If spring would cooperate, we could get containers planted, tropicals hauled outside, and put the grill cover we used to cover the prized peony back on the grill. Here’s hoping we’re done with late spring frosts. Mother’s Day is our safety zone, but today’s cool temperatures worry me. Do plant your annuals after Mother’s Day, and here are your May garden chores.

May’s garden chores are up next, but if you’re still rubbing your eyes from winter and just getting started in the garden, here are March and April’s chores. So, let’s get going. Maybe if we’re all outside gardening away, we’ll give Mother Nature the nudge she needs to move it along. We’re ready for spring. Truly.

May is National Lyme’s Disease Awareness Month

Let’s get the cautionary news out of the way. (What more cautionary news?) May is National Lyme’s Disease Awareness month, so start doing the tick check when you come in from the garden.

Pro Tip: Throw garden clothes immediately into the dryer after being outside for 10 minutes or more to kill ticks.

The University of Rhode Island’s informative website Tick Encounter gives all the details needed on ticks, from avoiding them to identifying different types and keeping them at bay. The CDC says to shower within 2 hours of being outside to reduce the chance of infection.

Rounding up the bad news: Poison ivy doesn’t seem bothered by a late frost (of course), so check out the Mayo Clinic to identify the plants (and others) and get the what-to-dos.

Now for the chores.

Start with the mulch.

Is there anything nicer than a freshly weeded, freshly mulched yard? It looks so tidy (while giving us loads of benefits). So, if you haven’t already, start mulching. Mulch beds 2-3,” and though you’ve heard it before, let’s repeat it: Avoid the candle in the cupcake look around your trees. You should always be able to see the root flare of a tree. That doesn’t mean you can’t mulch around it. That means 2″ is plenty. Mulch gives a groomed look, but its purpose is more than decorative. Also, consider a living mulch. Many plants make an excellent ground cover and reduce the need for mulch. A few groundcovers are listed below, but visit the store to see the Toe Ticklers, Jeepers Creepers, and Stepables for more. And click here for the blog on groundcovers. Groundcovers aren’t always mondo grass or carex (those have a place). Sometimes they’re lovely blooming perennials. Here are a few to add to perennial beds.

  • Ajuga (sun to partial shade
  • Bergenia (dry shade)
  • Brunnera (shade)
  • Campanula ‘Blue Waterfall’ (part shade)
  • Creeping Jenny (sun to partial shade)
  • Epimedium (shade to partial sun)
  • Green and Gold (shade to partial sun)
  • Japanese Forest Grass (full shade)
  • Hellebores (dry shade)
  • Hostas (shade, some sun)
  • Ice plant (sun)
  • Sedums (sun)
  • Stella d’oro (sun)
  • Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ (sun)
  • Veronica ‘Aztec Gold’ (sun)

Prune Spring Blooming Shrubs


For pruning your lilacs, check out this excellent article in Fine Gardening.

Immediately after blooming, if shrubs need shaping or resizing, prune your azaleas, rhododendrons, lilacs, and other spring-blooming shrubs. The best time is when blooms are discolored, faded, and hanging on the shrub. Spring-blooming shrubs bloom on old wood (wood produced this season), so the sooner you prune, the better display of blooms you’ll have next year. The longer you wait, especially if you wait until late summer or fall, you’ll have fewer or no blooms.

Shape up shrubs or hedges that are outgrowing their spots, but don’t remove the stems of spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils or tulips until they turn yellow. Resist the urge to pull them up, and you’ll have better flower production next year.

For tips on pruning, click here.


Start weeding now if you haven’t already. You’ll have a better chance of getting ahead of them. Weeding before putting down more mulch is best because the mulch won’t kill the weeds already showing. Knowing your weeds is step one to combating them. Below are two reliable sites for weed identification. There really is no better way than simply pulling the weeds, but if you’ve got a problem area or starting a new bed, try soil solarization. Some weeds aren’t as bad as we think, and in non-prominent areas or bare places, it’s okay to control them instead of eradicating them—Weeds to Keep.

What we all want to do now: Plant


When planting, step back and look around. What forms the backdrop for your plants? In this picture, a viburnum has the perfect backdrop of the mountains behind it. “Borrowed landscaping” should always factor in whether it is a mountainscape, church steeple, neighbor’s lacebark elm, or farmer’s field; use it to your advantage.

May is a good planting month. Since the garden is gaining full momentum, it’s easier to see the gaps. Now you can match colors, fill in holes, add repetition, get rid of the onesie-look, be aggressive on what needs to go, and keep the goal of unity in the landscape. For more information on designing landscapes, read here.

Before you buy, ask yourself:

  • What is my sunlight/shade exposure? Determine the exact amount of sunlight hours during different times of the day. Do you have morning sun or afternoon shade? Is it direct or dappled? Full sun, western exposure? Study your landscape and know your situation. This piece is critical to the success of your plantings.
  • What are the soil conditions? Dry, moist, always wet?
  • Does the plant fit into the allocated space when it is mature?
  • At maturity, will it create the necessary shade or too much shade?
  • How does it blend/contrast with all of the garden?
  • Does it compete with established focal points?
  • Does it need to be evergreen or deciduous? Spring, summer, or fall flowering? Tree, shrub, or perennial?
  • What plants would combine (contrast in color, texture, height, etc.) with these?

These questions help determine the right plant for the right spot.

Note: Masses and sweeps of color are more appealing to the eye than the onesie look. We tend to buy one of everything we love, but massing color helps tie the garden together. Resist buying in ones, buy in 3s and 5s, and create sweeps of color through your landscape. (FYI: It doesn’t have to be fields of color, a grouping of 3 is fine.)


Roses and hydrangeas are next in the garden, and nothing beats a Hydrangea. Hydrangea paniculata (pictured above) is a particularly easy one to grow and requires little more than cutting blooms to bring inside. This one is ‘Limelight.’

Plant Annuals and Warm Season Vegetables

Don’t discount the annuals in your garden. They fill in gaps, bloom all season, and last well into the fall. For blooming annuals use Miracle Grow Bloom Boosters every 7-10 days for maximum bloom.

Don’t discount the annuals in your garden. They fill in gaps, bloom all season, and last well into the fall. For blooming annuals, use Miracle Grow Bloom Boosters every 7-10 days for maximum bloom.

The annual frost date of Mother’s Day is here (Happy Mother’s Day!), so plant begonias, coleus, marigolds, petunias, and zinnias this month (and so many more), in the landscape or containers. Annuals are great for all-season color, helping out when the perennial plantings are not in bloom.

Vegetables you can plant now are cantaloupe, cucumbers, okra, pumpkin, watermelon, and squash.


Once the weather starts to really warm up and the watering schedule increases, remember to fertilize annuals every 7-10 days with a bloom booster for better blooms. Fertilize summer-blooming plants like crape myrtle, Rose-of-Sharon, and roses this month. Also, fertilize vegetables six weeks after germination.

Written by Cinthia Milner, landscape consultant, and blog writer.

BB Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.