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Saturday, June 22, 2024
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GardeningMay in the Garden

May in the Garden

In a ‘normal’ year, if there is such a thing, I’d be hoping that by the time we reach May the risk of frost is practically zero—in the balmy south west at least. Given the number of proper frosty nights that we’ve had in April, much later than usual, I’m slightly ‘once bitten, twice shy’. Every year I try to warn gardeners not to plant out tender plants until ‘all chance of frost has gone’ but, especially given their early availability in garden centres and online, I know that the temptation to acquire lovely new plants, and getting them planted immediately, is hard to resist!
Apparently, if the news reports are to be believed, there has been a huge increase in the number of people gardening since the pandemic forced many folk to spend less time in an office and more time luxuriating in their own surroundings. I really hope that new, inexperienced, gardeners won’t have been put off by any failures that they may have suffered due to the run of frosty nights in April and that they will persevere with planting their gardens in the hope that May will deliver decent weather and warmer nights.
Things really are in full swing now—it seems a new plant is in flower every time you step outdoors. I love the abundance of the perennials which belong to the ‘edge of woodland’ tribe. These are often related to the kind of plants which make our hedge-banks and roadside verges look so wonderful at this time of year; Ajuga (bugle), Aquilegia (Columbine or ‘Granny’s Bonnets’), Lamium (Dead Nettle) and, of course, Geranium (hardy or perennial geraniums) to name but a few.
On the maintenance front keeping on top of things without being a martyr to the garden is a hard balancing act. If you managed to do a decent weed removal job in early spring, followed by a mulch, then you’ll be laughing. If, like me, you didn’t quite get around to doing it all then concentrate on the areas where you know weeds could get a foothold and try to keep them in check. Getting them out ‘roots and all’ is obviously the best thing but just pulling off the tops, every time they appear, is better than nothing. It will stop the weed from flowering, a good thing, and buys you some time until you can get in with the fork and dig it out properly.
Unfashionable though it is, the use of a non-persistent weedkiller, generally based on glyphosate, at this time of year is most effective because it relies on the treated weeds to be in active growth in order to work properly. If you want to use it in a very targeted way, the best option, then painting on your chosen weedkiller with a paintbrush, wearing gloves of course, allows you to kill weeds, such as dandelions, which might otherwise invade your ornamental beds and borders. Weeds with a long taproot are notoriously difficult to remove, by hand weeding alone, so having a chemical herbicide in your arsenal is practically essential to prevent your garden from becoming overly burdensome.
The same with pests; blitzing with pesticides is somewhat frowned upon these days but picking off caterpillars, and the like, as soon as you spot them helps control them until natural predators get into their stride. On tough shrubs blasting with a jet of water goes some way to removing aphids but is not recommended for precious herbaceous / bedding where a jet of water will do the plant more damage than the bug.
After weed control and pest control I suppose the third most timely gardening task is the feeding and maintenance of plants. If you have a lot of plants in pots and containers then, especially given the lengthy dry spell this April, then you’ll know that they rely on you to provide them with water and nutrients. Although I tend to use a slow release fertiliser, whenever I’m planting up a new display, it is important to remember that this initial feed will not last forever and top dressing with fresh compost, plus added slow-release granules, every spring is beneficial. Displays of showy, predominantly annual or tender perennial, plants will require liquid feeding at every other watering, or as directed by your chosen fertiliser brand, if they are to keep flowering for the whole of the growing season.
Trimming fast growing hedges, like privet and lonicera, every few weeks starting now, will keep them neat and dense. Cutting out the flowered stems from shrubs which bloomed in early spring, forsythia being the main culprit, allows them to produce strong new growth for flowering next year. Constant removal of old stems from all shrubs in the garden is the key to keeping them fit and healthy. The best time to do it, for any specimen, is as soon as the flowers have faded. Have a quick run around your garden, right now, to see whether your spring-flowering shrubs could benefit from this timely intervention—it’s one of those essential gardening tasks that’s easy to overlook until your shrub has become so overgrown that complete removal is your only option.
On the subject of ‘trimming’ and ‘constant maintenance’; the lawn will be in full growth by now. Regular mowing is the best way to keep it in fine fettle and, if you started mowing with at a higher cutting height, now your lawnmower can be returned to its regular height to deal with the more rapid growth. While growing actively you can use proprietary ‘weeds and feeds’ on the sward if you are seeking verdant perfection and your grass is being superseded by weedy interlopers. If you have acres of lawn then you might be willing to join the trend to allow certain areas to ‘go native’, i.e. treating it like a meadow, but this isn’t usually practical if your lawn is needed to carpet your ‘outside room’ or is required to act as a foil to your abundant borders.
As with so much in horticulture it’s a case of ‘horses for courses’—just do what makes you happy 🙂

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