Spring into life in garden, sunny days are here

As warmer days inch closer, make the most of that extra's hour daylight by sprucing up your garden
Spring into life in garden, sunny days are here

PLANT OF THE WEEK: Prunus ‘Shirotae’ , also known as the Japanese flowering cherry.

ALTHOUGH we wait anxiously for Spring to arrive each year, it seems to happen all of a sudden in spite of all of the anticipation.

It can be a bit ‘one step forwards and two steps back’ at this time of the year and we need to be aware of that, when planting outside particularly and sowing seeds.

The last week has seen the ground dry up and mean soil temperatures rise to a balmy 6.8-8.8 degrees celsius, which is about two degrees above normal for this time of the year. Air temperatures are about normal for this time of the year, between 7- 9.5 degrees celsius.

This may only be a temporary reprieve and temperatures may dip low again in the short term. It is, however, time to consider sowing seeds, being mindful that we are not out of the woods yet.

Horticultural fleece needs to be on standby to tuck in those vulnerable seedlings and tender plants at night. It is still a little early for direct sowing of most vegetables outdoors but if you have a polytunnel or glasshouse space, it is time to get cracking to take advantage of the protected environment and extend the season of growing.

Self seeded opium poppy among autumn planted onions
Self seeded opium poppy among autumn planted onions

Using a soil conditioner like home-made compost or seaweed is ideal to ensure that essential nutrients are added back into the soil, as growing vegetables does demand a lot of the soil on an annual basis. It is good to add these a few weeks in advance of sowing seeds, a no-dig system can be used, ensuring that there is no traffic on the growing area to avoid compaction and allow the soil life to flourish and integrate the layer added to the top down into the root zone.

Giving the soil conditioner a few weeks to assimilate itself into the soil also allows time for the germination of seeds, which inevitably make their way into the compost heap if you are like me and everything goes onto it.

When making compost in a heap, the ultimate objective is to get temperatures between 30-60 degrees celsius to enable rapid breakdown to occur. Achieving temperatures of 60 degrees for more than a month will be enough to kill most weed seedlings. Some always manage to escape in my system and over the last week the germination rate has been massive as temperatures became more favourable in the polytunnel.

Lots of weed seedlings like fat hen, chickweed, bitter cress and goose grass, but also in the mix and more interestingly for me are calendula, opium poppies, borage and marigolds that are re-emerging from last years seed heads.

The seedlings need to develop their first true leaves in order to be identifiable and sort the desirables from the undesirables.

Letting all of these seedlings germinate can also be of benefit as there is the option of creating what is called a ‘stale seed bed’. This entails hoeing out all of the germinated seedlings after a few weeks just before direct sowing the intended crop like lettuce, beetroot, spring onions, etc. This ensures that there is less competition existing on the soil surface when the seeds actually planted do germinate and it can be an effective means of weed control.

There is plenty of time now to create a stale seed bed outdoors in preparation for some direct outdoor sowing in a few weeks.

It is also time now to consider feeding established plants in the garden using garden compost, seaweed, farmyard manure or the conveniently pelleted chicken manure. Hedging, roses and established shrubs will all benefit from a spring feed and will gradually absorb the nutrients provided and put them to good use over the growing season ahead.

 Narcissus ‘Lemon Sailboat’ looking chirpy in the garden this week.
Narcissus ‘Lemon Sailboat’ looking chirpy in the garden this week.

The evidence of Spring is everywhere with more colour developing every day. Magnolias are beginning to take centre stage and their dramatic petals unfold in the warm spring sunshine.

Rhododendrons are beginning to make an appearance as are cherries, camellias and forsythia. Spring bulbs abound and I believe the daffodils are standing prouder and lovelier than ever this year as they revel in the sunshine.

Finally, there is food becoming more abundant for pollinators to peruse and collect from in the garden and also in the hedgerows as blackthorn is beginning to produce it’s exquisite white flowers now also.

There are plenty of bumblebees awaking from their slumber and hungrily searching for pollen or nectar and finding it among flowering bulbs, shrubs and trees throughout the garden right now.

Happy Spring Gardening!

Plant of the week

Flowering cherries really do herald the arrival of spring and it is hard to resist their abundant blooms emerging before the foliage and then fallen petals carpeting the ground beneath.

In addition to Spring colour, lots of the ornamental cherries have great autumn foliage, making them a very valuable garden tree.

One very attractive cultivar is Prunus ‘Shirotae’ (inset left), also known as the Japanese flowering cherry. This is a great tree for a small garden as it has a spreading umbralla-shaped habit getting to about 6-8 metres in height with a similar spread.

It is currently beginning to produce semi-double white flowers which will cover the tree over the next few weeks after which it will come into leaf.

It produces excellent autumn leaf colour later in the year, so if you’re considering a really hard-working tree for garden interest, this may be the tree for you. It prefers full sun and a moist but well drained soil for best growing results.

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