Spring is now firmly under way and brings with it the optimism of the year to come. Equinox is firmly behind us and the days are rapidly drawing out. It means our gardening to do list is on the increase, but with lockdown well underway here is a helpful to do list the things you can be doing this month to occupy yourself:
Don’t tie up the leaves of daffodils or cut them off. Allow the leaves to die back naturally. The plants need their leaves intact to store enough energy for next year’s flowering.
Deadhead daffodils by picking off the flower heads which are past their best. This prevents the plant from setting seed and instead diverts all the plant’s energies away from producing offspring to storing that energy in the bulb for next year’s flowering. This simple technique is said to improve the following year’s flowering.
If flowering this year was a bit weak or any of your daffodils were ‘blind’ (an expression for when the leaves appear, but no flowers are produced) consider lifting, dividing the clumps (if the clumps are particularly large) and replanting them. Thereafter feed them with tomato feed every week or two until they die back. Tomato feed is high in nutrients that promote strong flowering and this, together with dividing the clumps, should encourage a better show next year.
Make more of your Snowdrops
Planting snowdrops as dried bulbs in autumn has mixed results and everyone loves to make more of their favourite plants for free! A simple way to make more of your favourite snowdrops is to lift the clump after flowering, but whilst still in leaf (‘in the green’), divide it into smaller clumps and replant as desired around the garden. These new, smaller, clumps will quickly bulk up and increase your quota.
Plant other bulbs
Did you miss your chance to plant spring bulbs in September/October? Ordinarily at this time of year you might get a second chance by buying them in growth in pots in garden centres. With lockdown in full swing it is worth getting online to see what you can find. Stocks could be limited this spring. The unusually warm weather we experienced in the summer of 2018 had a detrimental effect on the bulb harvest and the dry summer of 2019 is unlikely to have been much better. I certainly found it very difficult last autumn to buy the bulbs I want for my clients often having to resort to alternatives, or going without entirely.
Spring lawn care
The last two summers have been pretty brutal to lawns. Here in the Charente and Vienne they are often fried to a crisp each summer. The autumnal rains and March showers have brought green back to the lawns, but they will always appreciate some help to keep them in tip top condition.
Scarify the lawn to remove all thatch, moss and any weeds you may already have selectively killed. This can be done by raking the lawn, or for larger areas by using a motorised scarifying machine.
Aerate the lawn, especially frequently walked areas that will be compacted. Insert your garden fork every 20 to 30 cms or so and lift the turf ever-so-slightly. If your lawn is plagued with moss, this will help to alleviate the problem. Alternatively, use an aerating machine to make your task much simpler.
Mow the lawn. Unlike other plants, grass grows from the base and produces more growth fro
m the base each time it is cut. It is an evolutionary adaptation to grazing. Regular mowing thickens the lawn, reducing the chances of weeds getting in between each individual plant.
If you are a bit late off the mark and this is the first cut of the year don’t be tempted to give the lawn a razor sharp cut right from the off. Start high and reduce down to your usual height progressively over the first few cuts in the coming weeks.
If anything it is my experience that people cut their lawns far too short. It is simply not realistic, or environmentally sensitive, for most of us to have a golf course quality lawn. Shorter lawns are also more vulnerable to weeds. A client I work for intentionally cuts his lawn on the highest setting and his remained green throughout much of the dry summer of 2018, and much of last summer too, proof that a longer lawn is more drought tolerant.
Reseed bare patches by breaking the surface of the bare patch with a rake and scattering the grass seed on top. Lightly walk the area to press the seed into firm contact with the soil. I find a light scattering of compost on top helps to disguise the seed from plucky birds and helps to keep the seed moist. Water the area with a fine spray or rose to avoid scattering or pooling the seed and avoid walking on it for several weeks. If cats are a problem, place a net or jute over the area to prevent them digging. Keep the seed moist and germination should occur within 2 weeks.
‘Top dress’ the lawn by brushing into the lawn surface a compost/sand mix. I find using a stiff bristled broom is much better than a rake. I have not seen top dressing sold in France ready mixed. If you don’t have sufficient compost on the heap at home, or it is not ready yet, next time you are doing your weekly/fortnightly shop grab some while you are at the supermarket to which you will need to add a washed sand. For ratio details see here. Top dressing should avoid the need to apply a chemical fertiliser.
All this scarifying and aerating of the lawn will make the lawn look like its gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson initially, but with top dressing it will bounce back and much stronger than before.
If you need help with lawn care, please get in touch here.
Get sowing the seeds you ordered over the winter. Now is the optimal time for most seeds.
Consider sowing your seeds in toilet rolls filled with compost; this avoids the need for using plastic and the cardboard itself is benign to the soil and the environment.
Sow multiple seeds in each toilet roll to improve your germination rate.
Place the seeds by an available window. Keep the compost moist and germination should occur quite rapidly this time of year.
Several weeks after germination pick out the weaker seedlings leaving the strongest in each roll to go on to mature.
Whilst early autumn is the optimal time to undertake planting, early Spring is the next best thing.
Early spring is also a good time to divide any perennials you wish to make more of, or which need division to rejuvenate. Make sure you water in well when replanting the divisions.
Plant of the month
Tulips begin to appear in April. An essential in the spring garden, tulips never fail to lift the spirits. When I first started gardening I was rather snooty about tulips, but over time I find myself becoming a little more adventurous in my selections, although never still quite enough to embrace some of the most exuberant of cultivars.
There are so many tulip cultivars that the choice on offer is seemingly endless. For elegance consider ‘White Triumphator’. Combine with the classic ‘Queen of the Night’ for a sultry combination. For something exotic go for Tulipa acuminata. For a bit of pop and zing go for the ever popular ‘Ballerina’, or for even more try species tulip T. sprengeri Trotter’s form. Personally, I really love the frills and burgundy colour of ‘Black Parrot’, which I find combines well with the lime flowers of Euphorbia characias, also still in flower at this time.
Designing and creating new plantings/updating existing areas of planting are my speciality and what I love doing the most. If you would like help with designing and planting your garden, please get in touch here.
Mulch, mulch, mulch!!!
Each spring, or after planting, ensure you always mulch areas of planting and never skimp. About 7 to 10 cms deep is about right. Compost, composted bark, leafmold, or manure make ideal organic soil mulches.
Mulching is a personal mantra, but nevertheless I always struggled to convince my UK clients of the value of mulching. I think they perhaps viewed it as a frivolous extra, as opposed to a gardening essential. Organic or inorganic mulching reduces weeding/makes weeding an easier task, improves soil water retention and drainage, and feeds soil organisms which in turn break down nutrients making them available to your plants.
Creating new plantings and updating existing areas of planting are my speciality and what I love doing the most. If you would like help with designing and planting your garden, please get in touch here.
In the Potager
Under usual circumstances your favourite fruit and veg would be coming to stores near you and village plant fetes would also be happening this month also. Although the garden centres are currently closed, and fetes outlawed, supermarkets have a basic selection that should see you through. As well as your ‘old faithfuls’, venture out of your comfort zone and get something you wouldn’t normally grow just for the variety and the challenge!
Remember that whilst most crops are hardy, crops such as sweetcorn, tomatoes and aubergines are tender and can be damaged by a frost. Leave the planting of these tender crops until May when the risk of overnight frost has passed. In the meantime make the most of the area you have set aside for them for a hardy quick growing crop, such as radish or rocket.