May long weekend: mixed weather still OK for gardening

The May long weekend marks many rituals: whether planting your garden or opening the cottage. Whatever your plans, the weather will be mixed across the country.

Gardening guru Ed Lawrence says 'it's probably safe' to plant your garden

The Foothills of Alberta may get extreme rainfall with warnings of possible flash floods. (Jeff McIntosh/ Canadian Press)

The May long weekend for Canadians is often marked by cottage openings, some gardening and perhaps a little barbecuing.

Hopes for a sunny, warm holiday are high.

"Canadians tend to think of it as the first weekend of the summer, but it's not the summer," cautions meteorologist Colette Kennedy at the CBC News weather centre.

"We may believe that it's supposed to be warm, but perhaps it's just because we just remember the good ones."

Looking at the national forecast, Kennedy said it's pretty much a 50/50 long weekend for the country: if your weekend starts out with good weather, it will turn bad halfway through and vice versa.

"For example, the Atlantic region. Saturday is looking good but by Sunday it changes, the clouds will roll in."

That appears to be the same for the West Coast, which is experiencing a great week so far.

As for Ontario and Quebec, a lot of rain is predicted for Saturday.

"There could be more than 60 millimetres of rain on Saturday for Montreal but then, it turns nice for Sunday and Monday and that's the same for Toronto."

Kennedy points out that Environment Canada has issued a special weather alert for the Foothills of Southern Alberta, especially the areas from Airdrie northwest up to Grande Cache, which could get up to 100 mm of rain on the weekend.

There are warnings of possible flash flooding in those regions.

'Be reasonable' in your gardening

Heavy rains aren't deterring gardeners.

Ed Lawrence, the retired head gardener to six Governors General and prime ministers, and the “gardening guru” for CBC Radio’s Ontario Today, had already spent Friday morning getting his garden in before heading off on a fishing expedition with a few buddies.

Ed Lawrence was the Chief Horticultural Specialist to six consecutive Governors General. He suggests areas of the country prone to unpredictable weather ie the prairies and Atlantic provinces, should be careful about planting tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers as they require plenty of sun and warmth. (

"Be reasonable, don't plant more than you can take care of," warns Lawrence.

"We've been in hibernation, do some stretching before you get down into it."

He's urging gardeners to go ahead.Lawrence, whose wrote Gardening, Grief & Glory, says gardeners are often told to start planting around May 24 and with the long weekend arriving sooner than usual, some might hold back.

"There's always a chance of a spring frost, but I'm declaring that it's probably safe."

Even though it's a bit cool, some vegetables are more content with that kind of weather.

"Peas like it cool and broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and your bok choy, as does lettuce and Swiss chard. They should be all right because the ground is still cool and you have to remember to keep things moist so they stay a little cooler in the soil."

Lawrence, who also provides advice on his popular website, says those in regions prone to unpredictable weather — Western Canada, Newfoundland and Northern Ontario — should be wary of planting things such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, which require heat.

"They have to be a lot more careful," said Lawrence. "What they can do is start the stuff in pots so it starts growing indoors and they'll already have that head start of germinating until the conditions are right."

Many Canadians will be headed out to their cottages, rain or shine. (Pete Gray)

Lawrence says those planting trees or shrubs might want to use MYKE©, a special mixture of mycorrhizal fungi and other natural organisms that improve plant growth.He says potted seeds need a lot of daylight, so put the pots out when it's not cold — not in direct sun — and take them back in when temperatures start to drop outside. Plants require UV light to grow and most homes have windows that block it out.

"It's bacteria that grows in conjunction with the root system and what it does is that it provides all the phosphorus the plant needs and supports root development."

Lawrence says "you get one chance at the beginning" when planting perennials.

"Take the time to prepare the soil properly because the payback is long term [and] then you don't have to redo things"

Cottage bound

Gardening is not on the agenda this weekend for Torontonian Pete Gray.

The 47-year-old website consultant is headed to his family's cottage, a 30-year-old tradition, to open it up for the summer season.

It's like accessing an alternate reality.- Cottager Pete Gray

Gray says it's a simple process to "de-winterize" the cottage in Baysville, about a three-hour drive north of Toronto. Both he and his parents, who own the cottage, closed it last November and cleaned the three-bedroom dwelling thoroughly.

"First thing is I make sure the phone line has been reconnected," said Gray, who is leaving for the cottage on Saturday with his wife and two girls, aged six and nine.

"Then I have to turn on the power and water and there's a little bit of dance with that."

While the forecast calls for rain, Gray says he and his wife will take plenty of arts and crafts, games, ukeleles and even an electric piano to keep the kids occupied.

"It's still fun to be there in any weather. We'll still be getting away from it all," explains Gray. "It's like accessing an alternate reality and it's a source of great benefit to our well-being."