Gardening in May
As the enduring optimist I went long on rain last month; and for once I was pleasantly proven right. We have had some good early rains in April.
Looking at the way the cold fronts are coming through now, my optimism for at least a normal rainfall this winter is growing by the week. Even though we still have these most amazing summery days in between cold fronts, the nights are getting cold and all growth in the garden slows down. With this slowing down in nature also comes a natural slowing down in the activity levels of the average gardener. No problem with that – if you need to take a break from the garden May is one of the better months to do so. Most tasks should have been completed in March and April and those which you haven’t got to can stand over until June. For the more energetic gardener there is, however, still plenty to do around the garden.
All spring flowering bulbs must be planted by the end of the month. It is also the time to sow sweet peas, alyssum, delphiniums, dianthus, foxglove, gazania and vygies. May is an excellent time to plant Fynbos plants. The nurseries are well stocked with all sorts of winter flowering annuals for instant colour. Plant pansies, violas, antirrhinums, calendula, kale, stocks and delphiniums or try some of the indigenous alternatives.
The late summer flowering shrubs like Solanum, Tecomaria, Plumbago and Hibiscus can be pruned now. Perennials that have finished flowering must be cut back hard now. These include Michaelmas daisies, gaura and cannas. Stop fertilising and deadheading roses to force them into a winter’s rest. It is one of the best months to plant shrubs and trees. Fertilise newly planted shrubs and seedlings with a balanced fertiliser like Bounce Back. Remember to clean out all gutters before the serious rains start. The sludge coming out of the gutters is a great addition to the compost heap. Lawns can be cut a bit shorter now to allow more sunlight to reach the lower swards of grass; this will help to combat disease.
In the vegetable garden you can sow broccoli, cabbage, oriental veggies, leek, lettuce, onion, parsley, peas, radish, swiss chard and beetroot. Cover crop can also still be sown. If you still have tomato bushes with lots of green tomatoes on, you can pull them out and hang them upside down indoors; the green tomatoes will still ripen and can be picked as needed. Citrus trees must be fertilised with 5:1:5 slow release fertiliser. Use all the dropped leaves from deciduous trees to start a compost heap. If you are really lazy like me, you can simply use it as mulch on the beds and allow the earthworms and other organisms to do their work. Winter is a good time to establish and boost the microbial life in the soil. Do this with the addition of good quality homemade compost, commercial preparations and organic fertiliser teas. Adding a source of carbohydrates to the soil can also provide a boost to the existing life in the soil – I use molasses to great effect.
May is an often-overwhelming month in the kitchen. There are just too many good things coming from the garden that needs to be processed, preserved, cooked or stored. I am thinking sweet potatoes, green peppers, green tomatoes, aubergine, olives and soft citrus. We do eat a lot of starchy veg this time of year. Finding new ways to cook sweet potatoes and pumpkins keep things interesting, but in the end a slow roast in the Welcome Dover stove still wins.