In 2016 the zodiac animal for the Chinese was the monkey but, as far as I was concerned, it was the year of the slug and in my articles I probably bored you with my horror at the damage inflicted on my plants. It seems though, that I was not alone and the March edition of the RHS magazine, The Garden, had a long article on ways of reducing damage from slugs and snails. They are also setting up long-term trials on the subject …
The article covers most of the better known remedies and sadly the only really effective weapon seems to be slug pellets which come with the possibility of damage to pets, birds and other wildlife. There are two types of pellet, metaldehyde and ferric phosphate. Ferric phosphate is organic and is reckoned to be less harmful than metaldehyde. The advice is to spread them sparingly and they need to be re-applied after rain. A non-intrusive method is to go on a slug hunt in the evening or early morning especially after rain, and remove them by hand. You then have to decide how you are going to get rid of them. The RHS suggest putting them in the freezer and certainly not in your neighbour’s garden. Barrier methods of rough surfaces don’t seem to be very effective although, for plants in containers, copper bands do work. I was interested to see that Monty Don’s favourite deterrent of garlic spray wasn’t mentioned in the article. I am hoping that this winter’s frequent frosts will have helped to reduce the slug and snail population and I am pleased that so far my delphiniums have started growing with very little damage.
Dahlias are another plant that can suffer from slug and snail damage but they are rewarding to grow and are increasing in popularity after a time when they were unfashionable. If you have left plants in the ground keep an eye out for emerging shoots and use some sort of slug deterrent while the shoots are small. If you have stored them dry during the winter bring them out of the dark and start watering them but don’t put them outside until the danger of frost has passed in late May. If you want to increase your stock you can split a bunch of tubers but make sure you get buds on the tubers as you break them up. They may separate naturally or you can cut them. Plants in the soil may well produce lots of stems and these should be thinned to not more than three shoots which will need to be pinched out in the centre as they grow to make bushy plants. You can use surplus shoots as cuttings for new plants if you pot them up under glass in compost and cover with a plastic bag.
Hopefully you will have been able to start some seed sowing in March in the open ground and you can continue with this for many vegetables in April; root crops like carrot, beetroot and parsnips (the earlier the better) or perhaps swede or turnip and lettuce, spinach and chard. I prefer to start many vegetables in seed trays or modules under glass. This will speed up growth, provide protection from slugs and economise on seed by avoiding the need for thinning, which generally happens with seed put directly in the soil. Leeks and brassicas can be started from March , french ( dwarf) beans early in April and runner beans, courgette and cucumber later in the month. Annual flowers can also be started in this way. Main crop onions are best started as ‘sets’ ( little onions) and can be started in March or April.
Most things, vegetables and ornamental plants, will benefit from feeding at this time of year. I like to use chicken pellets which are organic and easy to apply. Buy them in as large a bag as you can for economy. Don’t forget the benefit of being a member at the allotment shop in Newnham Avenue with sales on Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning and Wednesday afternoon. Growmore is a good general purpose fertiliser but it is not organic and there are specialist feeds such as rose fertiliser.
Watch out for the May edition of the Gardeners World magazine. I don’t know if there will be an offer this year but in previous years the April edition has come with a ticket which gives two for one entry to over four hundred gardens which are open to the public. The magazine is worth reading too.