Subscribe to our Free Newsletter and get the latest from Garden Help:
Videos & Projects
For a limited time we are also giving a FREE GIFT to every new subscriber. Sign up and receive your free copy of '12 Months in the Garden'
Looking for ideas for what to do in the garden in May? Well, look no further as we have compiled a list of garden jobs to keep you busy throughout the month.
Lilies come in a wide variety of sizes and colours and they provide a stunning display in the garden. If you would rather grow them individually or are restricted for gardening space, they will grow very well in containers.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 2 out of 5 and you will need: Lily bulb, Pot, Multi-purpose Compost, Watering Can
Lay a small piece of newspaper in the base of the pot. This stops compost falling out of the drainage hole, lets water drain out and prevents insects, like vine weevils, from climbing in. Add a layer of fresh, sterile compost.
Check your lily for any signs of rotting or damage. Snap off any damaged scales by bending them back away from the centre so that there is a clean break.
How deep you plant the bulb depends on its size. As a rule of thumb, it should be planted three times deeper than the bulb itself is high. Check the instructions with the bulb, though, as some lilies need planting at the surface of the compost.
Fill the pot with compost and water well to settle it around the bulb. Taller varieties of lily may need staking to support them as they grow.
As they finish flowering camelias, especially those in containers, can start to look tired. So May is a good time to give them a bit of attention to get them ready for next year.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 2 out of 5 and you will need: Secateurs, Fertiliser, Watering Can
Remove the last of the dying flowers being careful not to damage the nearby growth buds.
Carefully pick off any yellowing or damaged leaves.
Add a dressing of Ericaceous (acidic) fertiliser around the base of the plant and mix it into the upper layer of soil gently with a fork.
Water well so that the fertiliser begins to wash down to the roots.
You can increase your stock of plants like Streptocarpus by taking leaf cuttings.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 3 out of 5 and you will need: Knife, Cuttings Compost, Pots, Plastic Bag, Rubber Band
Using a clean, sharp knife carefully remove strong, healthy looking leaves from the plant low down near the base.
Cut each leaf into sections as shown. Discard the tip of the leaf.
Insert the cuttings point downwards into a pot or tray of fresh, sterile cuttings compost. Water gently to settle the compost and cover with a white plastic bag held in place with a rubber band. Stand on a well-lit windowsill out of direct sunlight.
Remove the bag after three to four days or the leaves may rot. Within a few weeks the cuttings should root and can be potted up seperately to give you healthy new plants.
Lily scaling is a simple, easy way to increase your number of lily bulbs and still get flowers from the original bulb.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 2 out of 5 and you will need: Lily Bulb, Plastic Bag, Tie, Cuttings Compost, Potting Compost, Pots
To remove the scales bend them gently outwards away from the bulb so that they snap off right at the base. Discard any damaged outer scales. You can remove up to 60% of the scales from a bulb and it will still flower.
Mix the healthy scales 50:50 with moist, fresh, sterile cuttings compost.
Place the mixture in a plastic bag, tie the top loosely and place in a warm, dark spot such as cupboard. Check weekly for any signs of mould and remove scales as necessary.
The new bulbils will resemble grains of rice as they develop. When you can see new roots emerging the scales are ready to be potted in fresh, sterile potting compost.
Carnations and their close relatives, Garden Pinks, are wonderful in the summer garden with their spicy, sweet clove fragrance. They can be can be rooted from cuttings taken from growth shoots.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 2 out of 5 and you will need: Secateurs, Rooting Gel, Rooting Powder, Pots, Cuttings Compost
Take a growth shoot, cut the base underneath a leaf joint (node) and remove the leaves from the lower third of the cutting. This rooting gel contains moisture to keep the cutting alive and rooting hormone to help it produce roots.
If the cuttings are small, you can put two into each cell quite easily.
Alternatively, dip the very base of each cutting in rooting powder and insert into a pot of fresh, sterile cuttings compost. They are only in this pot until they root, so you can put several into one pot.
Place on a well-lit windowsill, out of direct sunlight. Once rooted, they can be potted individually. There is no need to wash off the gel, if that is what you used.
Clematis that flower early in the season, like Clematis alpina, benefit from attention immediately after flowering to keep them healthy and make sure they flower well the following year.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 1 out of 5 and you will need: Secateurs, Shears, Fertiliser, Hand Fork, Gloves
Train new shoots into the support structure as they grow so they stay where they are supposed to be and do not suffer damage blowing in the wind.
Any excess growth can be trimmed off with secateurs, especially if there is a danger of the weight pulling the plant off the support.
If you need to do more drastic pruning, do it now as the plant will have the maximum time to recover and flower again next year. Trimming with shears will keep the plant from becoming unruly.
Every time you prune, you should feed because you are removing the leaves and shoots that provide nourishment for the plant and it needs replacing. Lightly fork fertiliser into the soil around the base and water well so it begins to wash down to the rooting zone.
Dahlias are magnificent plants for summer colour in the garden and are excellent as cut flowers indoors, too. You can increase your stock of dahlias by taking cuttings as new shoots are produced in spring.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 3 out of 5 and you will need: Dahlia tuber, Knife, Pot, Compost, Large Water Bottle
Take a plant with healthy, firm tubers and pot it into fresh, sterile multipurpose compost. The point where the stem meets the roots should be at the surface of the compost when you finish.
Within weeks, new shoots should start to grow. When one reaches about 10-12cm, clear away the compost from the base of the shoot and remove it from the mother plant right at the base with a clean, sharp knife.
Trim the cutting to remove the leaves from the lower third, as they would rot in the compost. As long as you take the cutting with a little of the pinkish root at the base, there is no need to dip it in rooting hormone gel/powder.
Insert the cutting into a pot of fresh, sterile multipurpose compost and water to settle the compost around the base. Covering the cutting increases humidity, which reduces water stress until the cutting has its own roots. Here you can see a large water bottle (with the base removed) acting as a temporary cover.
Blueberries are very popular fruit, both for their taste and the vitamins they contain. They like to grow in well-drained acidic soil, so if your garden soil is unsuitable, you will need to use a container to provide the ideal conditions.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 2 out of 5 and you will need: Blueberry plant, Ericaceous compost, Shredded bark, Pot, Tub, Watering can
The plant you buy will probably be in need of potting immediately, so have everything ready. A solid rootball packed with roots is a sure sign.
In a separate pot or tub, mix together Ericaceous compost and shredded bark in a 50:50 ratio as your potting mix for the blueberry.
Position the plant so its original compost surface is just covered by the new compost. Firm the new compost gently around the rootball as you fill the pot.
Water well to settle the compost and allow to drain. Use rainwater rather than tap water if you live in a hard water area, as the extra calcium each time you water will gradually raise the pH in the pot.
Cacti are easy houseplants to grow on a sunny windowsill, where other plants might struggle in the heat, and many provide a stunning display when they flower. A cactus only needs repotting when it outgrows its current container and, even then, only needs to move up one pot size.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 1 out of 5 and you will need: Cactus, Pot, Cactus compost, Newspaper, Gravel
A spiny cactus can be vicious to handle, but working in thick gloves may not be an option if you are handling a small plant. In this case, fold a sheet of newspaper into a strip.
Wrap the paper around the plant and grip tightly. You should be able to move the plant without touching it. Take the pot off the plant.
Transfer the plant to its new pot. Fill around the sides of the roots with cactus compost, rocking the plant gently, using the paper, so you can fill the pot.
Water the plant to settle the compost and allow to drain. A layer of fine gravel on top of the compost reflects heat back to the cactus and stops the surface nearest the plant being too wet.
Varieties of plants like Cornus, Salix and Ribes are grown for the attractive colour of their young stems, which provide a welcome dash of interest in the winter garden. The bright red, orange, yellow, green or white of these stems is at its best on young growth formed the previous year, so it is important to prune annually to stimulate this growth.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 2 out of 5 and you will need: Secateurs, Pruning Saw, Fertiliser, Fork
Start by cutting all the thinnest shoots back to their base or the lowest pair of buds.
Reduce the remaining shoots down to about 5cm
If the plant has not been pruned regularly, you may need to use a pruning saw to cut down old, thick stems and rejuvenate the plant.
Apply a dressing of fertiliser around the base of the plant and fork it lightly into the surface of the soil. Water it in if there is no rain within 24 hours. Within weeks, strong new shoots should begin to grow, ready to look stunning next winter.
Unlike plants growing in the borders, which can send out new roots in search of food or water, those in containers are completely dependent on you for all their needs. Along with checking regularly through the season for watering and attack by pests or disease, annual maintenance is important if they are to grow well and remain healthy.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 1 out of 5 and you will need: Compost, Hand fork, Gravel
Weeds in the pot compete with the plant for water and nutrients. It may be necessary to remove the top 2cm of compost to make sure you get rid of both weeds and seeds.
Replacing the lost layer with fresh, sterile compost helps reduce the weed problem and, if the compost contains fertiliser, feeds the plant too.
If there is no food in the compost, you can add controlled-release fertiliser to last through the season. This only works properly if it is dark and moist, so fork it gently into the upper level of compost.
For a long-term planting, mulching the surface with gravel, slate chips or bark will suppress weeds and conserve moisture. This will need washing or replacing when you repot the plant.
If you want to make your garden less work, then one place to start is by using weed-suppressing membrane over the borders. This fabric is porous, so water can pass down through it to plant roots, but is dense enough to stop weeds growing up.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 2 out of 5 and you will need: Weed-suppressing membrane, knife, trowel, mulch
Ideally, this is best laid over a bare border before you start planting. Overlap the edges if you use more than one strip.
Cut an X with a sharp knife where you want to plant and peel back the flaps to dig the planting hole.
Position the plant and fill in the hole, firming the plant into place. Fold the flaps of fabric back over the soil around the plant.
Disguise the fabric (and help it last longer) with a deep layer of mulch, like bark or gravel. This also helps reduce moisture loss in summer. Leave a small saucer-shaped depression immediately around the plant stem so it cannot be damaged.
Laying turf to create a lawn gives an instant effect and laying it properly means it will be easier to look after for years to come. Seek out good quality turf, preferably from a specialist and choose a time when the weather is mild and the soil warm.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 3 out of 5 and you will need: Spade, rake, turf, board.
A good lawn is a long-term project, so start with a good base. Good drainage is essential, so dig over (if necessary) to loosen the soil, then rake to level it and remove stones. Add fertiliser and rake lightly into the soil.
Starting at the furthest point, unroll the turf and lay it along a straight edge. It should be green and healthy-looking, not yellow.
Lay brick-pattern, so the joints are staggered and press firmly so each roll is in good contact with the soil beneath.
Use a board to firm the grass and save damaging it or creating depressions. Work loose soil into the joints to help the turves knit together quickly. Water well after laying to stop the turf drying and shrinking.
Moth orchids (Phaelenopsis) vary slightly in their flowering habit. Some produce another batch of flower buds at the tip of the current flowering stem, while others produce side shoots from lower down the stem, especially if you cut the stem back. Occasionally, instead of flower buds, a miniature plant is produced, known as a Keiki (Hawaiian for baby).
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 2 out of 5 and you will need: Secateurs, pot, orchid compost, plastic bag, rubber band.
If your plant does not produce more buds at the tip of the flowering shoot, trim it back to just above the top stem bud.
Instead of a flowering shoot, you may get a new plant forming, known as a Keiki.
Once this has grown roots, it can be removed from the parent plant. Take a short section of stem with it, as this helps anchor it into a pot of compost.
Pot it into moist orchid compost and cover with a plastic bag, held in place with a rubber band to keep it humid while it establishes. Within a few weeks, it should begin to grow and can be treated the same as other orchids.
On ornamental plants (not fruit) there are a few basic reasons why you should prune, best remembered as the 4 Ds: Dead, Dying, Damaged and Diseased. Next, remove crossing or rubbing branches, any that have reverted to green and for shape.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 2 out of 5 and you will need: Secateurs, pruning saw
Dead wood is easiest to see and remove in summer. Cut back to healthy, pale-coloured wood.
Die-back is common after early pruning where a rogue frost can catch you out. Cut back to just above a healthy bud.
Larger dead stems should be removed with a pruning saw, working very carefully so you do not damage nearby shoots.
Green shoots on a variegated plant should be removed, as they contain more chlorophyll and are stronger. If left, they will take over and you will lose the variegation.
Many of the plants ordered by post arrive as small plug plants. This saves on postage costs and means the plants can be pushed through your door if you are out, rather than waiting for collection at the sorting office. The quicker you can unpack and deal with these delicate little plants, the better they will grow.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 2 out of 5 and you will need: Plug plants, pots, compost, seed tray, propagator lid
Unpack your plug plants as soon as you can. Even if you canít plant them straight away, water them and leave them in a well-lit position (out of direct sun).
As soon as you can, transfer them into small pots of fresh, sterile compost to continue growing.
After potting, water to settle the compost around the roots. The earlier in the season the plants arrive, the more warmth they will need.
Covering with a propagator lid for a few days while they settle down is helpful, but not essential. Within a week, the plants should be rooting into the new compost and getting bigger.
Plug plants delivered later in spring, when the weather is warmer and the plants slightly larger, can be planted directly into their final container, rather than being grown in small pots first.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is out of 5 and you will need: Plug plants, pot, compost, watering can
Larger plug plants can cope with being planted in their final container, ready to provide colour during the summer.
Use fresh, sterile compost (with added water-retaining gel and controlled-release fertiliser if you wish) and arrange the plants so that they all have enough room to grow.
Choose a mixture of upright and trailing plants, with a tall plant in the centre to give height to the display.
Water well to settle the compost around the plants. Keep them under protection while they establish and until all risk of late frost has passed.
You can use old pots to make an attractive herb planter which will provide interest for your garden and food for your kitchen.
The difficulty rating for this garden job is 1 out of 5 and you will need: Pots, Multipurpose Compost, Herbs, Watering Can
Line the base of the the largest pot with newspaper to prevent compost washing out and insects crawling in.
Fill the largest pot with compost and place the next pot within it. Sink the smaller pot so that it is half submerged within the compost.
Repeat the previous step for the final pot and then fill it with compost. Make sure the posts are stable and level.
Carefully pull each pot away from the herb plant. Plant them evenly within the container and make sure you leave space for them to grow. Gently water in the plants to settle them and place your new display in a sheltered part of the garden.
We hope these projects have given you a few ideas and a bit of inspiration for what to do in your garden this month.