Gardening Tips

Let’s plant clematis! April grow-how tips

How are your to-do lists going?! Every April, I start out with a dozen things on mine, I slog away all day in the garden, potting shed or greenhouse, and by the evening, the list hasn’t shortened at all – because I’ve added a dozen more tasks….! 

Let’s get on with a few – weeding, clematis-planting, and house-plant watering, for instance…

How do you feel about weeding? Let me say first off, that I really enjoy weeding, and I know Laura and our fabulous columnist Louise both feel the same (Caroline, perhaps not so much) and we are at one with the greatest – Christopher Lloyd (creator of Great Dixter garden) loved weeding. Here’s his take on it:

Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be. Some people find in it a soothing monotony. It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartée with which they should have countered a relative’s latest example of unreasonableness.

I couldn’t agree more – I like to rationalise all the insane demands of my sisters while yanking out miles of bindweed…….

They say that ‘A weed is just a plant in the wrong place’ and I definitely believe that there is a RIGHT place for the plants commonly referred to as weeds – nettles, docks, dandelions, hairy bittercress (Laura’s sworn enemy, though I think it would be a great name for her next dog!) In these enlightened times, we know that these kinds of plants are vital for the lifecycle of so many of our endangered bees, butterflies etc.. So do try to allow at least one ‘wilder’ corner if you can bear it, for mini-beasts to flourish. (It won’t be a surprise for you to learn that I have got LOTS of corners like this!)

Leave a corner or two of un-gardened garden if you can

And we’ve all got our ‘pet’ weeds too, haven’t we. I have a sneaking admiration for wood avens (Geum urbanum), for instance, that hangs around the properly decorative geums in my garden pretending to be one, until flowering time when it reveals its duplicity. Hang on. It’s a favourite of the grizzled skipper butterfly (what a name!) and other insects, and its other name is herb Bennet from the Latin ‘herba benedicta’ – blessed herb because the roots have all sorts of medical (and spiritual) applications. You can even use bits of this plant in teas, cordials, mulled wine……Honestly, I don’t know why we’re not all growing it as a crop!

Sneaky old Wood avens (Geum urbanum) pretending it’s one of the really pretty ones!

But the fact is that weeds will inhibit the growth of other plants and steal water and nutrients, so you will want your main flower or veg beds to be weed-free and there are good and bad ways to do it. I think a little list of Do’s and Don’t’s would be handy: 


  • Get ’em when they’re small! You’ll disturb the other plants less, and some weeds can set seed when they are still young and fling them all over the place. Then you’ll have years’-worth of weeds to cope with!
  • 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.
  • Skim or hoe off annual weeds like chickweed or groundsel on a dry, warm day and leave them to dry out and die on the surface of the soil. Using a hoe along rows of veg plants works well.
  • Use something as a 4″ (9-10cm)-thick mulch over the surface of the soil, if you have it – bark, mushroom compost, coir, leaf mould etc. – this will dramatically aid your fight against weeds as they need sunlight to germinate.
Using a hoe along the veg rows is a good way of catching the weeds when they are small


  • Disturb the soil too much when you’re weeding. The lower layers can be full of dormant weed seeds that may spring into growth when brought into the light at the surface. Another good reason to get the blighters when they’re small
  • Put the roots of perennial weeds in your compost heap unless you know that the heap will get seriously hot for several months. One thing you can do is shove them in a bucket, weigh them them down with a brick and fill it with water. Left for a month the roots will ‘drown’ and can then be put on the compost heap. The liquid left makes a great, if smelly, fertiliser – strain it and dilute it with 5 parts water to 1 part smelly liquid.
  • Use weedkiller except as an absolute last resort. If you feel you really must, check the label carefully to ensure that damage to wildlife is kept to an absolute minimum.

I’ve always tried to walk on the flower borders as little as I possibly can to avoid compacting the soil – so my long-handled Burgon & Ball perennial spade is my absolute must-have when I’m weeding……

I find my perennial spade totally invaluable for weeding the borders – it’s the perfect implement! Find it in our shop

What a wonderful genus of plants this is! Dainty winter flowerers, monstrous spring rampagers, multi-stemmed summer climbers dripping with jewel-like flowers, stripes, or spots, charming seedheads, herbaceous varieties…… many choices.  There are even some that will flower in shade – my lovely C. Sea Breeze is one such – though as a rule they much prefer to feel the sun on their stems before they consent to flower with abandon.

The pale lavender blooms of Clematis ‘Sea Breeze’ are ethereally beautiful in light shade, but most clematis prefer the sun

If you have succumbed to buying yourself another gorgeous clematis this spring, there are a few tips I can give you that I’ve learnt over the years about planting them out into the garden:

They love a rich, moist soil, so dig in fertiliser and rotted organic matter beforehand. But I don’t these days put more compost at the bottom of the planting hole because I want those roots to start exploring the ‘proper’ earth as quickly as possible.

For preference, they like their roots in shade and their heads in the sun.  If you’re planting yours in a particularly hot spot, you might consider shading the roots with some bits of tile.

Broken tiles can be useful for shading the clematis roots planted in a sunny spot

Dig the hole deep enough that when the clematis is in the ground, the bottom of the stems is buried in soil, up to as much as 4 ins. (10 cms).  This encourages them to develop more shoots, which will in turn bear more flowers. If the clematis has a particularly woody stem, you can even plant it as deep as 6 in. (15cm). This deep planting will also help to shade the roots. 

Make sure the support is in place then tip the plant out of its pot and tease out the roots a little if it’s become pot-bound. Put it into the hole and tuck soil all round it firming it in as you go. Tie the shoots gently into the support, and water the roots thoroughly.

Tie in the clematis shoots to their support as they grow upward

Slugs and snails adore chomping clematis shoots, so if this is a problem in your area (it definitely is in Eastbourne!), then put your preferred organic deterrent about the base of the plant – eggshells, wool mats, gravel/sand…..please don’t use slug pellets containing metaldehyde (which kills a lot more than just slugs and snails), and don’t use salt (which will kill the plant!) or coffee grounds (it makes the ground acidic and clematis prefer alkaline soil).

Keep your clematis well-watered and fed – they are thirsty AND hungry. Tomato fertiliser is perfect to use a few times during the spring.  Rather interestingly, we are told not to use fertiliser while the plant is in bloom, as it will shorten the flowering period.

Clematis appreciate potassium-rich fertiliser and some protection from slugs and snails

 I made a short video about these clematis-planting tricks – find the link at the bottom.

  • In the newspaper today, there is an article about the pesticide residues found on everything from strawberries to potatoes.  Independent experts are saying that they are unlikely to pose a risk to human health, and you can significantly reduce the amount of residue by washing your fruit and vegetables.  But how about making THIS the year that you try growing at least SOME of your own food, and reduce that risk of harm?  Just a thought. If you are beginner, how about our little book to get you started? You’ll find it in our shop, and it’s a total SNIP (‘scuse the pun) at the offer price of £2.99.
Maybe just the trigger you need to try and grow some of your own food this year
  • Provide some shade for seedlings that are behind glass if the sun is strong, even if the air is still chilly.
Small seedlings can scorch behind glass if they are not shaded
  • Laura is planning to fill her newly-refurbished bathroom with houseplants. Fantastic idea! It has jogged my memory to remind you that you should start to increase the water you give your houseplants, now that the temperatures are beginning to rise.  

This is the link to Elaine’s short video about how to plant clematis.

Our campaign about encouraging the gardening industry to speed up the move away from plastic is gaining momentum. Watch Laura’s latest video here, and sign our petition here.

Louise’s Great Plant this Month is one of the first and best epimediums to flower in her garden. Click on the box below to find out about its qualities and heritage.

More NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

You’ll spot this type of perennial spade  frequently on Gardeners World and it’s easy to understand why. It’s perfect for planting and moving and getting into those awkward little spots which are hard for a trowel or border spade AND it’s RHS-endorsed. You can buy it here

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

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