Things are becoming exciting in the garden now the days are warming up! I have some tips for you on hardening off plants, pruning evergreens, and making a sweetpea wigwam, among other things…..
ARE THEY ‘ARD ENOUGH?!
If, like me, you have been madly germinating all sorts of veg and flower seeds inside on windowsills or greenhouses, then watering them, pricking them out, potting them on, pinching them out etc. etc., you’re probably getting fed up with them as well as running out of space! It is dreadfully tempting to think they are big and strong enough to go out into the garden from their cocooned surroundings, but please don’t be fooled. Your part of the country might be lucky enough to have had its last frost till next winter, but the difference in temperature from your snug windowsill to the great outdoors will be an awful shock for your baby plants and could even kill them. So do it gently.
Let them dip their toes, as it were, by putting your trays and modules of plants outside in a sheltered position during the day, but bringing them back inside each evening. This is where a cold frame comes in extremely handy, because your plantlings can sit in there, and you can just open the cold frame each morning, and shut it each evening. Don’t forget! You’ll need to let them have this acclimatisation period for 2-3 weeks, by which time, they should have got the measure of the big bad outside world, and be ready to take it on full time.
EVERGREENS THE EASY WAY
Most of us have some evergreen shrubby plants in the garden – things like rosemary, Berberis, Viburnum, box, Pyracantha, Mahonia (pictured at top), laurel, Fatsia, Escallonia, Photinia, Griselinia……lots and lots of them! And April is a good time to give them a tidy-up, because things have warmed up a little, and there’s still have plenty of time to harden up any new wood resulting from your cuts before winter sets in. So give them a nice little spring-clean.
Start with the usual 3 D’s – take out all the Dead, Diseased or Damaged wood, and then think about what you want your shrub to look like. For instance, it may have gone rather leggy and sprawly, when your original plan was to have a neater shrub. Many can take some pretty hard pruning if it’s necessary: look to see if your plant has little shoots coming out of the wood right down inside the plant. If it does, then it’s a pretty sure bet that you can be fairly brutal with it, if you feel the urge. I have even heard of mahonias, shrubs rather famous for their rangy top-heavy growth, being regularly cut back hard to create very unusual ground cover, but I’ve never tried it myself! Just be aware that hard pruning will often cause a rush of new strong growth – with some shrubs like Berberis and Osmanthus, it’s really better to give them a light trim each year than go bonkers once every five years.
TIME FOR A WIGWAM!
For many years, I’ve grown my sweetpeas alongside all my other garden plants. They’ve shared supports with clematis or roses, all sorts of things in fact. I have finally cottoned on to the fact that they have become rather lost in all the general rush of flowers (I’m a slow learner!) so this year I am going to treat them differently by giving them their own space and their own wigwams of metal supports. They will still be among the flower borders rather than in the veg patch as a purely cut flower (I do grow some edible flowers there though – calendulas, nasturtiums etc. and they look lovely!) , but they won’t be having to fight their corner with other things. Now I realise that many of you have probably been doing this for years, and a sweet pea wigwam is certainly a classic way to invoke that cottage garden look. So you’ll know that I will need to find a sheltered sunny site, treat them to some good loamy soil and lots of watering, maybe even a dose of tomato fertiliser every couple of weeks. As long as I remember to keep taking off the spent blooms so that they keep on flowering, I reckon sweetpeas will never have had it so good in my garden!
* I asked my husband about 5 bamboo poles which had mysteriously appeared in the border, and he replied that he had planted 5 giant scented lilies there! Several feelings came to me, one of which was surprise…..Well, they have all come up and they may yet end up being the huge hit of the garden this year. I will make sure they are well-watered, slug-free and given the occasional high potash feed, and watch with interest…
* Don’t forget to spread a good thick organic mulch round your plants at this time, to help them hang on to all that lovely spring moisture in the soil and keep down the weeds.
* Tidy up grasses like festucas now, cutting them into tight little hedgehogs, ready to shoot out like little fireworks with fresh spiky leaves.
* Keep tying in those wayward clematis stems. They’re like a geographically-challenged friend of mine – outrageously apt to go off in the wrong direction.