NEW May Garden Checklist: Critical Tasks You Need to Manage

NEW May Garden Checklist: Critical Tasks You Need to Manage

The trees are budding. The birds are singing. The grass is flourishing. Soon dandelions will be blooming and bees will be buzzing.... Spring is transitioning into full swing!

As the average last frost date approaches, it's time to ramp up your gardening efforts and make the most of the warmer weather. May is a busy month and this new checklist will ensure you focus on what's critical. 

First the basics-- The Soil

  • Check soil moisture and drainage-- ensure water is not pooling but is soaking in and/or draining.
  • To prevent compacting your soils-- protect your walkways with mulch, pavers, stones, or planks.
  • If your garden was compacted by heavy snows-- your roots may need extra oxygen. Gently aerate the soil with a garden fork or broad fork. (Don't till or flip the soil, just loosen; tilling will destroy more soil structure.)
  • Prepare garden beds by loosening soil and thoroughly removing weeds! This is your window to get 'em rooted out!
  • Pay special attention to any perennial weeds or grasses and make sure to tidy up the edges-- preventing perennial roots from invading your garden space.
  • For an extra boost of fertility, spread compost or vermicompost- especially in-row. This will build your nutrient content and soil tilth.
  • Level your beds to prepare for planting.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of nutrient deficiencies and address them with organic fertilizers if necessary.
  • Consider side-dressing already planted crops with compost or vermi-compost as needed.

Plan ahead!

  • Get out your direct seeded packets and consult the growing instructions.
  • Organize the packets from first to plant to the last, and enter them into your calendar.
  • Add in any succession planting needed, so you have a continuous harvest.
  • When you’re done entering planting dates, print off your planner (download here) and grab a clipboard to take your plan with you to the garden.

Sow Cool Season Crops

  • First up are the frost-tolerant crops-- which can be seed directly into the garden.
  • Consider peas, spinach, arugula, kale, cilantro, calendula, poppy, phacelia, sweet peas, potatoes, onions, radish, wild chamomile, and borage-- so many choices!

Astro arugula thrives during cool seasons!

Warmer Season Crops

  • Measure and pay attention to the soil temperatures before you plant.
  • WAIT until the soil has warmed up sufficiently, ie) beans and corn need the soil temps 50℉ or above. Don't over look this detail-- let's avoid having to replant! See our resource Start, Plant and Transplant Guide for optimal soil temps for germination. (After clicking the link, scroll down 'til you see a picture of me-- look 2 paragraphs up from there to find the links to download our guides. Click on the picture of me to watch our YouTube video to see how to customize and use the charts!)
  • When the soil temps are right, go for it. Think beans, beets, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, chard, corn, cucumbers, lettuce, melons and watermelon,  summer squash, turnips and rutabagas, winter squash and more.
  • Don't forget those tender herbs-- basil, caraway, oregano, spearmint, summer savory, parsley, etc!
  • And your summer flowers!

Flowers surrounding and in the garden provide essential habitat for beneficial bugs!

Map In Diversity

  • As you map out your garden think about the diversity principle and avoid 'monoculture' gardening-- as much as is practical!
  • Befuddle pests who love to hone in on their favorite crops and treat continuous rows as their own personal buffet. For example, plant part of a row to green beans and break up the row by adding in a couple plants of petunias, marigolds, nasturtiums or oregano every so often!
  • Plant to deter pests and encourage beneficial predatory bugs by providing a home for pests' enemies!

This is a very important principle of organic gardening-- one that is not utilized enough in most gardens. Let's change that! Flowers and herbs are NOT just a luxury! They're very important habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects.

Break up solid seeded planting with sprinklings of herbs and flowers throughout. Diversity begets diversity. 

Harden-Off Tender Transplants

  • Tender indoor-grown plants need to be 'hardened off' and acclimatized to the outdoors. (Don't overlooked this step.)
  • This applies to both home-raised and purchased plants.
  • Harden off your plant starts by gradually introducing them to outdoor conditions a little at a time.
  • Start by setting plants in a sheltered location outdoors for about an hour or two the first day. Work up to a full day by the end of the week.
  • Reduce transplant shock by acclimatizing plants to the outdoors for at least a two weeks.

Another Option-- Temporary Cold Frame

  • Use straw or hay bales to set up a temporary cold frame in mid-May.
  • Transfer the starts from indoors into this temporary bale enclosure.
  • Allow them to experience outdoor conditions, sun and wind, but be partially protected-- in a sort of 'micro-climate'.
  • As soon as the sun goes down, slide a sheet of plywood over the top of the bales to protect from overnight temperatures.
  • Remove the plywood as early in the morning as temperatures allow-- avoiding freezing or near freezing temperature.
  • Try to keep the timing each day as close to the same as possible-- mimicking the natural day length of the season.

Straw bale 'cold-frame' for hardening off plants before transplanting.


  • Making sure a late frost isn't going to sneak up on you-- so crucial here.
  • Hoops and row cover can help protect them from unseasonable cold. But that takes a lot of effort. Ask yourself if it's worth it?
  • If you can-- stay patient and avoid risking all your hard work being taken out by unexpected dips in temperatures.
  • Stay tuned for more transplanting tips to come!

More May Tips

  • Keep a gardening journal to track planting dates, observations, and successes/failures.
  • Consider using row covers or cloches to protect tender crops from late frosts.
  • If needed-- divide summer- and fall-flowering perennials.
  • Set up physical barriers or traps to deter pests like slugs and rabbits.
  • Succession sow radishes, carrots, beets, and greens this month.
  • Promote a bushier habit for flowering plants by pinching back early.
  • Add peony cages early to ensure they're placed before it’s too late.
  • Stake or trellis tall-growing plants to support them as they grow.
  • Add mulch around trees, shrubs, and roses.
  • Monitor for early signs of pests and diseases.
  • Be prepared to adjust your plans cuz the weather is notorious for delivering unexpected challenges.
  • Search out and flag patches of stinging nettle-- while they're easy to spot. (You'll thank me later!) 😉
  • Harvest rhubarb and make a rhubarb crisp! 😋 Here's my recipe!

Enjoy the warm sun on your skin and your hands in the soil!

Your Garden Coach,