With new flowers bursting every day, butterflies emerging, and migratory birds arriving, May is the time to frolic amidst the springtide. Caught in the rush of scents and colors, it’s easy to forget the important tasks that will set your garden up for success. Here is a checklist of May gardening tasks for Zone 5!
Bring the Flower Garden to Life
Your gardening plants have been waiting for this month all winter. Now they’re springing to life, basking in the sunlight, and growing vigorously. In Zone 5, you can begin or continue to plant perennials and annuals, as well as move your houseplants outside once the temperatures are consistently warm:
- Plant Perennials and Annuals: start planting frost-hardy annuals at the beginning of the month and the frost-sensitive ones, like impatiens, by the end of May. You can also breathe new life into the garden by planting perennials hardy to Zone 5 anytime.
- Move Houseplants Outside: once night-time temperatures start to warm up by the end of May, you can begin to take them outside for the summer. Make sure you harden them off gradually and give them an area protected from wind and afternoon sun.
- Let Spring Bulbs Yellow Before Cutting Them: this allows the leaves to feed the bulbs while they’re still green, giving them more energy for next spring.
- Plant Summer and Fall-Flowering Bulbs: such as gladioli, caladium, dahlia, calla lilies, and others.
Plant New Trees and Shrubs
The ground has been ready for planting new trees and shrubs since March, but May is still a good time to swap out old plants that need to be refreshed with new ones—whether they’re berry bushes, fruit trees, evergreens, privacy belts, or flowering shrubs. Choose a cloudy day to avoid the heat and dig away!
Prune Spring-Flowering Shrubs
Remember to prune spring-flowering shrubs like forsythia, lilac, azaleas, rhododendron, and viburnum after they bloom. You have a window of 2-3 weeks before they start to grow next year’s flower buds.
Amidst the surge of sap and riot of new blossoms, planting and pruning are the main gardening tasks at hand.
Continue Planting Your Vegetable Garden
Longing for homegrown vegetables this year? They’re the healthiest food you’ll ever eat, they taste amazing, and they cost almost nothing. In Zone 5, you can begin planting in April, continue in May, and plant frost-sensitive vegetables after May 15th:
- Sow or Transplant Cold-Season Vegetables: you can continue to sow beets, carrots, spinach, kale, lettuce, and other frost-tolerant crops. If you plant them successively, you’ll enjoy staggered harvests throughout the season. And you can transplant cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and other seedlings that don’t mind a little frost.
- Sow Warm-Season Vegetables: after the risk of frost passes—typically around May 15th in Zone 5—you can sow frost-sensitive vegetables like beans, corn, squash, and pumpkins.
- Transplant Warm-Season Vegetables: you can start to harden off your tomato, eggplant, pepper, and cucumber seedlings at the beginning of the month and transplant them outdoors after May 15th.
Thin & Harvest Vegetable Garden
If you’ve planted seeds already, you may have a bit of gardening to do, as well as some bounty to enjoy:
- Thin Beets and Carrots: monitor them as they start to grow and thin the seedlings as necessary. Sending them to the compost pile? Toss them into a salad instead.
- Harvest Vegetables: rhubarb and asparagus will already be ready to start harvesting by the end of the month in Zone 5.
- Weed Vegetable Garden: it’s already time to start weeding. You’ll have to distinguish the weeds from your sprouting vegetables as they come up.
As the gardening season gets underway, you’ll begin a mowing routine as well. Consider leaving your grass on the longer side this year. Longer grass prevents weed seeds from accessing the soil and develops deeper roots to access water, allowing you to water less. Another tip: leave the grass clippings as you mow as a way to add nutrients to the lawn.
Most ongoing gardening tasks begin this month in Zone 5, such as edging, weeding, watering, deadheading, and adding mulch where needed. Staying on top of your gardening saves you time later on and lets you get outside in May to enjoy the flowers.
Welcome the Birds
As you were gardening in April, you may have already seen or heard sparrows, thrushes, flycatchers, and kinglets. Both April and May are high time for migratory birds passing through Chicagoland. Keep an eye out for colorful flyers like Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers, and more. The males have shed their brown winter plumage and are now sporting vibrant feathers for the mating season. If you want to admire birds right in your yard, consider planting and gardening for a bird habitat!
This is the month we’ve all been waiting for—here in Zone 5 and everywhere. Amidst the surge of sap and riot of new blossoms, planting and pruning are the main gardening tasks at hand. With your gardening checklist ready, you’re set to go out and enjoy the season!
Platt Hill Nursery is Chicago’s premier garden center and nursery.