It’s the time of year when it’s difficult to resist the impulse to plant during our warm and beautiful spring days!

Remember, however, that most of our warm season summer annual flowers and vegetables are frost sensitive. The “average” last frost date for most of Jackson County is May 3. But it can vary by a couple of weeks depending on where you live on the mountain or valley. “Average” means there is a 50 percent chance of frost. The safe planting date for our area is when there is only a 10 percent chance of frost. For most of the county the safe date does not arrive until or close to Mother’s Day.

The following suggestions are gardening, orchard and landscape tasks to consider for the month of May.


After mid-May when the soil has warmed to 65 degrees, plant seeds for beans, corn, cucumbers, melons, okra, southern peas, pumpkin and squash. Keep seedbeds moist as seedlings emerge.

Transplant warm season vegetable plants such as: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, etc., after danger of frost is past.

In our climate, tomatoes need to be supported off the ground to prevent fruit rot. Most gardeners find it best to use cages for determinate (bush) types and stakes or trellises for indeterminate (vine) types. If using stakes, drive them as close to the transplants at planting time to avoid injuring roots later.

Whether you are seeding or transplanting, allow the recommended space between plants as good air circulation is important for disease control and plant development.

To help boost your potatoes, mound soil around plants to encourage tuber formation.

Fertilize vegetables six to eight weeks after germination. Consider fish or fish-and-seaweed emulsion for a fast acting, well balanced organic fertilizer.

Watch for worms on cabbage family vegetables and greens. Spray with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) if needed. Scout for flea beetles on eggplant and tomato and cucumber beetles on cucumbers. Treat if needed.

Be prepared to cover early plantings with row cover fabric if a late frost threatens.


Fruit trees may have set a good crop this year. But be careful with too much fruit. Thin apples, pears and peaches to about 6 inches apart when the fruit is the size of a nickel.

Pick yummy strawberries regularly throughout May being careful to dispose of the moldy ones. Control weeds in strawberry beds and around fruit trees.

Fertilize grapevines, blackberries and blueberries if not done earlier.


Mow cool season grasses 2 1/2 to 3 inches high. Make sure grass is not wet to avoid spreading disease.

Do not fertilize fescue and bluegrass lawns.


Start planning your flower bed color scheme while visiting garden centers. It is safest to wait until the second week in May to plant tender bedding plants.

It is fine to go ahead and sprinkle seeds in the flower bed for zinnias, cosmos and other easy annuals.

When planning the flower bed or container garden, don’t forget about foliage plants. Add color and texture with plants like purple sword, coleus, sweet potato vine, spider plants, elephant ears and grasses.

Shrubs and trees

Organic mulch is the best tool for maintaining soil moisture and reducing weeds in the landscape. Mulch should be 3 to 4 inches deep, including the old layer.

Prune flowering shrubs soon after they bloom.

Summer bloomers like butterfly bush, rose of Sharon and crape myrtle can still be pruned, even though it is a little late.

Pests to watch for: azalea leaf gall, bagworms, boxwood leafminers, scales, spider mites, aphids.

Christine Bredenkamp is NCSU horticulture extension agent for Swain and Jackson counties; phone 488-3848 or 586-4009.