keep on top of these, otherwise they will compete for nutrients and moisture. Frosts are still likely in May and tender crops need protecting, so keep an eye on the weather forecast: have some horticultural fleece or newspaper on hand to quickly throw over emerging crops and any fruit blossom for protection.

One of my favourite delights in May is apple blossom. Take time to enjoy the opening of the fat, pink buds and then the sweet heady fragrance. You also might like to thin out any heavy crops of blossom: this helps reduce the number of fruits and promotes even ripening and a higher quality of fruit for the remaining crop.


Control weeds by hoeing frequently, especially in dry weather. Continue earthing up potatoes as this helps to keep the tubers a good colour and protects the growing shoots from late frosts. Set some twigs amongst pea seedlings for support and make sure newly planted seedlings of any crop are watered to help get them established. A good drench with diluted liquid seaweed feed over the whole vegetable growing area at least once will help promote good crops. Harden off plants raised under cover by leaving greenhouse doors open and cold frames uncovered in the day: gradually leave them open at night, unless risk of frost threatens.

Prune out crowded shoots on apricots, cherries, plums, nectarines and peaches and tie in shoots of fan trained varieties. Reduce the number of runners on strawberry plants, leaving only those you’ll need for fresh plantings in the autumn and pinch out any flowers on these. 

Sowing and planting

It may seem only a few weeks since you harvested the last of the winter vegetables but if you haven’t sown your winter crops like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, savoy cabbage and cauliflower yet you’ll need to do this now as these all require a long growing season. Sow inside in modules for easy transplanting or sown in situ in the plot. Successional sowing of lettuce, beetroot, radish, peas, broad beans and spinach will provide plenty of summer vegetables. Plant out tomato plants towards the end of the month in a sunny spot, putting in a support system first. Remove side shoots of cordon varieties.

The middle of the month is a traditional time to sow French and runner beans in the ground, although I always start these off a little earlier in modules in the greenhouse, transplanting outside when hardened off in mid May. Put your climbing structure or supports in place first before you sow seeds or transplant seedlings and be as creative, rustic or traditional as you like with the structure. Beans like lots of moisture and are big feeders so make sure you incorporate plenty of organic matter like rotted farmyard manure or garden compost into the soil first, perhaps mixed with shredded newspaper or cardboard, and water well before planting.

Once frosts are over, sow in situ where they are to crop:

  • Asparagus peas
  • Courgettes
  • Gherkins
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Marrow
  • Parsnips
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Swede
  • Sweetcorn
  • Turnips

Philippa Pearson

Philippa Pearson is a professional horticulturist and gardener, and she looks after a large estate in Hertfordshire amongst other projects. A keen and passionate gardener all her life, Philippa lives in rural Cambridgeshire where her ever increasing organically maintained vegetable and fruit garden provide a year round harvest of interesting crops, despite being on heavy clay.