This Month in the Garden – May 2017

TMITG_ds1This has been a wonderful spring and it seems to have gone on for a long time; starting with the snowdrops in February, daffodils in March and April and now tulips and the first bluebells. Blossom this year has been especially abundant. My garden was previously an orchard and we still have three original pear trees, a damson, a plum and an apple tree and we have added to these with two more plums and two apples. The pears and plums have filled the view upstairs  from my study with a blaze of white and now the apples are taking over with their quieter pink. Last year I had virtually no tree fruit so I have high hopes of better things this year provided we don’t have any vicious late frost. Our amalanchier tree has also been especially striking with its Persil-white blossom and it has been a wonderful sight in the late evening sun. They are one of the best small decorative garden trees and they come with a bonus of berries for the birds and a colourful autumn foliage display …

We are dependent on the weather for much of the quality and duration of spring flowers but there is also quite a lot that gardeners can do to maintain colourful interest. There is a huge range of daffodils to choose from, with early, mid-season and late varieties offering the possibility of two or even three months colour. Slightly later, and on into May, tulips provide stronger and more varied colours than daffodils. They are particularly good in containers although many do not perform well in a second year.  Tulips in the borders or in grass are very good for colour in May before the perennial plants get going but you need to buy varieties that are suitable for naturalising. Darwin and species tulips are particularly recommended. Catalogues for spring bulbs will soon be available and you can have lots of fun planning next year’s display. Where spring bulbs are naturalised don’t cut the grass until July.

May is another busy time in the garden with the control and maintenance of what is already growing while there are plenty more things to be started off. Weeding is high on the maintenance list and this needs constant attention because the smaller they are when attacked the better. A run-through with a hoe on bare soil is so much quicker than digging out larger plants. Weed killers have their place on areas of path and gravel.  Shrubs that have flowered, such as forsythia and flowering currant, should be pruned soon after flowering to give time for new shoots to grow to flowering size for next year. Taking out a few stems from the ground is an alternative to cutting back the whole shrub.

If you have grown plants from seed under glass this month will be the time for transplanting them to the open ground but, for tender plants like tomatoes, beans, courgette and cucumber, wait at least until the middle of the month in case of a late frost. This also applies to bedding plants that you buy. Don’t be in too much of a hurry although, if you have got a greenhouse  or cold frame,  you can buy and then keep them in their trays until  the danger of frost is past  (Don’t forget to water them).There is also plenty of direct sowing that can be done. Runner beans can be sown outside now and biennial plants like fox gloves and wallflowers can be sown in a seed bed, as can many perennial plants. Keep up successional sowing of salad crops, especially lettuce, carrot and beetroot.

Keep an eye on your roses and watch out for aphids, mildew and blackspot. Chemical sprays are available for treating these but, if you are an organic gardener spraying options are very limited and the best course is to remove aphids by hand, pick off early signs of blackspot (though most plants keep going fairly well even when affected). Generous watering  is good for all roses and it will help to keep mildew at bay.  Climbers, like clematis  and sweet pea, will be growing fast at this time of year and will need to be kept tied in.

So far it has been a very dry year in our part of the world so you may need to do quite a bit of watering. If you have got acid-loving plants ( probably grown in containers or, at least in ericaceous compost) water them with rain water as tap water is alkaline. That may mean keeping the rain water collected in buts just for them in the hope that it won’t run out.

Jeremy Arthern

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