Wednesday 21 March 2018

Diarmuid Gavin: Your garden needs you!

It's Easter weekend, the traditional start to gardening year

Sowing seeds
Sowing seeds

It's time to fly the flags, string out the bunting and sound the bugles...IT'S GARDENING TIME! And hasn't the weather really been good to us of late, with some prolonged periods of sunshine whetting our appetites for outdoor life?

In truth, we don't suffer with the hard winters of the past. In most parts of our temperate island, the ground hardly sees frost, with the primary damage being done though compaction of wet turf, so once the ground temperature rises, plants respond, sap rises and roots, shoots, blossom and fruit start to grow. So, it's goodbye to excuses, let's get out into the garden armed with spade, fork and secateurs, and begin to wrestle our plots into beautiful submission.

We will start in flying form, by making a list. As befits a plot that's long been abandoned, there are many jobs which need to be tackled right now.

Spring is the busiest time of the year for vegetable gardeners. If you haven't bought seed potatoes or onion/shallot sets yet, you'll find them reduced in most garden centres now. For spuds, it's time to plant out second early potatoes and maincroppers. You can sow plenty of seeds in glasshouses, or on window sills. If you have a south-facing sheltered spot on your patio, you could grow salads on it in containers now.

Old biscuit tins with a few holes punched in the bottom are ideal for this job. You can also cover things in horticultural fleece if you get cool nights. You can help the ground warm up with the use of cloches or mini-polytunnels. If conditions remain pleasant, you can sow the following outdoors now: beetroot, carrots, Swiss chard, summer cauliflower, kohlrabi, lettuce, leeks, radish, turnip, spring onions, peas and perpetual spinach.

Sow basil, parsley, chives, lemon balm, marjoram, coriander and dill indoors. It's easier to buy in young plants of mint, tarragon, thyme and rosemary, but remember that mint has invasive roots which soon ramble around and squeeze out other plants, so keep it in its own pot, removing the base to allow access to groundwater.

With plants that really don't like cold starts you can start sowing seeds inside in the next week or so, for example, courgette seeds, sweet peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines.

Pot up tomato seedlings once they develop their first true leaves. Use fungicides to control damping off of seedlings. Sow thinly to avoid overcrowding and try not to overwater. Even if you're going to wait another few weeks to sow peas or beans, get the ground prepared and your beanpoles in place.

Micro plugs and mini plants are great to buy in garden centres now, and to pot on in a glasshouse or a porch. These, of course, are tender and won't go outdoors until the last frost has passed. Tidy up pots and containers, deadhead pansies and other spring bedding, and top up with fresh compost. Perennial clumps can be lifted and divided, and supports put in place for those that will need them. You can sow annuals directly outside.

Your general beds will be raring to go, but can do with a little help. Take out any weeds that have been incubating since last year, before they have a chance to flower, set seed and start the weed cycle afresh. With perennial weeds such as couch grass or convolvulus (bindweed), make sure to get the roots. Then mulch rose and shrub beds with well-rotted manure or compost organic matter to retain moisture and reduce weeds. Tie in climbing and rambling roses as near to horizontal as possible. Complete moving and planting of evergreen trees and shrubs. Prune evergreen shrubs such as choisya, ceanothus and laurel.

Regularly tie in twining climbers such as honeysuckle and clematis which should be starting to take off. The days are getting longer so your indoor plants will start to respond to this. Increase the watering of indoor and liquid feed once plants show signs of new growth. You can pot up begonias started earlier and propagate fuchsias from softwood stem tip cuttings.

Pond life is also warming up so you could start a clean up. Divide or cut back overgrown marginal plants and divide and replant water lilies. You can start feeding the fish as well. Your garden needs you! Join the new garden army, feed, prune, sow, plant and dig. Buy some bedding, get in those spuds and help our green economy!

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