This Month in the Garden – May 2018

My hope that the weather would improve after a dismal March was not realised and April up to the time of writing has been even worse. At this time last year I wrote happily about a lovely Spring and I noted how the apple blossom was taking over from the wonderful display of plum blossom and the brilliance of my amalanchier tree. This year the plum blossom is just beginning a muted show and the amalanchier has not yet blossomed, and probably won’t do much because the wood pigeons have been busy nipping the buds. In the first week of April  I was able to take advantage of the only day when the soil had dried out enough and I  sowed  carrot, parsnip and beetroot, a month later than usual. One compensation has been that, once the daffodils came out, they have stayed out for a long time because of the cold …

It looks as if May will be a busy month catching up with the backlog and keeping things under control as the weather warms up. Some of us will be especially busy as we prepare for the Red Cross Open Gardens in the village. Note the date of Sunday 10th June  and help to make the event a success; amongst other things, your chance to see where I do my gardening.

After all the rain, weeding will be a high priority and the sooner you can get on with it, the better. It’s no good trying when the soil is wet, as walking on it will compact the soil, the earth will not shake away  from the weeds and weeds disturbed by hoeing will regrow rather than drying out and dying, Regular weeding keeps the garden looking much neater and means that the nutrition in the soil goes to the plants that you want to be there.

The quickest way to fill your garden with colour is with annual flowers, although they do mean more work than perennials which keep going year after year. The cheapest way is to grow them yourself from seed but that does call for some ‘real’ gardening and needs to be started much earlier than this. Nurseries, garden centres, and superstores will be full of bedding plants now and the choice greater earlier in the month. Do check though whether the plants are frost tolerant. The risk of a late frost is there until around the third week of May.  Wherever possible keep tender plants under glass until then and It is worth keeping some horticultural fleece handy that you can spread over plants outside showing new young growth when a frost is forecast.  This applies especially to dahlias growing outside which may well be showing new growth by now. If you have dahlias in containers don’t put them out till late May. If you have ordered plug plants for May delivery note the expected delivery date and, if you will be away when they are expected, try to arrange for a neighbour to collect the package and open it up. Plants will suffer from being left wrapped up.

In the vegetable garden the frost warning applies to quite a few popular vegetables, notably runner beans, cucumber courgette and tomato. Its best to start them of by sowing in the greenhouse in late April or buy them as young plants later in May . Runner beans can be sown directly in the soil in May. Keep succession sowing in mind as a way of lengthening your supply of salad crops and vegetables; lettuce, especially, is best grown in very small amounts on  a fortnightly basis.  With such a cold, wet, winter and spring, vegetables are likely to be expensive so growing your own will be a good option this year.

Lawns won’t have needed much cutting this year but the grass will be growing strongly now and will need cutting at least once a week, lowering the cut to the regular height but not so that the grass is shaved. A longer cut helps the grass to grow more strongly and look greener.  As plants bordering a lawn get bigger watch for the ones that overhang the grass and trim them back. Grass which is overgrown will die back and look unsightly when plants are eventually cleared. 

If you have got neutral soil and are able to grow camellias or rhododendron, take off the dead brown flowers and keep the plants watered regularly with rain water and fed with a suitable liquid feed .  You should be rewarded with a good flower display next year.

Jeremy Arthern


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