May Vegetable Gardening Tips and Tasks
May is an exciting time, as frost fades into a distant memory, warm weather (but not too hot) finally arrives and everything wants to grow. With the right quantity of rainfall and long days, plants are at their happiest. In central Virginia, the average last frost date is expected to be around May 10-May 15, which means that May is the month we begin to transplant summer vegetable plants into the vegetable garden — tomatoes, peppers and eggplant along with planting warm season crops such as squash, corn, beans, cucumbers and okra. May is often the busiest month of the year for the vegetable gardener: there’s the setting out of transplants, on top of maintaining the early spring-planted crops such as potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks and onions.
May is the time that the vegetable garden fills up with plants in a hurry. And the gardener is always looking for just a little more space, to add that recently-discovered heirloom tomato plant, or that new lettuce that is heat resistant and slow to bolt or that new burnt orange-colored pepper. So many choices, so little space.
The following May planting chart was developed using the Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-331 “Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended Planting Dates.”
|MAY 1-7||MAY 8-14|
|Lettuce, bibb||Swiss Chard|
|Lettuce, leaf||Lettuce, bibb|
|Onions (set)||Onions (set)|
|MAY 15-24||MAY 23-31|
|Beans, bush||Beans, Bush|
|Beans, Pole||Beans, Pole|
|Beans, Wax||Beans, Wax|
|Swiss Chard||Swiss Chard|
|Lettuce, bibb||Onions (set)|
|Squash, summer||Sweet Corn|
|Squash, winter||Sweet Potatoes|
Not sure of what varieties of vegetables to plant? Ask a nearby gardening friend what varieties have worked well in their garden. And you’ll find a list of vegetable varieties recommended for Virginia at Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-480.
Extend your harvest season by planting sweet corn and beans every two weeks through the end of June.
Missing corn kernels on your corn ears? This may be the result of poor pollination. Sweet corn is wind-pollinated. Block planting in short rows (3-4 rows or more) will pollinate more successfully than 1 or 2 long rows. When doing succession planting, block the area into the sections. For example, if you have space for 4 rows of corn, rather than planting two long rows of corn and waiting 2 weeks to plant the remaining two rows, divide the area into two blocks and plant 4 short rows. Then two weeks later, plant the remaining 4 short rows. This procedure will insure greater pollination. For more information on growing sweet corn, take a look at Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-405.
Keep your potatoes covered. The skins of potatoes exposed to the sunlight will turn green. This green color comes from the pigment chlorophyll produced as a response to sunlight. “Green Potatoes” will often develop a bitter taste and may even become toxic. This can be prevented by covering the exposed potatoes — by hilling-up dirt over the potatoes, or covering them with straw mulch. For additional information on growing potatoes, see Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-413
To control weeds in the garden, destroy weeds before they develop seeds. Refrain from cultivating and hoeing deeply; this can cause damage to the shallow roots of your vegetables. Also, avoid using mulch or compost contaminated with seeds. For additional information on controlling weeds in the home garden, see Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-364.
When watermelons, muskmelons, squash and cucumbers are planted in a hill, place a stick upright in the middle of the hill and leave it there. Later in the summer when the hill becomes hidden by the vines, you will know where to water. You’ll not only saving time looking for the main root, but you’ll be saving water as well.
Successful eggplant development is dependent on a span of temperatures of 80º-90ºF. and plenty of water. Water well when plants are young. Water at least two times a week when temperatures are high and there is no rain. For additional information on growing eggplant in the home garden, see Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-413 .
The best time to transplant tomato, pepper and eggplants, is on a cool cloudy day or late in the afternoon to avoid the hot sun. This way the plants have time to acclimate themselves to their new environment. If the following day is hot and sunny, a row cover may be used to reduce stress on the plant.
When transplanting seedlings in peat pots, gently tear off the top inch of the pot; the upper edges of the pot should be covered with soil to avoid wicking water away from the soil surface. Wicking may reduce the amount of moisture available to the roots of the plant.
Break the rule when setting-out tomato plants. The general rule for transplanting most plants is that the planting depth should be no deeper than the soil level they were originally grown in. This rule does NOT apply to tomato plants. The general rule for tomatoes is that 2/3 of the tomato plant should be below soil level. First, gently remove the leaves on the bottom 2/3 of the plant before planting. Planting deep allows roots to sprout along the buried stem (adventitious roots). This results in a better and stronger root system and the end result is better tomatoes. In heavy soil or if you just don’t want to dig deep, you can lay the plant on its side, provided that 5-6 inches of soil is placed over the roots and stem. For additional information on growing tomatoes, see VCE Publication 426-418 titled “Tomatoes” .
“Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended Planting Dates.” Va. Coop. Ext. Publication No. 426-331, http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-331/426-331.html
“Vegetables Recommended For Virginia,”Va. Coop. Ext. Publication No. 426-480, https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-480/426-480.html
“Sweet Corn,” Va. Coop. Ext. Publication No. 426-405, http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-405/426-405.html
“Potatoes, Peppers and Eggplant,” Va. Coop. Ext. Publication No. 426-413, http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-413/426-413.html
“Weeds in the Home Garden,” Va. Coop. Ext., Publication No. 426-364, http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-364/426-364.html
“Tomatoes,” Va. Coop. Ext.Publication No. 426-418, https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-418/426-418.html