Grow-how tips for mid May

Elaine

After some really lovely weather through April and early May, much of the garden is shooting up all over the place, and the jobs are piling up! Let’s get on with a bit of border-titivating for the main event, harvesting rhubarb, and choosing some plants for our insect-friends……………

Before we get stuck in, welcome to our new readers! We’re very pleased you’re joining us on our main blog and hope you enjoy it. Every second week, I share some topical gardening tips (and you’ll find the DigYourOwnaForCorona veg-growing section at the end), and on the week in-between, you’ll get the full whammy of all three Growbag sisters, slogging it out in the borders with a lot of fun and banter alongside the horticulture……………..

Prepping the borders for beauty

There’s a real push on, in the flower-borders! It’s exciting, but if you’re not careful, the madly-growing plants may well get away from you in a tangle of flopping stems, dead spring flowerhead and opportunist weeds.

So take control of things now. Work your way through your garden, however big or small it is, one area at a time. Look at it with a critical eye – how high are those rudbeckias likely to get – do they need staking? Yes, probably. How much are those browning hellebore flowerheads detracting from the look of the rest of the flowers? Is it time to sacrifice the final wallflower blooms and pull up the plants or cut them right back? Are there sneaky little weeds like groundsel or goosegrass lurking beneath all the abundant new growth? Have you checked for tiresome gastropods lurking in damp corners waiting to pounce on your treasures?

It is SO much easier to attend to these things now while it’s still early in the summer. For instance, a perennial plant that has grown too tall and then tied up too late always looks a bit miserable, so put the supports in now. Weeds are a pain when they’re big and deep-rooted, but most are easy to hoick out when they’re little. The tendrils of climbers like clematis can become terribly entangled very quickly, so gently tie them in now, so you won’t risk damaging them later if you’re trying to unknot them. Pull up dying forget-me-nots before they seed themselves absolutely everywhere (though they might well do that anyway!).

Peony- deadheading
Take off those extraordinary peony seedbeds.

Deadhead the early peonies – their cockade seedheads are quite ornamental but are taking energy from building up the plant for next year’s display. Also take the spent flowerheads off rhododendrons and azaleas, by snapping them carefully enough not to damage the developing buds next to them. Do the same with tulips, but leave the stem on, as this will still be photosynthesising. If you give these wilting tulips a bit of feed now, that will help to raise your chances of having flowers next year as well. Dying tulips are frankly rather horrible-looking though, so I grow mine in pots, that I can shove out of the way in a quiet corner once they have strutted their stuff.

Deadhead spent tulips but leave the green stems.

Make mine a single

The garden centres are opening again in England, at least – hurray! But before you blow the grocery budget on fabulous new plants to brighten the summer, can I try and persuade you to go for at least some single-flowered plants, because they are so much more insect-friendly.

Double flowers often have so many petals that the bees can’t navigate their way to the middle to find pollen and nectar. In fact, many double flowers will have been bred without any pollen-producing capability at all, in order to make them flower for longer.

You might well know by now that I am a sucker for the old-fashioned cottage flowers and lo and behold, many of these – wallflowers, sweet rocket, forget-me-nots, cornflowers etc. etc. have that simple flat flower structure that insects love. But even roses and dahlias boast many gorgeous single varieties – think of a 3Growbags favourite like R. ‘Simple Peach’, for instance, or R. ‘Mermaid’ like the lovely feature pic this week. Then there’s single dahlias like the popular tall, dark and handsome Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, or ‘Hadrian’s Midnight’.

‘Hadrian’s Midnight’ – a fabulous single dahlia.

Lots of the plants that are well-known for being adored by bees, actually have flowerheads made of dozens of individual single florets so they can still fit into the ‘single-flowered’ category – lavender, Buddleia, sedums (Hyelotelephium) and the like.

A couple of other thoughts – some insects like bumblebees love tubular flowers like foxgloves or snapdragons. And here’s an odd thing – bees can see purple better than any other shade, so pop something of that colour into your garden shopping basket too.

Pigging out on the foxglove pollen.

One last suggestion. How about something for the evening? (No, not a G & T and a bowl of olives this time, Caroline). Night-scented stocks, tobacco plants like the magnificent Nicotiana sylvestris, common jasmine, evening primrose….all these will provide nectar for night-flying moths, as well as giving you evening scent and luminous outlines at twilight.

So whether you’re buying plants for an acre of garden, or a teeny window box, remember to get something for our precious minibeasts as well as for yourself.

Talking of helping insects, check out Laura’s mention of the rather brilliant No-Mow-May initiative too – again, it’s in the DigYourOwnaForCorona link at the bottom.

Reasons for rhubarb

Rhubarb comes under the category of fruit but of course it’s the stem that we eat, not the fruit. And to my mind, there just isn’t a more delicious ‘fruit’ to put in a crumble or to have stewed with cream or ice-cream. Click on the DYOFC box below for some delicious culinary suggestions for it.

It is a hardy perennial which enjoys a well-manured sunny corner, though try to remember not to bury the crown deeply or it’s liable to go rotten. Nevertheless, rhubarb likes to be watered in dry weather.

Don’t pull any stems in the plant’s first year, and after that only pull stems once they’re good and strong – aim for at least 10″ (25 cms.) long. if you take stems that are smaller than this, you may weaken the plant so much that it turns up its toes. For the same reason, never take all the stems off one plant. The harvesting season usually lasts about six weeks, and is certainly over by the start of July.

Pull off the rhubarb stalks, don’t cut them.

This propensity to succumb to rot/fungal growth means that it’s far better to ‘pull’ rhubarb stems rather than cut them (the cut surfaces can go mouldy) – clutch each one near to the base of the plant and a quick twist should yank it away cleanly from the root-system.

A rhubarb patch is fine thing to have and generally easy to maintain – so do give it go.

Gardening Shorts

  • This can be a good time to repot shrubs that you grow in pots which is a job that ought ideally to be done every 2-3 years. Go for one size up from the previous pot, allowing a couple of inches all the way round the plant. Small pots can dry out easily so do consider planting a small number of plants together in a larger container to reduce maintenance.
  • Clematis montana doesn’t need heavy pruning, but can certainly take it if it’s getting above itself. Now’s the time to do it just as it finishes flowering. It will flower next spring on the shoots it makes this summer. Otherwise, a bit of tidy-up is all that’s required.
Clematis montana should be tidied as it finishes flowering.
  • Try to be vigilant about aphid attacks – they are SO much easier to spray off with a jet of water, when there aren’t too many of them. In the meantime, encourage songbirds into your garden to pick them off!

Finally, it’s the ‘Chelsea that never was’ next week, so, just like the Beeb, we’ll be dusting off some of our best memories of this glorious show with all the laughs we had along the way. We’ll be putting out a post each morning so watch out for us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

NB: If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags please do sign up for our regular Saturday blog here:

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