What to add to your May gardening checklist

This May gardening to-do list is packed full of the best winter blooms, tips for Mother’s Day, and how to protect your plants in frosty tempspottingflowers

Autumn bliss: The gardening chores to tackle in May

There is a certain urgency in the air. As the last month of Autumn, May signals your last chance to plant your bulbs for a surefire spring flowering. Any later, the ground will be too cold for them to get going – except in warmer northern areas, in which case the ground and air temperatures will never be cold enough for them to flower without prior chilling.

Gladiolus is a flowering plant in the Iris family.

Rather than muck about with chilling them, grow bulbs native to warmer areas such as anemone, Dutch iris, freesia, gladiolus, ranunculus – and almost any sort of lily.

There is still time, too, to plant brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cavolo nero, and kale) celery, coriander, garlic, mesclun, radish, rhubarb, rocket, silverbeet and spinach. And to sow broad beans.

Now is the perfect time to sow your Broad Beans.

Feed your mature plants with fertiliser

Replenish soil with loads (and loads) of compost and manure. Horse, cow, sheep and chicken dung are all great, but if you find them indelicate, then try sheep and/or chicken pellets, preferably organic if intended for the edible garden. The bigger the range of food for the soil, the greater the diversity of micro-organisms and the more healthy the soil and the life within it.

Weed first, then spread the compost or manure thickly over the garden, around trees, shrubs, climbers and flowers. Doing it now gives it time to break down into the soil before new growth emerges in spring.

Finish off the feeding regime with a thick layer of pea straw or hay. While pea straw is often preferred as it adds nitrogen to the soil, most other straws and hays are also effective mulches. All will break down, help condition the soil and preserve moisture.

Fallen leaves

Gather leaves for the compost, or leaf mould. Or simply rake off lawns and paths onto beds and return all that goodness to the soil.

Even tough leathery leaves that take ages to break down are useful as weed-suppressing mulches.

Colour my autumn

Around much of the world autumn is accompanied by vivid tree colour. Not so with most of our New Zealand native trees.

This is because the country has never experienced the extreme ice ages of the northern hemisphere, meaning only a handful of our trees are cold tolerant and thus deciduous. Losing leaves helps conserve water and energy and is a protective adaptation against all winter can throw at them.

Among our native trees that lose their leaves (yet don’t colour up) tree fuchsias and some hoheria, plagianthus and olearia.

To produce the best autumn foliage colour in exotics, the weather is best rainy and sunny, with coolish temperatures. Still, weather helps too, as the coloured leaves stay on the trees longer.

Trees in warmer northern regions seldom colour as well as their relatives in the south. Exceptions include liquidambar and swamp cypress, and for smaller trees and bushes northerners could also try smoke bush and crepe myrtle.

Liquidambar styraciflua is also known as American Sweetgum or Star-Leaved Gum.

Even smaller plants that colour up in the autumn cool include the creeping Geranium sanguineum (aka Bloody Cranesbill) whose lobed leaves turn a brilliant red; Sedum kamtschaticum, which enters autumn with scarlet, fleshy leaves; and peonies.

And then there are the trees whose autumns are coloured by bright flowers. As well as strong architectural forms, many of the aloes sport flaming torch-like blooms. Sasanqua camellias are available in a range of beautiful flowers that bloom from early autumn to early winter.

Flushes of soft pink blossomed Higan cherry (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’) appear from late autumn to early spring. For a real colour hit, try a tibouchina. This small tree has brilliant purple flowers from late summer well into early winter.

How to recycle bouquets

Want to immortalise that beautiful bouquet? Or at least some of it? Many plants can be easily grown from single cut flowers, including asters, azaleas, camellias, chrysanthemums, dahlias, honeysuckle, hydrangeas, lavender, lilac, rosemary, roses and wisteria.

Just choose a length of stem about 8cm to 15cm long with two or more sets of leaf nodes, chop off the flower and snip back the leaves by at least half. Cut the bottom of the stem below a set of nodes at a 45-degree angle (One stem may provide more than one cutting, depending on the number of nodes).

Dip the stem in rooting hormone, then carefully insert in a small pot of moist vermiculite, perlite or coarse river sand and place in a plastic bag and keep moist. Wait till the roots are well formed before replanting.

Pro tip: The fresher the flower, the higher the success rate.

Consider this: Hantaba bouquet twister

Poke, twist, show. Beloved by florists the world over, the Dutch spiral is a technique for arranging flowers into an informal yet well-balanced bouquet.

Once a skill to be repeatedly practised to perfect, the spiral is now within everyone’s reach courtesy of this ingeniously simple Swedish invention.

Just insert the flower stems individually into the holes, twist the plastic holder, and kapow, the flowers splay out into a fab bouquet, ready for the vase or hand.

DIY Flower Bouquet Creator, $27.80, at Amazon

Steal this look

An avenue of stainless-steel globes perching on tall and sturdy wooden posts captures, distorts and reflects the world around, from the sky above to the shimmering grasses below.

These guardians of the path mark the way and summon both the eyes and legs of the observer. The robust geometric shapes of ball and block interplay with the more organic and unruly elements of nature. They imbue the garden with unexpected dynamism; their kaleidoscopic visuals everchanging according to the position of the viewer.

In more confined spaces, scaling down the elements will not diminish the impact. Smaller globes set closer together, or arranged in a cluster, and different height posts will replicate the sense of rhythm and flow. While a lone stainless-steel globe has its appeal, more than one disproportionately multiplies the drama.

Words: Mary Lovell-Smith

Read this next: Master the art of using sculptures to transform your garden

The May gardening products we’re adding to our cart

1. The leaf blower to keep the garden tidy

$249.00 at Trade Tested

This lightweight leaf blower can really pack a punch, with a max. air speed of 177km/h to blow through all the leaves and garden debris in your backyard. Put down your rake and tidy your garden in less than half the time.


2. Your trustworthy gumboots

$84.90 at Trade Tested

Yes, they’re a classic for a reason. These Red Band gumboots will see you through the garden this winter, the one after that, and many more after that. These gumboots aren’t flimsy, but tried, tested, and incredibly comfortable.


3. A stackable garden for small spaces

$39.90 at Trade Tested

These stackable planters are incredibly convenient and functional for small gardens, or for those wanting to bring their garden indoors. Whether you fill yours with kitchen herbs, flowers or lettuces, this planter will allow you to grow your favourite plants wherever you need.


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