May Garden Tips

Garden Notes for May

There is so much preparation to be done in May that it is easy to get carried away and be tempted to plant out too early. Garden Centres love this, as you will almost always have to go back and buy replacements for the plants that have died from the unpredictable ground and air frosts that can strike at any time during May.

Many young plants that are being brought on in the greenhouse, and indeed, houseplants like orchids, enjoy misting with a fine water spray. I have found it difficult to use the hand pumped devices, often they have small reservoirs but now I have discovered that there are misting devices with battery powered pumps with a litre capacity and they are a really useful tool. Look out for them. I found mine in Dorking Lidl for £6.99.

One plant that can be put out, provided it is in a reasonably sheltered spot, is the outdoor flowering chrysanthemum. Possibly in this day of minimalism, stripped wood floors and stark furniture, the chrysanthemum may be regarded as being too gaudy. I love them. With care they reward you with so many beautiful flowers when everyone else is just going over. So plant these beauties now, make sure to plant them firmly and to make certain that the ball of soil rests at the bottom of the hole you have dug to put it in. Put a stake with each plant

Early Brussels sprouts can be planted out, and it is these that usually produce the best sprouts. Make sure to give them space, just under a metre (3′ in the old days), this way you will get a better crop. The space need not be wasted as you can inter-crop with early hearting cabbage, or early cauliflowers that will be harvested before the sprouts take up all the room.

Start hardening off all those bedding plants you have bought from the Plant Sale (11th May, 10 am in the Village Hall), by keeping them under a cold frame, or putting them out during the day and putting them back under shelter at night. Keep an eye out that are kept watered, it is easy for them to become dried out in patches, especially if there is a wind blowing. Equally, do not over water, which can be just as bad, if not worse!

May is the time to sow hardy biennials – such as Sweet William, Canterbury bells, and Wallflowers. Sowing runner beans and French beans at the start of the month under glass gives them a good start and helps protect the young plant from the ravishes of slugs and snails. Don’t forget to sow the marrows and zuccini at the start of the month.

As alpine plants in the rock garden finish flowering, trim back the growth to keep the plants neat and compact. By doing this you will encourage them to make good growth for flowering next spring. In the same way flowering shrubs like philadelphus, deutzias and escallonias can be pruned as soon as their flowers fade to encourage new growth.

April Garden Tips

Garden Notes for April.

April is the time to get seeds going where you can give them a bit of warmth (for the chill evenings) and shelter. Sow tomatoes for outdoor growing; complete your sowings of half-hardy annuals (nicotiniana, mimulus, and antirrhinum for example).

Complete sowings of early potatoes. It is also time to sow celery for planting out in June (if you have been able to solve the problem of slugs!). A word of warning, metaldehyde (the blue slug pellets) are being banned in 2019 and will not be available from shops in future. Pellets based on ferric phosphate are an alternative. As always good hygiene, strong plants and a gardener’s eye to spot infestations are the best alternatives.

Keep up fortnightly sowings of lettuce in order to maintain a succession. Radishes can be sown. Soil should be pulled up on either side of broad beans to help keep them stable. Winter greens such as January King, Savoy cabbage and broccoli should all be sown from the middle of the month onwards.

As daffodil and other bulbs finish flowering remove the dead flowers as this prevents seed formation and diverts more energy into the growth of the bulbs.

If you want to grow exhibition size carrots, one tip is to drill the seed in small clumps along a given row with about 15 cm spacing. When the seedlings develop carefully pull out the excess and just leave a single plant to grow. That way they will grow long and straight without getting tangled in the roots of other carrots.

In the last week of April when the weather (hopefully) is warming up those of you with water gardens can start to plant up water lilies and other kinds of the hardier aquatic plants.

Do remember that early morning frosts are a real danger all through April and May, it is not until June, and even then it can be a bit dicey for the first week! that it is safe to put out any vulnerable plants – unless you can protect them at night.

Leave a can of water in the greenhouse to warm up before you water, this will reduce plants getting a shock from icy cold water. If you are sowing fine seeds (like nicotinia) – water the compost first. This avoids washing the seed deep into it.

Divide chives or mint if they are crowded (dispose of the roots carefully, they are invasive). You should finish planting main crop potatoes, and earth up any early growth. Frost is still a clear and present danger!

In unheated greenhouses sow Brussels sprouts, calabrese, summer cauliflower, kale and lettuce. In outdoor beds you can sow broad bean, beetroot, early carrots, chard, kohl rabi, parsnips, peas, radish, spinach, spring onion and turnips. Plant out onion sets. Peas can be started in a length of guttering in the greenhouse. When the seedlings are ready to go out, the compost will be held together by their roots and the whole row can then be slid into position.

March Garden Tips

Garden notes for March

March is the time when your garden will really start motoring, providing we have seasonal weather. So it is a busy time preparing for the coming months. Be warned though, don’t get too far ahead or your plants will pay the penalty.

Many vegetable crops can be sown this month. It is a good idea, if you can, to warm the ground up by using garden fleece or cloches. Other, more tender plants like tomatoes, sweet peppers, cucumbers, aubergines, and globe artichokes may be sown in a frost-free greenhouse. In addition all the useful herbs like parsley, chives, fennel and marjoram can be sown outdoors.

Early spring is the ideal time to plant and/or to divide herbaceous plants. In so doing you will help the older plant to rejuvenate itself and to give you a much better plant for the summer, as well as pleasing friends and neighbours with the spare plants you don’t want.

Start to water house plants, but only sparingly until they come into growth. Then start them with a weak soluble fertiliser.

Make sure you have had your garden machinery serviced and ready for use. When the weather is appropriate, start to mow the lawn. Set the blades on ‘high’ for the first few cuts. There will probably be excess moss in the lawn, so it is beneficial to get rid of it by using a scarifier as it will allow the grass to grow more vigorously.

Start leeks under glass for pricking out and transplanting at the end of the month
Salad crops such as lettuce can be started for transplanting once they have established themselves. Put them into the soil that you have warmed up under cloches or fleece.

Pansies and violas can be sown now for a show later in the summer.

You should get your seed potatoes ‘chitted’, by putting them in egg trays in a frost free place and exposing them to light to get the first shoots greened up. If you are daring, plant early varieties of potato but be sure to keep an eye out for frost warnings and cover any leaf shoots before the frost comes down.

February Garden Tips

Garden Notes for February.


If you have the time, it is worth warming the soil early in the season using horticultural fleece as a protective and warming barrier.  In this way any seedbeds that have been protected under cloches or garden fleece can be started to be sown with hardy vegetables such as parsnips.  You can also start to consider sowing some early cabbage and Brussels sprouts.  Divide and replant chives towards the end of the month.


Remember to keep your garden furniture in good shape for the coming season.  If you can bring them inside to dry off, and then lightly sand down items made from natural sources.  Then apply a mix of equal parts turpentine and linseed oil (raw, not the cooked type).  Apply at least two good coats of this mixture.


Towards the end of the month dogwoods that have the lovely wood stems in brilliant reds and yellows should be coppiced, to encourage new growth for the next winter show.  Usually I am cautious and only cut about one-third to one half, but if you are brave, have a go and do the whole bush.


As the buds on the gooseberry bushes begin to swell, they will become ever more attractive to bullfinches and other birds, so give them some protection.  Ideally, they should be protected by a fruit cage.  Alternatively use the old trick of straining black cotton thread from branch to branch over the bushes.


If you sow sweet peas in mid-February (in a greenhouse) they will produce plants to flower later in the summer.  It is worth the money to have ‘Root trainers’ (or the equivalent) with a good depth so that the roots can develop strongly before planting out later.


Purple Buddleia davidii should be pruned towards the end of the month.  You will be well rewarded provided you prune quite severely, but always leave at least 3 or 4 buds for the fresh growth, in case there are late frosts.


Keep an eye out for slug and snail damage on emerging plants, as this will cause severe damage. Use appropriate control measures.


Early onion seedlings raised under glass should be pricked off into boxes, 5cm apart each way to give them the best opportunity to develop before being planted out.  Towards the end of the month it is a good idea to divide and replant chives.


Restrain yourselves from watering pots and plants that you have overwintered, especially at the start of February.  Overwatering is a plant killer.  Towards the back end of February, when the plants start to show a little bit of growth, gradually start watering.  It is better to let the plants decide on how much, so if you can, put the water in a drip tray.  Avoid water from the top.

December Garden Tips

Garden work for December 2018

Flower garden

Monty Don who fronts the BBC2 ‘Gardener’s World’ programme has made many references to the benefits of having leaf-mould and the importance of gathering up the falling leaves from the lawn and borders. For those of us without an acre or two of garden the problem of storing leaves so that they can rot down over a period of anything up to three years is gaily passed over. One tip I have learnt is that leaves can be stored in the huge bags that builder’s merchants deliver sand, aggregate and other bulky material. They can be found all over the place since the container is non-returnable. These bags can hold a large volume and if left to their own devices provide a good storage place.

Deciduous trees and shrubs can still be planted in December, during mild weather. Make sure that the soil round the roots is firmed to prevent winter gales rocking them before they have had a chance to establish themselves.

If you are given a flowering bulb such as hyacinths, daffodils or tulips at Christmas, they will probably have been forced to flower early. They will last well if they are kept in a room that is not too hot, and the soil is kept moist. Plant the bulbs out in the garden when the flowers have died. I have done this with hyacinths and get a lovely spring display, although it can take a couple of seasons for the bulbs to adjust to their new location and may not flower again until the following year, so be patient.

Protect hosta crowns from slug and snail damage, using your preferred method, whether it is by barrier (grit), natural pathogen control (biological control) or by more traditional methods. It is when the shoots are in their infancy that the slugs can do the most damage, so it is worthwhile to take preventative measures.



When picking Brussels sprouts keep the tops, and only use the best when all the sprouts have been harvested. Some of the winter broccoli may be starting to form their curds. Turn in the leaves to protect the curd from frost, and cut regularly as once they have reached their full development the curds soon begin to open and will spoil.

If you have root crops in the ground (such as carrots or parsnips), put some straw down before the frosts take too strong a hold. This will help stop the ground freezing and allow them to be lifted whatever the weather. Keep up good hygiene. You should try to clear crops that are past their best and start digging the ground, so long as it is workable.

It does help to know the soil pH in your garden. There are simple test kits available from garden centres. If the patch you are testing proves to be acidic (a pH that is lower than 7.0), then use lime where you intend to plant any of the brassica crops such as cabbages, cauliflower, or Brussel sprouts, this will reduce the chance of infection from club-root. It is recommended that you should take an average of three readings.