Dig it – Gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener

With Fulke Andel

Everything this year seems to be running late. The cold start to April I’m sure has knocked things back. The milder weather didn’t really start until the middle of the month, so now we can look forward to a spurt of growth as the warm weather establishes itself.

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 bacteri-al 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 Vine Weevil Beetles (slow moving black beetles whose larvae feed vigorously on the roots of plants), 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, but plant 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 (such as liquid seaweed) 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.


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

Brussels 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, other-wise 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

Use broken canes of different diameters to make a bug hotel. With any luck, you’ll be helping increase the numbers of beneficial bugs in your garden. Just bundle them together, tie with string and push into a bush or hedge – anywhere where they won’t be disturbed’ J.C. Gowerton

Seasonal Recipe

If you’ve been lucky and protected your plants, you could be picking fresh peas by now. Delicious though they are, here’s a recipe for a spicy pea dish, great with roast lamb. Obviously, you can use frozen peas instead if you wish. To serve 2 people, you’ll need: 130g of podded peas, 25g of butter, 1tbsp of shredded ginger, 1 chopped green chilli (if you like it hot), 1 tsp of chilli powder, 1 tsp of garam masala, half tbsp. of lemon juice, plus some wedges to serve, salt to taste.

In a wok or a large frying pan, melt 1 tbsp butter and add the peas. Turn the heat to high and let the peas absorb the butter for about a minute. Remove the peas before they start popping. Return the wok to the stove and add the remaining butter, then add the shredded ginger and green chilli. After a couple of minutes, add the chilli powder and salt. Mix in the peas and garam masala, turn off the heat then add the lemon juice. Serve with lemon and a little more butter if you want to.

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