DIG IT with Fulke Andel

Gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener

Full length portrait of a young agricultural worker digging with a shovel and looking at the camera isolated on white backgroundWell the high winds of April caused a few problems. I now have to re-felt the shed roof and find the owners of a number of council garden waste bags that have blown into the garden. The wet weather should now be behind us, but its legacy still lingers on in the lost plants and the quantity of pests that survived such a mild winter.

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.

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 danger of frost is past. Tubs can be planted up with summer bedding plants, borders towards the end of the month.

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.

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JOBS FOR THE MONTH OF MAY

Sow/Plant

-French beans -Runner beans -Beetroot -Broccoli and calabrese -Cabbage and cauliflowers -Chicory -Kale -Kohlrabi

-Peas -Turnips and swedes

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

-Lettuce and leaves such as rocket -Radishes -Spring onions

Sow under cover

-Sweetcorn -Courgette -Marrow -Pumpkin

Greenhouse / Poly-tunnel / windowsill

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

– Aubergine – Peppers (chilli and sweet) -Cucumber -Tomatoes

Plant Out

-Brussel sprouts -Summer cabbages -Celery -Celeriac -Leeks

Harvest

-Asparagus -Broad beans -Spring cabbage -Carrots -Cauliflower -Chard / perpetual spinach

-Early salad crops from the greenhouse border

Fruit

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.

General

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

Watch out for bargain plants in the garden centres. I picked up a load of hellebores at a knock down price last year. They’d finished flowering and were looking quite sad, but have provided a stunning display this year.

G.J. Southgate

Seasonal Recipe

The vegetable of the month has to be asparagus. Enjoying asparagus is all about simplicity:-

warm green asparagus with grated parmesan cheese

Prepare by washing and removing the lower woody part of the stem (with a sharp knife, tap lightly on the stem, starting at the bottom, when the knife cuts into the stem, cut through and discard the lower section)

Boil or steam as soon as you can after harvesting. It only needs a few minutes. And enjoy with butter, salt, black pepper and Parmesan cheese – Simple!

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