What to plant in May: 2015 edition

The urban vegetable garden in May 2015.

If you take a close look at the West Coast Seeds planting chart, you might notice an interesting detail: there are more seeds that you can plant in May than any other month of the year. And while your climate might be different from ours in coastal British Columbia, chances are that, if you live in the northern hemisphere, May is a crucial month for you too. It’s that mid-spring sweet spot, when the soil is both warm and moist enough for nearly everything to thrive.

The longer days of May means that there are more daylight hours for our plants to grow. Yesterday, I nearly laughed out loud when I arrived in the garden because my peas had grown a foot since I’d last inspected them two weeks prior! They are supposed to be a dwarf variety, but apparently that’s not really the case. My garden had turned into a jungle.

All of this is great, right? But the exuberance of May means that it’s all too easy for things to get unhealthily overgrown. We need maintain orderliness by adding some extra habits to our gardening practice.

Do a weekly garden cleanup

About once per week, do a little review of your garden and take care of the following things:

  • Harvest greens that have reached full size. Those mustards and lettuces you planted in March? If they’re getting big, you need to harvest them. You have two choices: pull them out and plant more seeds, or cut them off with scissors, leaving about an inch of growth, so that you can get a second harvest.
  • Thin your seedlings. Be ruthless about thinning. Eat your thinnings and think of it as part of your harvest. If thinning gives you heart palpitations, read this post.
  • Pull weeds. When your crops are growing fast, chances are that your weeds are growing even faster. Take them out when they’re small and easy to deal with.
  • Water regularly. If you live a rainforest like I do, chances are that you haven’t had to do much watering up to this point. But now, as our weather (and climate) heats up, it’s becoming important to start watering. Newly planted seeds need a daily light sprinkle.

May task list

Here’s my list of crucial garden tasks for May. Note that your dates might be different from mine, depending on where you live.

  • Plant squash seeds. And cucumber, melon and zucchini seeds — anything in the cucurbit family. Here in coastal BC, these seeds need to be started indoors during the short window of late April to early May.
  • Transplant tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Plant your nightshade seedlings (store-bought or started at home) outdoors to their final homes. Be sure to protect them with a clear plastic dome, tent or greenhouse.
  • Plant beans. My beans will be going into the ground in mid-May, once the soil is really nice and warm.
  • Plant carrots, beets and greens. Plant a few carrots and beets every two weeks, so that you get a nice long harvest window. Chard is a nice green to try planting this time of year, as it enjoys warmth more than spinach, mustards and lettuces.
  • Optional: start slow-growing winter crops. If you have a large enough garden, plant some parsnips, leeks and parsley. You’ll be so grateful in January when these slow-growing but hardy crops are the only things growing in your garden.

A final word: whatever you do, don’t plant too many seeds at once! This time of year, it can be all too enticing to plant up your entire garden in a single burst. But if you do that, you’ll end up with way too more lettuce than you can eat in June, and nothing at all for July. Instead, commit to planting just a small section of your garden each week, and harvest regularly so that more planting spaces become available.

Tomatoes in the urban vegetable garden.
Tomatoes and peppers, freshly transplanted into their permanent homes in large pots. After taking this photo, I built a protective tent around them with clear plastic sheeting.

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