What to do in the Garden: May

Happy May Day! Traditionally, May Day was a pagan holiday that celebrates the start of summer (the Solstice was a celebration of midsummer). Today, the secular version of the holiday is to celebrate the fertility of spring, flowers and community. Growing up, my friend Diana had a May Day party every year, and we would dance around a Maypole and play other games. Now, its a great day to kick off a fabulous gardening season! Here’s the list of things to do in the garden for May:

Northern California Gardening Checklist for May:

Plant summer annuals, and flowers for cutting. Sow flower seeds like nasturtium, zinnias, cosmos, coreopsis and sunflowers, or transplant from 6-packs or 4″ pots from the nursery.

Plant veggies. If you haven’t already, hurry and plant out any of the summer foods: squash, beans, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, peppers, and eggplants.

newly planted corn and squash

Thin veggies. If you direct seeded last month, make sure the seedlings have enough space and thin as necessary. Pinch or cut out plants, don’t pull, to protect the root systems.

Plant subtropicals. If you have a south-facing wall or an overhang and want to growtropical or subtropicals, now is the time to plant out tender plants like bougainvillea, hibiscus and plumeria. They will have the warm season to get established before winter comes. Now is also a good time to get citrus in.

Plant herbs. Plant annual herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley, as well as perennials like oregano, sage, thyme and rosemary. For fresh herbs all summer, succession plant by transplanting out cilantro every 2 weeks, basil every 4 weeks. Pinch of basil flowers as they appear. To keep established woody herbs producing fresh growth, regularly snip off steam tips.

Harvest and dry herbs. As summer gets closer, herbs are in uber growth mode, producing lots of aromatic leaves. Harvest foliage for fresh use, or trim as mentioned above, and also dry some for later. I’ll be doing a post later in the month on what I make sure to preserve, and the best ways to dry the different varieties.

lemon balm, right for harvest

Buy lavender and salvias. Nurseries, like Cottage Gardens in Petaluma, who propagate their own stock, now have wide varieties available.

Buy roses. Most are in bloom right now, so you can see and smell the flowers. King’s Nursery in Santa Rosa has a great selection.

Bring inside cut flowers. Fill vases or jars with whatever’s blooming. Right now, I’m picking roses, sweet peas and bachelor buttons.

garden fresh bouquet

Take your clothes off. May 2nd, apparently, is World Naked Gardening Day.

Watch out for pests. Spray aphids with a hose, hand pick slugs and snails, and curse at your strawberry bed because something keeps eating your fruit.

Wrap tree trunks. If you observe ants on your fruit trees or citrus, wrap the trunk with sticky tape or tanglefoot. Make sure to wrap low so that birds and bees won’t be affected.

wrap tree trunk with tanglefoot to avoid ants

Be aware of water use and check drip systems. If you missed it, check out this post for gardening tips during the drought. Let your lawn die. Convince your neighbor to let their lawn die, too. Check your drip systems to make sure they are working properly. First, remove caps and flush lines, then replace caps and turn on the water- look for leaks or clogged lines or emitters. Repair as necessary.

Make time to enjoy your yard. Set up a fire pit, buy some new patio furniture, and get some citronella candles so you can enjoy the sunny mornings and lengthening evenings.

enjoy the evening

Tour and Learn. Check out what others are doing and get inspiration at a garden tour this month. Check out all our great local farms and producers during the Farm Trails Weekend, May 2 & 3. Check out Russian River Rose Company before they close up for the season at the end of May. Bring Back the Natives Tour happens in the East Bay on May 6. The Eco-Friendly Garden Tour of Sonoma County and North Marin takes place on May 16.


“The world’s favorite season is the spring.  All things seem possible in May.”
–  Edwin Way Teale

what to do in the garden in May


6 thoughts on “What to do in the Garden: May

  1. We have far too many mosquitoes for naked gardening. I bet there are those braver than I, though. And your vase of cut flowers is beautiful!

  2. ‘Let your lawn die. Convince your neighbor to let their lawn die, too.’ This is wise advice! Nice to see it in writing. We’ve had plenty of rain here in Houston, but neighbors still have their sprinkler systems on auto, watering DAILY. All I can think is, That’s my nature-purified drinking water.

    1. Lawns are my biggest pet peeve. I have multiple neighbors who’s sprinklers go off EVERY SINGLE DAY. And I’ve never seen them actually OUT on the lawn! I could rant for days….

      1. Unlike you guys, we are back to getting regular rain, and my neighbors’ auto-sprinklers are going daily…even during a downpour!! Ours is aquifer water, so they’re not getting hit with the water bill (just electricity to run the pump). But aquifers are losing height, meaning that one day we may have to drill a deeper well. Makes me bite my nails. Don’t get me started! LOL

  3. Thank you for the eco garden tour info, that looks like a great event. And thank you for the reminder to plant my pumpkins. I always wait till July before it occurs to me.

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