Garden Tips – May 2018

Despite the curious weather that we have seen so far this year, by May we can assume that the risk of a hard frost has passed and with longer, warmer days everything should be growing.

Of course warmer weather means that the weeds will start growing quickly, so make sure that you keep on top of the weeding early in the season before annual and ephemeral weeds set seeds and perennial weeds get established. Warmer weather also brings out the pests and Lily beetles and aphids are both problems at this time of year. Watch plants carefully to make sure that if pests are starting to infest that you catch them early. Observation is at the heart of an integrated pest management system.

More positively, you can start thinking about extra summer colour now, as well as summer bedding in borders, summer containers around doors and sitting areas brighten up the garden at a very reasonable price. The colours of summer bedding are great, but as well as colour, don’t forget scent and even edible options. A hanging basket of tumbling tomatoes looks good, gives a hefty crop and is a conversation piece. Another eye-catching option, that will also give heady scent, is to create a wigwam of sweet peas in a large pot. If you cut the flowers regularly it will help prolong flowering giving you benefits both indoors and out.

Sweet Pea wigwam 7 May

Sweet Pea wigwam 7 May

May is the peak month for Rhododendron flowers, so dead-head them at the end of the month to create space for new shoots.

Peak Rhododendron 1 May

Peak Rhododendron 1 May

Rhododendron 2

Rhododendron Bloom 1 May

 

For high and late summer colour, dahlias and Cannas are popular and reliable performers. Neither of these plants are frost hardy, so make sure that you wait until all risk of frost has passed before putting them out. If you have facilities like a greenhouse, then bringing dahlias on in a greenhouse will mean that the plants are much bigger by the time you plant them out and flowering will start earlier.

In the vegetable garden you should be earthing up potatoes and planting out the tender summer fruiting crops such as courgettes, squashes and tomatoes. If you’re lucky enough to have an asparagus bed then you should be reaping the rewards of your foresight right now.

Waiting to go out 7 May

Waiting to go out 7 May

You’ll probably be into regular grass cutting by now and a high nitrogen feed will help the sward to thicken up. If you have problems with moss and want to reduce the weed population, then it is worth using a complete “weed and feed” mixture. Following a treatment with scarification will get rid of thatch and dead moss and get air to the grass roots to help the grass plants grow more strongly.

Garden Tips – March 2018

We often give a warning that even though meteorological spring starts on the first of March there can still be bursts of cold weather. That is definitely true this year.

First day of spring 2018

First day of spring 2018

Brave crocuses

Brave crocuses

By the end of March the hour will have gone back and with more daylight, things will really get growing. Of course new growth on emerging perennials like Hostas and Delphiniums is a delight for slugs and snails, so be ready with your preferred defence.

As the month wears on, the flowers on the earliest spring bulbs will start to die off, so be sure to pinch off the dead heads so that the leaves feed the bulb for next year, rather than encouraging seed formation. Leave the foliage for 4-6 weeks after flowering to get as much photosynthesis as possible.

March is a good month for pruning perennials such as Cornus and Salix that are grown for their striking stem colour over the winter. New growth gives the best colour, so you can prune back hard, but if you want the interest at a greater height, for example at the back of a border, leave a longer old stem so that the newer growth will be higher up. Buddleia is another plant that can be cut back hard now as it flowers on new wood later in the year.

In the vegetable garden you can get your early potatoes in the ground in mid to late March and spring sown planted onion and shallot sets can still go out. If you have a propagator, a greenhouse, or even a warm window ledge, then whatever the weather outside, you can sow tender fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines etc.)

Propagator

Propagator

Don’t overwater seedlings, especially those of smaller plants to avoid the fungal diseases that cause “damping off” – which can quickly kill off most of the contents of a seed tray.

This is a good time of year to try to propagate Cotinus, Cornus and Magnolia by layering. Full instructions can be found on the RHS website but the main steps are:

  • Choose flexible young shoots on the outside of the plant that can be bent down to ground level.
  • Mark the point where the shoot touches the ground with a bamboo cane.
    About 30cm (1ft) from the shoot tip, make a 2.5-5cm incision along the stem, running through a leaf bud (remove the leaf first if the plant is in leaf). This will create a wedge that you should prop open with a small piece of wood.
  • Apply hormone rooting compound to the surfaces of the wound.
  • Make a shallow trench in the soil, 10-15cm deep, back from the bamboo cane towards the parent plant.
  • Peg the wounded section of stem into the trench with a loop of thick wire.
  • Secure the tip of the shoot to the bamboo cane, so that it is growing upwards.
  • Fill up the trench with soil, firm in and water if dry.

Garden Tips – February 2018

With the winter festivities behind us, and the days starting to lengthen, may we be the last to wish everyone a happy 2018.

Hellebores in full flower and emerging snowdrops, crocus and daffodils all tell us that another gardening year is beginning, so here are some jobs for this month to get you going.

Hellebore January 2018

Hellebore January 2018

Snowdrops January 2018

Snowdrops January 2018

Crocuses among leaf litter

If it is too wet to get on to lawns and beds a useful job to do at this time of year is to re-pot plants that are permanently potted. Fresh compost and a liquid feed will help to boost growth as the days get longer and warmer. If you are moving plants to larger pots only go up by one size at a time. Otherwise, the large volume of new compost added during potting on can sit wet for a long period, reducing aeration around the roots. Instead of the roots growing out into the new compost, they start to rot and this can lead to symptoms such as wilting, dropping and yellowing foliage. Unfortunately, these are similar to the symptoms caused by drought and additional watering of course exacerbates the problem.

It is a good time to prune late flowering clematis and hardy fuchsias. Clematis can be taken down as far as you like, make sure that you make cuts just above a node. Similarly, with fuchsias, you can cut back last season’s stems as far as you like. Again make cuts just above nodes and leave as much stem as you need to create the shape that you want to achieve.

Herbaceous perennials and grasses that have been left over the winter to provide structure and seed heads are looking past their best now and can be cut back before new growth starts to emerge.

There is still time to plant bare rooted trees and shrubs, especially if you are on lighter soil as it will warm up more quickly than heavier ground. However, if the ground is frozen or waterlogged then you will have to wait.

For the kitchen garden, you can begin sowing summer cabbages, broad beans and beetroot under cover and if you haven’t done it yet, sow onions and leeks. We tend to sow all of these in seed trays or cells so that they can develop good root systems before they have to take their chances in the allotment.

'Plug' plants Mar 2013

‘Plug’ plants Mar 2013

It’s time to cut back your autumn fruiting raspberry canes to ground level, and try slicing a spade around the area to limit their spread.

30 June 2017

30 June 2017

Now

Now

Finally, don’t forget to feed the birds. This is a “hungry gap” where most berries have been taken and the insect populations haven’t really started to pick up, so they will welcome any treats you can provide. If it freezes they’ll also benefit from having water put out for them. This winter we’ve had a new visitor to the bird feeder in the form of a blackcap.

Blackcap December 2017

Blackcap December 2017

Blackcap December 2017

Blackcap December 2017

Garden Tips – December 2017

People often talk of “putting the garden to bed” at this time of year. This is not a phrase that we support. There may be less daylight and warmth and consequently less to do in terms of plant care. There will also be days when it is too cold or the ground is too soft to be able to do much, but winter gardening can be very rewarding. Just think of those gorgeous clear days when being outside in natural light is a reward in itself, especially if the day job sees you office bound.

There are some simple jobs, like clearing up leaves on lawns and paths, or a gentle mow of the grass (if the weather has been dry) that make everything look tidier. Weeds may still grow in mild weather, so whip them out if the ground is firm enough to stand on without compressing it. Mulching weed-free beds with organic matter will encourage earthworms, and they can improve the soil structure while you stay warm indoors. Again this is a job that makes everything look better, but don’t mulch on frozen ground, as you’ll only seal in the cold.

The first Hellebores will start to bloom, so trim off dead or damaged foliage in January to showcase the flowers.

Also looking good at this time of year are some Viburnums, the fragrant Sarcococca (Christmas Box), and the vibrant stems of Cornus. If it is mild, Prunus x subhirtella Autumnalis will be pretty in pink.

A highlight for us is collecting vegetables for the Christmas table.  Parsnips, carrots, brassicas, leeks and spinach are all options at this time of year.

Christmas Parsnips 2016

Christmas Parsnips 2016

Remember you can still bring some of your garden indoors to add to your traditional festive decorations of holly, mistletoe and fir.

Wreath - With holly!

Christmas decorations

Deep winter is the time that a lot of us make a point of feeding the birds, if you do, don’t forget to put out some fresh water as well, especially if the weather turns freezing, as water is harder to come by for the feathered visitors to your garden. Don’t stop feeding suddenly as the weather warms up as birds become habituated to feeding and will use up precious energy travelling to a well-known feeding spot for no reward.

Traditional winter visitor

Traditional winter visitor

Also on the wildlife front, don’t tidy too much too soon. Leaving seed heads can provide winter interest for you and food for wildlife and debris provide sheltering and hibernating spots. There is a trade-off to be made as leaving places for wildlife will support both pests and beneficial creatures, but the general consensus at the moment is that you’ll get more benefit than harm if some places are left a bit wilder over the winter.

Garden Tips – November 2017

November is tulip planting time. It’s important that tulip bulbs go in the ground after a cold snap as this helps to kill off fungal diseases and viruses in the soil which could infect your new bulbs. Remember that tulip bulbs do not like to be waterlogged, so if you have heavy soil, add some grit or organic matter to the hole to help improve drainage. The same applies if you are planting in a container, make sure that you use a free-draining mix. You can tell by the clothing that it was pretty cold when we were planting tulips last November. (By the way chickens aren’t very helpful planters).

Planting - November 2016

Planting – November 2016

The results this spring were well worth the cold fingers last autumn.

Tulips 28 April 2017

Tulips 28 April 2017

You can also keep on planting all the other spring flowering bulbs and may find that you can pick up some serious bargains in end of season sales, even if the choice at this time of the autumn is a bit more limited.

It’s also a good time for laying new turf or renovating lawns. The critical thing is to make sure you prepare the area carefully (raking, treading and levelling) before positioning the turf. The better the preparation, the easier it will be to lay the turf in the first place and the better it will look in the long run. When you are laying the turf, use planks to walk on so that you aren’t putting pressure directly on to the new turf and butt up the edges (remember that the turfs will shrink if they dry). Once the turf is down, water well and regularly, it is odds on that you’ll get some helpful rainfall at this time of year, but new turf will take a few weeks to establish, so don’t allow it to dry out. Finally, stay off it and don’t be tempted to mow until next spring.

If you have dahlias or cannas, the first frosts will have knocked back the foliage and this is a sign that it is time to lift, clean and dry them before storing in a frost free place over winter. Don’t forget to label things, especially if you’re planning to take cuttings next spring.

Blackened foliage after the first frosts

Blackened foliage after the first frosts

In our neck of the woods (Berkshire) you may not need to lift dahlia tubers if you have relatively free-draining soil. The tubers will tolerate some frosts, but cold/damp conditions will cause them to rot off, so you may have the choice of whether to lift or not. We do lift dahlia tubers and after cleaning them up, pot them up in new multi-purpose compost and leave them in an unheated greenhouse over the winter. We start gentle watering as the temperatures rise in the spring and find that the plants come back into growth quite a lot earlier than those left in the ground, so we get a longer flowering period.

Clean, healthy tubers

Clean, healthy tubers

Ready for winter

Ready for winter

And finally, if you have a shrub which needs to move to a new home, now is the time to do it. The soil is still warm enough to help the roots establish in their new position. When lifting it, make sure that you retain as much of the root ball as possible and cut back excess top growth to reduce the strain on the roots. Prepare the new planting hole well and use mycorrhizal fungi on the roots. Firm the shrub in and then give it a good soak. Remember to keep it watered throughout next spring and summer.

Garden Tips – October 2017

October is often a month of change. The early part can seem like a last bit of summer, but by the end the short days leave no doubt that autumn is here and winter is on the way. Jobs can therefore include prolonging this year’s show as well as preparing for next year.

One of the most rewarding jobs at this time of year is planting spring bulbs.  We’ve written elsewhere about the delights of spring flowering bulbs and putting them in is symptomatic of the optimistic, forward looking nature of gardening.  Those currently uninspiring brown bulbs and corms will give your garden a burst of colour next year to confirm that winter is on its way out and that longer days are imminent.

Flowers like Dahlias, Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Gaillardia will all keep flowering until the first frosts, so keep dead-heading to prolong the flowering season.

Roses may well still be flowering, but it is a good time to reduce the height of plants. Take them down by about a third so that they won’t rock in the wind and disturb the roots. You are looking to cut above a leaf with a slanting cut so that the rainwater falls off easily. More formative pruning for roses will take place in early spring.

As grass growth slows down, it’s a good time to apply an autumn treatment. Proprietary autumn mixes contain less nitrogen (so less leaf growth) and more phosphorus (for root growth) and potassium (for winter hardiness). Scarifying and aerating will also help to prepare the grass plants for winter by allowing both air and light to reach the base of the plants. Selecting the right time to do this can be tricky. Dry ground with no frost and imminent rain in the forecast gives ideal conditions.  Given the capricious nature of weather and forecasts if you’ve put a treatment down and it doesn’t rain for a couple of days, then best to water it in.

In the kitchen garden you can plant broad beans, garlic and onion sets (choose autumn planting varieties). These will develop strong roots in the warm autumn soil and give you a racing start for next year. Garlic needs a cold snap in order to bulk up to form bulbs with many cloves, so the longer they are in the ground over the winter period, the better.