Arrgghhh, we seem to have had a cold dry East wind for weeks now, and it’s taken such a long time for the soil to warm up, despite the sunshine! I think we’ve got there now though, at least down here in the south – just in time for National Gardening Week, ( and the rain has arrived – hurray!), so I am planting out salad crops this week, as well as dividing daffs and making sure that all the right plant supports are in place……………..
Loving the lettuce
I wonder if, like me, you sowed various salad leaves, spinach, beetroot, beans etc. in March and April on an inside windowsill, or in a greenhouse or cold frame? If so, I expect you’re itching to plant them out into the veg plot or containers. But if there was one year when early seed-sowing did you no favours, this was it! Clear skies and frosts through April have kept the ground too dry and cold for planting out. Early-sown tender crops run a huge risk of either rotting in cold compost, or spending such a long time in their modules or plug-pots that they become root-bound – that’s when the roots go round and round the bottom of the pot, and once that happens, it can be harder to establish the little plants in their final growing positions.
I hope that at least you have been ‘hardening them off’, by sitting them outside during the day and bringing them in again at night for a week or so.
As May progresses, more and more of us can feel confident that we won’t get any more frost (though I suppose that this might not be until early June in the far North where Caroline gardens!), and can put these tender plants outside. Keep them well-watered at all times – being dry can lead to them ‘bolting’ i.e. running to seed too quickly.
And don’t forget to sow lots more seeds to give you follow-on crops later. I sowed some courgette seeds just this morning actually. One good thing about this spring season being so late this year, is that no-one has ‘missed the boat’ yet. There are still masses of types of veg for you to start off now. There is HEAPS more friendly advice in our pocket-veg book – grab yourself a copy from our shop, or buy one for a partner or pal to encourage them!
Staking your claims
Please don’t let me be the only gardener who, every blooming’ year, THINKS that they have put up the supports for every single flower-clump that needs it…...and then wakes one breezy summer morning to see at least one wretched plant flopping about all over the place like a drunken uncle at a big wedding (remember those?!) all-sideways in the group photos. I survey the bent or broken stems and the flowers in the dirt, and curse myself for having missed it.
It is terribly difficult to correct the stature of a plant once it has collapsed over, so the advice is to get those supports in EARLY. Go round your garden among clumps of Phlox, Rudbeckia fulgida, tall daisies, delphiniums etc. and assess which ones are going to need a bit of help. The supports might look horribly visible for a few weeks, but will ‘disappear’ as long as you make sure that they are shorter that the eventual height of the plant in question.
Simple frameworks of short bamboo canes and twine are often all that’s needed (a friend teases me about my ‘cat’s-cradle borders’!). Or maybe link-stakes, or bent-over dogwood or willow prunings? I mentioned using upturned wire hanging baskets a few weeks ago, and these work well for dumpy plant-clumps. I try not to have individual stems tied to stakes, because I find they too often get broken by the wind at the point where they are tied in; but if you are doing that, remember to allow a little bit of ‘give’ by looping the twine twice round the support, and then tying it loosely round the stem. This also allows for the stem to thicken without damage.
You can of course spend a fortune on fancy metal garden frames, obelisks and tripods to perform the same function, and some are admittedly very decorative in their own right. Being more pragmatic (and stingier!), I asked my husband to construct some out of builders’ bars which are a fraction of the price. There’s more on this particular method of cost-cutting in an earlier blog – the link is at the end.
- Your daffs will be going over now, and this is a good time to lift overcrowded clumps and divide them. 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.
- If you have a shady spot in your 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.
- If you have planted new trees this spring, don’t, whatever you do, forget to water them well at least once a week during the growing season for the first year or two. Lack of water is a very common cause of failure in young trees, especially if they are planted in sandy or chalky soils that are much more free-draining than clay ones. A thick mulch of organic matter around the root area can help to retain moisture, as well as keep down competing weeds.
Here is the link to an earlier blog where I talk about using building materials as plant supports
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