I have said on many previous occasions that May should be a glorious month in the garden, with abundant flowers and the air full of the sounds of birdsong. Cuckoos, swallows and martins should all be back and making their presence known.

We have had the driest March and April for a long time, it remains to be seen what effect that may have on subsequent events in the garden. Apart from being dry it has been pretty warm and some of the spring flowers have come and gone fairly quickly because of that. March is the main daffodil month but many varieties survive through April and some such as “Actaea” and “Pheasant’s Eye” can last into May. Tulips should be at their best by now, and many summer bulbs, such as lilies and gladioli, are still to come.

Despite recent mild weather, it does not pay to assume that we cannot have night frosts in May, so beware of planting out tender flowers and vegetables too early unless you can protect them if the temperature suddenly drops. Horticultural fleece is adequate for some things, or even newspaper, but some plants, such as tomatoes take a long time to recover if they get too cold.

If you have a greenhouse there can be huge differences between day and night temperatures at this time of year, so be prepared to open doors and windows during the day and keep everything closed at night and even use a thermostatically controlled heater if you have one. Electric ones are the most controllable, but propane gas units are available and do increase the level of carbon dioxide in the greenhouse atmosphere, which is beneficial to the plants.

The cold winter we have just had has meant that lawns were later coming into growth this year than they have been for several seasons. However, in May they should be growing well and will need cutting frequently. I do not claim to be a very “organic” gardener, but one thing I do try to avoid doing, is putting fertilizer on lawn-grass, it makes it grow too fast and can encourage some of the coarser grass species. I think these days we should all learn to live with a few broad-leafed weeds in the lawn. Unless you have a bowling green or tennis court, many wild flowers that grow in lawns can be quite attractive and you can often physically remove those, e.g. dandelions, that aren’t.

If you do choose to use a weed-killer, be sure to read instructions carefully; particularly to avoid “drift” of the chemical onto other susceptible plants, tomatoes in particular can “sniff” herbicides from a long way off and may be easily damaged by them.

Also avoid spraying when bees are working, because although the weed-killer in itself might not harm the bee (it will have been tested for this during development), bees that smell of chemicals may be expelled from the hive by other bees.

Shrubs that flower early in the year can be pruned now, as soon as flowering is over, this will give them the maximum amount of growing time to develop the new wood on which they will flower next year. If the shrub in question is also grown for it’s berries, e.g. Pyracantha, pruning will of course remove the fruiting heads.

One way of getting around this is to prune out half of the flowered wood, leaving a crop of berries to develop and new wood to grow elsewhere, the other half can then be pruned in the next season. Pruning shrubs of this kind is always something of a compromise.

Early vegetables, such as autumn-sown broad beans will start to crop soon and black bean aphids may become a problem; they have a complex life cycle and are difficult to avoid completely.

Nip out the growing tips of plants after they have set a reasonable number of pods, this will restrict the aphid activity and a spray with soapy water will also help. Contact insecticides can be used, but not too close to harvest. When the bean plants have been cleared away, try to leave their roots in the ground, as they will be rich in nitrogen, “fixed” from the atmosphere by bacteria that live on the roots of legumes. This nitrogen will be a good fertiliser for transplanted cabbages that can come next in your crop rotation.

Runner and French beans, sown under protection in April, can be planted out now and more sown directly into the soil as there should be a minimal risk of night frost by now.

Slugs and snails will become more active as temperatures rise, particularly if it is damp, they are most active at night and you can, if you wish, go out and collect them. What you then do with them I will leave you to choose. If you use slug pellets, spread them very thinly; they are coloured blue to deter birds from eating them, as the birds do not see well at that end of the colour spectrum, but pets may eat them if they are in a heap. If the plants to be protected are not too big, you can put an upside-down hanging basket over them and that will keep pets off the slug pellets.

At the time of writing, we have had a remarkably dry spell of weather for most of the last three months, although we have had some heavy showers in the last few days. Many signs of summer are now with us, and certainly by the time you read this, swallows and house-martins will have been here for a while but I haven’t heard the Cuckoo yet this year. In the past I have heard it as early as April 9th. Whatever the weather and the arrival of migrants, the days will continue to lengthen for the next few weeks so we need to get on with the garden work.

At the moment we are discovering the real toll of the extremely low temperatures we endured last winter and many plants that should have recovered by now have not done so. Although it is usually best to start again, occasionally, woody subjects that have apparently been killed can recover up to twelve months later, so if you have some particularly prized rare plants it may be worth judiciously pruning it and giving it longer to recover.

June is traditionally the month of the Rose and there is probably no flower about which so many books and poems have been written. If you want to choose roses for your garden, make sure you select those that suit the soils and climate in the area in which you live. Roses like firm moisture-retentive soils so those of you who have the heavier soils have a distinct advantage over those on lighter ones; both soils, for different reasons, can benefit from the incorporation of composted bark or mushroom compost.

Both materials will improve soil structure and on light soils, improve the retention of moisture. If asked which to use on which soil, I would suggest composted bark on heavier soils and mushroom compost on the lighter ones. If you have a soil that is inclined to dry out easily, heavy surface mulches of either material, or of horse-manure compost, over the beds and around the bushes can be very beneficial; do this as early as possible, to avoid damaging new shoots and don’t dig it in. Feed the roses regularly and try to keep them clear of pests and diseases. Black spot and aphids are already becoming prevalent.

If you grow softy fruit in the garden, gooseberries and currants will be cropping soon. Look out for saw-fly larvae on gooseberry bushes (my grandmother always told me that I was found under a gooseberry bush, so be careful what you may discover there) these are small black caterpillar-like creatures that can strip the foliage off the bushes in a very short time; many contact insecticides will kill them, but the only organic method I know of, is to pick them off manually and squash them.

We have a big old, Blenheim Orange apple tree in the garden and this year it was laden with blossom and the weather was warm at the time so there could be a very heavy fruit set on it and apples in general this year. You will notice if you have apple trees, that many of the small fruits that have set will fall off in June; this is quite natural and known as June-drop; if you plan to thin the fruit anyway, it is best to wait until this natural thinning is over.

Asparagus should not be cut after the end of June; allow the fronds to develop and put some goodness back into the plants for next year. Look out for asparagus beetle larvae as these can devastate the foliage.  Outdoor tomatoes should be quite safe outside now; if the weather is humid and warm, look out for potato-blight, to which they are susceptible,; it manifests itself as brown patches on the foliage and fruits and cannot be controlled by anything other than chemical means (or isolation). Even organic growers are permitted to use chemicals for control of blight.

Lawns need cutting regularly now and will benefit from summer fertilizer; this will of course make them grow more vigorously, but the intention is to produce a tight-knit turf that will resist the ingress of moss and weeds. In the area i9n which I live, it is noticeable that many of our lawns are infested with weeds of agricultural grassland, particularly those that have wind-borne seeds, such as dandelions and ragwort; the latter is a scheduled weed and you are obliged to remove it if you have it on your land (whether anyone enforces this law these days is questionable); if you handle any quantity of ragwort, it is best to wear gloves, as the toxins it contains can be absorbed through the skin.

Life in the garden is much as it is everywhere else, a balance of one thing against another. A few pests are inevitable but if you are really concerned about what is creeping about on your plants, make sure you can tell friend from foe; if you are uncertain leave them alone. If you are certain they are not beneficial but do not like insecticides, a blast of water will often knock them off and hopefully a lot of them will not bother to climb back up again. Don’t make the mistake of bumping off some innocent creature just because of mistaken identity.