To Do In The Vegetable Garden: May 2015

May can be a busy month in the garden, but it’s pretty much all the fun stuff: transplanting, fussing over adorable baby plants, and enjoying the first big harvests of the year. Let’s get right to it.

Printable At-A-Glance Grow-Guide!

If you like your Gardening To Lists simple and direct, you’re in luck! Just click the image below to download the May At-A-Glance Grow Guide in PDF. Or, continue reading for the full details on everything you should be doing in your garden this month.

What To Plant Now At A Glance May

Plan and Purchase

Warm season edibles like tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, melon, cucumber and corn are in the nurseries, outside of grocery stores, at farmer’s markets and pretty much everywhere now.

But wait….STOP!


Just because you can buy it does not mean you should, or that it’s ready to be transplanted out. Your marching orders for seedling season:

  1. No crappy seedlings.
  2. No Big Box starts. Go with locally grown seedlings – they are more likely to be varieties that will thrive in your backyard, and they are less likely to introduce new diseases to your garden.
  3. Harden off seedlings before you give them a space in your garden. Assume all seedlings you purchase today were living in an 80 degree greenhouse yesterday and transition them gently.
  4. Watch your overnight lows and be prepared to protect tender transplants against sudden drops in temperature.
  5. Smaller plants establish and transplant better than older ones, so go with the 4″ tomato instead of the gallon. They’ll catch up, don’t worry.

Tomato Seedling

Start thinking about the fall garden. No, you don’t have to do anything yet, but just keep it in the back of your head that many of the fall and winter crops like Brussels Sprouts and some of the long-season cabbages mature veeeeerrrrry slowly, and will need to be started in late June or early July to give you a satisfactory harvest.

Make sure you have what seed you’ll need and that some space in the garden beds will be available when the time comes. (Learn More: How To Make Succession Planting and Year-Round Gardening Really Work.)

Start Indoors

At this point everything can be sown out directly, which is less work and energy than starting crops indoors. But you may still prefer to get some crops going under lights, or in small pots in the greenhouse or cold frame, to have at the ready.

The biggest reason I give some of these warm-season crops a head start under lights is because I’ve had too many rows of just-germinated cucumbers devoured in a single night by slugs. I’ve lost entire rows of beans this year to the slugs and I’m not happy about it. (Sluggo and ducks are the only thing I know that really helps control slugs.)

That said, nothing in the curbit (squash) family really loves being transplanted, so don’t let those crops languish in pots too long before transplanting.


These tender melon-family babies can still be started indoors, but don’t delay – if you start them today, they will be happy 3 or 4 week old transplants at the end of May or beginning of June. Don’t try this with super-long season winter squash, but the fast growers like zucchini and cucumbers still have plenty of time.

  • Cucumber
  • Melon
  • Pumpkins
  • Summer Squash
  • Winter Squash

Leafy Greens and Herbs

At this point I think you might as well direct sow these outdoors, but if you want, you can start inside:

  • Basil – Always more basil! Start a lot – it’s not too late. It’s basil, the Queen of Herbs!
  • Swiss Chard
  • Salad Greens – only heat tolerant varieties at this point. Think romaine, not spinach.
  • Hardy Herbs – Think parsley, chives, fennel, chervil, oregano, dill, mint, sorrel, marjoram, lemon balm, pansies etc.

Other Stuff

  • Corn – you can start this inside. It actually works pretty well. Make sure you start enough though – you want blocks of corn stalks at least 4 by 4 for good wind pollination, so you’ll need a minimum of 16 seedlings, and I’d recommend twice that.

New to starting your own seeds? Here are some resources to help:

Sow Directly & Transplant Out

If your soil is warm and you don’t have a massive slug problem, you’ll get the best results with many of summer’s favorite veg by direct seeding.

It’s definitely safe to direct seed beans, squash, cucumber and corn now. My preferred method to direct sow heat lovers like corn and squash is to plant these crops under vented clear plastic and rely on the increased soil temp to give me strong and early germination. Just be careful temps under the plastic don’t get so hot that you cook your seeds or newly germinated seedlings!

This is a great month to get the kids involved – the large seeds of beans and squash are easy and fun for kids to sow. (Read more: The 5 Best Vegetables To Grow With Kids.)


In the Pacific Northwest, brassicas do very well as a year round crop, so if you want a nice continual harvest of broccoli and cabbage, consider a May sowing in addition to the big April transplanting.

The important thing if direct sowing these crops is slug protection. Get sluggo. Use it. Transplants can also fall victim to those damned mollusks, so be on the lookout (preferably at night, with a sharp pair of scissors in hand.)

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (early types)
  • Cauliflower (early types)
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi (spring types)


If you prefer direct seedling over starting these indoors, go for it! Just (again, again, again) watch for slugs who think cucurbit cotyledon are the most delicious things ever.

  • Cucumber
  • Melon
  • Pumpkins
  • Summer Squash
  • Winter Squash


Over the course of this month, all the nightshade crops can be transplanted out. Watch overnight lows in your particular garden to help decide when the time is right, and how much protection to give them.

  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes


All beans can be direct seeded now with great success.

  • Bush snap beans – Hard to go wrong with Provider. Fast and dependable.
  • Pole beans – Scarlet runner is the most cool-night-tolerant bean I grow, and the Romano types are my favorite for all around fresh eating and freezing.
  • Dry beans – I am in love with Calypso for this area. Last year it ripen and dried down fully despite a late planting, and yielded better than any other dry bean I tried.


These can all be sown at any time. Just make sure your soil is dry enough to rake to a fine tilth. Roots do best in deep, fluffy soil.

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes (short season types)
  • Radishes
  • Scallions


Finally, some serious fresh eats! May is the month when eating from the garden starts to happen with abandon, and marks (for my family) the end of nearly all shop-bought produce for 7 or 8 months.

  • Salad Greens – lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, radish greens and more are thriving!
  • Broccoli – already harvesting fresh broccoli! Yum!
  • Spring cabbages – with luck will be ready towards the end of the month.
  • Overwintering leeks and green garlic
  • Rhubarb
  • Asparagus – have been harvesting my asparagus for several weeks now
  • Spring cauliflowers – The earliest cauliflowers should be ready in May.
  • Kale – deliberately sown and naturalized is in prime baby-leaf stage
  • Chard – eating tons of chard these days
  • Peas – mine won’t be ready in May this year, but I have harvested fresh snap peas in May before, so I know it’s quite possible!

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Garden Chores To Do May Graphic

Your turn – how is your May garden growing?

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  1. Denise says

    Just curious – in your May “to-do” calendar you said (re starting cukes, squash etc. inside): “Don’t try this with super-long season winter squash”, and I’m wondering why not? I’ve always started all my squash inside and transplanted them gently. I’m up by the Canadian border and our growing season is a bit shorter than yours…

    • says

      Oh, I probably wasn’t clear – I didn’t mean ALL winter squash. The winter squash that will fully ripen by the time frost comes are still fine to start indoors. But if folks are just now starting winter squash, I’d suggest more fast-maturing varieties at this point. I wouldn’t count on only squash with a catalog 120+ day maturation at this point, in other words.

      • Denise says

        Ah, thanks, got it. In general I aim for squash that mature in under 100 days, so I’m thinking I’m safe.
        And your At-A-Glance calendars are VERY helpful!

  2. Barb says

    Hey Erica,

    Haven’t read the whole post yet (supposed to be working), but I just wanted to say that I really like the At-A-Glance guide. April’s prompted me to get out there and get some things planted and I’ll be continuing with some things I see on May’s list this next weekend.


  3. Kyle says

    I love deadlines. I love the sound as they go whooshing by. – Douglas Adams

    Definitely in the land of having done so much work with so little discernible progress.

    If I had to be an actual homesteader, my family of one would starve.

  4. says

    “My preferred method to direct sow heat lovers like corn and squash is to plant these crops under vented clear plastic and rely on the increased soil temp to give me strong and early germination.”

    This is a great idea! By “vented” do you mean you just poked some holes in it? Or is that a different kind of plastic from the generic clear plastic I have laying around?

    • Tania says

      I assume she means an open ended cloche. That is what I do. And yes, it works wonders. Just use some sort of hoop type support to support the clear plastic… I have used wire, pvc, and bent electrical conduit… Anything that works. Leave the ends open so that it does not overheat.

      • says

        Ok, thanks! I had imagined something closer to the ground, but what you’re saying would be more practical (e.g. it could also cover plants during the winter). I guess that will be my next garden constructions project…

  5. says

    I finally, finally, finally have a garden again, zomg!!!
    I’m a little excited, can you tell? ;-)
    Summer seems to have arrived a few weeks early up here, but I’m taking the chance and planting stuff as I go. So far I have planted (as seeds):
    Red Russian Kale
    Rainbow Chard (so much rainbow chard)
    Snow peas
    Sugar/snap peas
    fava beans
    musquee de provence (pumpkin)
    marina di chioggia (winter squash)
    Canada crookneck (winter squash)

    AND (as starts)
    Sweet basil
    Greek oregano
    Winter savoury
    Lots of Vietnamese garlic (transplanted from the yard, and hoping it’ll spread)
    Strawberries (two “four season” plants – whatever that means – which I’m hoping will spread as well)

    I also planted half a dozen jerusalem artichokes (we’ll see if they sprout – they were from a grocery store) and am hoping to add a rhubarb cutting from my in-laws’ back garden later this summer. The goal is to turn one of the garden beds into perenial edibles and have the other (and the two more that will, here’s hoping, get built next spring) be for annuals.

    Now I’m waiting to see what sprouts (some of my seeds are almost three years old, so we’ll see…) and I’ll fill things in as needed.

    Still to plant:
    From starts: Tomatoes, cucumbers, golden zucchini, maybe an eggplant, may or may not try ground cherries again this year
    From seed: Various pole beans, maybe a second cucumber plant, extra winter squash depending on how many of my 15 seeds actually germinate and grow.

    My peas and rapini (and maybe some of the kale?) are already starting to germinate and poke their noses above the soil, so I’m just ridiculously chuffed about the whole business. ;-)

  6. Eva Spitzer says

    I sewed lots of the recommended seeds outdoors in March and April, and my seeds germinated great, but then completely stopped growing. They are starting to die now- turn yellow, get eaten, just generally failing to thrive. I have no idea what’s wrong. I am using purchased garden soil amended with fertilizer and compost. I had them covered in white garden cloth, but I came home a few weeks ago and the whole garden was full of a brown curly fungus/mushroom, so I removed the cloth to discourage the mushrooms, which are gone now. I hadn’t been watering because my problem had been that the garden was too wet, but now the soil has dried more, so I have watered the last two days, and then today it rained. The soil is very dense- it dries into a hard crust on top, so I sprinkled a mixture of sand, fertilizer, charcoal and manure on top, but I can’t work it into the soil and disturb the tiny seedlings. I’m almost tempted to destroy them at this point and start over with bought starts, but I’m concerned I’ll just have the same problem. Could you write more about caring for seeds planted outdoors or point me towards previous articles? I can’t find any advice for what to do in this situation.

  7. says

    I love your monthly gardening to-do lists. It always reminds me to JUST PLANT MORE. However, slugs, I am going to have to figure out something to do with….

    Have you seen the tomato/pepper/vegetable starts at Costco this yearr? I was surprised to see that my local Costcos are both carrying locally-started tomatoes and peppers — within 100 miles of one of them, and about 120 from the other. I was shocked/not shocked because Costco is getting cooler and cooler these days.

    I sadly screwed the pooch on my cucurbits and started them inside way too early, so I’m going to see what direct seeding luck I get. We’ll see.

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