This is what all those April showers were for!
Spring blooms
Credit: Bob Stefko

May's warmer weather and longer days mean big changes for Midwest gardens. It's a great time to plant warm-season crops like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers as well as annuals like petunias and marigolds. As plants grow and mature, continue with regular watering and fertilization. May is also a good time to keep up with weeding and pest control to assure that plants remain healthy and thriving. Also, keep an eye on the weather forecast and protect plants from late frosts or extreme temperatures.

Avon Gardens
Credit: Bob Stefko

What to Plant in May


Feel free to plant any perennials in your gardens now. Plant or transplant perennial edibles now, including strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb and asparagus.

You can also divide and transplant most summer- and fall-blooming perennials now. They'll have plenty of time to get established by bloom time. Wait to divide spring bloomers until fall.

Warm-Season Annuals

Plant warm-season annuals, such as marigolds and impatiens, after your region's last average frost date. That's late April to May in the southern Midwest and around the middle of the month in the northern Midwest. You'll have your favorites, of course, but try something new this year, too.

Gladiolus byzantinus
Gladiolus byzantinus

Summer-Blooming Plants

Plant summer-blooming corms and tubers such as gladiolus corms, canna rhizomes, tuberous begonias and other summer bulbs.

Trees, Shrubs and Roses

Continue to plant trees, shrubs and roses. But don't plant bare-root types after the middle to end of the month, except in the northern part of Zone 4. They need cool, wet weather to take off.

Spring gardening flowers

Dig, Fertilize and Mulch

Make Beds and Borders

Dig new beds and borders as long as the soil isn't too wet; you can ruin the texture of the soil by creating muddy clumps and clods. If the soil is moist enough for you to form a ball in your hand, it's probably too wet for digging. If your soil isn't very good (too much clay or sand, for instance), create raised beds that you can fill with commercial topsoil. They're the smartest solution to problem soil.

Stop Weeds

Apply an organic weed killer or another preemergent weed killer to your flowerbeds and borders when the bright yellow forsythia bush is blooming. This prevents seeds from germinating and cuts down on weeding chores later.

Container plant flowers

Care for Containers

Fertilize containers regularly. Watering flushes out many nutrients. For best results, use a special bloom-boosting fertilizer on flowering plants.

Apply Mulch

Mulch with wood chips and other weed-suppressing materials this month in the southern Midwest, now that the soil has warmed. Wait until June in the northern Midwest.

Watch Spring Bulb Foliage

Don't cut off the browning foliage of spring bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, just yet. They need to "ripen" on the plant and replenish the bulb for next year. Remove the foliage once it pulls away with very little resistance.

Lawn Care

Consider Aeration

For most lawns, it's helpful to aerate every two or three years, depending on your foot traffic, soil and grass type.


Fertilize and apply a broadleaf fertilizer, which kills dandelions and other non-grasslike weeds.