In the garden: We're a few weeks behind...

In the garden: We're a few weeks behind...

Tulip ‘Van Eijk’ - see Plant of the Week

SPRING is unfolding in its own unique fashion again this year, and with the ground so saturated for most of March, here is hoping for a more favourable April!

There is always much talk of the weather throughout the year, and most particularly at the beginning of the growing season, when we are all awaiting more clement weather so that we can get out and about and prepare the soil and the plants for the year ahead.

It feels like we are a few weeks behind where we were at this time last year, in the garden, and looking at diaries and notes kept from previous years, it appears to be the case.

However it has been a wonderful spring for Magnolias and Cherries in the garden. Because both these genus flower early in the year, they can be hit by frost, but luckily, this year the flowers have escaped unscathed and are producing an amazing spring display.

It does, however, appear to been a pretty severe winter overall on plants, with a few episodes of below zero temperatures happening in late 2022 and again in early 2023, setting some tender plants back and killing some stuff that would come through a mild winter normally.

Some pelargoniums that were overwintering in the polytunnel have been assigned to the compost heap, showing no signs of life with only papery stems remaining.

The dahlias are, however, starting to show some life with buds emerging for the top of the tubers and so it is a good idea to pot them now and keep them in a frost-free location like a cold frame or under fleece until they are planted out in late May. Potting them now and cutting out any rotting tubers will give them a head start and they will be strong, healthy plants going into the ground, resulting in longer and more plentiful flowering into the autumn. Laying the groundwork now will reap rewards later in the year.

 Cherries and magnolias are having a good spring, Prunus ‘Shirotae’ has beautiful double white flowers that create confetti on the ground after flowering
Cherries and magnolias are having a good spring, Prunus ‘Shirotae’ has beautiful double white flowers that create confetti on the ground after flowering

The benefit of a wet March is that the soil is very receptive to some nourishment, and moisture in the soil will make nutrients more available to plant roots as it will break down and be absorbed more rapidly.

Also, the temperatures are up, making chemical and biological activity in the soil increasingly active, which will make the uptake of any fertiliser added now more effective.

It is a great time to feed plants to give them a boost and one of the easiest, most convenient and organic feeds is chicken manure pellets (CMP), which can be purchased in buckets and spread by hand when there is moisture in the soil.

Essentially, CMP are the product of composted and processed chicken manure, and they can provide the three main nutrients required by plants, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N, P and K) and these are released slowly over time, accelerating as the soil temperatures rise.

Do wear gloves when applying and a mask, also if you’re sensitive to the strong odour, many are sterilised during the manufacturing process, making them safer than the fresh litter which can contain bacteria harmful to humans.

It is recommended to under-apply rather than over-apply so spreading about 100g per meter square will be adequate.

CMP are neutral to slightly alkaline in nature, making them unsuitable for application to acid-loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. They provide nutrient only and are not a soil conditioner so do not incorporate any organic material into the soil structure.

The best source of nutrient and soil conditioner is garden compost, and as the spring has been wet recently, my compost has not been spread yet. There are also some bags of composted, well-rotted leaf mould to be applied to the surface of the soil once it has been weeded.

The importance of removing any weeds, particularly perennials like dock roots, dandelions and nettles, from vegetable beds, cannot be emphasised enough as these will compete with any crop being grown for water, nutrients and light.

Happy Spring Gardening this Easter weekend!

 Old tulip bulbs can be used to create a tulip meadow after their first year of flowering
Old tulip bulbs can be used to create a tulip meadow after their first year of flowering

Plant of the Week

Tulip season is upon us and no matter how many I plant in the autumn, I never plant enough!

It is so uplifting to see some new colours emerge and great to see bulbs reappearing in beds and borders that were planted in previous years.

Tulips do not have a great reputation for repeat flowering and generally we tend to treat them as annuals, dumping the bulbs after one year of flowering perhaps in pots or containers.

If these bulbs are transplanted out into the a bed or a grass area, then a bulb meadow can be created, and the flowering will be more subtle in the second year.

One bulb that is eye-catching for me this spring is Tulip ‘Van Eijk’, a pinky/peachy tulip growing of strong stems to about 50cm in height, making it a good cut flower that I am hoping, like other Darwin hybrids, will be a good repeat flowerer.

Darwin hybrids are resultant from crossing early flowering emperor tulips with later flowering single tulips, the offspring have large, goblet-shaped, single flowers in a range of colours with a reputation for reappearing for between 5-10 years after planting.

Tulips will grow best in full sun on a free-draining soil with some shelter. They provide vibrant colour and cut flowers, bridging the gap between spring and summer before the first flush of herbaceous colour begins in May and June.

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