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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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GardeningMay in the Garden

May in the Garden

If you are not a seriously committed, plant obsessed, sort of gardener then May may be the first month that your garden actually gets any proper attention. Everything is in growth, most plants have produced new leaves or top growth, and there are generally enough warm, dry, days that you are likely to be tempted outdoors. The older I’ve got the more I’ve become a ‘fair weather’ gardener myself; double-digging, in freezing winter weather, loses its appeal once the bloom of youth has well and truly worn off.
One thing I’ve never been very keen on is the noise of powered garden machinery. Even the most basic garden tends to include an area of lawn unless it is so small that it is paved from fence to fence, and regular mowing is one gardening task that really is worth pursuing with religious fervour. Improvements in cordless technology mean that an electric lawnmower, without the danger of a trailing electric flex, is a real alternative to a petrol powered machine. Even if it weren’t for the perceived benefits of switching from fossil fuel to battery power, I’d still consider cordless machinery for the reduction in noise pollution alone.
Large lawns are still best served by petrol driven mowers, although I’m sure big, cordless, lawnmowers will become available / affordable in time. For example, petrol powered chainsaws are still the preferred option, for most gardeners, due to the limitations of price and performance of the, relatively new, cordless versions, but this will shift in time.
The best cordless chainsaws, from the leading manufacturers, are, I’m assured by those better acquainted with them than myself, just as competent as comparative petrol models. As with all new technology, until the economies of scale come into play, its relative extra expense will move closer to parity as the market ‘matures’ – it was always thus.
Back to more horticultural matters; it should soon be safe to plant out tender bedding plants once they have grown to a suitable size in frost-free conditions. It is still possible to have overnight frosts in May, even in the comparatively balmy south-west, so keep an eye on the weather forecast and have some horticultural fleece handy, to throw over any dubiously hardy plants, if temperatures take a tumble.
It’s very tempting to impulse buy packs of bedding plants when visiting garden centres, or on a trip to the supermarket, but it’s worth remembering that these may have been kept in protected conditions, up until being sold so they will benefit from a period of acclimatisation before being planted out. If they are very small plants then it might even be worth potting them into a pot the next size up, using fresh potting compost, and growing them on a bit, under glass or on a windowsill, before their final planting out.
Shrubs which flowered in the spring should be pruned, once their flowers have faded, using the ‘one in three’ method. This refers to the aim to remove one-third of the main stems of a mature shrub, every year, in order to maintain a good balance between vigour and flowering potential. Early flowering shrubs produce their blooms on shoots that grew in the previous year and it is these youngest shoots that have the best flowering potential.
This means that when pruning them it is the oldest one-third of shoots that should be cut out, after the initial removal of any damaged, weak or diseased material. Cut them right down to the ground, or as near to the base of the shrub that you can, so that new shoots arise from the base and not halfway up the plant. There is nothing worse, in my opinion than cutting the ends off old stems leaving unnatural, ugly, truncated limbs which then respond by producing a thicket of new growth at eye level. The aim, when tackling anything in the garden, is to achieve the desired result, managing nature, in such a way that your intervention is undetectable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; ‘ars est celare artem’.
If you’ve not done it already, I often fail to get mine installed in time, insert pea-sticks around floppy herbaceous plants early in the month because soon they’ll be too big to get the sticks in without damaging the plants. I love pea-sticks for their near invisibility which is a huge bonus compared with the completely unnatural appearance of those dreaded, green ‘plasticoated’, metal staking products which link together on a hook and eye principle. Pea-sticks can be woven together using their natural form which supports herbaceous perennials in a twiggy embrace. Those ugly metal stakes, especially when dressed up in a lurid green never seen in nature, tend to cause the herbaceous stems to appear trussed up, down below, yet dangerously unsupported up above.
As mentioned last month, but now even more likely to become a problem, pests are responding to warming temperatures by multiplying exponentially. I am glad to report that, compared to when I was training in horticulture thirty years ago, it is now the exception, rather than the rule, to reach for a chemical control when pests threaten damage. I can’t remember the last time I used a pesticide in the garden, with the exception of vine weevil killer in potted specimens, and this is mostly due to experience having taught me that pest damage is rarely so serious that it warrants chemical warfare. There are some pests which do require constant vigilance, lily beetle being a case in point, and if these seriously bother you then the ultimate solution is to plant something else which isn’t susceptible to that pest; sometimes life is too short to fight battles which you are never going to win—however unfair that may seem!
The good thing about May is that it is such a blooming marvellous month for floral exuberance, it’s no coincidence that the legendary ‘Chelsea Flower Show’ is held at this point of the year. Any gardening shortcoming is soon overshadowed by another tribe of plants hitting their stride. There is colour, striking foliage and intoxicating scent at every turn. With any luck, the threat of dangerously hot weather, with possible drought, has yet to occur so, with the exception of plants in containers which require regular watering, the garden as a whole is largely self-sustaining. If your own garden is just crazy paving, nothing wrong with that, it’s a great time to get out and about in other people’s gardens, so you get all of the ‘gain’ with none of the ‘pain’.

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