The month of May marks the beginning of the planting season for lawn grasses. May is also a good time for heat loving annuals and flowering perennials. However May is generally not a good time to install new trees, shrubs, or cool season plants since the hot dry summer is right around the corner. Summer is very stressful on tender new plants and, generally, the time we see new plantings fail. Unfortunately May is the month that plant sales reach their peak at the nursery. This has happened every year at our nursery in Wichita Falls as far back as our records go. So May……be, we need to study this yearly phenomenon.
The month of May is the most colorful of all as many cool season plants are still blooming while the summer bloomers are beginning to kick in. Spring is in full swing and all concern over late freezes are past (even for us in North Texas, but May….be still some concern for folks in the Panhandle). May is usually a high rainfall month but not always. Temperatures in May average in the mild 80’s but some serious heat can begin by late May. We have recorded high temps up to records of 110’s by the third week of May. May can be a very good time to plant given “normal” conditions but May….be not.
Given the fact that timely rainfall is so important to the success or failure of any gardening venture, it would be nice if we could predict weather with more accuracy. Truthfully though, the only thing that is actually predictable is that Texas weather is unpredictable. For example, our highest monthly rainfall came in August this past year. In 2007 it came in July. Normally these are low rainfall months. Both of these atypical summer rains came from single events that dumped 6” and 8” amounts in our local area. This caused flooding and erosion which was not good for people or plants but did look good on the monthly average, lake levels, and yearly totals. This is how reliance on averages can be misleading. That May rainfall average could happen in just one or two good rains. May…….be
So with the exception of lawn grasses and other plants mentioned above May could very well turn out to be a poor choice for most landscaping projects. A more reliable time to install new landscaping would be in the fall. More specifically, as soon as hot weather subsides and Fall rains begin. At this point your new plants can enjoy cooler weather as they bounce back from transplant shock and begin to establish themselves. What rain does fall will not evaporate so quickly. Yes, we have seen winter harsh enough to kill young transplants in Texas, but not so often as we see brutally hot, typically dry summers as the true killer. Fall planting stacks the odds in your favor.
Now you May…be questioning why a guy like me would want to cause concern for potential customers during his most lucrative month. The honest answer is, “Thai’s my job.” One thing that your local family owned nursery and landscape folks have always had over the Megamarts is expertise. Plain and simple. Even though the person at the Megamart garden center may have some background training in horticulture or in fact be a certified nurseryman, they are beholden to their company to sell a one-size-fits-all culture. Furthermore, you will likely never see the guy from the Megamart drop by your home to check on your landscape. That just isn’t in their job description.
Those of us who do have the expertise to sell the right plants and promote sales in the optimum season don’t have the advertising budget to compete with these huge chain stores. Their advertising and marketing people spend millions every year to study our habits and purchasing patterns. They know it’s easy to sell plants in spring. Unfortunately their message is heard constantly in all the mass media. Everything is on sale!!!!………..All the time! This is exactly why so many of us in the industry will welcome any opportunity to speak to local non-profit groups, hold seminars, demonstrations, sponsor local gardening events, and write for local newspapers and magazines like the one you are reading. Even though we are destined to lose the advertising battle, we can still get our message across on the local level. May……be
Spring is and always will be a human condition. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing a bit of gardening. I think it is essential for us to commune with Nature when the weather is pleasant. There are plenty of plants that love heat and are appropriate to plant in May. The big ticket items like trees and shrubs can still be planted in May and on through the summer to be sure. If we happen to get timely rainfall in May and June or even July then we reap the benefit. Just bear in mind that the heat of summer is on the way so don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you do have some major plantings in your immediate future and you can afford to wait then you will be wise to postpone until the worst of summer has past. That typically is September or May…be October in some years.
My numbers should peg in that September/October time frame. My hope is that some day they will. Our records do indicate that fall sales are on the increase. This means the message is getting out to some of you. Gardening is for certain a twelve month affair in our part of the country. There is always something to do and things you can plant in every season. Too many good nursery owners find themselves hanging by a thread every winter, waiting for that spring rush. Too many good employees have to be laid off. Too many local nurseries have had to close down because of this “Rich in the spring, poor in the winter” cycle that I believe is perpetuated by the mass merchandising industry. Their intent to cash in on spring sales has strengthened the myth that everything must be planted in April and May. Well ………..May…..be for some plants but not for all.
Go ahead and celebrate spring. Do so as an informed gardener. Share your knowledge. Support your local family owned nurseries. We are there for you in all seasons, not just May….be.