“What a difference a month makes”!!!
Last time I was writing one of these articles, there was snow on the ground and my garden was a quagmire. Now the weather is convincingly summer-like and, about time too, most of the mud has dried. I hope that these extremes balance out, pretty soon, because it would be nice to have some sort of ‘normal’ spring, if only to get the garden back onto an even keel.
One practical consideration is that the large volume of water that has rained / snowed upon the soil, then percolated through, during early spring may have washed away all the nutrients which were thoughtfully added as part of your feeding / mulching operations.
Plants need nutrients to grow healthily and if you don’t supply them then they won’t fulfil their full growing and flowering potential. Also, strong growth is better able to fight off disease and pest attack which is vital in these more enlightened times when chemical control of such ‘nasties’ should only be relied upon as a last resort.
Many problems with established gardens can be put down to a failure to replace lost nutrients on a regular basis. As with many aspects of horticulture, it is the Science behind the Art which I feel is often left out of the ‘formula for the perfect garden’.
I understand that most folk just want to look out of their window, to gaze upon a beautiful ‘outside room’, without having to think back to their schooldays, battling with chemical formulae. For this reason, I’ll return to my mantra of simply ‘tickling in’ a few handfuls of general purpose fertiliser whenever you weed or mulch your borders.
Before continuing on my ‘nutrients’ theme, I shall briefly return to my other ‘hobby horse’ topic : soil compaction. I have banged on before about my theory that many established plants fail to thrive for the simple reason that they are growing in soil that never gets forked or dug over. Just like us, plants require oxygen and it’s not only the leafy, above ground, portions that need it.
The roots also need to have access to air and, especially after waterlogging, if the soil becomes compacted it means that all the gaps in the soil structure, which would otherwise supply air to the living roots, get ‘squashed’ out. It is your job to rectify this by means of forking it over, where space allows, or just inserting the fork tines, as deeply as possible, and levering the fork back to lift the compacted soil. As the soil is physically lifted it will open up the structure, allowing air back in and allowing the plant roots to ‘breathe’.
Keeping off your beds and borders, especially when wet, helps to prevent soil compaction. I was always taught, and any sensitive gardener knows by instinct, that whenever you need to tread on the beds you should always have a border fork with you, to ‘lift out’ your footprints, as you retreat from the border. Whenever I’ve gardened for other people, who profess to caring for their gardens, I simply cannot understand how they can trample all over the beds and never give a thought for all the damage that their heavy-footedness is doing!
OK—back to ‘nutrition’ : all you really need to know is that chemicals containing nitrogen are necessary for the main sort of plant growth; leafy growth. If, like my favoured ‘fish, blood and bone’, you apply a general garden fertiliser, with a relatively low nitrogen content, then the actual application rate does not have to be too precise because, even if you are heavy-handed, it can’t do any harm.
Inorganic, chemical, fertilisers, such as those used widely in agriculture, are a different matter because they may contain high concentrations of nitrogenous compounds and are designed to be applied in precise amounts—hence they need to be applied by machinery which can accurately deliver the correct dosage for the crop / soil in question.
Domestic gardeners cannot easily apply inorganic fertilisers at the precise rate necessary. This is as good a reason as any to choose an ‘organic, balanced, slow-release’ fertiliser. It is the practise of using a nitrogenous fertiliser, as part of your gardening ‘regime’, which is important, rather than maximising the amount of nitrogen added.
If you can afford the extra expense, then utilising a chemical, inorganic, slow-release fertiliser in your beds and borders is the modern way of making sure that your plants are getting a balanced feed over the entire growing season. I tend to use this product in pots and containers, rather than in the ‘open’ soil, because that is where its clever, ‘conditions regulated’, nutrient release system is at its most valuable.
I have a ‘soft spot’ for these products, originally developed as ‘ICI Osmocote’, because I spent a ‘year out’, before my degree in Horticulture, at ‘ADAS Efford’, where the trials on this novel product were originally carried out. I remember acquiring pots and pots of azaleas and camellias, via the ‘staff sale’, which were grown using ‘Osmocote’ as part of the trials. I like to think that some of them, over thirty years later, are still gracing my parents’ then garden—although they would be huge specimens by now!
Now, with rising temperatures, weeds, pests and diseases also increase exponentially. Nip them in the bud so that they don’t get the upper hand. Natural control mechanisms tend to lag behind their pest and disease targets, so your timely intervention to remove them is vital. Weeds, of course, are not controlled by ‘friendly predators’ so physically removing them as soon as they germinate is critical; “one year’s seed is seven years weed” and all that.
Some more positive tasks to get on with include; hardening off tender plants, those that have been overwintered under cover, before moving to their permanent garden sites. More regular lawn mowing, at a shorter length, as conditions allow. Staking and ‘pea-sticking’ herbaceous borders now, if waterlogging kept you off the soil earlier in the year, so that they don’t collapse in a heap later in the year.
Even if you don’t have the luxury (hassle?) of owning your own garden then, at least, May yields a huge bounty of garden openings and flower shows. My days of religiously visiting ‘Chelsea Flower Show’ are, I think, over, but just a few minutes of research on the ‘www.’ yields an abundance of alternative horticultural attractions to visit and get inspired by during this blossoming time of year.