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Now’s the time! – Grow-how tips for May

Elaine

Before I start in on this week’s gardening tips and reminders, we 3Growbags would just like to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to all the dozens of well-wishers on all our media channels on the occasion of our fifth anniversary. We were bowled over by your kind comments. All we can add is: PLEASE keep spreading the word about us! Now on to the business in hand…..

Oh wow, I just LOVE May! Everything bursting from the earth full of confidence and eagerness, and bare branches and stems studded with tender new growth. But there’s a lot to do while we are admiring the beauty of late spring, so let’s get on with a few tasks like earthing up potatoes, taking cuttings of bedding plants, and Chelsea-chopping……………

Can’t just vegetate………

There are several jobs that demand your attention in the veg garden in May. It’s a little too early to be harvesting much yet (apart from delectable asparagus, of course!), but paying a attention to your veg plants now can help you ensure a great harvest later on…

  1. Broad bean plants may be starting to form their first pods, and if that’s the case with you, it is a very good idea to nip out the leafy tips closest to the topmost flowers. This encourages the plant to turn its thoughts more towards bean production, and these succulent top shoots are a depressingly effective lure for squads of blackfly. They then multiply like nobody’s business and spread to the rest of the plant and other crops. If the blackfly have already spread, squish them or spray them off with water. Another tip is to grow some nasturtiums nearby – the blackfly like these too and might become distracted. Keep the plants well-supported and well-watered.
nipping out the top of broad beans
Broad Beans feeling the pinch

2. If your seed-potatoes are starting to develop long stems (this is usually about 5 weeks after planting), it’s time to ‘earth them up’. This means dragging soil up around their stems as they grow which encourages the plant to develop more and more potato tubers above the ones you planted. Do this earthing-up malarkey about once a week from now on to raise the likelihood of a good heavy crop. Some folk like to cover them up completely with soil each time, but I like to keep a tuft or two showing above the soil – that way I can see when they’re ready to harvest (the leaves will turn yellow and die back). Like the broad beans, your spud plants will appreciate plenty of water, and a fortnightly drop of liquid fertiliser will keep things moving along nicely.

Get your tatties well earthed up!

3. Plenty of veg seeds are better sown outdoors May and even early June rather than earlier in the spring, because the soil has (usually!) warmed up sufficiently by then – dwarf beans, sweetcorn, parsnips, swedes and courgettes, for instance. And keep sowing small quantities of salads, carrots and beetroot for a good successional harvest of these through late summer and autumn.

There’s heaps more info and tips on veg growing in our new book – check it out in the shop.

Bags of bedding

The garden centres, garage forecourts and online shops are full to busting with tempting tender bedding now, to fill your pots and borders with summer colour. Remember to accustom them only slowly to the conditions in your garden, before planting them in their final places properly once there’s no chance of a frost getting them. In the meantime, there is nifty way to make new plants from them and ensure flowers right up to first autumn frost – I reckon you’ll find it easier than you think.

What you are basically going to be doing is softwood cuttings from bedding plants like Surfinia petunias, osteospermums, busy Lizzies, verbenas, argyranthemums, penstemons, salvias, fuchsias, pelargoniums and dahlias.

I want more! Preparing cuttings from an argyranthemum

What you do is snip off vigorous non-flowering healthy stems or pinch off flower-buds if you can’t find any shoots without them. Don’t strip a plant completely of all its shoots – it would have a hard time recovering from that! Your little stems will be 8-12 cm ideally, and cut above leaf node. Take off any lower leaves, pinch out the growing tip, and trim the base again to just below a leaf node – it’s not difficult, even Caroline can do it (as evidenced by our feature picture this week!)

Put them 3-4 per pot of seed/cuttings compost, water the pot, and if possible keep it moist by covering with a clear lid or plastic bag, though don’t do this with hairy-leaved things like pelargoniums or they are more likely to rot before they root (you’re aiming for two ‘o’s, not one!).

Pelargonium
Pelargoniums will come from cuttings taken now, but don’t keep them too wet

Put your pots in a bright place, but shaded from direct sunlight, water them once a week, and your little bedding plants should be nicely rooted in about 4 weeks. Plant them out in June, and they will happily grow on to give sheets of beautiful colour just as the main summer bedding is fading. Good job!

Gardening shorts

  • Dozens of herbaceous perennials are putting on masses of growth now which often causes them to flop once they are laden with flowers, especially in a windy spot. Give them a ‘Chelsea Chop’ now, cutting down the stems by half. It feels brutal, but it will make them flower a little later and at a much sturdier height, require less staking etc. You might also consider cutting some of the stems and leaving others to encourage a succession of flowers at different heights. Try it with Hyelotelephium (sedum), Phlox, Rudbeckia fulgida, Anthemis, Nepeta (catmint), and lots of others. I’ve done it for years and it really works. I made a ropey video on the subject a few years back – link is at the end.
Anthemis getting the Chelsea Chop
  • Walk around the garden every day on the look-out for wayward shoots of climbers, whether they are clematis, beans or sweet peas. The stems will be growing fast now and it’s amazing how quickly they can turn into a dreadful and un-solvable tangle. This is the voice of experience talking.
Keep on top of sorting out the wayward climbers
  • If you are indulging yourself by buying some new plants this spring, please keep the pollinators in mind and include some single-flowered varieties among your choices.

The link to the little video about Chelsea Chopping is here.

NB We had over 100 entries into our Fifth Anniversary Prize Draw and the 10 lucky winners of a Hayloft £10 voucher should all have received their prizes by now, so a big thank to the girls at Hayloft for supporting our blog in this generous way.

More NB If 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.

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.

6 replies on “Now’s the time! – Grow-how tips for May”

Look forward to receiving your regular chatty, newsy and helpful updates. Like yourselves I share my love of gardening with my sister and I have got her to also recieve your newsletter. Happy gardening Pat

Thank you Pat, so pleased to hear you will be joining us. A sister is a wonderful thing – wonderful + exasperating, to be encouraged + teased and generally always there whether you’re laughing or crying. For all these reasons, gardening is a great hobby for sisters isn’t it!

Love this site and really enjoy your hints and tips. Almost all my gardening is done in pots and buckets..even got an old frying pan as a pond!! I have a frog and toad come and visit it. Bird baths give bees, birds and yes, my cat a welcome pkace to drink and bathe. Only a tiny garden but it gives me so much pleasure. Thankyou for brightening my Saturday mornings with your chats on here…Ruth

Ruth how lovely to get your comment. It really is wonderful to get such positive encouragement. Caroline here and I think a very small garden is really the best thing to have. AS you say you can get such pleasure from it without it becoming a monstrous ‘to do’ list. Gardening is renown for being good for mental health but I think this refers to gardens like yours not the ones that give you a breakdown every time you see the thistles super sizing and the borders getting out of control! I hope you’ll join us for many years to come. Very best wishes XXXX

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