Get It Growing: May in the garden

Finally, the days are getting longer, the sun is a little warmer, and the garden is starting to show renewed life. May has arrived.


It might be time to dig and divide, or even remove and replace overgrown perennial plants. Dividing perennials every few years is a good way to rejuvenate plants and control their size.

Start by digging your shovel in around the plant’s natural drip line, cleanly severing any roots. Cut in under and around the plant so it can be lifted out of the hole without tearing too many roots.

Next, cut the clump in half or quarters with a sharp tool. Remove any dry, dead or unhealthy looking parts. Remember to give all new transplants a deep watering.

Replant some or all of these new plants. Extras can be potted up and shared with friends and neighbors.


Plant hardy annuals to fill in garden beds or accent patio containers. Add in herbs and even cool season vegetables for a fun miniature kitchen garden. Be prepared to cover them if temperatures drop below 50°F.

Annuals are also the perfect jump start for a mid to late season perennial bed. They can add a pop of color and interest before the perennials are ready to take over the show.


Once the soil starts to warm up it will be time to plant tender summer bulbs, tubers, and corms. (Dahlia, Crocosmia, and some lily plants may have successfully overwintered in-ground in the warmer areas of the peninsula.) Begonia, gladiola, and cannas will need to be planted and make fantastic container plants.

Just a reminder, before disturbing the soil for any new planting, it’s always a good idea to mark where existing spring flowering bulbs are located.

Cool season vegetables

In the vegetable garden it’s not too early to direct sow cool-season vegetables. There are so many great crops to choose from including beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, kale, lettuce and more.

To extend your harvest, don’t plant all your seeds at once. Successive planting, or consecutive planting, entails planting some cool-season vegetables every two to three weeks so everything doesn’t ripen all at once. Good candidates for successive planting are fast growers such as spinach, peas, radish, and lettuce.

Harden off any of the cool season plants that were purchased or started indoors and get those planted by the end of this month (see side bar for more information on hardening off).

Warm season vegetables

It may be too early to plant warm-season vegetables! Many instructions warn gardeners to wait until after the last chance of frost to plant. Here in the cool spring of the Olympic Peninsula, you must wait even longer to plant warm season plants. Crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peppers, corn and even basil need warm soil and, hopefully, warmer temperatures.

The soil temperature at planting depth needs to be a minimum of 60°F for tomatoes. For cucumbers, beans, peppers and corn a minimum of 65°F is recommended. Planting too early can stunt a plant’s growth and lead to low crop yield. Patience will pay off!

Buy now, plant later. Any warm season plant starts that are waiting for warm soil should be kept in a warm and very sunny spot. Keep them watered and rotate them occasionally if needed.

When the soil does finally warm up (possibly not until June), remember to harden off all pre-started plants before planting in the garden.

Also …

Two amazing Green Thumb presentations will be offered in May; both start at noon at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, 510 East Park Ave., Port Angeles. On May 9, it’s “Understanding Your Nightcrawlers: If Darwin had Popsicle Sticks” with local gardener Brad Griffith. On May 23, it’s Gardening with Young Children” with Master Gardener Marva Holmes, Master Gardener.

(Note: Both Green Thumb presentations are also available online via Zoom; get links at

May 4 is our annual Master Gardener Plant Sale is this Saturday, at the Woodcock Demonstration Garden, 2711 Woodcock Road in Sequim. The plant sale is from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. closed from 12:30-1 p.m. for lunch. Half-price sales are from 1-3 p.m.

“Growing Tomatoes Well Here,” the next Digging Deeper Saturday event, is from 10:30 a.m.-noon on May 18 at the Woodcock Demonstration Garden, 2711 Woodcock Road, hosted by our very own Master Gardener presenters.

The Washington State Department of Ecology recently declared a statewide drought because of low snowpack and a dry forecast.

As a result, there will be an upcoming series of articles on water conservation that will be published in the Sequim Gazette by Clallam County Master Gardeners starting next week.

Susan Kalmar and Dave Eberle are WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardeners.

Hardening off

Plants started inside or in a greenhouse are not acclimated to the weather conditions outside and need to be “hardened off” before they are placed outside permanently.

Hardening off transplants is necessary to promote strong, healthy plants. Start by setting transplants outside for a few hours each day in a partially sunny area. Increase the time they are out over the next week.

After a week, leave plants outside overnight. If temperatures drop below 50°F, cover them or keep them indoors. After seven to 10 days, it’s time to transplant the seedlings outdoors.

When in doubt, assume any purchased plants have not been hardened off and treat them accordingly.