What's in season: May

Formby asparagus spears

This is an exciting month for growers and gardeners. Allotments are bursting with life and summer is in our sights. There's plenty of fresh produce to harvest and lots of new veg to sow and plant.

To help you make the most of the season, we've asked our gardeners and chefs to share their tips and favourite recipes.

The warmer weather makes it a good time to start moving young plants propagated under glass or indoors out into the garden. But remember to cover them if severe frosts are forecast. 

At this time of year, plants grow very fast, making it even more important to irrigate the soil if it becomes too dry. Plants are now growing fast so keep an eye on the soil and irrigate if it becomes dry. Adding a layer of mulch is a good way to retain water, feed the soil and control weeds. 

What to sow outdoors: Beetroot, broad beans, carrots, chard, fennel, kale, lettuce, parsnips, peas, spinach, rocket, swede and turnips.

What to sow under glass: courgettes, cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins, sweetcorn and tomatoes.

What to plant or transplant under glass: aubergines, cucumbers and tomatoes.

What to plant or transplant outside: cabbage (summer), globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, early brassicas, onions and potatoes.

Keep an eye out for signs of pests and disease, especially under enclosures and cloches, where high humidity can lead to mildew and other fungal problems.

Vegetables to harvest and buy 

Spring cabbages
Spring onions 

This month it's all about asparagus

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) originates from the eastern Mediterranean and has been cultivated for thousands of years. 

The name comes from the Persian word asparag (meaning shoot) and this gradually changed to sparagus and then asparagus. The former gave rise to the popular folk name of sparrow grass, which still used in some areas today. 

Asparagus is perennial in its nature, which means it can be harvested from one year to the next without having to be replanted. The downside is that once it has been planted it takes three years before it can be harvested. It is usually grown from one-year-old crowns. These are best planted in March on a sunny site with well-drained soil.

During the first two seasons, you should weed and water the plants so they develop good root systems and develop strength. Young shoots can easily be damaged by late frosts, so it’s best to cover them in a layer of fleece on cold spring nights.  

In the third year, you'll be able to harvest asparagus spears from late April until early June. It's best to pick them when they are about 20cm tall. After this, the spears become tough and continued harvesting can weaken the plants. For the most tender shoots, harvest every few days with a sharp knife, cutting just below the surface of the soil. 

Male asparagus plants are considered superior both in size and quality. For this reason, modern all-male varieties have been developed, including Gijnlim, Backlim and Connovers Colossal, all of which have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit. 

Harvesting and planting

Volunteer pruning a tree in the garden at Rainham Hall, London

Gardening tips: from our garden to yours 

Looking after more than 200 gardens has taught us a thing or two. Here, our gardeners share some of their top tips so that you too can create your perfect garden.

Dishes for May