I doubt many would want to be out and about in the current weather, but spare a moment to think on your plants. You may think that they will be loving all this rain, but understanding that a plant needs air as well as water, you a chance to stop the rot, before you have to expensive replacements. If you garden is well and truly sodden, now is the time to get out there and address some immediate issues.
The lawn is still growing, given the mild air currents, but it will be sitting wet – something it hates. If your garden is on anything but sand, its roots will be struggling to breath and you will need to slit or aerate the lawn. First sweep away all the debris that has collected. Then, grab a fork. Starting at a corner where you will not have to walk over it twice, insert the fork at a 45 degree angle and lift the turf slightly. It needn’t be by much, just enough to allow an air pocket. Remove the fork and repeat. The best method is to create a zig-zag of forked columns or rows across the lawn. Once you have done this, a light dressing of compost would be welcome. Try not to walk on the lawn for a week or so, to let it settle.
Alternatively, you could just use the special shoes or aerating machinery that is available, but given the amount of water that has fallen, and given snow is approaching, I am not sure this will suffice.
If there are any areas in your garden, where shrubs sit wet, try to fork the roots to give them air. Some trees even – such as the Southern Beech (Nothofagus spp.) – will rot quite quickly if in wet soil leaving you with a dead plant and an expensive headache to replace.
I was recently asked by a client how to get rid of ants in the lawn. I have to admit that this is a difficult subject to tackle. A plague of ants in the lawn can be uncomfortable at best and at worst will destroy the lawn by creating mounds of finely tilled earth that can kill the grass.
There are proprietary branded products on the market that are supposedly good at killing ants, but from experience they have no use in the lawn as the ants do not take them back to the nest, which is what needs to happen in order to stop this problem. An old wives tale states that boiling water poured onto the nest will do the trick, but to be honest if you want a scorched lawn and a more visible ant’s nest, then this is the path for you. The problem here is the nest will be deep underground so the trick is to upset the natural balance.
Personally, I have found that the best action is a multiple approach.
The first approach is to buy a besom or a Town and Country stiff brush and just brush the mounds away; making sure the soil is dry first of course. If the soil is wet, you get an ugly smear so best wait, or instead hose the mound away. The idea here is the ants do not like to be disturbed and you will give the local jays and robins some food into the bargain.
The second phase, given the British weather is usually damp, is to dress the nest with a mixture of Armillotox and water from a watering can (follow the instructions carefully). The scent will put the ants off the lawn altogether as they communicate by chemical smell, but this may take a summer of repeat treatment to work.
Finally, there is the ultimate solution. Buy borax powder from the hardware shop and mix it with a sugar solution, making sure it is not entirely dissolved. (A sugar solution is basically a cup of water mixed with two table spoons of sugar). Place the mixture next to the nests in a small open container. The worker ants will take the concoction deep into the nest and will unwittingly poison their sisters. If the sugar solution proves too hard, mix the borax with honey. Please be aware, when dealing with poisons, be sure to wear suitable clothing and to make sure it is safe from harming others - children and pets should be kept away from the areas.
If all goes well the ant problem will disappear never to return.
- Guy Deakins
Imagine if you will, that you are a perennial plant that is just in the early stages of waking up from a long winter slumber. Imagine, your leaves warming in the spring sunshine. The soil about your roots is slowly warming too, creating within you the need to grow. In these first weeks of warmth your growth is slow, deliberate almost - you don`t want to destroy your vital cells by going all out into growth only to be hit by a late hard frost.
Then imagine that you are not alone. Around you are millions of similar plants, all doing exactly the same, all competing with you for the limited resources that are available. Some of these plants are your exact species, some of them close relatives. But some other plants are different, nasty aggressive plants (like buttercups) or simply those that just like to fill the gaps left by the unfortunates that didn`t make the trials of life and some, (like snowdrops), appear and then disappear, not causing you any bother at all. Your roots find a small source of nutrient that the human who keeps on walking on you has kindly provided and your xylem goes into overdrive, sending sap and food into your leaf cells. It is great to be alive, despite the occasional haircut. For those of you who haven`t yet guessed; you are a grass plant. Perhaps an American Timothy grass, perhaps a Creeping Bent, it matters not. You have a function to perform and all that matters is that you grow well enough to carry out this task, which is of course to spread your pollen or rhizome, to perpetuate your race.
Now imagine that in these spring days, all you want to do is grow your leaves, which after all is how you make food, some of which you will use immediately and some you will set aside for next winter. Then some fool of a human comes along with a big metal rake and scrapes the living daylights out of you and the soil around you in order to remove the moss that is very kindly snuggling up to you, holding the mositure in the soil. Now, instead of growing your lovely leaves you have to spend the next few weeks regrowing your roots, in order that you don`t dry out in the rigours of summer.
The moral of this story? Don`t scarify the lawn in spring. If you truly want to rid the lawn of moss, which is perfectly acceptable in some cases, now is the time to consider a dressing of lawn sand. It can be bought from any of our wonderful garden centres and the instructions given are quite simple, offering your grass with the best opportunity at this time of year to grow, whilst ridding your lawn of your bugbear. However, a word of advice. Before you go and try any chemicals, always read the label - some are not pleasant on the skin or indeed if ingested. Also, make sure your `lawn` isn`t going to look a little bald once the moss has gone. (It is surprising how much moss can be in a lawn.) If however, after all I have said, you are intent on using the tined rake, wait until Autumn. The grass will love you better for it and have time to recover over the autumn months, if given a little bone meal root feed as way of recompense.
-- Guy Deakins
Hurry and you’ll miss it my young ants. Winter is almost at an end and the garden is starting to grow once again! The fruit trees and wisteria have been pruned, the pots, tools and garden shed should be spick and span. Early seeding like Lobelia, Lathyrus and Pelargonium should have been done long ago, and the beds should be in prime condition. You should also have thought perhaps, of what vegetables are to be grown this year and what perennials need to be divided imminently.
But in the reality of an armchair gardener - that oh so rare beast who never steps into the garden from October to Easter - what does the end of winter actually mean?
Well, it means from now on, you are playing catch up. All those small little winter jobs that needed to be done will have to wait until next winter.
The grass needs to be fed, first and foremost. Personally, I hate the chemical treatments which so readily burn lawns. A sprinkling of blood fish and bone, should instead be applied. Blood for the instant nitrogen kick, the fish for a longer lasting green and the bone for feeding the roots.
If you have moss, apply lawn sand now according to the instructions and no later than April 1st - but be aware you may be adding to the acidity of the soil. This can be addressed at a later date by adding a dressing of lime water or crushed chalk sprinkled in healthy amounts (brushed in). Do not scarify. At this time of year the grass needs a root system to grow healthily. If you scratch the soil now, you do nothing but make the grass grow roots instead of leaves, starve the plant of food and water and weaken an already struggling plant that is just waking up.
Give the lawn its first cut on a high setting once the feed has had a couple of days to settle in. The lawn could also do with a little de-compaction therapy. Get a sharp fork and walk over the areas most prone to walking damage; sinking the prongs into the areas and wiggling lightly to add air and drainage. Don’t worry if the lawn is left with noticeable holes. Brush in some compost. If it is a big lawn, buy a walk behind lawn aerator or a tow behind tool for the tractor. Please also note as we are in a drought and good honest drinking water is scarce, a lawn does not need to be watered constantly. I know we all like a nice green lawn all year round, but it can survive quite happily without water for about eight months. In fact I would go as far to say, if it is watered you will not encourage it to dig deep to find sustenance, making your lawn more prone to disease.
Also remember for the year ahead, if you cut a lawn too short, it does not stop it growing or mean you have to cut it less often. It merely makes the grass weaker, encourages weeds and moss and causes more headaches in the long run. If you'd like to spend hard earned money paying a gardener like me to re-turf or reseed, go ahead.
In short, a lawn has a complicated life and must be viewed with the eyes of a concerned naturalist. It is not simply a patch of green that takes the rough cutting treatment, but a group of individual plants all crammed together and all competing for the same food and water. Think on, Wise Grasshopper.
-- Guy Deakins