May gardening tips
General tasks and garden maintenance
Beware treacherous late frosts and keep vulnerable plants and new shoots protected at night if frost is forecast. Don’t be tempted to put out tender bedding until the middle of the month and even then be prepared to cover it if necessary.
Continue with the spring cleaning. Hoe your borders to get rid of weeds before they take hold (ideally on a dry day to desiccate the victims) - annual weeds such as bitter cress and groundsel are enough of a nightmare without allowing them to go forth and multiply by seeding. If it’s dry, attack ground elder and the like with systemic weed killer painted onto the leaves. Remember these systemic weed killers are indiscriminate and will kill anything they contact. Dandelions are a monstrous nuisance at this time of year - if you don’t have time to deal with them terminally, at least chop their heads off before they set seed.
Water is a precious commodity - instigate good practices such as using kitchen and bath water (as long as it is neither too dirty, greasy nor full of detergent) for watering, collect rainwater and investigate ways to recycle water for your irrigation. Automatic watering systems are economical with water, as well as convenient! The trick with watering is to water thoroughly once or twice a week rather than little and often (containers etc do need watering every day).
Mulch away while you can still see what you are doing and before the herbaceous growth really takes off. Use your own garden compost or leaf mould, well rotted manure, the contents of out-of-date grow bags or ready-made soil conditioner.
Now the soil is warming up and things are starting to grow, add general purpose fertiliser before covering with mulch especially in borders, the fruit and vegetable patch and containers. If you have already mulched, draw it back (if possible), tease the soil a little, add fertiliser and replace the mulch.
Carry on removing moss and weeds from paths, terraces and drives and keep an eye out for pests around the garden. Try to keep the use of chemical controls to a minimum - they may kill off pests, but they also kill off the beneficial insects that prey on them such as ladybirds and hoverfly larvae.
Unless you are a Buddhist or a pacifist, now is the time to wage war on slugs and snails. They love tulips and delicacies such as the delicious young shoots of delphiniums and the like, so use pet-friendly slug pellets, drench the ground around hostas with liquid slug killer to exterminate slugs below the surface or invest in a biological control (this employs nematodes to deliver a slug-lethal bacterial infection) – all are available from the garden centre. Keep an eye out for snails and pick them off....what you do with them is up to you. Birds are your friends here - flat stones artfully located are useful accessories for birds to practise their snail bashing techniques.
Other unwelcome visitors on the move are lily beetles (bright red little darlings with black heads or their yellow larvae) and the black-spotted green caterpillars of the gooseberry sawfly (read on for more info!). Squash meaningfully or spray with deadly chemicals. No room for lily livered stuff with this lot!