PUBLISHED: 09:00 19 May 2014
Toby Buckland delivers some sound practical and seasonal advice
Hello! If there is a champagne moment in gardening, it’s the month of May. Plants are growing faster than a cork flying from a bottle and in every sense of the word it’s a month of celebration.
There’s a reason why all the best flower-shows happen in May and that’s because there’s more in flower now than any other month. The pansies and viola are still flowering their socks off and the first of the summer blooms, the early roses, foxgloves and honeysuckle are opening up to the sunshine.
The beauty of May isn’t just about the looking - hardy annuals, vegetables sown now will crop this year, dahlias and tender types planted out in the border will flower by the summer holidays and repairs and changes will quickly grow in and look like they’ve been there forever.
What to do now
There’s two ways of stopping top-heavy herbaceous plants from flopping over – one is to prop up with stakes, ideal for plants with spire-like flowers like lupins and delphiniums, the other is to do the Chelsea chop.
This chop is good for plants with multi-headed flowers like Michaelmas daisies and phlox. Use secateurs to trim back the tops of plants by one-third to encourage more and stouter stems to grow from the base. It delays flowering by a week or so but the upside is more blooms.
Now is the perfect time to plant tender types, like canna lilies, dahlias, hibiscus, abutilon and all those lovely exotics we can get away with in our milder South West climate as they have the whole summer ahead to establish.
Acclimatise greenhouse-sown plants to life outdoors by placing outside during the day so that life outdoors once planted comes as less of a shock. The list of veg to sow now is huge but it’s particularly good for South American crops such as sweetcorn, pumpkins and courgettes. From the start of May, sow straight into soil outdoors – just watch out for mice.
Don’t forget – anything planted at this time of year relies on you for its water until its roots have spread out into the soil. My tip is water well – it’s better to really soak it once a week than the little and often approach.
Plant of the month - Cornflowers:
Cornflowers, once a native flower of the field, are now a rare sight in the wild due to changes in farming practices, but can still be sown and grown in our gardens and are the ultimate cut and come again blooms.
It’s not only the traditional sky-blue petals than may break from the egg-shaped buds, depending on the variety white, pink and deep plum is also available. They happily sprout from seed in soil warmed by the spring sun in an open position.
Broadcast in a sunny border for a meadow effect or sow in rows by scraping a line in the soil about half an inch deep, filling with water and allow to soak away and then thinly scatter seed. Seeds sown now are fast to flower and lovely left where they are for the bees or cut and brought indoors for cottage-garden style vases.