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Pacific Northwest Gardener: Things to Do in May

May is the first month when the Pacific Northwest really begins to shake off the dreary doldrums of winter. All that sun means it’s a good idea to check irrigation methods in time for summer watering. We also get to appear ahead to the bounty of blooms and vegetables we’d love to enjoy, because now is the time to plant heat-loving flowers and plants. But do not forget to clean up after spring’s plants so they can conserve nutrients and be all set for a repeat performance next year. Read on to learn how to perform these jobs, plus more, to have a beautiful May garden.

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Aiken House & Gardens

Pick flowering clematis vines at the nursery school. Clematis vines have some of the biggest, most spectacular blossoms of any plant from the Northwest, and now is the opportunity to buy them at the nursery for the best choice. They’re just from dormancy and just beginning to bloom, so it’s possible to see the colour from the flower itself, not the tag. Favorites include Clematis “Niobe” with deep red blossoms, and Clematis “Jackmanii” for a rich purple.

Harvest rhubarb. Now is the time to harvest cherry-red rhubarb stems to create delicious pies, desserts and crumbles. Rhubarb is at its most tender right now, and because the plant frequently goes dormant in summer’s heat, this is the best time to pick. But don’t cut the stems, because that can lead to rust to enter the crown of this plant. Instead, grasp each stalk at the base and pull with a gentle twisting motion.

Photo by Dieter Weber via Wikimedia Commons

Genevieve Schmidt

Remove spent flowers from spring bloomers. May is also the time of year to start deadheading rhododendrons, which bloom in spring. After the petals have gone brown, grasp each flower cluster at the base and bend sideways to snap the dead bloom. This keeps the plants’ energy, because they won’t waste nutrients, and also will help prevent diseases, which can linger in older flower petals.


Mind the bulbs. Spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils wear a long time, but once they’re done it’s important to remove their spent flowers to help conserve energy for next season’s bloom. Simply cut each finished blossom stalk at the base. Do not hesitate to reduce the foliage, however. The plant will obviously die back over the forthcoming months and will slowly reclaim the nutrients from the foliage to store from the underground bulb. Once the foliage is withered and brown, it is possible to rake it off.

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Check your watering system. Now is the time to be certain that your irrigation system is in good working order. Since the days heat up, you are going to be relying on it to provide your plants with water as it’s needed. To test, run each system manually for five or more minutes to be certain there are no leaks or no repairs required. Leaks are often evident, with geysers of noisy and water splashes making the source apparent.

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Set out begins of heat-loving plants. This is the time of year to set out begins of heat-loving plants like tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, eggplant, corn and beans. Just check to determine when the last frost date for your region happens. After that date has passed, you must be safe to plant those frost-sensitive plants.

Genevieve Schmidt

Tote out the tomatoes. To get a bountiful harvest in cool coastal climates, try grafted tomatoes from Log House Plants. These tomato varieties are grafted onto a vigorous root stock, so that they have better disease resistance, develop more quickly and, of course, bear a lot more fruit. While they’re more expensive than a standard tomato, they’re a great solution for small gardens, as they give you a larger yield from far fewer plants.

Proven Winners

Do not forget the accessories. While you’re planting your summertime fruits, do not forget to pick up a couple of plants only for beauty too. Now is the time to plant frost-tender and heat-loving plants such as impatiens, petunias, million bells, coleus and much more. This ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper coleus from Proven Winners would make a great addition to pots or garden beds. Plant it near purple flowers or dark black foliage for a modern, fresh screen.

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