TOPICAL TIPS – 2018

February

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


March

Pruning Clematis

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.

Unpruned Clematis

Green Willow Plant Supports etc

It’s not too late to take willow wands for making green sculptures or plant supports.

Willow Plant Support

Green Willow Path Edging

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.

Nectarine Blossom March 2018


April

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/


May

Seed Collection

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.

Watering

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.

 

Splitting Daffodils

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.