For some of you, snowy conditions may have stolen the show last weekend, but warmer temperatures* and the urge to plant have returned this week with gusto. We say, go for it! May is primetime for planting just about anything you can get your hands on, and we’re highlighting some of this month's most prominent bloomers in different parts of the country.
*For those of y'all in chillier regions, we recommend waiting until overnight temps are consistently at or above 50 F to leave especially sensitive things (like basil) outdoors.
NORTHEAST: Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
Hands down, this lacy, leafy shrub is is one of the season’s most fragrant. Plant a cluster in either white or, of course, lilac.
Conditions: Performs well in sun or part shade, moderate watering to keep roots from drying out.
Habit: Bushy to small tree form, up to 15' h x 12' w
Notes: Plant in well-draining soil and don't crowd with too many other plants to prevent powdery mildew. Prune immediately after flowering to avoid sacrificing next year's blooms.
SOUTH: Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
The first of the hydrangea shrubs to bloom, this rangy fast-grower produces tall, cone-shaped long-lasting, fluffy white flowers that make for great cutting or offer a consistent bloom throughout the season.
Conditions: Performs well in sun or part-to-dappled shade. Moderate water needs; more in full sun.
Habit: Large, sometimes leggy, up to 12' h x 12' w
Notes: Very low maintenance. Prune immediately after flowering to avoid sacrificing next year's blooms.
There are so many fabulous variations of this easy-to-grow perennial that your only problem is which ones to choose. We love Iris versicolor (a native of much of the Great Lakes region and beyond) with its striking dark purple veining and a golden yellow center.
Conditions: Performs well in sun or part shade, medium to wet watering needs
Habit: Narrow, mostly upright and clumping, up to 30" tall.
Notes: Easy to divide and share, it will naturalize, i.e. spread, on its own. Great for rain gardens and dry creek beds.
SOUTHWEST: Hedgehog Cactus (Echinopsis)
It’s hard to miss these nearly neon-colored flowers, also known as Easter Lily Cactus flowers, which grow on spiky succulents. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is hoping this spring brings a superbloom, a rare phenomenon in which masses of wildflowers bloom all at once thanks to unusually high precipitation during the rainy season. Check out their Instagram.
Conditions: Full sun to part shade and minimal water with very well-draining soil.
Habit: Typically small and round with sharp, plentiful spines and vibrant flowers.
Notes: Allow soil to dry out between watering and then soak deeply. Use a cactus/succulent soil mix to ensure ample drainage. Do not let the roots stay submerged in water.
WEST COAST: Wisteria
The delicate but decadent dripping flowers that cover this rugged vine are also fragrant early bloomers. New plants need time to get established — it won't take long — and do best when twined around a pergola pole or trained up a lattice.
Conditions: Prefers full sun, medium water requirements.
Habit: Twining tendrils become woody with maturity, up to 40 feet long and beyond
Notes: Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) are the most aggressive growers and can be invasive in warmer climates. American wisteria (Wistera fructescens) has a more moderate growth rate and is generally easier to maintain. Best if pruned in late winter before leafing out as well as throughout the summer to keep rampant shoots in check.
PACIFIC NORTHWEST: Rhododendron
The bushy structure of this woodland shrub makes it great for adding height and volume to low-light and woodland gardens. Its vibrant colors brighten up shady areas in variations of red, pink, purple, yellow, orange, and white.
Conditions: Best in part sun to full-but-dappled shade, moderate water requirements. Will scorch in full sun.
Habit: Varies greatly by cultivar, from 3' to 20' h and equally wide.
Notes: Thrives in acidic soil. Lots of soft yellowing leaves can indicate the soil pH is too alkaline, use Espoma Soil Acidifier to adjust conditions. Prune immediately after flowering.