Garden housework for May

Posted on: 13 May 2013 by Maxine Farmer

Maxine Farmer urges caution before spending on new plants for your garden.

Spring gardeningAt last, we have some (albeit intermittent) and a slow rise in temperatures. Thank goodness. What a long cold and wet winter it has been.  As many of you will no doubt have noted, most gardens have responded very quickly to these changes, with green shoots seeming to grow almost by the minute. So, it would be very tempting to say ‘all is now well’ but I’d exercise a word or two of caution.

Our gardens have been – and are still being - put under more stress than usual. They were deprived of usual levels of sunshine earlier in the spring and now their natural biological structure is forcing a sudden growth spurt. They know that the race is on to do certain things by a certain date, in many cases before the days start shortening again after midsummer.

It’s a bit like a formerly sickly child suddenly being given growth hormone treatment. So, in the same way you would give that poorly child a tonic, do the same for the garden. Hold back temptation to spend your garden budget on lots of choice new bedding plants (just for the minute) and instead, divert those funds into feeding plants and the soil.  I am a firm believer in that old adage of spending twice as much on the soil as the plants, especially after the soggy old winter we’ve just had.

Personally, I’ve treated every flower bed to a healthy dose of chicken pellets and then top-dressed everywhere with a nice thick blanket of home-made compost. An order of 100 new earth worms bought online (it is amazing what you can buy on the Internet) will join the existing colony and help to pull that compost through to the soil layers beneath, so there is no need to dig.

ClematisI’ve splashed out on specialist rose food, not just for the roses but for clematis and wisteria who respond to it well too. My garden is heavily alkaline, so for any plants that are borderline, I’ve fed them with sequestrine liquid (widely available in garden centres). All shrubs have had a half trowel-full of fish-blood-and-bone around their roots.

I am also keeping a very close watch on potential bugs and diseases: plants that are under stress or less than one hundred per cent healthy are more likely to succumb to problems. I’ve carefully pruned shrubs so that their centres are ‘airy’ without crossed or congested branches (which again, encourage pests and diseases to take hold).

The lawn has barely begun to grow, but when it does, I will set the blades a bit higher than usual: the last thing those individual grass plants (let’s not forget that is exactly what a lawn is) need is a harsh scalping.

Once that is all in place, then I will know I’ve done my garden housework and looked after all those brave plants that made it through to spring. Then – and only then – I’ll feel justified in going out and buying new plants to join these old faithfuls.

If you have any questions about how I prepare my garden or how to get the best from different types of soil, add your questions below and I'll do my best to answer them. 

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