Many people have turned to their gardens and gardening to help them through the last year. Calming, absorbing yet exciting – growing plants offers it all! So let’s get on with some jobs – looking after your seedlings, dividing primroses and pruning shrubs are among the items on the agenda today………
Putting a Damper on Things
So you became totally enthused with sowing dozens of different kinds of annual flowers and veg, and now they’re all germinating like mad, and you’re wondering what on earth to do with them next! Am I right? Sowing too much seed is something we ALL do at the beginning, and some of us (including me, after nigh on 40 years of gardening) still do……
All these tiny green shoots in one pot, and you really want to move them on into their own space/pot/module without all the competition around them but they are just too tiny to handle yet. Then, all of a sudden, something very distressing happens – they start to collapse on to one another in one corner of the pot or tray you have germinated them in, and before you know it, you have lost that whole batch of tiny seedlings. Awful!
There are ways of making this horrible ‘damping-off’ less likely to happen:
1. Use clean pots to start with – I hope you’re re-cycling your use of pots and things all the time, but do try and clean them out properly before you re-use them – 1 part bleach to 10 parts water is about right.
2. Sowing THINLY is one important point – with a little more air and space around each seedling, they will quickly grow strongly and be able to withstand the fungal growth that causes the problem.
3. Don’t have the compost too damp – this fungus thrives in a humid, moist atmosphere. If you can organise it, water the pot of seedlings from the bottom by putting it in a tray of water – that way the seedlings themselves stay dry. And if you’re growing your seedlings under glass or in a propagator, make sure you take the lid off regularly for half an hour to keep the air circulation good. Some gardeners even like to put a little fan on near their seedlings a few times during the day.
4. Adding a thin layer of fine grit, sand or vermiculite over the surface of the seeds when they are being sown, also helps to prevent the fungus from forming.
5. There used to be a substance called Cheshunt Compound you could water on to the soil where seedlings were going to grow, that prevented damping-off. It’s rather a nasty chemical though, and has been withdrawn. Some gardeners reckon that a weak solution of chamomile tea helps, but I’ve never tried it myself.
6. If you do see that the seedlings are starting to collapse, pull the affected ones out with tweezers right away – the organisms that cause damping-off have a nasty habit of spreading very quickly across the whole pot. Improve the conditions for the remaining ones as outlined above, including pulling out the overcrowded ones, and cross your fingers. It might also be an idea to sow a few more seeds in a fresh pot too……….
Pruning for Perfection
There are a lot of garden shrubs that flower on the current season’s wood, and therefore need pruning in late winter or early spring, to provide the best show later on. Buddleia, Lavatera and hardy fuchsias all fall into this category, and should already have been pruned back hard, but there are other woody shrubs that would benefit from careful pruning now.
Mophead hydrangeas, for instance, can become very crowded with old stems, and weak twigs in the middle, resulting in smaller flowers at their tips. Have a good look at the centre (the ‘crown’) of the plant and cut out about a third of the oldest stems at the base – the stems that are 3 years old or younger will have the best flowers. Also cut out any feeble, flimsy shoots, which will never come to anything much, and just impede the flow of air through the plant. Poor air circulation can encourage disease.
I always leave the dead flowers on hydrangeas over the winter to protect the new shoots a bit from harsh weather, but now’s the time to snip them off, cutting back about a fifth of the length of each remaining stem to just above a bud.
There are other shrubs that would really benefit from this treatment now – Phygelius, Hibiscus, Olearia, shrubby Phlomis, Potentilla and deciduous Ceonothus will all flower on this season’s wood all the better for a little bit of TLC in early April.
Primroses are always such a gladsome sight in spring, and never more so than in this particular spring, when we need all the prettiness we can get. Whether they are the deliciously-scented native pale yellow primroses, the beautiful old gold-laced and heritage primroses, or the bright modern polyanthus varieties, they can all make your heart leap a little, I think.
They are gradually giving way to the mid-spring tulips, bluebells and blossom, but while they are still above ground, it’s the perfect time to split the clumps to make more. This kind of plant spreads by colonising from a single crown, and by dividing up these ‘groups’ of crowns, you will give the newer bits a chance to grow away well in a new position.
It is quite easy to do. Dig up the whole clump and and simply pull it into small handfuls of roots, stems and leaves. You should find that you can sort of ‘tease’ them into little separate crowns. You may want to put the original old crown on the compost heap if it’s not really producing flowers.
It’s rather a good idea to give the roots a bit of trim at this stage – it will encourage them to form new roots in their new position, which would be A GOOD THING.
Replant the little clumps into a moisture-retentive soil in part-sun/part-shade, and give them a good drink of water. You can forget about them after that; but next spring, you’ll have even more of these spring beauties to cheer you.
- If you’re starting to plant out or sow veg in your outside plot, don’t forget the principles of crop rotation, which prevents a build-up of pests and diseases for one particular crop in one particular area. ‘Rotation Produces Lovely Brassicas’ – RPLB – Roots, Potatoes, Legumes, Brassicas, then back to the start again! Another mnemonic? ‘Potatoes Like (it) Bloody Rich’ based on the fact that you put a load of manure into the ground before you get going with the tatties. I expounded a bit more about this in earlier Grow-How blog, if you’re interested, and this maybe something for all the newbie folk from our DigYourOwnaForCorona blog to bear in mind NEXT spring .,,
- Cats can be a nuisance on newly-prepared areas of your veg- or flower-beds. If you lay prickly stems of holly and the like over the patch, they might stay away long enough for your seeds to come up and become established.
- Don’t forget to include some ‘rougher’ areas in your garden for wildlife to flourish – a log pile, heaps of leaves, a few nettles – if everyone does a little, we can make a lot of difference……
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