In the Garden: Here's a to-do list for May - mulch, sow, weed, water

Olive Ryan shares advice on the jobs that need doing right now in your garden, in her weekly column
In the Garden: Here's a to-do list for May - mulch, sow, weed, water

The sulphur yellow flowers of bronze fennel contrast nicely with the foliage and here Verbena also

THE temperatures are up and growth has taken off. It has been a long and fragmented spring while we waited patiently for conditions for growth to become favourable.

The transition from spring into summer is never smooth really, with late frosts, wet spells and, in more recent years, dry periods all presenting difficulties.

For now, though, growth is good, with the canopies of deciduous trees closing in, bringing the flowering time for woodlanders near to an end.

 Bluebells are providing a great show of colour now as the canopy begins to close in over their heads
Bluebells are providing a great show of colour now as the canopy begins to close in over their heads

The bluebells, wild garlic and three cornered leek are all at their peak right now and a sight to behold. Their flowers are a reminder that it is all kicking off and the growing season has begun in earnest.

As we bridge the gap between spring and summer, there are a few weeks where foliage takes precedence over flower (if you do not have the acid soil needed to grow rhododendrons and azaleas which steal the show in May).

The tulips, narcissus and other spring bulbs are fading now and the herbaceous colour associated with summer has not emerged just yet.

It is the fresh young foliage emerging from tree buds and herbaceous plants at a lower level that takes centre stage for me at this time of the year. 

Fifty shades of green are to be found in the garden and hedgerows and a few touches of red, orange, yellow and brown thrown in for good measure!

To fill a vase with just fresh foliage at this time of the year, and admire up close the various shades produced in the new leaves, is a joyous thing.

There is lots to do in the garden right now, it’s probably the busiest time of the year, with seed sowing in full swing, pricking out and potting on is an important task to keep plants moving and prevent disease build up or plants becoming root bound in pots.

Young plants need to be moved on to keep them healthy and stress-free. Plants can be gradually hardened off now before planting out, and having a cold frame set up is particularly useful to acclimatize plants raised in the glasshouse or polytunnel to outdoor temperatures.

Plants can suffer a shock if put straight outside from a protected growing environment, and providing a few days in an intermediate environment with some protection given at night time will ensure a smoother transition.

Cold frames can be constructed using old windows or perspex up against a south facing wall and were traditionally included as part of a glasshouse set-up.

Watering is another important consideration now as the temperatures pick up and sunnier days are making a more frequent appearance - plants in pots are drying out much more quickly and so need regular attention.

It’s also important to water any plants transplanted out into the ground immediately after planting to help settle their roots down into the soil.

Watering is such an important consideration for plants and it is becoming an issue in recent years as intermittent periods of dry weather are becoming frequent.

Mulching the soil after planting will help to conserve water, lessening evaporation from the surface, and if an organic mulch is used this will also provide some reserves to support the soil in providing a supply of nutrients and moisture for plants.

 Fifty shades of green emerging at Airfield Esatate in Dublin, where fresh spring foliage and flowers abound.
Fifty shades of green emerging at Airfield Esatate in Dublin, where fresh spring foliage and flowers abound.

Direct sowing can be undertaken now outdoors and successional planting is the way to ensure that plenty of produce is available throughout the summer instead of a glut at one time.

Sowing seeds of runner and French beans directly now will provide a later crop than transplants planted out now.

Lettuce really needs to be sown again once the existing crop is ready for harvest as it matures quickly once the temperatures pick up. Sowing a few seeds every month or six weeks will ensure a healthy new crop is always at the ready for picking.

Weeding is important around newly planted young plants to ensure that they do not become stressed trying to compete for water and nutrients. When weeding the vegetable garden, where plants are usually grown in rows, then a hoe becomes your best friend, particularly the oscillating hoe which glides along the surface of the soil, taking out weeds as it goes.

The most important thing to remember about hoeing weeds is to undertake this task on a sunny, dry day so that the roots of the weeds dry out, killing the weeds.

Plant of the Week

Fresh new foliage is appearing everywhere and none is as attractive as that of bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’.

This perennial gets to nearly two metres in height, producing yellow umbel flowers irresistible to pollinators of all descriptions in July and August.

The foliage tastes good with meat and fish or as an ingredient in a salad with its signature licorice taste.

This plant does not need to be confined to the kitchen garden as the delicate ferny foliage looks great among herbaceous perennials and provides great drama, height and structure during the summer months.

The foliage and flowers are great as cut flowers and at the end of autumn it will die back completely into the ground, re-emerging in spring with beautiful bronze foliage.

This plant will grow best in full sun in a moisture retentive and free draining soil. It is a Mediterranean plant and will survive drier conditions producing less foliage and flowers. It self seeds freely so remove the flowers before they go to seed if this is not a desirable characteristic in your garden.

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