Gardening in May
May is the heart of autumn. That is probably the reason why it is such an unpredictable month weather wise. The changing of the seasons is felt both in the first of the serious cold fronts and the warm almost summery days we get in between. The nights however are getting really 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 must be one of the better months to do so. Most tasks should have been done 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 quite a lot 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, but so are the next few months. The nurseries are well stocked with all sorts of winter flowering annuals for instant colour. Plant pansies, violas, antirrhinums, calendula, kale, stocks and delphiniums.
All 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 now to force them into a winter’s rest. It is the best month 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. If you still have tomato bushes with lots of green tomatoes on them 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.
I am forever trying to find new ways to use up the inevitable glut we experience in many late vegetables; especially pumpkins and squashes. You can only eat so much butternut soup! So I have tried various recipes and will also blanch and freeze some diced pumpkin. I have also found that pumpkin makes a surprisingly delicious addition to tomato sauce for pasta or pizza. The pumpkin thickens the sauce and the sweetness takes away the acidic bite of the tomatoes. I am also for the first time storing some ripe pumpkins on the roof – for both gastronomic and aesthetic reasons.
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