DIG IT – May

 with Fulke Andel


Gardening Advice for the NEW (and not so new) gardener

Crumbs, we’ve had a mild winter and a really warm start to the season. The runner bean ‘tubers’ I’ve been storing in the garage started sprouting back in January – the first time in over 30 years! The geraniums being stored next to them, burst into flower shortly afterwards. We could be in for a nice long summer then?!


As ever, you need to continue to wage war on slugs and snails. They love tulips and delicacies such as the delicious young shoots of delphiniums and the like. So use pet-friendly slug pellets, drench the ground around hostas with liquid slug killer to exterminate slugs below the surface, or invest in biological nematode control (this employs nematodes to deliver a slug-lethal bacterial infection) – all are available from your local garden centre. Keep an eye out for snails and pick them off….what you do with them is up to you. Birds are your friends here – flat stones artfully located are useful accessories for birds to practise their snail bashing techniques.

Last year I had tremendous problems with the local pigeon population pulling up my onion sets and any seedlings that dared to show their leaves above the soil. So I converted a small display stand that was heading to be recycled, into a bird scarer just by hanging old CDs on it (see picture).  It really works a treat! The CDs move in the slightest breeze and reflect sunlight in all directions, keeping the birds away.

Other unwelcome visitors on the move are lily beetles (bright red little darlings with black heads) or their yellow larvae, and the black-spotted green caterpillars of the gooseberry sawfly. These can strip the leaves from your gooseberry bushes in hours. Squash them or spray with chemicals suited for this application. No room for being squeamish with this lot!

Plant out cannas and dahlias when the danger of frost is past. Tubs can be planted up with summer bedding plants, borders towards the end of May.

If you want to grow your own spring bedding for next year, many common choices (including wallflowers, pansies, and Bellis perennis) need to be sown between now and July in order to flower next spring, as they are biennials. Winter bedding plants for the following winter can also be sown from now until July.

Divide clumps of herbaceous perennials that you want to propagate. Bamboos and clumps of bulbs or rhizomes can be divided in the same way. Cutting back clumps of spring-flowering perennials such as pulmonaria and doronicum can encourage a fresh flush of foliage.

Divide primula (primroses) after flowering, planting them in a nursery bed until they are ready for planting out again in the autumn, for a display the following spring.

Divide hostas as they come into growth. Spreading and trailing plants such as the annual lobularia (sweet alyssum), and the perennials alyssum and aubrieta, can become tatty and patchy. Trimming them back after flowering, encourages fresh growth and new flowers.

Apply a liquid fertiliser to spring bulbs after they have flowered, to encourage good flowering next year, and help prevent daffodil blindness.

Allow the foliage of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs to die down naturally.


French beans

Runner beans


Broccoli and calabrese

Cabbage and cauliflowers





    Turnips and swedes

You should sow your salad crops every few weeks to ensure continuity of supply:-

Lettuce and leaves such as rocket


Spring Onions

Sow under cover





Greenhouse / Poly-tunnel / windowsill

These now need to be planted into their final position (grow bags, pots or direct into the soil):-


Peppers (chilli and sweet)



Plant Out

Brussel sprouts

Summer cabbages






Broad beans

Spring cabbage



Chard / perpetual spinach

Early salad crops from the greenhouse border


This month it’s mainly a matter of ensuring that you get the crops, rather than the birds! A fruit cage is a big investment but very effective, otherwise use netting to keep the birds away.

Strawberries planted this year will perform better in subsequent years if you remove the flowers so they don’t set fruit in the first year but concentrate on building their strength for next.


Watch out for late frosts. Protect tender plants

Earth up potatoes, and promptly plant any still remaining

Plant out summer bedding at the end of the month

Collect rainwater and investigate ways to recycle water for irrigation

Regularly hoe off weeds

Open greenhouse vents and doors on warm days

Mow lawns weekly

Check for nesting birds before clipping hedges

Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs

Watch out for viburnum beetle and lily beetle grubs

Readers’ Tips

If the local cat population have decided to use your seed beds as a litter tray, here’s a simple way to deter them. Wearing stout gloves, cut lengths of brambles from a hedgerow, strip the leaves and lay over the seed bed at angles. Felix and friends will rapidly find a new location to use. NS: Llanedi

Seasonal Recipe

With both fresh garden peas and broad beans coming into season, here’s a recipe that makes the most of these fantastic flavours. You will need: around 500g of podded peas, 750g of podded beans, a couple of spring onions – sliced, 50g of butter, a few sprigs of mint and around 60mls of chicken stock.  Heat half the butter and fry onions until soft. Add beans and stir. Add stock and bring to the boil, cover and cook for 5 mins. Add peas and seasoning and cook for 5 mins until tender. Stir in mint and remaining butter.


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