I just love this time of year when everywhere is developing a beautiful shade of green! Every year it’s like a revelation, as hedgerows, trees, lawns, everywhere, turn the most beautiful shade of fresh, new, positive, wonderful, green. There are many jobs you can do now to keep your garden or allotment looking beautiful, here are some ideas to get you started:
The Chelsea chop, so called as it’s carried out around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show, is simply a term to describe cutting back herbaceous, perennial plants, reducing the plants’ height by to up to a half, before flowering. This delays the plants’ flowering, and creates stockier, bushier plants. This method of pruning can help prolong the season of interest in the garden, and gives a slightly different look, often with smaller, but more plentiful flowers, and fuller plants.
If you plant to carry out the Chelsea chop, there’s no need to go crazy and cut everything back – aim to cut back no more than a third of your border, leaving some plants untouched to flower naturally. The Chelsea chop is an ideal opportunity to cut back any leggy plants, or any plants that you haven’t yet got around to staking or supporting, reducing them in height to create stockier, more attractive plants. After cutting back your leggy plants, then select plants randomly around your border, so as to create a natural effect with an even spread of interest. Cutting back can be quite tiring work, particularly if you have a large herbaceous border, so don’t stretch further than you are comfortable, pace yourself, and take regular rests and breaks.
Leave the foliage of spring bulbs alone to die back naturally, don’t remove or cut back the leaves until they really have completely died back. There’s also no need to tie or knot the leaves, as this just damages the leaves and reduces their ability to function and photosynthesise. The bulb relies on its leaves to build up food reserves for next year, so it’s important that bulbs receive sufficient water and nutrients as they finish flowering and die back. A high potassium feed, such as a tomato feed, would be an ideal fertiliser to apply to your spring bulbs now.
If you would like to grow more plants beneficial to bees and other pollinating insects, then now is an ideal time to plant open-centred varieties of Dahlia, such as semi-double, single-flowered, collarette, and single-orchid types. There are so many beautiful Dahlia cultivars available, in a huge choice of colours, to suit any colour scheme or planting style. For example, Dahlia ‘Classic Rosamunde’, produces a semi-double flowers in an elegant and rather exquisite pink colour, Dahlia ‘Fashion Monger’, is a collarette type Dahlia, which produces striking flowers in magenta and cream. If you’re looking for or a more reserved planting palette, Dahlia ‘Clair de Lune’, produces beautiful flowers in a subtle creamy yellow, whereas Dahlia ‘Pooh – Swan Island’, is a vibrant, fun collarette, which produces cheery, red, orange, and yellow flowers. Dahlia ‘Twyning’s Smartie’, produces unusual flowers – the majority of the flowers petals are magenta coloured, but some are white – the proportion of each colour varies from flower to flower, giving an unusual effect in the border. While Dahlia ‘Tahoma Moonshot’, is a compact plant, which produces single, star-shaped flowers, the petals of which are two toned, in shades of yellow and deep burgundy, and are unusually curved forming a very attractive bloom. These dahlias will flower their socks off until the frosts arrive, they are fantastic for attracting bees and butterflies, provide colour and interest in your garden, and a supply of cut flowers too!
It’s the ideal time to sow French and runner beans outside. An extensive breeding programme of runner beans in the UK by British Seed company Tozer Seeds Ltd has resulted in excellent new varieties of runner bean, such as ‘Stardust’ (white flowered), ‘Moonlight’ (white flowered), and ‘Firestorm’ (red flowered), becoming available to gardeners. These runner bean varieties have been developed by Tozer’s innovative crossing of runner and French beans, the resulting bean seeds are better equipped at copping with drought and high temperatures, they produce smooth, string less pods, which have an excellent flavour and texture. With their self-setting pods and large flowers they perform better in bad weather, and are a real joy to grow!
Plant out summer cabbages, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts plants now. It’s important to protect these brassica plants from cabbage root fly using simple, home-made cardboard discs – just cut a circle of cardboard with a slit cut into the centre of the circle, this allows you to insert the cardboard discs around your plants. It’s important that your brassica protector fits fairly snugly, as the adult fly wants to lay her eggs on the soil at the base of the stem. Eggs laid on cardboard or roofing felt, or whatever material you use to make protectors, will dry out and the eggs won’t hatch. It’s wise to use knee pads or a kneeler pad to protect your knees and keep them warm whilst gardening, kneelers with handles, some of which double up for use as a garden stool are widely available, these can help you to get back up again after kneeling.
It’s also wise to cover brassicas with netting to protect against cabbage white butterflies and pigeons. While you’ve got the net out, you may want to net any fruit trees or bushes too – but ensure your net has wide enough spaces for bees to get through, so they can pollinate your fruit.
It’s important to regularly feed tomato plants with a high-potash liquid fertiliser, and remove side shoots from your tomato plants; checking for side shoots from the base of the plant, right to the top of the plant as you go. You want your tomato plants to produce tomatoes, not an abundance of side shoots, so this simple task really is worthwhile.
There are so many wonderful vegetables you can grow now: pumpkins, squash, courgettes, chicory, cucumbers, spring onions, broad beans, runner beans, French beans, Borlotti beans, broccoli, lettuce, endive, peas, mange tout, kohlrabi, sweetcorn, beetroot, carrots, radishes, turnips, kale, leaf beet, and chard.
Mulch under your strawberry plants with straw to keep your developing strawberries clean, and help to protect your fruit from slugs and snails. You’ll also need to protect your ripening strawberries from the birds with netting – ensure that the holes in your netting are wide enough for bees to enter, so they can get inside to pollinate your strawberries.
If you’ve planted potatoes and have young shoots appearing now, draw up the soil around the plants to form a ridge or mound, which will protect the emerging shoots from frost. If you’ve any potatoes left to plant, now’s the time – don’t forget!
Mow lawns weekly; apply a lawn feed if you haven’t already done so. Remove any perennial weeds from your lawns.
Water newly planted trees or shrubs regularly if the weather is dry. Give your plants a really good, through soaking, to encourage the roots to grow deeply into the soil.
Take softwood cuttings from shrubs.
Harden off your plants before planting outside: leave the plants outside in the day time, and then provide protection at night for a couple of weeks. Hopefully we’ll just have lovely warm weather now…fingers crossed!
This article was first published in the mid-May 2013 edition of The Surrey and Hants News.
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