Tip 1: My top tip for the whole of February, and indeed any rare dry sunny weather in January as well involves using my most valuable garden tool. – A fine artist’s paintbrush. Anyone who came to either our last garden open weekend on Saturday/Sunday or indeed the committee meeting knows why. As Mark summarised it, it’s for my sex with Cyclamen encounters. I’ve spent years looking at the early flowering spring bulbs in our garden, and what insects might visit them to pollinate them. And for us, before about the third week in February – and this year it’ll probably be later in the year, there are no bumblebees about. And if you don’t have a honeybee hive in your garden you’re unlikely to have any of them around either. Now lots of bulbs are quite capable of setting seed if they flower early, so long as they get pollinated but if there are no insects around this just won’t happen. So an hour or 2 spent now stooped over with a paintbrush tickling the flowers can result in oodles of viable seeds later in the year. In addition you’re eventually likely to end up with a population of plants – (be they Crocus, Cyclamen coum or even snowdrops – you can use it on all 3 plants) – which will flower earlier and are likely to thrive in your garden’s conditions – compared with bought in plants. If you just rely on later insect population it will probably end up in a population with a much narrower period of flowering. As soon as I spot our first bumblebees, I put the brush away, so you’re not depriving them of any valuable pollen!
Tip 2: It’s still a good time of the year to lift and divide any clumps of snowdrops. This is really the best, and only reliable way to gradually end up with a better display each year. But I would pause if we’re heading into a prolonged dry spell with freezing Easterlies. So maybe for now hold fire and wait until wet weather returns….. I’m sure you won’t have to wait too long, living around here. Plant them singly if you’ve got a big area to cover, and are patient or in 2’s or 3’s about 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep if you’re in more of a hurry to get a small area nicely covered.
Tip 3: Donna recommends looking up Charles Dowding’s no dig methods of growing vegetables – click here
It’s probably still OK to cut back any viticellas, orientalis and texensis , and other late flowering clematis that bloom on this year’s growth if you didn’t manage to do it in February, since there’s been so little growth so far this year.
Green Willow Plant Supports etc
It’s not too late to take willow wands for making green sculptures or plant supports.
Hand Pollinate Early Greenhouse/polytunnel Fruit Trees
If you have any nectarines or apricots flowering under cover don’t forget there are very few pollinators around, or certainly any that will make it into a greenhouse or tunnel, unless you have a very nearby honeybee hive. So it’s worth hand pollinating the flowers – use a feather attached to the end of a cane, to reach those high up flowers.
1) Put out plant supports for perennials, tie in climbers and roses
2) It’s a good time to get on top of troublesome weeds before they become hidden by new growth of perennials.
- Hairy bittercress goes from seed germination to seed ripening in 3-4 weeks. It is self pollinating and when the seed capsules burst thousands of seeds can be scattered up to a metre away. So really around it here it probably sets any garden timetable for weeding – miss one and next year you’ll have hundreds in its place.
- Creeping buttercup and dandelions can grow practically anywhere, but do really well in poorly drained soil in damp climates. (Sounds familiar). You really need something to weedle out the roots, or the plant will regrow. We’ve tried spot glyphosate on dandelions recently, but found it leaches out into the neighbouring soil and kills other things. Plus the dandelions can regrow anyway…. So my preferred implement is a two pronged weeding fork – this one was made by De Wit. They’re a very old Dutch company, and it has a lifetime guarantee, but if you look at it, provided it’s not left in the wet, this isn’t going to break. The brilliant thing is not only can you get a bit more leverage on any difficult roots, but also you get much less soil disturbance than with an ordinary garden fork, so you’ll disturb fewer seeds in the soil bank which happens whenever you disturb the soil surface. Finally its strong enough to lean on as a prop. So if you’ve got to reach a weed in amongst growing plants, you can use this as a strut and lean over. I thought it was ridiculously expensive for what it was when we bought it … nearly £30. But it’s a tool I use all the time and I’d say invaluable.
3) A tip Elena has found: some weeds can be harvested for culinary and medicinal use eg Horsetail (Equisetum arvense). Although it is a menace as a weed in the garden and extremely difficult to remove, it contains numerous mineral salts, especially silica, but also potassium, manganese and magnesium, and many trace minerals that are very beneficial. Follow the link to learn more about how to use it. https://recipesfromthewild.wordpress.com/wild-horse-tail/
Now is the perfect time to think of collecting seeds from lots of early flowering spring bulbs and plants – I’m thinking of things like Crocus, Snowdrops, Leucojums, Anemone blanda or Anemone nemorosa (Wood anemone). It’s easy to forget about doing this at a busy time of the year, but it’s the cheapest and simplest way of spreading them around. And if you don’t check now, you’ll miss the seedpods or seed heads. Once you’ve got the seed just scatter it straight away in appropriate places, and then forget about it. It might take a few years, and the survival rate might be modest, but they’ll pop up all over the place and delight you with new plants in new areas with little effort.
This is would have been quite unusual advice in the last 18 months, but it’s worth remembering to water recently sown seeds regularly to ensure good germination, if they’re outside or inside, and also try to water in greenhouses or polytunnels regularly to ensure good growth and avoid fruit splitting. I was really interested to read today that Keith Brown at Llangadog mentioned that he measured 2 inches of rain in his garden in April. Here we had over 6 inches. So it’s surprising just how variable rainfall can be just a few miles apart, in this part of the world.
It’s a good time to split daffodil clumps and move them around, just as the foliage is dying down. Again it’s easy to miss doing this in the rush of jobs to do in May. We usually do! But if you can manage it, at least you can find the bulbs more easily, and work out where to put them. Again worth watering them in well, if the ground’s dry.
Tips from Julian…..
We all tend to think of gardening as a very healthy activity, but I’ve had a couple of reminders over the last month that some plants need handling with care – although I’ve always been careful with Euphorbia sap, I do deadhead one purple leaved form to prevent it seeding everywhere, and this year got a couple of nasty blisters pop up really quickly where I wasn’t careful, enough – so maybe wear long Marigold gloves to do this? Also I was squishing daffodil seeds out of damp seedpods for 20 minutes or so, again without wearing gloves, and 2 hours later suffered really bad stomach cramps which lasted all afternoon – daffodils and snowdrops are quite toxic plants, and this seems to extend to the foliage and not just the bulbs. And then there are the really toxic ones like Monkshood (Aconitum).
On the subject of daffodils, the foliage is now dying back so it is ok to cut it back/mow the grass without reducing next year’s vigour.
For those growing tomatoes or indeed peppers, aubergines etc, with the sort of flower where the anthers and pollen is held inside the flower in a tube like structure (and who don’t already know about it), now’s the time of the year I’m regularly out in the greenhouse with my trusty pink and slightly grubby vibrator. Tomato flowers really need buzzing to get a better fruit set, and if you don’t get lots of bumblebees inside your greenhouse or polytunnel doing this naturally, it’s well worth doing this every couple of days. I know this is worthwhile because a few years back we went on holiday for a week and Anne kindly agreed to come and water our tomatoes but I didn’t feel I could ask her to do the buzzing – so 2 weeks later it was obvious we had a gap on the fruit trusses of several blank spaces where the flowers hadn’t set, because they hadn’t been buzzed.
With the prolonged dry spell – very unusual for this part of the UK, we asked for watering tips and suggestions for plants that seemed better able to withstand the drought conditions…….
A tip from Elena for watering…
- Place a large tub in a wheelbarrow.
- Fill with old washing up water – You can also add feed to the tub
- Dunk hanging baskets in the tub holding underwater till all the bubbles stop
- Lift out and rest on the rim of the tub to drain, some will also drop into barrow and can be re-used!
- Rehang you well-watered basket. Works well with small pots too
And from Julian: we’re now having to use my huge number of water filled polycarbonate drinks bottles as a valuable water resource with our spring running low, but I also found that if you drill a tiny hole in the top of the bottle cap, upend it, and ram it into the soil beside squash, courgettes or tomatoes, it’ll deliver variable, but fairly slow water release over a few days – good if you have to go away for a weekend in hot weather.
From the white board: water Camellias and other Spring flowering shrubs now to encourage flowers next Spring.
Some plants which seem to be coping well with the lack of rain, and don’t need watering ….
- Rudbeckia, Antirrhinum, Sweet William and Californian poppy.
- Yellow Loosestrife, hostas and several unknown varieties of alliums have all flowered really well with minimal watering.
- her 3 foot high unknown Phlox are doing well, and her Gunnera! She does live by a river which might help explain it.
Plants John and Helen have found are drought resistant are:
- Erodium manescavii, Platycodon grandiflora and Scutellaria albida
Julian and Fiona have found
- Sea campion, Knapweed and Bird’sfoot Trefoil are all tough native plants to try, plus roses and clematis all seem to be thriving.
3 Tips from Julian……………..
I find myself collecting seeds from quite a few plants at this time of the year. Obviously It’s a good idea to collect them on a dry day if you can manage that, but also it’s worth labelling them and quickly storing them in the fridge so that they don’t become too dry which can easily happen if they’re left on the side in a warm house. We had a few days in Sussex recently and were fortunate to visit Gravetye Manor which was the home of William Robinson at the beginning of the last century. He was perhaps the driving force in moving gardens towards a more naturalistic, less formal type of garden design. However I didn’t know until this visit that he injured himself very badly after slipping on a stile whilst walking to church, and spent the last 25 years of his life confined to a wheel chair. But apparently right up to the end of his days, he loved scattering seeds of his favourite plants around his garden and meadows and enjoying the excitement of seeing what germinated.
I’ve also found that the 2 pronged weeding fork I mentioned earlier in the year as a great tool will work as a bulb planting implement for small bulbs like Crocus and fritillaries, which limits the extent to which you have to bend over. But I’ve also found it’s not a good idea to twist it too much, or you end up with a single pronged fork! Which is still ok for bulb planting, and for using as a strut or support but not so good for weeding!
Finally I’m guessing a lot of people will have a surfeit of apples this year. We have, so I’ve been juicing and freezing a lot. This generates quite a lot of pulp and trimmings. I did read that mice and voles love apples (certainly our rats do!) So I’ve been scattering all the apple debris around near where I’ve planted my Crocus in the hope that the rodents are distracted by the smell and taste of this. And therefore leave the corms alone. In previous years I’ve sometimes lost 80% of newly planted Crocus within a few days (in spite of dousing them in Chilli powder and vinegar) with them being systematically dug up and eaten. Fingers crossed, but so far I haven’t seen any signs of dug out, chomped Crocus this year. Also although it sounds a bit messy, actually all the bits turns brown very quickly and they have the added bonus of attracting in the few slugs we currently have left in the garden, which can then very easily be dealt with at night if you go round with a torch. In whatever way you like to do that! Of late since bending not’s so good for me, I’ve been using John’s suggested method of stamping on them, though I suppose if I sharpened the spike on my weeding fork I could try skewering…