March Seasonal Tips

What a change in the weather last month ! Starting with the coldest for 7 years ( minus 7c ) and ending with the warmest ever ( plus 20.2c ). The recent glimpse of Summer lasting for few hours for a few days, came with overnight frosts on the anniversary of the Beast from the East last year. We’re back to more normal conditions at the start of this month but the garden could do with some rain.

Don’t be in a hurry to sow early season vegetables if the ground is wet and cold. This is the main time for sowing broad beans, brussels sprouts, leeks, onions, parsnips, early peas and turnips; also early potatoes and carrots under cloches. If you have germinated tomatoes and cucumbers in a heated greenhouse, pot them on.

Start tender fuchsias into growth. Plunge the pots into water and allow to drain then prune hard taking out weak shoots. Once new growth starts replace some of the compost and repot.

Sweet peas should be ready to plant out at the end of the month and into April. For exhibition you’ll need to train them singly up canes 2.4m x 30cms (8ft x 12″ins) apart. Tie in the strongest side shoot and remove the others. As the stems grow pinch out all the new side shoots, and all the tendrils and tie in alternate leaves so all the energy goes into the growing stem. Well worth the effort and you’ll get much larger blooms and stems.

Sow seeds of hardy perennials such as lupins, delphiniums and pinks. Now is the best time to divide and replant clumps of snowdrops if necessary and divide overgrown perennials. Tidy up overgrown climbers such as honeysuckle giving it a good trim even down to 2′  or 60cms. Prune established standard and bush roses and give them a feed.

Now is a good time to mulch borders with organic matter but keep it away from the bark of trees and shrubs. Watch out  for slugs and snails on new growth of perennials especially hostas. The cheapest way to remove them is to pick them off after dark by torchlight – far better than using pellets and if you do remember not to use those containing metaldehyde which is toxic to pets and birds and is banned from next year.

Metaldehyde slug pellets banned

An announcement from DEFRA has banned metaldehyde slug pellets from Spring 2020.  Metaldehyde poses an unacceptable risk to birds and mammals, its role in reducing hedgehog, amphibian and bird populations, poisoned by consuming contaminated slugs or pellets, has been well documented. It is also toxic to pets.

Although not a factor in the decision making, the ban will also stop farmers from creating widespread pollution of rivers and freshwaters with these toxic pellets. Only those using permanent greenhouses will be permitted to continue using metaldehyde pellets (where birds cannot easily venture).

If you have to resort to slug pellets use those that contain ferric phosphate which will degrade harmlessly in the soil.  Use them sparingly, only 4 or 5 pellets per plant, and only occasionally. Note however using this method means slugs will tend to go underground to die so there will be little evidence on the surface.

A number of alternative slug and snail barriers, from egg shells to hair, gypsum powder and copper tape are often suggested but only very wide and thick copper tape works. The thin products sold in garden centres doesn’t contain enough copper. A barrier of gypsum powder or chopped up young brambles also seems to do the job, but definitely not egg shells (unless you want to help snails make their own shells stronger by eating the egg shells, which might distract them from your plants).

Alternatively go hunting after dark using a torch to find them. Best of all, create a pond and encourage frogs and toads to do the eradication for you.

 

 

 

February Seasonal Tips

winter

After a month or two of relative quiet in the garden, jobs can now begin again in earnest and we can look forward to Spring not far away.

Buy your seed potatoes now and get them chitting in old egg boxes, especially the First Earlies which will be ready for planting around late March and harvesting in June. In light warm soils, first early potatoes can be planted at the end of February/early March. If there is a mild spell, broad beans can be sown now in open ground. It’s also a good time to plant shallots and garlic.

If not already done now is the time to prepare the ground ready for the onion bed – this can be in the same place for a number of years. A good way to plant the sets is through weed matting or quilt which is pegged down and which helps to keep the bed free of weeds.

Indoors, or in the greenhouse, early salad crops of lettuce and spring onion may be sown as well as indoor tomatoes, and radishes and carrots can be sown under cloches. Fuchsias which have been overwintered should be cut back hard and sprayed with water to encourage new growth.

Outside there’s work to be done in generally tidying up dead foliage, pruning late flowering clematis down to the lowest pair of buds; cut back previously pruned wisteria to two or three buds.When snowdrops have finished flowering it’s a good time to lift an divide the clumps and replant in smaller groups.

And…..

If you have not already done so

Sow sweet peas indoors or in the greenhouse, either singly in 5” root training tubes, or no more than 6 seeds to a 5” pot. Do not soak the seed and chipping is not necessary. Plant no more than 1/4” or 5mm deep in coarse multipurpose compost. Do not compact but water with a fine rose. Protect against mice and slugs. Once germination has taken place move the seedlings to a cold frame with as much light as possible to avoid them getting drawn and spindly. Also keep dry after the first watering until well established. Nip out the tips once 2 or 3 pairs of leaves have formed to encourage stronger side shoots and grow one of these on if you intend to exhibit the flowers.

 

From the Pumpkin Patch

The Summer Holidays are over but the veg garden is still going strong. This is my first attempt at growing pumpkins for Halloween and the weather must have been ideal this year. Planted the seeds back in June and when I cut the leaves back last week this is what I found! All that rain has resulted in some rapid growth. There are only two pumpkins but they are whoppers. They are a bit pale but hopefully now the leaves aren’t covering them they will start to turn a lovely orange. I’m not sure if they will grow any more but I will take my bathroom scales out and weigh them soon. I’ve put them on roof tiles so they won’t rot and put Panda there for scale!