Gardening Tips

Pinching a good idea – Grow-how tips for May


It’s nearly Chelsea Flower Show time – woo hoo! There’s more than a frisson of horticultural excitement in the air: what will the big stories be this year? We 3Growbags will all be there together on the final day (brace yourselves everyone!), so we’ll be chatting about it all in our blog on Sunday rather than Saturday next week   Meanwhile, there are jobs a-plenty to be getting on with, including tending to your seedlings, dealing with lily beetles and choosing plants for dark spots…………………………

Seedlings at a pinch

Have you got annuals like zinnias, cosmos, rudbeckias and antirrhinums all springing up out of their pots or trays, ready to make your borders and patios glorious with colour this summer, like I have? Keep checking them for dryness at the roots, rub out any aphids on the shoot tips, and re-pot them when the roots have filled the container (check by tipping them upside-down into your hand).

You will find that left to their own devices they will quickly run up to flower on the central stem.  But your plant will be rather meagre and spindly, and its flowering period will be quite short.  If however you can harden your heart a little and pinch out that central dominant bud (known in boffin-circles as the ‘apical’ bud) between your thumb and forefinger, you will end up with something BETTER!  

Pinch out the leading shoots to make your summer annuals bushier and flowerier (if that’s actually a word…)

Taking out the apical bud encourages each little plant to divert its energies into the side-shoots – these will grow much more strongly than before your pinching-out and the result will be a robust, bushy plant (as in our feature pic today) which will flower right through the summer.  So you’d be a bit bonkers not to do it, I reckon!

Going for gold

Most gardens have a shady corner or two which can look a little……meh, next to the areas in full sun which are glowing with flowers.  I think it’s unsatisfying and disappointing trying to brighten a dark nook with a flowering plant that would be much happier in the sun, so over the years I have preferred to use some golden-leaved plants in these tricky spots.  I expect you have your favourites for this job too, but these are some of mine:

Philadelphus coronarius aurea – this shrub is just like the green-leaved one, but its foliage looks like it’s in the sun all the time.  The leaves would actually scorch in full sun, ironically!  It has beautifully-fragrant small white flowers in late May/early June. Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ would perform the same role, but I have found it less robust. So would Euonymus ‘Emerald n Gold’, but that seems to grow even better in the sunshine.

A golden philadelphus will light up a dark corner and be very happy while it’s doing it!

Milium effusum ‘Aureum’ AGM – This is also known widely as ‘Bowles’ golden grass. I grow this in a pot in deep shade and it looks delicate and pretty from early spring to November – the deeper the shade, the paler green the leaves are. There is also a Bowles’ golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’) but I am rather wary of carexes – a touch too enthusiastic at colonisation, even for me. Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ looks like it would be a perfect grass for the same situation but I’ve never tried it.

Bowles’ golden grass – bright, pretty, feathery and no trouble at all

Humulus lupulus aureus – the golden hop is a vigorous deciduous climber – I cut the stems right down to the ground every winter.  This is another golden-leaved plant that scorches in hot sunshine, but makes a lovely aureate covering for a shady arch or bower. You have to keep an eye out for runners popping up elsewhere, though, if it’s enjoying itself.

A golden hop is perfect for a shady archway or pergola

If you have the right soil, there are some golden beauts in the Acer family for shade, and there is a golden Cotinus (‘Golden Spirit’) which looks very promising, but I have never grown it (don’t Cotinus bud up late! Each year you think you really have killed it this time!) One last thing: I loathe the combination of pink and gold on the popular Spiraea ‘Gold Flame often recommended for partial shade – sorry if this is your favourite plant, but it makes my teeth grate!

For a few more suggestions for plants that grow well in shade, check out one of our earlier Growbag blogs – the link is at the end.

Gardening shorts

  • Growing spuds in bags has become very on-trend, especially where space is limited. But don’t forget that you can use them for all sorts of other crops too – particularly ones that have deeper roots or that really don’t like drying out: globe artichokes, courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes or even French beans.
Spuds are very happy in potato-growing bags – and so are lots of other crops!
A lily beetle looks so jolly but is in fact so jolly destructive!
  • Lily beetles are heartbreakingly destructive, so be really on the alert for them. You are looking for tiny areas of orange eggs on the leaf-undersides, or little black piles of beetle poo in which the dirty orange larvae hide. The adults are bright red, and will drop to the ground showing their black undersides (where you can’t see them) when they detect movement nearby.  So put a piece of white paper/card (or a bowl of soapy water) underneath the plant first.  Show them you are as sneaky as they are!  There are sprays available, but never spray when the plants are in flower, or you will affect pollinators as well.
  • If you are lucky enough to have an asparagus bed that is already three years old,  harvest the spears by choosing ones that are at least 20 cms long, and cutting them 2-3 cms below the surface of the soil.

This is the link to the blog about more ideas for plants that enjoy a shady spot.

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white climbing plant with words Great Plants this Month overwritten on it

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 “Pinching a good idea – Grow-how tips for May”

Thank you Irene – it’s exciting, isn’t it! Elaine here. Laura and I will be there on Wednesday, making a sensible assessment of the show, and then we’ll be joined by Caroline on Saturday, when things could get rather daft! Both visits are bound to remind me that ours is the best pastime of all – I’m sure you’ll agree. Enjoy Friday!

I love Mecanopsis and have tried without success here in Argyll.
Must try again. Thanks for your weekly chats.

That’s funny Alison as you’d think they’d love the conditions in Argyll. Caroline here, I grow mine in quite a shady spot and I know they like a humus rich soil but obviously I don’t give them any expert care. I have found them to be a bit short-lived in the past but Donald Davidson at Abriachan Nursery told me to lift them after flowering and re-plant them on a bed of well-rotted manure so I’m passing the tip on. He said they’ll keeping going for decades that way! Very best wishes to you, X

Thank you all for your lovely blog and your piece about growing veg in containers: I have just planted some sweetcorn in large eco-fabric bags on the patio, having run out of space on my allotment. Let’s hope they survive and thrive. (They’ll hopefully add some height to the patio, too).

What a great idea Anna – keep us posted on how it works out would you? We’d be interested to know! Kindest regards from us all X

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