Starting A Vegetable Garden
With a little planning and care, you can grow a satisfying variety of tasty vegetables. Learn to choose varieties and zones that will thrive in your climate, and select seeds that are easy to germinate.
Vegetables need good drainage and nutrient-rich soil. Many vegetables prefer slightly acidic soil, so check the pH with a kit from a garden-supply store.
May is an incredible month of change in the garden … birds singing, buds beginning to show, flowers springing into colourful life. But what starts as a semifrigid time of excitement and expectation can end up with gardeners feeling worn out by the time June eventually rolls around. With a bit of planning, you can make May your most productive month in the garden, maintain your energy and enthusiasm for the months ahead, and enjoy your garden, as your hard work pays off.
Here is our action plan for this busy month:
Clean up, kind of. It’s a common instinct to rush outside and clean up the yard as soon as the snow is gone, applying the same approach as you might when cleaning up the inside of your house. While this can be useful, take a moment to think about how much of the natural material serves as habitat for overwintering insects and critters, as well as the soil benefit of allowing more fallen leaves and dead plant material to decompose in place. It is OK to procrastinate until later spring when these insects have had the opportunity to emerge. We take the lazy approach, which, coincidentally, benefits our gardens more than sanitizing clear-ups do.
Start planting at the beginning of the month, and keep going right through until June. There is an old-fashioned idea that May 24 weekend is when everything needs to go in the ground. This can lead to stress at the garden centre and burnout on your long weekend. Early May is a great time to sow a flowering meadow, or transplant flowering perennials that’ll benefit from the abundant moisture in the soil as they come out of dormancy. You can also sow cool-season vegetables, such as lettuce, kale, and peas, by planting the seeds directly into the soil. Frost-tender annuals and vegetables will have to wait until after the last frost date, typically between May 14 and May 20 for Toronto. (Watch the forecast!) To ensure they establish themselves successfully, start “hardening off” your tender transplants by putting them outside during the day when temperatures are above freezing and bringing them in at night, until they are ready to plant.
Pest control is best taken care of early, so, if you are planting vegetable crops, such as brassicas — these include broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage — which are cool season and susceptible to various beetles and moths, get your row covers in place before the larvae have a chance to establish themselves. A row cover, of spun-polyester, that partially blocks the sun is perfect as it will also protect these crops from bolting, or coming into flower, and going to seed in the heat before you can harvest.
Mulch heavily with 6 cm to 8 cm of bark mulch or straw to reduce erosion, weed pressure, and retain moisture through the drier months of the summer. Good quality mulch will break down over the season, adding organic matter, which feeds the soil and helps build soil structure for moisture retention and nutrient availability. We go through buckets — make that several cubic metres — of the natural (not died) bark mulch.
While fall is the best time to care for your lawn, spring is second best and, frankly, when most people think to do it. Early May, when soil temperatures are consistently above 10C is a good time to overseed, or plant the grass seed directly into the turf, without tearing it or the soil up, so that the new grass will have time to establish before the hot, dry weather of midsummer. You can do this by raking the seed into an inch of good quality topsoil, and watering regularly until you see it is establishing itself well. If you didn’t fertilize in the fall, early spring is also a good time to apply a good-quality, slow-release fertilizer.
Pruning should be taken care of before the trees and shrubs invest too much energy in new growth. Prune out anything that died as a result of exposure to winter. (This should be evident by May.) It will shape up your trees, shrubs and evergreens to create a strong dominant leader and minimal crossing or rubbing of unwieldly branches.
Make time to enjoy your garden as it springs to life! With so much to do at this most busy time in the gardening season, it is easy to miss the miracles: birds singing as the tulips, daffodils, peonies, and lilac burst into spring colour.
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