California Gardener's May Checklist

Nature tells us that the California spring is finished by May, particularly after another winter. Look for the wildflower clarkia from the hills that are brown. Its common name says it all: farewell to spring up. But it is not a miserable time in any way. May attracts roses and rhododendrons, even tiny tomatoes and squash, after-work swimming and biking — and the promise of six months or so to enjoy our outdoor spaces in their best. Let’s look at ways to make those spaces as beautiful and comfortable as possible.

More regional gardening guides

Look but do not touch. Fremontia, as I call it (the common title flannel bush leaves me itchy), is the California native that says to me that spring is finished and to get ready for the rainy season. It is a tough, tall shrub/tree originally from a number of the state’s dryest parts. Yes, the leaves are hairy and sticky and may irritate the skin. However, the flowers are magnificent — particularly on ‘California Glory’, shown here — rich yellow and up to 3 inches across.

Fremontia is a great choice for a natural garden kept on the dry side. Place it in the background, where you will not bump into it but where you can appreciate the blooms.

Botanical name: Fremontodendron ‘California Glory’
USDA zones: 8 to 10 (find your zone)
Water necessity: Lighting
Light requirement: Full sun
Mature size: Up to 20 feet tall and 12 feet broad
Growing tips: make certain the soil is well drained — very important; do not anticipate a very long life.

Cool down with brimming bowls. Long past the Moors (think of this Spanish palace the Alhambra) educated the rest of the world a whole lot about producing gardens — particularly how to make a little water go a very long way. The Moorish idea of brimming bowls suggests that water is abundant, which naturally it is not within an arid climate. Just the suggestion of water may be sufficient to create a sense of coolness and serene, however.

Shown here is a granite fountain from Stone Forest, operating with a small circulating pump. It offers enough water to draw hummingbirds and hand-dipping grandchildren.

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Sniff or taste. Unless you are going into the pesto business, only a few basil plants should supply your summer requirements. Warming weather is a great time to plant basil, but with a lot of different kinds available as toddlers, what’s best? To maintain the picking simple, trust your nose or taste buds. Plant what you like.

Generally speaking for pesto or scatter tomatoes, you’ll probably be satisfied with types labeled ‘Sweet Basil’ or ‘Genovese’ (or a connected Italian title). Scented basils, generally milder, include lemon and cinnamon. Some have a vanilla taste, which might or may not appeal. Purple-leafed varieties appear intriguing in salads and on chopped tomatoes.

Plant several types, if you have room, in a sunny spot; partial color can help in hottest climates. Stagger plantings over several weeks to stay fresh leaves coming annually. Continue cutting back the tips to encourage bushiness; cut frequently enough to stop flowers from forming. Never allow the roots dry out.


Outdoor Akoris Sr.. Modern Tuteur Trellis

Add a sculptural trellis. Left to their own devices, tomatoes, beans and other summer vegetables may sprawl or clamber into a tangle of a vegetable garden. Trellises and arbors may control the chaos, in addition to add vertical interest to a boring flat space. A trellis such as the one displayed here looks great before and while the plants are climbing it up. This is a steel, brightly painted version of the conventional tuteur, made by Los Angeles artist and landscape designer Jennifer Asher.

To grow plants up, make sure you choose the vining kinds of beans and peas, maybe not the bush types. Not all tomatoes require vertical support; some are naturally low and bushy. The vining indeterminate kinds of tomato will require all the support you may provide; these include popular types such as cherry, ‘Early Girl’ and many heirlooms.

Add some razzle and dazzle. Until relatively recently, Loropetalum chinense flew under the radar — known as “delicate,” “subtle” and such, without a common name. Now, after the plant breeders got a hold of it (thanks to them) , it’s become one of the most versatile landscape plants, using vibrant leaves and bright pink or purplish flowers. It is now generally called fringe flower, and a vast range of types bear names that have words like “razzle,” “sizzling” etc.. Take one or more for partially shaded spots, as a border, background plant, hedge or container plant, or trained into a tree shape. It is not difficult to grow and requires pruning or not. Enough said.

Common title: Fringe flower
Botanical name: Loropetalum chinense
USDA zones: 7 to 9
Water necessity: Moderate
Light requirement: Partial shade
Mature size: Up to 6 feet tall, sometimes more, and equally broad
Growing tips: Prune to control the shape and dimensions, or leave it alone for a graceful flowing appearance.

Do not overlook the fantastic old white. Lost in the shuffle is the original white Loropetalum. It is subtle and delicate, with pretty white flowers that can brighten shady spots. It looks great together with showy azaleas. It will bloom greatly even if reunite, as shown here.

Plant a solo succulent. Succulents can do all sorts of things, but some look great alone in a simple terra-cotta pot. Perhaps this can be oversimplifying, but it boils down to this: Find a succulent you like, fit it with a pot you prefer, plant it at a commercial soil mix for cactus and succulents, and mulch the top with gravel. Be careful about overwatering. Shown here is Dudleya pulverulenta, a California native that gets its title from the powdery leaves (“pulverized,” in the Latin). A few other personal favorites such as Royal succulents: Echium, aloe, Opuntia.

Botanical name: Dudleya pulverulenta
USDA zones: 9 to 11
Water necessity: Light
Light requirement: Full sun
Mature dimensions: 1 foot tall and up to 2 feet broad
Growing tips: Shield container-grown plants in the hottest sun.

Discover a dishonest problem solver. Sweet woodruff, romantically named and fragile looking, is actually an aggressive spreader in shady, dampish places where other plants fight. Try it under camellias, azaleas or shade trees or in other dark areas.

Botanical name: Galium woodruff
USDA zones: 5 to 8 finest at cooler northern California ponds
Water necessity: Moderate and more
Light requirement: Partial to full color
Mature size: Low spreading up to a foot tall or high, usually less
Growing tips: Wants rich, moist soil to flourish — in the case it might flourish itself into a pest. It tends to burn up in too much sun.


What Else to Do in May in Your California Garden

The Ideal planting movement would be to place out heat-loving vegetables and flowers, such as the zinnias shown. The main chore is to receive your watering systems and programs in order for the dry season beforehand.

Set out heat-living annual flowers. These are pretty quick to bloom and simple to transplant out of nursery packs: ageratum, bedding begonias, celosia, lobelias, marigolds, petunias, portulaca.

Sow seeds of summer flowers. Marigolds and zinnias are particularly easy to grow from seeds sown directly in the ground in sunny spots.

Plant summer vegetables. Not too late. In reality, tomatoes and peppers put out as seedlings usually start more powerful now than if implanted earlier. You may begin these as seeds from the floor: beans, corn, pumpkins, radishes and skillet.

Total significant landscape planning. Including trees, shrubs, ground covers and yards. It is OK to plant later, but take special care in warm climates.

Plant tropicals. Now is perfect timing for bougainvillea, avocados, citrus and other warmth fans.

Watch for pests. Major threats include snails and slugs, plus aphids on new spring growth. Inspect vegetable plantings for earwigs (unmistakable creatures); restrain with bait.

Clean up. Cut off spent flowers of spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. Let the stems dry naturally before removing them.

Feed. Fertilize newly planted vegetables and flowers within a few weeks after planting, or according to the label’s instructions. Utilize an acid-type fertilizer on camellias and azaleas once they bloom. Continue feeding roses frequently.

Water. In case you require a reminder after the dry winter, make sure you give a normal deep soaking to trees and shrubs, except for the more drought-resistant ones.

More regional gardening guides

See related