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6 Things to Plant in May for a Colorful (and Tasty!) Garden All Summer Long

updated May 12, 2021
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garden full of zinnias and other summer flowers
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You’ve weathered the cold winds of March gardening, and the rainy days of April gardening, and finally, it’s here: warm, beautiful MAY. This month marks the pinnacle of spring, and if you’ve been waiting to plant your summer crop of flowers, fruits, and veggies because of frost (for the northern continental United States, you’re looking at around May 22), this is the month you’ll finally get to break ground.

Without a doubt, one of the most exciting things about having a garden of any kind is the planning process. Us gardeners have waited all winter, excitedly flipping through catalogs of plants trying to decide on our favorites, and now it’s time to get into full swing. From warm-season annuals to sweet corn, May is going to keep you busy! 

Of course, this is just a snapshot of what you can plant in May — but the following all made my priority list, so you might want to consider them! Most can grow in both garden beds and containers, so you’ll be able to find something that works for you no matter how much outdoor space you have.

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Warm-Season Annuals

Once the threat of frost is gone in your agricultural zone, it’s time to plant those delicate, warm-season annuals. Whether you’re direct seeding or headed to the nursery to buy multi-packs of baby plants, get out there in the garden! Since these are better suited for containers than garden beds, these make great picks for small-space gardeners who only have a patio or balcony’s worth of space to work with. They’ll even be happy in a window box or hanging basket if that’s all you have to work with.

These warm-season annuals are crowd favorites, and there are so many varieties of each that you’ll have plenty of options to choose from:

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By the time May comes around, it’s time to start thinking about sowing your carrot crop. The most important thing to remember when growing carrots is the quality of the soil. In order to produce a quality crop, the soil needs to be light, sandy, and free of any obstructions like rocks. If there’s any obstacle that gets in the way while the carrot is growing, it will become misshapen, which affects not only the look but also the taste.

Carrots are fun to grow because the leafy greens that sit above ground make for attractive foliage by themselves — so even as you wait to harvest, you’ll have something pretty to fill your garden with.

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Right about now you’ll start to see all kinds of strawberry plants popping up at your local garden centers. For delicious, summer-long fruit, put everbearing plants in your garden starting in mid to late May. 

Not only do strawberries make great bedding plants, but they’re wonderful in containers as well. Even if you live on the tippy-top floor of an apartment building with a tiny square of outdoor space, you can still grow strawberries.

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Ground Covers

Chances are you’ve already started planting your summer garden, and that’s great! I’ve personally been working and planning since March, and now I’ve realized that I have a bunch of gaps in between my bedding plants under my trees. Because of that, I’m going to plant ground cover. These are some of my favorite options:

Keep in mind while you’re shopping around for ground cover that many of these plants can be invasive, so know your area and your region’s needs and restrictions.

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Sweet Corn

You can only sow sweet corn in your garden once all threats of frost are passed in your region. Start sowing your seeds after the average temperature range is between 40 degrees Fahrenheit overnight and 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day — for some parts of the country, this might be the very end of May.

If you’re sowing in a small area, you’ll have to thin your strongest plants after they start growing to make sure your little corn seedlings don’t crowd each other out.

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Summer Bulbs

Did I mention these last month? Absolutely. And they’re worth bringing up again, becasue the end of May is generally the last chance you have to plant your summer-blooming bulbs. Here are some great picks:

Elephant ears can also be grown very happily as houseplants. Plant the bulbs in a container, enjoy them outside all summer long, then move your pot inside for cooler months.

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More Ideas for May Planting

These plants can’t survive frost, so they need to be planted after the threat has passed. In southern areas, you’ve probably already hit that date; for northern areas, that will be coming up this month. Figure out what agricultural zone you’re in to help determine when your last frost date will be so you don’t lose any of these plants to cold snaps.

  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Herbs like basil, oregano, and rosemary
  • Zucchini