Happy Easter everyone! Time to welcome in one of the most joyful times for anyone interested in horticulture or indeed the whole natural world. Let’s quietly give thanks for all the emerging beauty of spring while we go about our many gardening tasks, such as dealing with the daffodils, hardening off seedlings or sowing cucumbers………………..
Hardening them off
Have you 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. ? Me too. It is dreadfully tempting to think that some are now 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.
What a joy it is to see a sweep of waving daffodils! But all too soon they start to fade and that’s when you have to think about their welfare. Please don’t chop off the leaves, or, perish the thought, tie them up. Yes, yes, I know they look messy as they gradually brown and die off over the next six weeks or so, but the foliage and indeed the flower-stalks themselves are earnestly photosynthesising to build up the bulb below for next year’s display. Take off the nasty dead flower-heads by all means, so the plant is not channelling its energies into pointless seed production, but grit your teeth and tolerate the leaves for a while longer – next year, you’ll be glad that you did!
This is also a great time to spread your groups of daffodils. Dig up overcrowded clumps. Then pull separate offsets from the parent bulb and replant them elsewhere immediately, at the same depth as they were before. Giving your daffodils a foliar feed at this time can help boost the bulbs for next year’s display.
- Water the soil first if you are going to deal with perennial weeds like dandelions or buttercups, or choose a showery day. This is because these plants can regenerate from the teeniest bit of root left in the soil – damp soil is softer soil, and you are less likely to have roots snapping as you lever them out.
- If you have a shady spot in the garden that’s hard to fill, can I recommend considering a golden grass? Lots of common ornamental grasses have a golden version which is very happy in shade, and can really brighten up a dark corner: Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, for instance, or Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’. I moved a patch of Millium effusum ‘Aureum’ (Bowles’ golden grass) from a sunny place to a large pot in shade, and it veritably glows there.
- I leave the sowing of courgette and cucumber seeds until April, and my method is the same for both – I put the seeds (sideways on rather than flat – less likely to rot) I cm (1/2″) deep into small pots of damp compost inside in a warm bright spot, with a clear cover over them. They usually germinate within a fortnight or so. You can also put two seeds into each module and then dispose of the weaker one, but that feels rather wasteful in these more money-conscious times, so if they both germinate, I take one of the seedlings out and move it into its own pot!
NB We’ve had a few queries about one of my recent tips about making your own plant supports from reinforcing rods, so here’s a little video made by our wonderful columnist Louise and her husband Rob demonstrating the technique!
We’re all about the videos this week – here’s one I made of what I’ve been up to in my garden in Normandy this week…
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A bit dramatic? Well click here and find out more. You may well feel the same way if you have a one of these!
Isn’t this a gorgeous little star and so easy to grow. Find out more about Louise’s Great Plant this Month