Carolyn Singer: The power of May sun |

Carolyn Singer: The power of May sun

Carolyn Singer plans to have her tomatoes planted in her garden after the soil warms.
Photo by Carolyn Singer

A beautiful stand of native bleeding hearts on the north side of my house is in full bloom, soft pink flowers reaching above the delicate bright green foliage. In the late afternoon I often sit near this garden area, savoring the gentle evening May sun, the huge 350-year old black oak nearby, and the hummingbirds enjoying the bleeding hearts.

California poppies are in full bloom, their orange glow a highlight of May. I often pick a bouquet to enjoy inside, selecting the flowers that have recently opened, usually the previous day. I carry a container of warm water to plunge the stems into right after picking, including a bit of the foliage. The arrangement needs no further attention and lasts for days.

In a recent visit to a local nursery, I was once again filled with wonder as I gazed at the amazing array of choices. I mused about how quickly our devoted local nursery owners and employees can transform the barer shelves of winter to the overflowing abundance of May.

Planting vegetables

The heat-loving vegetables will continue to grow in containers in the safety of the cold frame for a couple more weeks. If you do not have a protective shelter, tender vegetables may be grown in containers placed against the warmth of a wall with a row cover protecting them at night.

By planting young seedlings of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant into one or two-gallon containers, the root system will grow stronger in just a few weeks.

And if frost or snow threatens (yes, even in May), plants may be moved inside your house if that’s the best protection. I have done just that in years past.

Planting summer vegetables in cold soil usually slows their growth. It’s better to delay until the May sun has warmed the earth. Row covers may also be used on the garden bed to speed the process. Once the soil is warm, nutrients will be more available for tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.

April-seeded starts of greens are now going into the fertile soil in my edible garden. Kale, lettuce, bok choy and mizuna will soon be ready for harvest, they grow so quickly in the May sun.

At the same time, I am seeding the next succession planting of greens. While I may have to utilize shade cloth for seedlings set into the garden in the summer months, sowing greens from April through October is one of my most important garden rhythms.

I am careful not to sow too much at any one time, though it seems I almost always have an abundance of harvest to share.

If only light shade is necessary, 30 percent shade cloth works. On the hottest of summer days, I switch to 40 percent.

Weed whacking

May sun brings on the weeds. Most may be easily pulled, especially after a rain. They are even valuable as an addition to the compost pile as long as they have not gone into a seed stage. Forty-one years ago I built my double-dug edible garden beds with a layer of weeds covered with soil and poultry manure.

If weeds have perennial roots or there are simply too many to pull, consider soil solarization. In the weeks just before and following the summer solstice, the sun is at its most powerful.

Spread 3 to 4-mil clear plastic over the area after the weedy area has been moistened. All the edges of the plastic must be sealed to increase the heat.

Sometimes, if ground is level, I can use lengths of wood for most of the sealing. Bark, compost, or soil may be used to complete the seal.

One year I rid a flower bed of crabgrass using soil solarization for three weeks right before the summer solstice. This pesky and aggressive weed has never returned.

Before summer heat arrives, check the mulch around ornamental shrubs, vines and trees. I favor decomposing straw for its moisture-holding capability, and bring in a few bales each fall. Winter rains work their magic.

Perennials in my garden are more likely to be mulched with compost. This task is easily accomplished during winter days when many perennials are dormant. Early-blooming hellebores and violets have a seed bed when they are mulched before bloom.

The compost mulch is rich in nutrients, and irrigation releases the perfect amount of fertilizer to the flower bed all summer, while I sit back and enjoy the results.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom,” and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to Check out her website at

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