April Gardening Tips

We wait, with keen anticipation, through January and February, the blooming of daffodils, the signals of Spring.  First, the dwarf varieties like Narcissus jonquilla and bulbocodium and then the full-sized plants.  All too soon, by April, we are dead- heading spent flowers and leaving the leaves to feed the bulbs for next year. Pheasant’s eye narcissi flower later, into April, and extend the season with their delicate, pale, scented blooms.

My favourite flowers this Winter have been irises; Iris unguiculata (shown below) has been flowering since November and will continue until April; February and March bring on the dwarf irises like I.reticulata.  In April, Dutch irises, bearded irises (shown at the end) and the tall elegant I.sibirica put on a show.  They all like a light soil and to be baked in the Summer sun. All except the dwarf varieties make good cut flowers and have a delicate scent.

 

It is the time to get the kitchen garden going, now the soil is warming up.

  • You can sow beans, carrots, chard, brassicas, beetroot and peas outside, and pumpkins, courgettes and sweetcorn under glass.
  • In preparation for the beans, dig a deep trench and line it with newspaper and fill it with compost to hold moisture. Then erect a bean frame of hazel poles or bamboos for support.  Twiggier pea sticks will help the peas.
  • At the beginning of April, plant early potatoes and work through to main crop by the end of the month. But watch the weather forecasts for frost warnings – my potatoes and beans were caught out last year!

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February Gardening Tips

Welcome to the start of the growing year, when seeds can be sown, potatoes prepared by chitting and the first flowers: daffodils, snowdrops, primroses, winter aconites and pulmonarias show some colour.

February involves pruning many late flowering shrubs to encourage new flowering shoots, for example:

A useful tip for Wisteria – 7 &2.  In the 7th month prune back new growth to 7 buds and in the 2nd month (now) prune these shoots back to 2 buds; you can also cut out some tangled old wood.

Winter jasmine can be cut back after flowers have fade to 5cm/2” from a main stem.

Late-flowering clematis can be cut down to a strong pair of buds about 30cm/12” from the ground. This will stimulate the new growth that bears the flowers.

Hydrangeas: leave mophead hydrangeas until March before dead-heading, they flower on last year’s growth, but prune Hydrangea paniculata to an open framework now because they flower on current season’s growth.

Bush roses can be encouraged by pruning back to outward facing buds late in the month

Fuchsias should be cut hard back to 15cm/6” and Santolina and Lavatera to low, well-placed branches

After pruning, a top-dressing of compost or general fertiliser should be applied.

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January Hints and Tips

Cyclamen

Reasons to be Cheerful

The shortest day has been and gone and the daily period of light has, almost imperceptibly, increased.  The infra-red wavelengths penetrate the soil and activate enzymes, via chemicals called phytochromes, that start seeds and dormant plants growing.

Witch hazel, Sarcococca, Daphne odora and Mahonia are just some of the scented flowers you can enjoy now.  Wintergreen ferns give a wonderful textured foliage effect in sheltered shady spots, so do the leaves of Cyclamen hederafolia and Pulmonaria.  Cyclamen coum flowers in early spring and combines well with winter aconites or snowdrops. (The peak flowering time for most snowdrops is February, but varieties like Galanthus elwessii, G.nivalis and G.woronowii are earlier.)

Jobs to do

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December Gardening Tips

Most leaves of deciduous trees have fallen by now and you tidy gardeners will have swept them up and started the leaf mould process – you cannot buy leaf mould.  Beech hedges will retain their dead leaves until Spring.  Oak trees will continue to lose leaves and you can watch as ‘herds’ of leaves skitter like mice along paths to hide in corners throughout the Winter.

This is the time of year when structure in the garden is important.  Deciduous trees and shrubs present skeletons of branches; you can improve their appearance by pruning out crossing or crowded branches.  If they are providing too much shade, then perhaps you could lift the canopy.

All that hard work in the summer clipping evergreen shrubs and hedges into shape can be appreciated now; the crisp green outlines you created look wonderful all the way to Spring

Not all colour has gone: stems of dogwoods, willows and some maples are colourful both outside, and as part of your Christmas decorations indoors.  (Something I found worked well, in Spring, when you have to cut back dogwoods to get new colourful shoots, use the old shoots as decorative plant supports.)

Birch bark can light up the winter garden on dark days. Some varieties are better than others. Betula albo-sinensis has orange bark, B.papyrifera has white bark that peels off in strips.

Mahonia, Hellebores, Daphne and Viburnum are good shrubs for winter colour and often scent.  The very early Iris unguicularis  (stilosa) flowers in the dead of winter, clear blue flowers that you can cut and admire in a vase.

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November Hints and Tips

After this year’s vagaries of temperature and rainfall, plants have become confused and some are flowering now when they should flower in spring; e.g. the apple blossom at RHS Wisley (not to mention witch hazel and irises in my garden).

It is now worth considering the plants that have thrived or suffered this year and replant accordingly.  This trend may well continue.

At this time of year, the fruiting bodies of fungi (toadstools) are visible.  It is worth remembering that leaves are broken down mainly by fungi, liberating nutrients.  The vast network of tiny tubes (the mycelium) from which the toadstools arise is of great importance to the health of trees and shrubs.  They live in a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots, increasing surface area for the uptake of water and nutrients.  More is being discovered all the time.

If you buy bare-rooted plants to plant now (cheaper than the potted version), apply mycorrhizal fungi when you plant, to give them a strong start.

Jobs to do

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Hints and Tips for October 2020

Potential bird food?

October will probably bring the first frosts and they will precipitate colour change, leaf fall and the sound of blowers that will reverberate in the neighbourhood!  So long as the leaves are disease-free, they can be collected, and will decay to form leaf mould.  Your heap of dead leaves may make a home for hedgehogs, slow-worms and many invertebrates over winter.

Tender plants like Fuchsia, citrus and Brugmansia should be moved indoors or under glass.  Cannas, gladioli, tuberous begonias and dahlias need to be lifted and their tubers/bulbs stored somewhere dry and frost-free.  Salvias can be protected outside with a thick layer of mulch; Penstemmons and Gaura survive better if you leave their stems in place to protect new growth until late spring.

Potatoes, beetroots and turnips can be damaged by frost, but can be harvested and stored indoors (dark and dry).  Pumpkins and squashes need a few days in a warm room to ‘cure’ before storage.

Herbaceous borders need to be reviewed… Cut down old foliage, unless it provides useful seeds or protection for wildlife; divide overcrowded plants, retaining the outside vigorous parts and replant in enriched soil.  Crocosmias, particularly need to be divided every 3 years because, as I have found, their flowering is much diminished if you don’t!  (Cut down the leaves, dig up the whole clump, and replace the fattest corms in improved soil).

By the way, rhubarb that has been in place for five years, needs to be treated in much the same way, retaining the outermost parts to grow on.

Spare plants could contribute to the plant sale during Crondall Open Gardens 2020.

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September gardening advice

Autumn is early here this year.  Leaves dropping, berries ripening and apples ready to pick in August.  Although the apple crop is heavy this year, potatoes, beans and sweetcorn have not flourished for me in dry, hot, wet, cool fluctuating conditions.

There are still the asters, chrysanthemums and Hederanthas (Schizostolis) to come into their own in September and October, I hope, but the late summer perennials like phlox and crocosmia are giving up.

 

Here are some jobs you could do:

Harvest: Onions, main crop potatoes, sweetcorn, pumpkins and squashes. Apples and pears will mostly have been picked at the end of August this year. All apart from sweetcorn can be stored in a dark dry place. Sweetcorn cobs freeze well.

Autumn fruiting raspberries and beans will continue to need picking or they will stop producing more.

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Tips for July and August

Tips for July and August 2020, writes Elizabeth Kirton :

All that planning and preparation is worth it in July and August.  Now you can harvest raspberries, currants, gooseberries and freeze any surplus to cheer up winter menus.  By the end of August, the apple and pear harvest can begin; these fruits can be stored on trays in newspaper.

Thanks to the heat and lack of rain in June, beans, peas and early potatoes have not thrived, but will be ready for harvest and the annual courgette glut is under way.

When garlic leaves turn yellow, lift the bulbs and dry in a single layer in a dry place.

Sow seeds for autumn and winter salads.

Erigeron
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This is a popular plant with bees – Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’

Clip, snip and cut

  • Early summer flowering shrubs like Philadelphus: cut back flowered stems to a strong lower shoot and remove one fifth of the old woody stems.
  • Clip privet, box, yew, cypress and other ‘hedgy’ plants now the birds have finished nesting in them.
  • Cut long whippy shoots of Wisteria to 5 leaves from the main stem.
  • Prune out flowered stems of rambling roses; thin out the vigorous new growth and tie it in.
  • Summer-prune cordon or espalier apples and pears
  • Cut non-flowering side branches of grape vines to 5 leaves and fruit- bearing branches to 2 leaves beyond the fruit bunch.
  • Cut back hardy geraniums to the ground after the first flush of flowers to get fresh foliage and more flowers later on.
  • Dead-heading keeps perennials and bedding plants flowering for longer.
  • In August, trim lavender, leaving an inch (2.5cm) of new growth

Propagate

  • Take semi-ripe cuttings from shrubs – use the current season’s growth, cut below a node, remove the soft tips and place in gritty compost.
  • Divide bearded irises and plant the young rhizomes 12inches(30cm) apart.
  • Use strawberry runners to supply new plants for next year
  • Collect seeds from perennials and hardy annuals as they ripen; store in paper envelopes (labelled!) in a cool dry place until spring

For your diary

Church Crookham Garden society has its annual show scheduled for 22nd August, but it is unlikely that we will be able to use the hall by then. We shall keep you informed.

Gardens open for charity

Some gardens are open; check their arrangements by visiting ngs.org.uk or rhs.org.uk

June gardening Tips

Bearded iris

Talk about blowing hot and cold, wet and dry! This Spring has been so changeable, that it has made planning crops or splitting clumps of perennials very difficult to do successfully.  The late frost caught my beans and potatoes, to my dismay.

In spite of last Summer’s drought, rhododendrons and azaleas have performed well in my garden.

There are still jobs that must be done in hope of kind weather continuing… here are some suggestions:

Ornamental garden

  • Gently remove spent flowers from Camellia, and rhododendrons to make room for the leaf buds emerging behind. You can also trim back overgrown shoots to make the shrubs more compact, next year’s flower buds will form on the new growth of side shoots that this stimulates.
  • Divide bearded irises after flowering; plant with the rhizomes facing south.
  • Sow biennials like sweet William, viola and wallflowers
  • Divide spring-flowering bulbs.
  • Remove spent flower heads of Euphorbia by cutting flowered stems to ground level. Wear gloves for this, the sap causes skin irritation.

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May gardening tips

A Late-May Border

27th April – 3rd  May is National Gardening Week

There is nothing more rewarding to most gardeners than to see healthy, vigorous plants in their garden. BUT there are some plants that thrive too well and start to ‘take over’.  In my garden, primroses have been a joy, but when they are seeding into the vegetable plot and into the lawn, they become weeds; similarly, Japanese anemones, the yellow flowered, variegated Lamium galeobdolon and even Camassia quamash can take over and squash less vigorous plants.  I even have Dutch irises and tulips which are proliferating to an embarrassing extent.  These all love a light, well-drained soil.

There is a perfect answer. Share and swap with other gardeners who may be populating a new garden or have less success.  Unfortunately, until the current pandemic has been resolved and social distancing relaxed, we cannot hold plant swaps at the trading shed on Saturdays.

Here are some jobs for you to consider in your splendid isolation!

Kitchen garden

  • Earth up potatoes when the foliage reaches 23cm/9in to prevent green tubers or, if frost is expected, cover smaller sprouts with soil for protection.
  • Sow carrots, radishes, beetroot, lettuce and spring onions for successional harvesting.
  • Harden off courgettes and squashes that were started under glass and protect with cloches or fleece if cold nights are forecast
  • Start to harvest asparagus spears
  • Direct sow French beans and sweet corn.

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