Gardening Tips

Shivering into summer! Grow-how tips for late April

Are you struggling with a cold and wet Spring where you are? You’re not alone. Laura and I visited our younger sister Caroline in the Scottish Highlands this week where there is still snow on the hills.

But plants are still responding to the longer daylight hours and there was plenty to do. We put her to work mulching her flower beds, pinching out annuals and planting sweet peas amongst other things…

Mulching your garden soil is the perfect way to combat weed growth, seal moisture in, and feed your plants. And Caroline has a fabulous mound of rotted horse manure just BEGGING to be spread around her garden.

You can use all sorts of other materials for this task as well: garden compost, chipped bark, leaf mould, crushed shells, even gravel or grit for alpines. This ‘carpet’ will protect your soil from drying out in the summer, lessening the need for watering, as well as cutting down massively on the weeding.

Caroline getting her mulch on!

Don’t be stingy with it – 2 to 3 inches is the recommended depth – but try not to pile it up closely round the stems or trunks of shrubs and trees, which can lead to fungal diseases creeping in.

We noticed that Caroline had some strongly-growing healthy sweet pea seedlings ready to be moved to their summer home in a deep pot, and decided to give her a hand.

The first job was to fill the chosen pot with peat-free compost to which some slow -release fertiliser pellets had been added. Then we put in three canes, tied at the top to create a strong pyramid support.

They’ll want to climb! So give the sweet peas something to support the stems

Sweet peas like a long root run and plenty of moisture, so we decided that three sweet pea plants would be enough for a standard-sized large pot to give them the best chance to expand and thrive. They were already in wool pots so they could be tucked in the compost inside the canes without any root disturbance. The rim of wool around their stems will give them welcome protection from slugs and snails.

Using wool pots means that there is no root disturbance (and no plastic involved) when you plant out sweet peas

Have you, like Caroline, got annuals springing up out of their pots or trays, ready to make your borders and patios glorious with colour this summer? Cosmos, zinnias, rudbeckias, antirrhinums, etc. will all be putting on fast growth now. 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.  So if you can, harden your heart and pinch out that central dominant bud (known in boffin-circles as the ‘apical’ bud) between your thumb and forefinger.

Pinching out the tops of Cosmos seedlings will give you stronger and more flowery plants

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 which will flower right through the summer.  So you’d be a bit bonkers not to do it, I reckon!

  • Like many of us, Caroline has got all sorts of veg and flower seeds germinating in her glasshouse and is seriously running out of space! But she must be very careful not to think that they are now big and strong enough to go out in the garden from their cocooned surroundings.

    Even if her part of the country has had its last frost of the winter (unlikely!!), the difference in temperature from their cosy indoor position to the great outdoors will be an awful shock for her baby plants and could even kill them. So she needs to do it gently, by setting them out in a sheltered position during the day, and then bringing them back inside each evening. By doing this for 2-3 weeks, they can acclimatise, ready to take on the big bad outside world full-time.
Move tender plants outside during the day and inside again at night for a while
  • Caroline grows some wonderful dahlias in pots and they are just beginning to produce shoots. She has a real favourite (Karma Irene) that she would like to have more of and there’s an easy way to do that. Once the tuber has produced several strong shoots, she is going to use some of them as cuttings.

    She’ll use a short knife to cut off the shoot near to its base, trying to include a little bit of the parent tuber below it. Pinch out the central bud and poke it into gritty compost near the edge of a small pot (the soil drains better at the edge). They usually root easily – either in a heated propagator or on a warm windowsill with a plastic bag fixed by a rubber band over the pot (take the bag off regularly though, to clear the condensation). You should end up with even more of your favourite varieties for free!
Once Caroline has got more shoots on her dahlia plants, she can propagate them by taking cuttings.
  • Obviously, Laura and I are not used to being complimentary about Caroline’s gardening skills, but we were pretty speechless in admiration at how she had single-handedly created small flights of steps in her steeply-sloping garden. They were looking a little ‘raw’ though, and in need of softening with some creeping or alpine plants. She’d already planted some saxifrage, Armeria and sedums next to the steps, and I brought her some Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvanskianus) to tuck into the edges of the steps, whose gentle little summer-long daisies will soon cover the harsh edges of the stonework.
Fleabane daisies will soften the edges of Caroline’s fab DIY steps.

NB. With a few false starts (!) we did some filming of these garden tasks, and Laura has spliced them together into a Youtube video, which we hope you will enjoy.

More NB We expect you’ve noticed there is an advert or two on our site now. We’re hoping they’ll help with the costs of running our site which, like our plants, are getting higher every day 😖!

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.

Certainly game for a colder climate this pretty little self-seeder comes from Greenland! It’s Louise’s Great Plant this Month and here’s why…

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.

4 replies on “Shivering into summer! Grow-how tips for late April”

I’ve been held up even further by a pair of Robins nesting in a flower pot, on a shelf, under my outdoor potting table. Strangely, they are about 2 weeks ahead of 2022 when a pair nested in a car I was restoring.

How delightful, Paul! Sometimes you just HAVE to let Nature delay your horticultural efforts, don’t you, and take pleasure in knowing that you are helping our precious wildlife to do what they do best. It’s interesting to hear that the robins are nesting earlier than they did in 2022 – there is so much that we still don’t understand about how climate and human activity affects the wider eco-system, it seems. Enjoy watching your feathered family develop this spring! All the best, Elaine

I’m going to give my cosmos a special pinch on your behalf. Thank you for wonderful weekly dispatches.

Pleased to hear it, Deborah! And we’re delighted that you enjoy our weekly offerings – we really like writing them and this week’s was particularly good fun, as you can imagine! All the best, Elaine (+ L and C, of course)

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