DIG IT with Fulke Andel

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

Well it’s time to get motoring with preparing the vegetable garden for this year’s crops especially peas and beans. Runner beans are notoriously hungry plants so investing time and effort in thorough preparation can yield divid-ends. Prepare a trench around 1 foot deep and 2 feet wide, fork over the bottom and add a thick layer of compost with a sprinkling of chicken manure on top. Before refilling the trench add vertical lengths of plastic downpipe, 1 for every metre of the row. These can then be used to water the beans during dry periods, ensuring the bottom organic layer remains permanently moist – this encourages the roots to grow deep and helps limit the impact of dry weather.

Deadhead daffodils and narcissi giving them a liquid feed or sprinkling of bonemeal and then let them die down. Don’t cut off the leaves as they are necessary to replenish the bulb for next year. Keep deadheading spring bedding to keep it looking neat and encourage new flowers.

Continue with the spring cleaning. Hoe your borders, getting rid of weeds before they take hold – annual weeds such as bitter cress and groundsel are enough of a nightmare without allowing them to go forth and multiply by seeding.

Mulch away while you can still see what you are doing and before the herbaceous growth really takes off. Use your own garden compost or leaf mould, well rotted manure; the contents of out-of-date grow bags or ready-made soil conditioner.

As the soil warms up and things start to grow, add general purpose fertiliser before covering with mulch especially in borders, the fruit and vegetable patch and containers. If you have already mulched, draw it back (if possible), tease the soil a little, add fertiliser and replace the mulch.

While moving some bags of compost the other day, I discovered snail city underneath one of them. At least 30 of the little devils had over-wintered there. So now is the time 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, or nematodes. Drench the ground around hostas with liquid slug killer to exterminate slugs below the surface. 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.

Carry on lifting and dividing overgrown clumps of perennials and split polyanthus and primrose plants once they have finished flowering.

Plant hardier summer bulbs and unsprouted dahlia tubers (at least 4 inches deep in good, rich soil).

Sow hardy annuals such as nasturtium and calendula in drifts – clashing colours just don’t matter in a garden, but remember to plant taller plants behind shorter ones. Wait a while to plant cornflowers and larkspurs until the soil is warmer.

Sow sweet peas outdoors (soak the seeds over-night to improve germination) and plant out those raised under cover.

Feed your pots and containers and brighten them up with cheery primroses, violas, pots of spring bulbs and spring heathers. Packing them densely in single colours makes for a stunning display.

Summer bedding is now available in the centres as young plants for you to grow on – much easier than growing from seed or cuttings. Remember though, do not be beguiled by the odd warm day – frost will wreak havoc with these plants unless protected and slowly hardened off.




Peas and broad beans

Broccoli and radishes

Brussels sprouts





Rocket and lettuce

Sow under cover

French beans



Greenhouse / Poly-tunnel / windowsill



Outdoor cucumbers

Tomatoes (if you’ve not already done so)

Plant Out

Globe and Jerusalem


Onion and shallot sets





Early salad crops from the greenhouse border


Strawberries can be planted out now

Hand pollinate peaches and nectarines

Compost around the base of fruit trees


Prune established shrubs such as forsythia and ribes sanguineum

Camellias and rhododendrons can also be pruned hard

Apply a general fertilizer such as pelleted chicken manure to borders before mulching

Look out for the new supplies of herbaceous perennials in your local garden centres

Snap the seed heads off tulips and late daffodils as they finish flowering

Snowdrops can be divided now that they have finished flowering and before they die back for the year

Readers Tips

Nutrients need organic matter to hold them in the soil, otherwise they just leach away. So even spent compost can be valuable for your garden, just by mixing bone meal or other slow release fertilizer with it and using it as a mulch. M.T. Southgate

Seasonal Recipe – Steamed Chard

Chard should still be available in the shops, even though it comes into its own in the autumn. Here’s a simple way to prepare it. Separate the stems and leaves. Steam the stems for 4 or 5 mins, then add the leaves and steam for another 2 mins or so. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and chopped chilli to taste.

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