The Garden in Spring.
The Garden in Spring.
I realise I'm a few months too early starting with a photo of tulips in full bloom, this was taken on 30th April last year, but we need things to look forward to and this is a reminder of the joy that isn't too far off!
The 1st of March is the start of meteorological (try saying that fast!) spring and there is plenty happening in our gardens and the hedgerows to remind us that nature is waking up from its winter slumber. Not only can we celebrate the beginning of Spring this month but there are numerous Saint days, Holi the Hindu spring festival, Mothering Sunday, Pancake Day (definitely not one to be missed in this household!) and the best thing of all, the clocks go forward and we get more time to spend in the garden!
Not that it feels like we have had a proper winter to be honest, and I for one, am still expecting there to be some sort of cold snap! There are many who say a fair February will be followed by a chill, and we have all been battered and bruised by the dreadful storms too, so let's hope they, at least, are well and truly behind us, and we can begin to look forward.
Gardening in January and February.
During January and February there is always plenty to keep you occupied in the garden. We have both been getting our gardens ready for spring with thick layers of mulch to nourish the soil and hopefully keep most of the weeds at bay! I have been doing this for a few years now and its loosely based on the No Dig method, adding a layer of nourishment without disturbing the ground below and no digging it in. There are many benefits to your soil using this method and you can get loads of information about it from the champion of No Dig, Charles Dowding. His website is full of information, here is a link if you would like to know more. For the last two years I have ordered a big bulk bag from Plant Grow which has been perfect to cover all my beds.
The leaves that fell in Autumn have been cleared from paths and added to a leaf bin, but those that fell onto beds and gathered under hedges have been left for wildlife to find shelter and to rot down into the soil.
It’s a good time to cut back or trim deciduous hedges when they have lost their leaves so you can see if anyone (local bird population!) has taken up residence, you don’t want to be disturbing nest builders! I have done this in my front garden as one of the hedges was getting quite thick and too high. Taking it back and lowering the height has given that bit of the garden more space to breath, and I hope in the summer it will allow more light on to my cut flower beds.
It’s also a good time to plant bare root fruit trees and bushes, along with roses too. Vanessa has planted a Cherry and a Greengage in her back garden, along with replacing an apple that failed to thrive last year. Down at her allotment she added an early fruiting raspberry to go with the black currants, gooseberries and late raspberry she already had.
It’s not too late to split summer flowering perennials if you have a particularly large clump of something, or you want to move things about. In fact, they will benefit from being divided now and then. I have moved a rose that was in too shady a spot and moved a fern into its place. I also have plans to divide a Hosta that has been in a pot far too long and that will provide a few new plants I can dot around the garden.
My pot bound Hosta with a self seeded Marsh Orchid.
Dividing a plant isn’t as daunting as it seems and simply a case of digging them up and taking a garden fork or sharp spade to split into pieces. I know my Hosta will be a real challenge as it will be completely pot bound, it’s been in the pot for years. Once I have managed to get it our of the pot, I will probably have to take a saw to it! It will be perfectly fine though and probably very grateful. Here is a video from RHS Wisely and one of their gardeners splitting a perennial.
I’ve also started to tidy up and cut back any perennials that I left to overwinter. Things like Verbena Bonariensis get left for the birds to eat the seed heads, and the tall stems of Salvia and Lobelia left for a bit of structural interest. I also have a few grasses that are looking a bit straggly too so they will get a chop and probably split, I don’t want them taking over!
Hydrangea Little Lime in early summer and winter.
I always leave pruning my hydrangeas until now as the faded blooms from the previous year give the plant some frost protection. For the big mophead hydrangeas I remove the dead flower heads down to the first or second set of buds on the stem, depending how big it has got. For established plants, cutting out one or two of the oldest stems will encourage new growth and flowers. I also have a few paniculata varieties which I like to keep a certain size due to their location so these will get quite a good prune. Doing this actually gives me bigger blooms but the plant itself isn’t too big. If you have space and your hydrangea paniculata is in a large bed, you only need to cut back 30 to 50 percent of the stem.
Autumn sown seeds.
All the autumn sown seeds and corms have been monitored in the greenhouse over winter and have done very well. The sweet peas are branching in their pots (when they start to produce new stems off the main stem) which is a good sign and will happen naturally on Autumn sown sweet peas I have found. As they are growing in much cooler conditions in the greenhouse over winter, they grow slowly. Their root systems are stronger and the stems remain quite short initially. As they have light, and time, they aren’t growing upwards quickly to find light, so the plant can concentrate on getting strong and bushy. Unlike spring sown sweet peas, which have warmer conditions so it’s a race from the start! They often get tall and leggy quite quickly and need a bit of help to form those extra branches. This is when you pinch out the growing tip. This removes the growth hormone in the plant to be redirected from the tip, to side buds on the stem, making them branch out and get bushy. Giving you a more robust plant!
Young Sweet Pea plant branching along the main stem.
Last year I planted my sweet peas out at the end of March, so a bit longer to wait, but I will give them a weak feed over the coming weeks to keep them going until they go into the ground. I use an organic garden fertiliser from Green Future, and use half the amount I would usually use diluted in rain water.
I did Ammi, Larkspur and Snapdragons in autumn too. The Snaps aren’t doing well at all but I haven’t given up on them yet, they may come good with the extra light we now have and I might sow a few more…just in case!
Ranunculus. From going in the ground to harvesting.
Then there are the Ranunculas! They were put in the ground some weeks ago now and under a makeshift tunnel to protect them. Although ranunculas are a spring flower, they don’t like the frost, so I use horticultural fleece over tunnel hoops to keep them protected. I find this tunnel really handy as I don’t have room for one to be up all year round. I use it when I need it and it can be taken down very easily later on in the spring. I got it from Gardening Naturally. It was a bit of a challenge to keep intact during the storms however, I had visions of it taking off like something in The Wizard of Oz! It survived though, and now the ranunculas have had a few weeks to settle into their new home, they are beginning to put on new growth. I have written about growing ranunculas in a previous blog, you can find it HERE.
I also put some into big pots. My plan is to have them flowering in time to take to RHS Malvern Spring at the beginning of May. They are in the greenhouse and doing better than the ones outside. My job now, of course, will be to stop them growing too much so they flower too early, or not growing enough and still be in tight buds!! It’s a juggle and only time will tell…
When to get sowing seeds.
That is the million-dollar question! And to be honest, is entirely up to you.
As we have more daylight now, many see that as a sign to get sowing. It is still cold however so unless you have windowsills with lots of light or a heated greenhouse, it might be wise to wait a bit longer. I like to wait until its warm enough to put things in the greenhouse, so probably will wait until early April. But Vanessa has a nice warm, sunny room with wide windowsills and often starts her seeds a month earlier than mine.
In the past I HAVE started seeds early but ended up with trays of seedlings taking up windowsills and the kitchen table. They get leggy very quickly as they search for light (even on a sunny windowsill) and I get fed up of them cluttering up the place! So, this year I am waiting until later on, the days are longer and lighter and it’s getting warmer so better for the plants and better for you. You can sow them in the greenhouse or a little cold frame, I bought mine from Aldi a few years ago, and just let them get on with it. Then when they are big enough, plant them out where you want them to go!
There are exceptions to the rule of course…
Cobaea Scandens. Recently germinated and in flower.
In January I planted my Cobaea seeds and had them in the house. They take a while to get going and need the extra growing time, but as soon as they had germinated and were about 10cm tall, they went out to the greenhouse. As its much cooler in there, they will get a good root system before they start growing upwards!
Sweet peas can also be done early, I have done a few extra seeds for a bit of successional flowering, so when the Autumn sown ones are starting to slow down, the spring sown ones will be just getting going. You get a longer flowering period this way. I have also done a few more snapdargons, they like it to be cooler too. Both are in the greenhouse and will be left to just get on with it!
The other things that can be started in as early as February are veggies. Tomatoes, chillies, peppers and aubergines. They all need warmth to get going, a propagator or heat mat, and plenty light. You can start peas, lettuce and calendula now too. Here is a great video from Charles Dowding, an Introduction to Growing Seeds, which has some great information and advice.
So as we know, there is always lots to do in the Garden to keep us busy and at this time of year it’s that all-important preparation for great things to come!!
A final bit of advice… don’t panic! If you see lots of people already madly sowing seeds and you haven’t even bought any yet, there is still lots of time. And remember, its your growing season, so do it your way! The podcast by Sarah raven and Arthur Parkinson had a brilliant episode recently about sowing seeds. Arthur only has a small garden and no greenhouse, most of his plants are grown in pots. His advice, which he learnt from Sarah, is to not start sowing until you can go outside in your t-shirt. That way you know its warm enough and light enough! You can find the episode here.
As always, happy gardening!