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Blog posts tagged with 'spring'

Spring has sprung

April is an interesting month. It is the real divider in the year between the warm South of the UK and the still cold Northern counties. You may not be aware but April 14th is First Cuckoo Day - the traditional first day of Summer in West Sussex. I am sure there are those in Scotland or Northumbria who would think this mad and will certainly not be celebrating, but there you go. You can’t homogenise the seasons to suit all. That said, the swallows have arrived back so it can’t be too bad!

Here in the South we have enjoyed warm days and clear nights but at 5am you may still notice the ever so delicate kiss of Jack Frost on the car window or on the grass. If you are unsure what this means to the garden, it represents a couple of things. The older generation will be busy putting down a ‘Spring’ mulch about now, because that is what they have always done. Don’t copy them. Break the cycle of mismanagement and learn the science. If you mulch now you are creating a layer of insulation – so effectively you are creating a refrigerated bed which will take longer to warm up. My tip is to put your elbow on the soil and if it feels warm (just like you would  a baby’s bath water), mulch. If not, leave it. Wait until the soil feels warm, water it, then add a mulch. Your plants will love you more and so will the worms.

The cool night-time temps also mean that the delicate plants should not yet be put outside to ‘harden off’. Some tender plants such as the orchid Cymbidium may need a cool night or two to help propel it into flowering, but if there is any sign of a heavy frost repair them back the glasshouse quick smart! If you are looking at planting out your French beans hold off for a just a few more weeks. Whilst talking of veg, don’t forget, successional planting will create a succession of vegetables throughout the year. For example Broad beans planted now, again in a month and then again in June will give you crops up until September if you are canny.

As an update to my exploits with the Town and Country Charnwood Boots, they are still going strong and still excellent. I have worn them at work on most days for the past 5 months and they really are excellent. Still waterproof. Still warm. Still doing the job they were designed for! I can honestly say, I am very pleased with them and will be ordering another pair.

This springs spectacular flowers

This year is going to be a great year for the early flowers! In Sussex the Camellias are spectacular, having had the benefit of no serious frosts for some weeks now. The forests and woods are also remarkable, with Wood Anemones, Crocus, Lesser Celandine, Cyclamen and Winter Aconite all blazing away before the trees come into leaf thus shading the floor in perpetual gloom.

The Azaleas and Rhododendrons are also just coming to the fore. I am told Bodnant Gardens is especially radiant this year and well worth a visit if you live near. But there other gardens with equal displays across the country.

If visiting inspires you to plan your own early flowering garden then make sure to try and copy what nature already does. Just looking at online catalogues will tell you that there are many to Rhododendrons to choose from, with many new hybrids being bred each year. Be advised, read the label well as some species can grow to 50ft high as well as across!

Once you have chosen it is best to think of how your plant grows naturally. Azaleas and for a start grow in shaded valleys high up in mountainous areas (5,000 to 10,000 feet) with a high annual rainfall. They also prefer a soil that is well mulched and high in leaf litter.

The plants are shallow rooted - almost epiphytes in fact -so they really don't do well in shallow or poor soil, therefore it is vital that they get adequate water and food. Of course it should never be forgotten that they are first and foremost ericaceous plants, so require an acid soil. According to the old books on Rhododendron care, the plants thrive best if put in a bed that is lower than the surrounding land. This means that any water will pool adequately to provide a similar environment to the wild lands of India and China, from where the originally came. (It also means you have the space to add a regular mulch of rotted leaf-litter.)

Another thing to consider is the surrounds. Rhododendrons live best in soils where they are not competing with larger, heavier plants that take all moisture, although the paradox here is they cannot tolerate the heat of the full summer sun. Basically a damp, shaded or semi-shaded spot surrounded and overhung by deciduous trees like birch or ash is ideal.

Pruning is pretty simple once the plant is established. Always do it just after flowering has finished. This gives them the time to create new growth over the summer to hold next year’s flower buds. They are pretty disease resistant, although there are a few new fungi to look out for. Just keep them fed and mulched and they should be happy.

Spring - playing catch up!

 

Believe it or not Spring is just around the corner. In Sussex the earliest date recorded to celebrate this most vibrant of months is Feb 22nd, but I have researched the history of the seasons and find the Celts used to celebrate Feb 1st as the first day of Spring.  If you want to know more about our seasonal year, you can go to http://guydeakinsgardening.com/blog/seasons/  for more info.

All that said, we are not quite there yet and there is much to do! As I always say to my clients, we have 12 months in a year, 4 months of that you can actually get things done in the garden with no issue. The rest of the year you are playing catch up. (With this mild winter in Sussex, I am still playing catch up).

At this time of year, I always try to clean the greenhouse from top to bottom. A power washer set on wide spray is ideal for the task of cleaning the glass, however, many of you will have a glasshouse on the allotment so this is sometimes impractical. The best method therefore is to buy a soft broom and a large bucket. If you are organic, fill the bucket with a safe mix of water, detergent and malt vinegar and scrub away – remembering to wear some waterproofs and a face mask as you will undoubtedly get wet. If you don’t follow organic codes, you can also use a single mix of Jeyes fluid or biocide and water.  Remember : Always read the label when using chemicals.

Once the glass has been done, turn your attention to the rest of the area. If you have a hard floor, scrub this. If you have bare soil, turn the soil, adding a slow release fertilizer such as Vitax Q4 and a small amount of slug bait, or set some beer traps. Now your beds are ready for the addition of fresh compost and plants when the air warms sufficiently.

If you like to reuse pots, now is the time to soak them, using the water mixture in the large bucket you used for the glass. Once they have been soaked, use a small stiff hand brush to scrub off any residual dirt or plant material.  Use the same process to clean your spades, forks and any other tool you have been using recently to dig over the wet ground to aerate it. If they have wooden handles a small amount of wood oil, rubbed in with a cloth will not do any harm and extend the life of your prized possession.

Now to your secateurs and other cutting implements. If you have neoprene gloves or similar, put them on. Carefully take the secateurs apart using a screwdriver or spanner, making note of how it went together. Using an old toothbrush, carefully clean the surface of the blades and gently scrub any areas where dirt or plant material could collect (this includes the bolts and springs). If you have a sharpening stone, now is the time to hone the edge to perfection then using a soft cloth, wipe a small amount of oil onto the whole blade. When you are satisfied the tool is clean and primed, put it back together and oil the joint.

If you have machinery, I always try to service mine in November, but if you have not had the chance for whatever reason, then now is the time to get them down to the local mechanic – before the mad rush at Easter fills their books out for weeks! 

Be weather wise!
 
If we are lucky, we have warmth in the day, but the nights can still be cold. As our ancestors recognised, it is a month that can easily turn back into winter. If I look at the past few weeks, the day temps have been up in the high teens, but the nights have been down almost to zero on some occasions. If you recognise that this is quite a large margin of difference, then you will realise just how remarkable plants are. Then you have the rain, hail and frosts to contend with too.
 
All this proves that the soil is still not very warm - hence the old custom of putting your bare elbow or perhaps your bare bottom on the soil, to see if it is ready for some of the more delicate plants. Some plants like Cymbidium orchids need a few cold days to help them flower, but a frost is definitely a no-no.
 
I am quite often frustrated by the weather news on the TV or internet as it is massively generalized to cover several hundred square miles - although I must admit they have got better in recent years. Once, in the middle of the last decade, whilst living in Norfolk, the weather girl reported it was going to be a lovely dry night, yet outside my window some 20 miles from her studio, the rain was hammering down. Did I see a hint of embarrassment on the poor girls face? In those days, my obsessive temperament noted they had only got it accurate on 15 days in the entire year. Which is better than a soothsayer I suppose.
 
But of course for you at home, there are ways of telling if the air and soil is warm enough and what the weather may bring for yourself. Buy a weather station. With a glance you can tell if the air has been chilled to uncomfortable levels overnight whilst you were tucked up in bed with Gardeners World. You can also have an inkling of what the weather is threatening to do with a barometer as your guide. If you are like me and become lost in the green world, a clock will help you realise supper was 2 hrs ago and perhaps the kids need feeding at some point.
 

 

In truth the UK has a fantastic array of weather and micro-climates from the abhorrently wet, to the surprisingly dry. Do yourself and your plants a favour and get a bit scientific.
Blackthorn Winter
 
Well, we are at the end of the blackthorn winter. If you are not sure what the blackthorn winter is, I shall endeavour to educate. In old country lore, there is a plant called the blackthorn, or if you prefer scientifically it is the Prunus spinosa. Anyway, it is said, when in flower, there is always a second winter. If you are unsure of what you are looking for, it is the bush with the horrendous thorns, the beautiful white cherry-like blossom and the incredibly tart fruit known as a sloe.  So now you know.

 

I must say, before the cold weather set in, I was enjoying the display of Magnolia flower. Many of you may be interested to know it is the very first example of an insect attracting flower, so thus it is the oldest flower design discovered in the fossil record.

 

In the garden, you may just about get away with still planting bare-rooted shrubs such as roses and raspberries, provided you give them a copious amount of food and a healthy watering.

 

Now is the time to prune some of the winter flowering plants such as Jasminum nudiflorum, Viburnum x bodnantense, Viburnum farreri and Viburnum Fragrans which should be at the end of their flowering. This early clip will allow them to grow new shoots for next year’s display, without the plant growing beyond the size you want.  This is quite an important tip for all those gardeners who want to know proper husbandry. Don’t just prune in summer or autumn randomly – try to prune the right plant at the right time, to improve the life of the plant and to improve flowering.

 

Another key plant that is in flower now is the Camellia.  All that flowering is going to leave it a little short on food, so now is the time to give it a good boost with azalea food. This will not only help it for this year, but also next. Remember, prune a Camellia just after it has flowered to give it a chance to grow next year’s buds.
TOWN & COUNTRY WELLIES RATED ALONGSIDE HUNTER AND LE CHAMEAU
Sales of wellies have soared in the last few months and if, like many, you are bewildered by the choice and the price tags on display - ranging from £10 for a basic boot to upwards of £300 for a designer brand, we have some good news for you.  You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a decent quality, good looking pair that will see you through the wet weather. 
 
In a recent tried and tested review undertaken by the Daily Mail, Town & Country’s Premium Wellington – at just £45.99 – were rated on a par with Hunter (£95) and Le Chameau (£340) – with all three scoring an impressive 7/10. 

 

Town & Country’s high quality, British designed boots are hand crafted from natural rubber and designed with style and comfort in mind.  They have a contoured leg and side-fastening buckle to give an extra snug fit, and a soft lining which makes for the ultimate in comfort.  A high grip tread pattern will ensure feet remain firmly on the ground.  They are available in three colours - dark green in sizes 4-11(37-45); navy in sizes 3-12 (36-46) and raspberry in sizes 3-8 (36-42).  The full range of Town & Country footwear can be seen at www.townandco.com
Can I speak honestly?
With all this wet weather we have had I have never been so glad to have a sturdy and trustworthy pair of wellies. If you are after the very basic but practical or like to have a little more comfort, Town and Country have yet to let me down. I can’t remember another winter where I have virtually stayed in my boots and they have certainly come in handy!
 
 
 
A major chore this year has been to clean out all the drainage gullies on the large gardens and estates I look after so my feet were in contact with water for most of December and January. Thankfully, I remained warm and dry throughout.
 
To be honest and I am sure you know by now, there isn’t anywhere left for the rainwater to go, as the rivers are full and the ground is full (and hopefully the reservoirs too.) So what to do in the garden?
 
The best course of action now is to stay clear of the lawn altogether. If it was spiked in January as suggested, all you can do now is watch and wait. There is nothing else for it.
 
As for other jobs, we are in an interesting position. Apple trees need pruning in order to stop becoming biennial with fruiting. However, the level of stress they are under at the moment, I hesitate to do anything which may add disease to the mix as fungus loves this kind of weather.  A fork amongst the roots with some dry compost and sand may help aerate and alleviate issues. The same can be done with all your shrubs.
 

 

I would suggest a little known law is quite important to remember now. Any large tree or shrubs that are within ten feet of public access or your garden boundary is now, more than ever in need of inspection as it is your responsibility to make sure it is safe. The wind and rain will have seriously weakened root systems. Given that you are responsible for the safety of others near your tree, this I would suggest is of utmost importance as you may not like the surprise of a hefty insurance bill if something were to happen. A general walk-by inspection is required every year to look for any damage or danger, but once every five years it is suggested  a professional undertakes a survey.
 
Ants in your lawn

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


Understanding Spring Grass

 

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

Round the Garden in Spring


Spring is finally here, shrubs and trees are in bud and all my bulbs are starting to bloom. This month I have cleared up herbaceous rubbish, burnt woody cuttings and put the resultant (cooled!) ashes around my fruit trees and roses. Last month I planted bare root plants and a couple of trees, so had to make sure all were well watered, firmed in and staked against the roaring March weather. My children have planted sunflower, salad and herb seeds in pots (these sprout quite quickly so are good for the kids) and whilst occupied, enabled me to have a last good prune, aerating shrubs. Evergreen plants are entering their dormant phase so its ok to prune them now. If the morning frosts are over, risk planting out perennials and other herbaceous plants. Fill out your gaps with medium height plants, leaving room for them to stretch and flourish and loll over walls and pathways.

If you’ve got the space, why not start making your own compost bin / heap? Put in peelings, newspapers, cuttings and cover with an old curtain / polythene sheet. You can buy compost bins or wormery from Garden Centres, Hardware Shops and many DIY stores or build a rectangular box, split down the middle out of slatted timber. Try not to put too much woody stuff as this won’t compost (decompose) down. Do not put anything cooked or egg shells into your compost, unless you want to help increase the rat population.

A good tip this time of year is to look at all the bulbs varieties around in flower and make a note of the names of ones you like so you know what to order in the Autumn.

-- Rob Amey