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Things to do in the Garden in Spring

Spring has now sprung! There is blossom on the trees and hawthorn hedges are leafing up, along with the cheery blooms of daffodils and primroses enjoying the sunshine between the rain showers. Now is a great time to start sowing and planting outdoors but be mindful there is still the risk of occasional frosts.  Here is a list of things to do in the garden at the end of March and through April:

Keep weeds under control before they get a hold

Weeds can be controlled with the help of weedkillers or by cultural and organic control measures that rely on killing or restricting the weeds physically.  This can be done by removing them manually, smothering weeds with plastic, burning or by using weed barriers.

Protect fruit blossom and non-hardy plants from frost

Most top fruit and soft fruit are very hardy but once they start spring growth the flowers and buds are particularly vulnerable to frosts.  You can protect frost sensitive plants by wrapping in fleece or by using a cloche.

Sow hardy annuals and herb seeds

Many vegetables, annuals, biennials and herbaceous plants can be grown from seed sown outdoors. The secret to success is to prepare a good seedbed, free of weeds and with a crumble-like soil-surface texture.

Sow new lawns and repair any bare patches

Patches in lawns can appear for a number of reasons and when they do, it is always advisable to repair them. Re-seeding or turfing these areas will prevent weeds germinating in the bare patches, and of course, it will look much better. It is best to repair these areas in the spring or autumn.

Top dress containers

Growing plants in containers is a great way to bring life and colour into otherwise dull spots in your garden such as patios, balconies and even window boxes.  Almost any plant can be grown in a container.

Plant summer flowering bulbs

Bulbs are great for adding colour to your garden. Planting summer-flowering bulbs such as lilies and gladioli can provide dramatic, tall blooms that are scented.

Put up some bird boxes

Birds will be looking for suitable places to nest and bird boxes increase their choice of nesting sites. Bird boxes hung on walls tend to be safer from predators such as cats than those hung on trees.  A north or north-east facing position is best as strong sun can make nest boxes too hot and uninviting.

 

national-nest-box-week-workshop

Seed Potatoes

Our new season’s range of seed potatoes are now on sale, and are certified Elite Basic Scottish Seed grown from healthy stock and produced in areas free from pest and disease.

Choose from:

1st early, 2nd early and main crop varieties depending on when you want to harvest them.

You can grow-your-own on a small scale every bit as easily as in a larger garden or allotment.

Container growing has some great advantages – you can get an early crop when prices in the shops are high. Container growing produces spuds with loads of flavour and almost non-existent skins so no need to peel.

All you need is a pot or growing bag of some sort, a vegetable or multi-purpose compost and a sunny spot in the garden.

Potato Chitting 325x325All seed potatoes do best if they are given a start by ‘chitting’. This simply means encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting. To do this you need a cool but frost free place with some light where the seed potatoes can be set out and allowed to make shoots of about 2 or 3cm long [that’s an inch]. An egg box or similar works well to hold them upright,

Plant out when the shoots are formed and the weather has improved; traditionally Good Friday was always seen as the best day to plant!

Container growing can start earlier and will give you an earlier crop.

We have loads to choose from:

2kg bags of First early, Second Early and Maincrop varieties at £3.99

10 potato ‘Taster’ packs £1.99

10 potato ‘Special Varieties’ £2.49

How To: Grow summer bedding plants

Summer Bedding Plants

Summer Bedding Plants for sale

Bedding plants provide a wonderful splash of colour and create a decorative seasonal display for relatively little effort. They brighten up a border, fill gaps between plants that haven’t yet flowered, and look wonderful in pots, tubs and hanging baskets throughout the summer.

Bedding can be grown from seed, bought as young seedlings (plug plants) or purchased in packs or pots ready for planting out. Most bedding plants are annual, which means that they complete their whole life cycle, from seed to flower, within one year, and then die. They are discarded at the end of the season which gives you the freedom to change your bedding displays every year!

Getting Started

Pansy seedlings growing in trays

Pansy seedlings

 

Bedding plants are easy to grow from seed and don’t require anything too fancy. They will thrive in a seed tray or pots covered with a polythene bag on a windowsill, which means that you don’t need a greenhouse. Seed packets all have sowing dates on them.

If you would prefer established plants, seedlings or plug plants, these are readily available at your local garden centre or nursery. Seedlings will need pricking to ensure their roots have room to grow. Keep potting on your plants to larger containers when they outgrow their current ones until they are ready to be planted out in the garden and the weather is warmer with no risk of frost.

Growing and potting your summer bedding plants

To pot up your seedlings and plant plugs, first water the plants well and then lift them gently out of the soil. It is very important when handling them that you do so by the leaves rather than the stems. If you damage a leaf, it will grow back, but damage the stem and you’ll lose the plant.

Plant them into their new home to the same depth as before and firm down the compost. Use a liquid feed to water them in.

It is important to acclimatise new plants to the outdoors before they are planted into their final spots in beds, borders or containers. To do this, harden them off by moving them to a cold frame, an unheated porch or a sheltered spot outside.

How to plant out your summer bedding plants

Petunias in bloom

Petunias in bloom

 

It is important to wait until the risk of frost has passed before you plant out your new bedding plants to their final positions, usually mid to late May.

A few hardy varieties can be planted out earlier such as calendula (pot marigold), pansies, violas and primulas. These add colour to your garden in early spring, and can then be replaced or added to for the summer.

Caring for your summer bedding plants

Pink begonias growing in a border

Begonias in flower

It is important to water daily during dry spells using rain water from your water butt where possible. Continue to use a liquid feed each week during the flowering season.

Pay most attention to the plants in containers and hanging baskets as they are at most at risk of drying out. There are many products to help retain water in the soil such as gels, crystals and pellets that can be incorporated into the compost before planting to reduce the amount of watering needed, but you must remember to check the soil regularly.

The plants will be encouraged to keep flowering by regular deadheading, so keep an eye out for any fading blooms, which will also keep your displays looking wonderful throughout the summer!

 

Image credits: Seedlings © Brian Pettinger, Petunias: © PARSHOTAM LAL TANDON, Begonias: © cobalt123

Plant of the Month: April

Blossom is the predominant theme this month.

The Camellias are mostly over leaving the stage clear for gloriously showy Rhododendrons and Azaleas. If it’s an evergreen you are after, Pieris, dwarf Rhododendrons and evergreen Azaleas are particularly easy to manage if grown in good ericaceous compost and given the appropriate feed. Perfect for pots and containers, these will flower year after year with only a small amount of basic attention. Potted dwarf Rhodo’s are perfect for people who have to move house frequently, as well as making an impressive gift – unlike a bouquet of flowers, they last for years! They’re also great if your outside space is restricted to a patio or even a doorstep.

The name comes from ancient Greek meaning ‘Rose Tree’,  the rhododendron family includes Azaleas and has both evergreen and deciduous forms. They prefer shady conditions and are pretty tough and trouble free. Rhododendrons want acidic soil and sheltered conditions growing best in areas with high rainfall, but compact hybrid rhododendrons and azaleas make really good container plants. There are even dwarf alpine forms that look fantastic planted in rock gardens or pots.

Locally we have some fantastic opportunities to see rhododendrons and azaleas in bloom, NT Stourhead Gardens and Chiff-Chaffs at Bourton both have stunning plantings but in different ways. Both gardens use taller, bigger varieties than most of us can accommodate and their soils are well suited to these acid-loving plants. Which is where we came in as plant hunters and breeders have over the years, collected species and developed varieties that can be accommodated in smaller spaces, and adapted to the way we live. So check out your local garden centre or nursery, see the beautiful colour ranges available select from thousands of lovely pots, get the right compost and feed, then enjoy! If you feel uncertain of any of this ask for advice.

Most of us that deal with plants are only too happy to talk about what we have and how best to grow them.

Gardening Jobs for the month: April

Gardening month-by-month

Lawn Care

Lawns need attention early in the season if they are to look any good. Some can be full of moss at this time of year, with the actual grass is looking a bit thin. Use a mosskiller now, either liquid or lawn sand, let the moss die back and rake it out. If the grass has grown much give it a close cut first so you can get to the moss, and box-off the clippings.

Once the moss is out, if there is a lot of bare soil then rake to loosen and create a seed bed. Sow at about 35g per sq m, rake over lightly and firm in. Water if the soil is dry and germination should take place within 10 to 14 days depending on soil temperature.

A lawn that is not too bad will benefit from a complete lawn treatment such as Evergreen Complete which will kill the moss, kill the weeds and feed it! It is a good investment which should last most of the summer; you might have to feed a little later on depending on how close you cut the lawn and how much hard use it gets.

Pruning, feeding and mulching

Hopefully all the pruning is out of the way by now, so your next step is feeding and mulching climbers, roses and other shrubs and perennial plants. This is vital if you want them to perform well this year. Slow release feeds are best, and the magic mulch can be anything from well-rotted garden compost or manure, to bought in compost or bark chippings.

Prepare to prune the early flowering plants (Forsythia and the like) as soon as they have finished flowering so that the new growth has time to form and produce new flower buds for next spring.

Rose Care

Roses may show early signs of black spot so keep a treatment handy – the choice is not great but both Rose Clear and Multirose are both good and will knock any early greenfly problems on the head at the same time. Then get the sprayer out – fungicide treatment is almost unavoidable if you want to keep the plants free from disease. If you grow without chemicals, then the really important thing is to keep the soil in good heart with plenty of good organic matter and bonemeal or seaweed meal as a supplement.

Check all trees and shrubs – including roses – are firm in the ground. The high winds of the past month may have caused windrock and the damage to the roots can mean a plant will suddenly fail later in the summer.

Pest Control

We didn’t get much in the way of deep penetrating frost this winter so the indications are that slugs could be a real challenge this year, meaning your precious seedlings could soon disappear. The choice is slug traps filled with beer barriers such as copper or wool pellets that dissuade slugs from approaching, or slug killers that will solve the problem on a more permanent basis.

Grow Your Own

The grow-your-own veg is really worthwhile and you can start from either seeds or seedlings. The garden centre now offers young vegetable plants that are ready to plant out as well the fantastic range of seeds in packets that excite the eye with visions of perfect produce.

Vegetable gardens do need to be prepared, forked over to remove the tough perennial weeds and kill the fresh weed seedlings. Manure and the lime should have been added over winter, but it’s not too late if you good composted organic matter available. Best not to do this in seed beds as you can attract the slugs, but fine where you are planting out potatoes, onion sets or transplanting vegetable plants or sowing larger seeds such as peas and beans.

Borders

Herbaceous borders will be showing growth, so make sure that you have plant supports ready for taller growing varieties. Grow-through supports such as the large metal circles or cut hazel twigs, need to be in place before the plant grows through! Other systems such as the curved wire frames, link stakes, or canes can be used as needed.

Fruit trees and bushes

These will now be in blossom, and vulnerable to late frost. If they are small enough to cover with fleece then it could make the difference between crop and no crop.

Hanging Baskets and Containers

You can start to plant in April but it is usually far too risky to set them outside; wait until the risk of frost has passed. Worth bearing in mind that early planted tubs and containers will mature early with those planted later still be going strong in late August when the others have expired.

All containers need to be watered. Rain water is best but can be an unreliable supply if we get a drought. Tap water is mostly hard meaning it contains a large amount of Calcium carbonate, so to keep ericaceous plants growing well in pots it is important to add a special ericaceous liquid  feed and dose it with sequestered iron at least twice during the year.

Lastly – once the plant is established, top dress with appropriate fertiliser (specialist Azalea/Rhodo feed or even Rose Fertiliser) in spring to encourage growth and in late summer to encourage flower buds for the following spring. You will probably need top up the compost as well.

Plant of the Month: Pansies and Violas

Pansies & Violas

These are terrific, versatile plants that make a great impact in spring time, with abstract splashes of colour they have one of the widest colour ranges and can brighten up any garden space by being planted in beds, borders, containers and hanging baskets. Recommended varieties include: Viola ‘Aspasia’, Viola cucullata, Viola ‘Jackanapes’ and Viola ‘Moonlight’.

When planting pansies and violas in the garden it’s worthwhile considering some contrasting companion plants like shrubs which can complement their mix of colour and lower height. Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’, also known as Nepalese paper plant, is an evergreen medium-sized shrub with highly fragrant deep pink and white flowers that are followed by black berries. While, Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, also known as Mrs Robb’s Bonnet, is a spreading evergreen perennial with dark green leaves from which arise large rounded sprays of yellow-green flowers.

Broadcaster and gardener, Esther Rantzen CBE, the celebrity champion for the month has a great love for pansies and violas. She says, “I love pansies for their soft colours, all the shades of blues, purples and golds, and for their faces, turned down, as if in contemplation. As Ophelia said, ‘There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts’ – and indeed the name comes from the French, pensees. They look fragile, but in fact they are tough, they can survive anything except the burning summer heat, and they seed themselves and return, year after year. And outside the garden wall their little wild cousins, the violets, send out their fragrance to reassure us that spring is on its way”.

Some of the winter and spring bedding has taken a beating but pansies and violas are so resilient that they quickly recover with a few days good weather. March is the perfect time for a garden spring clean after the winter, re-vitalising up existing flower beds, borders and containers. Pansies are the perfect spring plants – along with primulas, forget-me-nots and wallflowers and are perfect contenders for patio pots, hanging baskets and window boxes, ideal and easy to plant.

Pansies and violas are two of the most popular bedding plants and are great for filling the gaps in borders once you have cleared away bedraggled or dead plants. Their names are often used interchangeably. Plants considered to be pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down while Violets have three petals pointing up and two pointing down!

Both are hardy annuals that offer colourful flowers in your garden; they both need watering regularly and need to be planted in moist, well-drained soil.

Pansies and violas like sun and cooler temperatures. Make sure you remove fade or dead flowers to prolong blooming and encourage more flowers to grow bringing a joy of spring to a garden following cold winter months.

Plant of the Month – February

Winter HeatherWinter heathers are looking bright and cheerful this month. They are very hardy and adapt to a wide range of soils including local alkaline clays making it a really useful plant for the garden. Heathers will also bring some much needed colour to the dark winter months, and there are over 4,000 varieties to choose from there’s one to suit any garden! They also make great ground cover or additions to tubs and planters.

Heathers make a great plant for novice or time-short gardeners; they require little maintenance and can last for years, while their hardy and evergreen nature makes them fantastic for ground cover and weed prevention.

Wildlife expert and broadcaster David Lindo, the celebrity champion for heathers this month, is passionate about heather and getting urbanites to realise that there is a whole world of wildlife under their noses in the world’s cities.

He said to the HTA: “Heather is such a versatile plant and different cultivars can bloom in both winter and summer. It provides an invaluable food source for wildlife throughout the year, with bees attracted to its nectar, while smaller creatures can take refuge in the dense close foliage of the plant.

Plant of the Month, January

Helleborus nigerIt might be the dark days but that’s when some sensational plants can catch your eye. Helleborus niger, a classic winter flowering plant also known as the Christmas Rose. No garden should be without them, they are hardy and all will grow on local soils! They are the plants that you pass by but suddenly call you back with their sweet scent or show of flowers.

They need to be planted in heavy, rich, limey soil that won’t dry out in summer months.  Their leaves die down in June or July, after which the plants should be kept cool and shaded until they begin to grow again in early spring. They are also wildlife friendly and are a valuable source of pollen for early bees.

TV gardener David Domoney is the celebrity champion for Helleborus this month. With a keen passion for horticulture, David started his career as a plant advisor in a garden centre, progressing through supervisor and management roles to becoming a plant buyer.

David said: “Flowering Hellebores make you wonder at the beauty and resilience of nature as they open beautiful flowers in the depth of winter. The diversity of the colour and blooms together with integrated shaped emerald green foliage across many varieties make this a perfect first choice as the calendar year starts.

Plant of the Month, December

SarcococcaThere is one really seasonal and under used plant that deserves being better known, and that is Sarcoccoca or the ‘Christmas’ or ‘Sweet Box’. There are several sorts of this fragrant, winter flowering evergreen that can fit in with any scheme you may be planning.

Former Chanel model, and founder of the Edible Busstop, Mak Gilcrist is a real fan; “This plant has incredibly intense scent and thrives at a time of year where there is little scent in the garden. I particularly like that about it. It’s a sensuous indulgence in the deep mid-winter.”

Sarcoccoca makes a great addition to a winter garden as it’s a tough, reliable plant that is very easy to grow. Perfect for a border, in containers or as ground cover it will grow well in shade while its delicate white flowers bloom over winter and early spring. Sarcoccoca grows slowly and gradually to form low-growing mounds of evergreen foliage and also has red and black berries once flowering has finished.

Plant of the Month, November

Trees

Autumn BlazeAt this time of year they are so much in evidence and we are just into the best tree planting time of the year. Trees add structure to the landscape and garden; there are all types, shapes and sizes. From flowering cherries and crab apples to evergreen yews, there are trees to suit every taste and position imaginable. Trees offer different leaf size, shape and colour and many have attractive flowers, fruits and seeds. There are those that flower magnificently in spring to those whose leaves offer brilliant autumn colour just before leaf fall.

Trees can be selected for all soil types, including very wet and dry land. They can tolerate acidic, chalky, sandy and clay soils. They even make up soils in new gardens or landscapes. Some trees make excellent hedges and screens whilst others make ideal specimens set in the middle of a lawn.

All trees require some support and protection such as stakes, tree ties and tree guards. Fertiliser can be added to the planting hole and mulch can be added after planting to preserve moisture and keep down weeds. Trees are best planted in the autumn, especially bare rooted varieties. Container grown trees can be planted at any time of the year providing the soil/ground is not frozen or water logged.

There is a tree for every location and a good top ten would be:

  1. Himalyan Birch Betula utilis var. jacquemontii
  2. Silver Birch Betula pendula
  3. Snowy Mespilus Amerlanchier lamarckii
  4. Christmas berry ‘Red Robin’ Photinia fraserii ‘Red Robin’
  5. Freeman’s Maple Acer freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’ (Pictured)
  6. English Oak Quercus robur
  7. Pin Oak Quercus palustris
  8. Crab Apple Malus ‘Evereste’
  9. Crab Apple Malus ‘Rudolph’
  10. Vilmorin’s Mountain Ash Sorbus vilmorinii

There has been a lot of publicity over the past years about fatal diseases affecting our native trees, especially Oaks and the Ash, so a good alternative for a hardy English native is the attractive Lime Tilia cordata.

By planting trees you can reduce or improve your carbon footprint and generally enhance the environment. Trees can transform an area by introducing welcome shade, protective shelter and wildlife and are an investment for future generations. Research in HTA’s Greening the UK campaign has shown that just a 10% increase in tree coverage in urban areas will counter the predicted 4°c temperature over the next 100 years caused by climate change and the urban heat island effect.

As part of the ‘Plan it, Plant it this Autumn’ campaign, the Horticultural Trades Association is also encouraging gardeners to celebrate the 39th annual National Tree Week, which is run by The Tree Council from 29 November –7 December 2014 .


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