I have just spent a few days in Shropshire. It was still very much daffodil time there, ranging from the magnificent display in the municipal gardens in Shrewsbury to a patch at almost every farm gate. Daffodils will be dying down now and they will need a little attention to prepare for a good show next year. The spent flower stems should be cut off quite close to the ground but the foliage left as it is to die down naturally. Bulbs left to naturalise in grass will benefit from an application of fertiliser such as Growmore. Daffodils have done really well this year with an exceptionally long flowering season because of the cold spring and my new bulbs have given me a lot of pleasure. This is a good time to look at your displays of daffodils and tulips, to check where they could be improved and write down anything that needs to be done. Keeping a gardening journal or just a notebook is a helpful discipline for this.
Springtime is also enlivened by flowering shrubs such as forsythia and flowering currant. After flowering the flowered stems should be cut back to allow new flowering shoots to develop. Keep an eye on your roses and watch out for aphids and black spot. The secret of success is to catch them early. Pick off aphids or leaves affected by black spot by hand and put any leaves in the bin, not the compost bin. Spraying may eventually be necessary but avoid this if you can
I usually expect to start sowing vegetable in open soil in March but, this year, the soil in the vegetable patch wasn’t sufficiently warm, dry or friable until mid-April. It was then that I sowed carrot, parsnip and beetroot with a short row of chard. This is the first time I have tried growing chard and I shall be interested to find out how it gets on and what I think of it as a vegetable. Keep the vegetable garden watered if the weather is dry.
May is the best time for sowing dwarf beans, runner beans and courgette directly in the soil so that the fresh shoots won’t be showing through until the likelihood of frost damage has passed. It’s too late to be saying this for this year, but I find it is better to grow these plants in trays or pots under glass in late April because it starts them off earlier and avoids slug damage as well as frost. They will then need hardening off by putting them outdoors in their pots or trays for a few days, bringing them back into the greenhouse if a frost is forecast. Just before going away in mid-April I noticed that one of my dahlias was showing a shoot but I failed to cover it up and it had caught the frost by the time we got home. As with many things, the moral is “ Do it now”.
If you didn’t sow them yourself earlier in the year, May is the best time for buying annual bedding plants for hanging baskets, containers and borders. Again don’t be in too much of a hurry and risk being caught out by frost. If you can keep things under glass for a couple of weeks the best plan is to buy from a nursery or garden centre at the end of April or early in May while there is a good choice but don’t plant outside until later in the month.
Don’t forget to water anything kept under glass and containers and hanging baskets will, of course, continue to need watering, with liquid fertiliser, right through the summer. Efficient use of the water is promoted by mixing water absorbent gel in the compost. Continued watering, preferably weekly, is also necessary for newly planted shrubs and trees throughout their first season. When planting annuals in containers use multi-purpose compost or John Innes No 2 compost (No 3 for perennials and shrubs). If planting annuals in a large container fill at least a third of the pot with hard core or broken polystyrene chunks. This is good for drainage and saves using compost where the roots won’t get to it.
Prolong the season for growing vegetables like salad crops and carrots by making small successional sowings, say, every two or three weeks. Perennial flower plants will now be making quick growth and those that need staking should be given support as early as possible, using metal stakes, canes, pea sticks or woven hazel sticks.