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 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:
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 have smooth string less pods and excellent flavour and texture, with their self-setting pods and large flowers they are a real joy to grow.
There are so many wonderful vegetables you can grow now! Sow seeds of: pumpkins, squash, courgettes, chicory, cucumbers, spring onions, broad beans, runner beans, French beans, Borlotti beans, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, endive, Florence fennel, peas, mange tout, kohlrabi, sweetcorn, beetroot, carrots, radishes, turnips, kale, leaf beet, and chard.
Plant out summer cabbages, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts plants now. If your plants have been grown in a protected environment make sure you harden them off first – move your plants outside in the daytime and then bring your plants inside at night – for a couple of weeks. At this time of year, we need to protect brassicas from cabbage root fly. This is easily done, 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 around the stem, 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 – so the eggs won’t hatch.
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 fruit trees, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, whitecurrants, blueberries, and strawberries. Ensure your net has wide enough spaces for bees to get through, so they can pollinate your fruit.
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 single-flowered, collarette and single-orchid types; there are so many beautiful varieties, available in a huge choice of colours to suit any colour scheme. For example Dahlia ‘Classic Rosamunde’ an elegant and exquisite pink, Dahlia ‘Clair de Lune’ a subtle creamy yellow, Dahlia ‘Pooh – Swan Island’ a vibrant, fun flower in reddish orange and yellow , Dahlia ‘Twyning’s Smartie’ an unusual flower – the majority of petals are magenta coloured, but some are white – the proportion of each colour varies from flower to flower giving an unusual effect, and Dahlia ‘Tahoma Moonshot’ a compact and unusual plant with star-shaped flowers, the petals are two toned in shades of yellow and deep burgundy and unusually curved. These dahlias flower their socks off until the frosts arrive, they are fantastic for attracting bees and butterflies, providing interest in your garden, and cut flowers too!
It’s also a good time to sow Helianthus annuus (sunflowers), single flowered forms of Calendula officinalis, Nigella damascena and Centaurea cyanus – these are fantastic plants for bees, butterflies and pollinating insects.
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.
Mow lawns weekly; apply a lawn feed if you haven’t already done so. I prefer my lawns complete with daisies, clover, and other flowering plants, but if you’re looking to create a polished looking lawn, remove any perennial weeds from your lawns now.
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.
Divide clumps of Chionodoxa (also known as Glory of the Snow), and replant.
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 knot the leaves as this just damages the leaf and reduces its ability to function and photosynthesise. The bulb relies on its leaves to build up food reserves for next year. It’s important that bulbs receive sufficient water and nutrients as they finish flowering and die back; a high potassium feed such as Tomato Feed would be ideal to apply now.
If you’re not using an all in one tomato compost and fertiliser, it’s important to regularly feed tomato plants with a high-potash liquid fertiliser. Make time to regularly remove side shoots from your tomato plants; check for side shoots at the base of the plant all the way up to the top of your plants. You want your tomato plants to produce a good harvest of tomatoes, not an abundance of side shoots, so this simple task really is worthwhile.
If you’ve planted potatoes and you 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!
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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