Artichoke plants

May and June are the best time to plant, clean the garden, build new features — and crop artichokes!

As we move into the dry, hot weather of summer, we only have a little while left to take advantage of cooler days for doing outdoor spring cleaning and landscape projects. Although we can possibly experience more cloud cover and maybe even a little rain, it’s likely we are done with the measurable rainfall so it’s time to start conserving water and getting the most possible from every drop. Sunshine will be growing stronger so now’s also the best time to get swimming pools and water features into top shape for the coming heat. Here are some garden tips for Southern California gardeners in the month of May:

Check on your watering systems and mend leaks and cracks so you don’t end up with geysers and floods when your systems are on. Consider replacing old sprinkler heads with low-water heads that should deliver a fraction of water to your lawn and garden even though you will be leaving them on twice as long. The lower volume of water should be able to penetrate slowly without washing off, making your plant roots happier and your water bills lower. Set your sprinklers to water slow and early. Sprinklers do not yet need to be as active as they will in a couple of months, so check your timers and adjust them as the weather changes.

Enjoy the last of the cooler weather for doing the more labor intensive projects outdoors. Big repairs and improvements will be more comfortable to do while it is still relatively cool. And getting projects built now before the summer means you will be ready for the heat.

It’s time to check out all your seed packets and take a trip to the garden centers. There’s nothing that can’t be planted at this time of year except maybe some of the cool season vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, fava beans, peas and lettuce. These cool season plants tend to bolt (grow flower stems and become bitter and tough), succumb to mildew or sunburn once temperatures rise. Artichokes should be cropping now and early strawberries might be fruiting on some plants. Get those peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, squash, eggplant and other warm season plants into the ground now so you can start harvesting in a month or so. You can plant pumpkins starting now and over the next month. They should be the last to go in the garden if you want to harvest them closer to Halloween rather than August or September.

California natives are best planted soon. You will have to give even the tough natives plenty of water over the summer until they can establish drought-resistant root systems.

If you have compost from your own pile, this is a good time to dig it into the soil. You can also mulch your soil with compost as a moisture-holding barrier that will help roots stay cooler in the hot sun. If you are buying bags of compost, you might want to consider buying or building a compost bin so you can make your own this year. Locate it far enough from the house that you won’t be attracting rodents to any structures, but close enough that you’ll still be willing to walk the distance to use it.

If you have fruit trees, you may want to net for early crops before the wild life steals everything. Some trees will be fruiting in June.

Consider taking out some of that water-guzzling lawn. This is the perfect time to use space for something more useful like a drought-tolerant garden, a raised vegetable garden, a play space for sports, children or pets, or an easy-care patio space built with permeable paving for enjoying outdoor meals.

Weed. Weed. And weed some more. Fire season will be here all too soon. With all the rain of this past winter our water storage levels have risen. But also have all the weeds. And all that green will soon be crisping into flammable brown. In past seasons we’ve seen how wildfire season is no longer waiting for the autumn Santa Ana winds, so don’t waste time clearing a safety zone. It is easiest when weeds are young and green.

This may be an ideal time to add something special to your garden like a pool or hot tub, a sport court, a barbecue or an outdoor room, a cutting or raised vegetable garden. Since it looks like housing values will not be shooting up any time soon, why not make your home a better place for waiting out the recession? Design it yourself or call in some professional help. You can book in gardening or landscape design coaching sessions to help you with your do-it-yourself projects, or you can hire an expert to do the job for you. Either way, a little extra help may make the job easier and avoid expensive mistakes down the road.

Keep the garden cleaned up. All the winter brown stuff can be removed whether it is lying on the ground or still attached to the living plant. This is the time the pests, large and small, will be glad to invade your landscape if they can find old dead leaves, stems and branches to requisition for making homes.

May is a busy time in the garden. And it’s a good time to get out and get some exercise, sunshine and fresh air. There are plenty of jobs to do in the landscape. Enjoy them while the weather is still relatively cool. Remember, around here even 90 degrees will seem cool come July and August!