Now that we're halfway through May, it's time for color, time for planting most annuals and bedding plants, time to fertilize roses, perennials and young vegetable starts, and time to buy a new pair of gardening gloves. This is the month for planting, weeding, feeding, seeding and pleading with the weather.
Use these guidelines:
Plant annuals now - with caution
Most annuals or bedding plants can safely go outdoors this week, especially hanging baskets and plants put into pots and kept close to warmth of the house or under the cover of a roof.
Worry free color to plant now: Geraniums, alyssum, petunias, calibrochoas, begonias, cordyline, swan river daisies, diascia, lobelia and more.
These common annuals are tough enough to survive outdoors, even if we get a late cold spell. There are plenty of other annuals that can go into containers this week with no problems. In general plants with thick, shiny or stiff foliage are less tender or prone to damage from cold or frost.
Wait a little longer
Don't get too bold, some plants are not quite ready. These are tender plants to coddle a bit longer:
Coleus: This is the flashy foliage plant with the brightly colored leaves often enjoyed as houseplant. Coleus should be planted outdoors with caution this month. If you purchase coleus plants from a garden center where they have been growing outdoors, but under cover and bring them home to a protected area near the house, your coleus might adapt just fine. Coleus planted directly into the cold ground after spending time in a heated greenhouse will pout, drop leaves, turn pale and commit suicide even if there is not a frost. Any time the temperature is near 40 degrees, coleus plants can have a meltdown.
Basil - Gourmet chefs need fresh basil and this easy-to-grow herb is full of nutrition and flavor, but don't plant basil outdoors until mid-June. This heat-loving herb may survive the cold nights of May, but it won't be happy about it. As a result, your basil plant will punish you all summer with lack luster growth and a dismal attitude. Buy basil plants this month and enjoy them indoors. Place it on the kitchen counter near a bright window. Harvest the fresh leaves and enjoy in sandwiches, salads and soup. Pamper the plants - sit them in the sunshine outdoors on warm days. Be sure to move them indoors at night if the temperature is 40 degrees or lower.
Tomatoes - Nope, it is not safe to set all tomato plants outdoors just yet. Like basil, eggplant and peppers, tomatoes are heat-lovers and even if they do survive the cold nights we get in May, tomato plants will remember the insult like a cold slap in the face. Warm season vegetables such as tomatoes will become stunted if you set them out too soon. Better to purchase tomato plants in the month of June, or to keep young plants close to the house and haul them under cover at night. A practical way to get an early start is to group potted tomato plants in a wagon or wheelbarrow and move the collection into a garage or garden shed when it is cold or rainy.
Patio Tropics - bougainvillea, mandevilla, tender hibiscus
You can find exciting and colorful bloomers at nurseries this month potted up in large containers and full of exotic, tropical blooms. Sometimes called 'Patio Tropics' these bodacious bloomers won't survive the winter, but they can be enjoyed all summer long in their original containers - no transplanting required. Patio tropics offer instant, vibrant color for a patio or deck. remember that these also are warm season plants, so if you invest in one of these show-stopping divas they will need protection from the cold if temps hover near 40 degrees or less.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.