Dig it – gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener

With Fulke Andel

I really like May, you get the feeling that the summer is almost here and the evenings are getting significantly longer and warmer.

As ever this month, you need to continue to wage war on slugs and snails. They love tulips and delicacies such as the delicious young shoots of delphiniums and the like. One habit I’ve developed over the last couple of months – when I leave our little dog out for her final ablutions late at night, is to wander around the garden wearing a head-torch. This makes spotting slugs and snails relatively easy. Initially you’ll find loads, but after a few weeks, the numbers diminish and you have that nice warm feeling, caused by knowing you’re in control – without having to use chemicals. It also gives the neighbours something to talk about, as they wonder what you’re up to!

Other unwelcome visitors on the move during May are Vine Weevil Beetles (slow moving black beetles whose white larvae feed vigorously on the roots of plants), lily beetles (bright red little darlings with black heads or their yellow larvae) and the black-spotted green caterpillars of the gooseberry sawfly, these can strip the leaves from your gooseberry bushes in hours. Squash them or spray with chemicals suited for this application. No room for being squeamish with this lot!

Plant out cannas and dahlias when danger of frost is past.

Tubs can be planted up with summer bedding plants, but plant borders towards the end of the month.

If you want to grow your own spring bedding for next year, many common choices (including wallflowers, pansies, and Bellis perennis) need to be sown between now and July in order to flower next spring, as they are biennials. Winter bedding plants for the following winter can also be sown from now until July.

Divide clumps of herbaceous perennials that you want to propagate. Bamboos and clumps of bulbs or rhizomes can be divided in the same way. Cutting back clumps of spring-flowering perennials such as Pulmonaria and Doronicum can encourage a fresh flush of foliage.

Divide Primula (primroses) after flowering, planting them in a nursery bed until they are ready for planting out again in the autumn, for a display the following spring.

Divide hostas as they come into growth. Spreading and trailing plants such as the annual Lobularia (sweet alyssum), and the perennials Alyssum and Aubrieta, can become tatty and patchy. Trimming them back after flowering encourages fresh growth and new flowers.

Apply a liquid fertiliser (such as liquid seaweed) to spring bulbs after they have flowered, to encourage good flowering next year, and help prevent daffodil blindness.

Allow the foliage of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs to die down naturally.

Jobs in the garden for the Month of May

Sow/Plant French beans / Runner beans / Beetroot / Broccoli and calabrese / Cabbage and cauliflowers / Chicory / Kale / Kohlrabi / Peas / Turnips and swedes. You should sow your salad crops every few weeks to ensure continuity of supply:- Lettuce and leaves such as rocket / Radishes / Spring onions

Sow under cover Sweetcorn / Courgette / Marrow / Pumpkin

Greenhouse / Poly-tunnel / windowsill These now need to be planted into their final position (grow bags, pots or direct into the soil):- Aubergine / Peppers (chilli and sweet) / Cucumber / Tomatoes

Plant Out Brussels sprouts / Summer cabbages / Celery / Celeriac / Leeks

Harvest Asparagus / Broad beans / Spring cabbage / Carrots / Cauliflower / Chard / perpetual spinach / Early salad crops from the greenhouse border

Fruit It’s mainly a matter of ensuring that you get the crops rather than the birds! A fruit cage is a big investment but very effective, other-wise use netting to keep the birds away.

Strawberries planted this year will perform better in subsequent years if you remove the flowers so they don’t set fruit in the first year but concent-rate on building their strength for next.


  • Watch out for late frosts. Protect tender plants
  • Earth up potatoes, and promptly plant any still remaining
  • Plant out summer bedding at the end of the month
  • Collect rainwater and investigate ways to recycle water for irrigation
  • Regularly hoe off weeds
  • Open greenhouse vents and doors on warm days
  • Mow lawns weekly
  • Check for nesting birds before clipping hedges
  • Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs
  • Watch out for viburnum beetle and lily beetle grubs

Reader’s Tips Pinch out the tops of broad beans, to prevent black-fly becoming established. The tips can be cooked like spinach, they have the same texture but taste of broad beans. S.S. Pennard

Seasonal Recipe

This delicious tapas style recipe is for young broad beans. Don’t be tempted to use larger, older beans, as it won’t be as nice. You’ll need around 450g of podded broad beans (1.5kg unpodded), 125g of mild goat’s cheese, 4 tbsp of plain yoghurt, a handful of fresh chopped mixed herbs (Parsley, thyme, tarragon, chives etc.), garlic clove – crushed, sea salt and black pepper.

Add the beans to a large pan of boiling water and simmer until tender. (This may only take a few minutes). Drain and leave to cool. Beat the goat’s cheese and yoghurt until smooth add the herbs, garlic and beans. Season and serve with some oily sourdough.

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