Gardening In April… ‘Hip, Hip hooray, it’s time to play (in the Garden)’!

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April always puts a spring in my step, it’s all happening in the garden and I take every opportunity to spend time outside and in the greenhouse. It is a critical time of year when an early start preparing beds and borders, sowing early crops and keeping on top of weeds and pests will pay dividends later. Turn your back and the nasties will take advantage, greenfly can reproduce at an amazing rate and in just a few days they can spread especially in the greenhouse, gorging on all those emerging seedlings and tender new growth. Weeds too can suddenly appear emerging from a green haze of small seedlings into an army of plants that bully and compete for space with your prized plants, catch them early and you will reap the benefits later in the season.Spotting greenfly early is the key, look closely at the base of small shoots and you will see what looks like dandruff, small white specs, these are remnants of aphids shedding their skins as they develop. At this stage they may still be very small but it is the best time to treat them, at this time of year there are not many natural predators around so spraying now will not affect the good guys. I use products that either contain pyrethrum, naturally found in plants or fatty acids, like soap sprays, the latter destroy the protective coating on greenfly and cause them to dehydrate. These products are available from local garden centres and nurseries where staff should be able to advise you of the best products to use.
There are two main categories of weeds, annual which are fairly easy to control and perennial, usually with deep roots that are a little more challenging. In a new garden or one that has not been cultivated for a while perennial weeds can establish and even choke out annual weeds. Whilst there are chemical sprays you can use the best way is to dig them out by cultivating the soil. I find the best way is to dig over the area infested in late autumn, after removing all the top growth, then wait until a dry day in spring and fork through removing as many fleshy roots as possible. This may have to be repeated a couple of times before you plant anything permanently. By the second year the ground should be clean enough to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. Keep an eye out for seedling weeds and remove them when they are small before they establish themselves. With annual weeds it’s all about timing, what they do is grow up, flower and seed very quickly, in fact some species can grow flower seed and die in two or three months. The trick is to catch them before they flower, either removing them by hand or hoeing the surface of the soil to cut them down. Choose a dry preferably sunny day and do it early in the day if possible, the sun will soon shrivel and kill the seedlings, repeat this regularly every three to four weeks and you soon be on top of the problem. It is said that if you leave annuals to flower they will produce enough seed for seven years of weeds. If that doesn’t encourage you to catch them early I don’t know what would.
April is a busy time for continuing the sowings of vegetables and flowers for late colour, but don’t forget there are many annual herbs, such as Basil, Dill and Coriander that are invaluable in the kitchen and best used fresh from the garden. With perennial herbs, it is a good time to feed and mulch established plants such as sage and rosemary.
I grow mint in pots because it can be a nuisance if left to run around the garden. Every year I knock the plant out of the pot in April and remove clumps of newly emerging shoots with a healthy root system and repot them into new compost.
I usually use a 6 inch (15cm) pots and have three or four on the go at any one time. Feed them through the season with a general liquid fertilizer every three weeks.
If you grow strawberries it’s the perfect time to give them a helping hand, carefully removing all dead and damaged leaves, lightly fork around the plant with a hand fork, sprinkle a handful of general organic pellet fertilizer, and a mulch of well-rotted compost. Water in dry spells and stock up on ice cream!
It’s the start of the show season so don’t miss out, take a break from the garden and enjoy the seasonal celebrations and displays, The Harrogate Spring Flower Show runs from the 21st to the 24th April this year and is celebrating our rich heritage of Plants and People. With the theme ‘Botanica’ it promises to be a rich and varied mix of displays and activities to entice and advise, plants to add to your collection and advice to help you succeed throughout the forthcoming seasons. I will be there along with lots of gardening experts eagerly awaiting your questions and to share ideas.
Next Month, Don’t get caught out by late frosts, sow regular batches of salads and vegetables, check newly planted trees and shrubs.
Happy gardening,
Martin S Walker ‘A Yorkshire Gardener’
For all your gardening questions email;
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Q & A
This month’s question is from Gloria, she asks;
‘What should I do with my daffodils (Narcissus) after they have flowered, should I leave them in the ground or lift and store?’
This is a fantastic question and one that often frustrates the gardener. Bulbs planted in autumn or established colonies provide us with a cheery spring display as the garden begins to reawaken after its winter hibernation, but all too often after flowering they are either chopped down or tied up neatly into a knot of leaves.
My first question is how many other plants do you do this to? It is so unfair that these ‘heralds of spring’ should be treated in such a way given their struggle through the worst of the year’s weather to put on a display. Deciding whether to lift or leave for me depends on two things, how long they have been established and do I want the site to plant something in their place?
Like all plants after flowering, daffodils (Narcissus) need help to prepare for the next year. If you plan to leave the plants in situ then pinch of the flowers just below the green bulbous bit behind the flower (this is where the seeds develop). This will focus the plants efforts into building up the bulb rather than producing seed. Give them a dressing of general fertilizer, preferably a quick acting one ask at your local garden centre they may have one specifically for bulbs), if the soil is dry use a liquid fertilizer. If possible leave the leaves to die down naturally, although you will have to put up with a straggly clump of leaves. I guess this is what irritates most gardeners, but it is worth the patience. As the leaves turn yellow remove them by gently pulling, they should come away quite easily. If you are too impatient then generally the bulbs have built up sufficiently to produce a flower next year six weeks after flowering and the leaves can be removed. The key is to remove faded flowers and feed, don’t be tempted to tie the leaves in a knot this reduces the surface area of leaf that can feed the bulb.
If you need the space that you planted with daffodils for later season plants then the treatment is the same but instead of cutting the plants down six weeks after the flowers have faded, lift them carefully with a fork, removing as much soil as possible carefully spread them out on a large tray in the greenhouse, or if that is full of plants the garage or shed is fine. The leaves will slowly dry out and once they have they can be removed by gently rubbing the bulb in your hands. The leaves will come away easily, do not remove the papery scales on the bulb these are protecting the fleshy bit. The roots and any remaining soil can be gently rubbed off and the bulbs stored in a dry paper bag. It’s a good idea to make a note on your calendar or in your diary for the beginning of September to remember to re-plant them. You may find that some cultivars will not stand this treatment regularly and are best replanted somewhere in the garden where they can establish and grow naturally. If you have an area with established trees and shrubs or a lawn that you can leave until the bulbs have died down they will establish and should flower regularly.
I am often asked why a group of daffodils that were planted several years ago are not flowering any more. This can be due to a number of factors, congestion and overcrowding is when the bulbs have increased so successfully that they are squeezing each other and are unable to produce a flowering size bulb. The solution is to lift and divide clumps every four or five years. There is a pest that can cause bulbs not to flower and the clue is that not only are the bulbs not flowering but there are not many leaves either. Narcissus fly is often the cause, the adult lays eggs at the neck of the bulb in spring and the grubs burrow down into the centre of the bulb slowly eating the fleshy scales from the inside. Lifting the bulb and cutting in half will reveal either a large grub or a brown hollow centre. There is no chemical control and the best practice is to lift and dispose of affected bulbs. Avoid planting daffodils and related bulbs in the area for two or three years. Daffodils don’t suffer many pests but Narcissus fly can be a problem.
If you don’t want to cut your bulbs down after six weeks but need the space for spring planting then there is a trick I often use to help me move bulbs before they have died down. I use containers that are designed for pond plants; they have holes all around the sides and the bottom to allow pond plants to send their roots into the water. These containers are ideal for planting bulbs in the garden. I make up a compost using John Innes (any number, 1, 2 or 3) and good quality soilless compost at the ratio of 50/50. I add a couple of handfuls of horticultural grit to every bucketful and pot the bulbs into each container. Just leave a half inch (1.5cm) between the bulbs and set them so that you can put compost over the top equivalent to twice the depth of the bulb. I then plunge these pots into the borders where I want them to flower sinking the pot just below the surface of the soil. I also place a label or lollipop stick where I have planted them so that I don’t disturb them if I am working in the border throughout autumn and winter. Although this method is a little more expensive and takes a little more time it means that straight after flowering you can remove the flowers and carefully lift the container , moving it to a place in the garden where it can naturally die down, feed and water as explained above. Ideally the container should be plunged just below ground level to avoid drying out and late frost damage to the roots. An area in the vegetable garden reserved for late vegetable crops is ideal as by the time you need to plant the veg the bulbs can be lifted and prepared for next autumn just as you would lifted and dried bulbs.

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