"My May To Do List," by the Whistling Gardener

There is no shortage of chores for the month of May, just a shortage of time and perhaps a shortage of space to list them.
The Whistling Gardener lists his chores for the month of May. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

There is no shortage of chores for the month of May, just a shortage of time and perhaps a shortage of space to list them. If you are feeling like a chicken with its head cut off then hopefully this will help you focus. Here are the highlights for May.

WINTER DAMAGE—I list this first because I seem to be discovering more of it every day. Brown tips on coniferous evergreens, dead limbs on hydrangeas, burned back branches on broadleaf evergreens like rhodies and camellias and just flat out dead plants are all the result of the hard freezes back in November and early December.

Clean up what you can and when in doubt, yank it out and look for something new and exciting.

LAWNS—there is still plenty of time to do all the things I told you to do in April. If it is any consolation, my lawn is currently a nice warm coppery color due to a generous application of Roundup a few weeks ago.

Over the next month I will be working on improving the drainage by amending the soil and installing a French drain. I am hoping to reseed before the end of the month. Whatever you decide to do to your lawn try and complete it before June.

PRUNING—there is rarely a month when there isn’t something to prune and May is no exception. Spring flowering shrubs like Forsythia, Pieris, Winter Heather and early rhodies and azaleas should be pruned back now to control and shape the new growth.

Candy tuft, Aubretia, creeping phlox and just about anything that will finish blooming this month needs to be cut back and groomed when the flowers fade. This small task will reap huge dividends by keeping your plants compact and tidy and covered with new blooms next season.

For trees that produce lots of water sprouts (what many of us call suckers) we can save ourselves a ton of work this coming winter by removing those suckers now while they are still small.

Summer blooming shrubs like roses and Pee Gee hydrangeas should also be cut back hard now (actually March and April would have been better but now is okay too).

ROSES—this is a critical month to control pests. If you use a “natural” product you will need to apply it weekly while a synthetic product can often last 4-6 weeks.

Feed roses now with something like EB Stone Rose and Flower food because it is all organic and it already has all the goodies including alfalfa blended into the mix. By the end of this month you should be seeing the fruits of your labor in the form of some lovely rose flowers.

PLANTING--suffice it to say that May is the consummate month to plant just about everything. Shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals are all in stock now and ready to root into your garden.

May is also the time to feed everything. For maximum results don’t skip the fertilizer or compost. It’s what makes things grow and look fabulous.

VEGGIES—tomatoes, peppers, cukes and squash are all showing up in the nursery this month but that doesn’t mean you can’t still plant those cool season varieties like onions, potatoes, carrots and lettuce.

In my opinion it is still too early to plant Basil unless you put it in a pot and bring it inside at night. But there are lots of other hardy herbs that can be planted now.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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