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Northeast Regional Reports

Northeast: May Garden To-Do List | Regional Report

May is the boss of us. Never mind if the laundry needs doing or dinner hasn’t gone into the oven, if it’s a nice day in May, you’ll find us in the garden past sunset, headlamp on, no apologies. If it’s a crummy day in May, same story. As nights warm into the 50s and above, plant growth kicks into high gear (including onion grass). If we don’t try to keep up, we’ll feel like we’re losing ground. (We’re not. We’ve still got June.) Also, it bears remembering that May gardens are deceiving: lovely and minimalist with plenty of room to spare. But as perennials and coppiced shrubs grow to their full potential, they’ll soon take up much more space than they do now.

1. Take advantage of local organizations’ plant sales, and start haunting your favorite nurseries.

  • Identify the true vacancies in your garden, and go with a wish list—but allow for impulse purchases; they’re what keep us on our toes.
  • Don’t think spring; think late summer and fall. Look for late-blooming tender perennials and annuals that will carry your garden and its pollinators through the heat of summer, as well as a native hosts for the insect and bird community.

2. Harden your heart to thin self-sown and direct-sown seedlings.

  • Allowing a tiny fraction of the abundance to mature will reward you with sturdier stems and bigger flowers and fruit. Compost the extras, or share them with friends.

3. Dust off your houseplants, and bring them outside.

  • Some, like rosemary and geraniums (Pelargonium spp.), will thrive if planted in the garden. Others, such as begonias, gardenia, and figs, will be happy enough in containers.

4. Do the Chelsea Chop

  • Pinching summer- and fall-blooming perennials (such as Nepeta spp., Agastache spp., Sedum spp., and summer phlox) once or twice before Father’s Day will promote branching and sturdy upright growth.
  • Pinched tips may be rooted in perlite. Share the wealth!

Kristin Green is author of Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants that Spread, Self-sow, and Overwinter, and gardens in Bristol, Rhode Island.

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