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How to plan your summer gardening now that garden centres have reopened

There's still time to sow and plant for the summer season


BLOOM TIME: Plant out summer bedding, just make sure any plants have been hardened off first

BLOOM TIME: Plant out summer bedding, just make sure any plants have been hardened off first

BLOOM TIME: Plant out summer bedding, just make sure any plants have been hardened off first

The fact that garden and DIY centres are reopening is a cause for rejoicing for many of us gardeners. And the good news is that it is not too late to get growing.

For many, the priority will be to plant some annuals to inject colour for the coming summer months. However, there is no need to rush even with this, because the most experienced gardeners know that a damaging late frost can occur in the last week of May, or even the first week of June. Those gardens close to the coast are safe enough, because of the warming effect of the sea.

Equally, it is important that any bedding plants have been properly hardened off as they emerge from a warm glasshouse. So which ones are best to choose now? There are plenty of kinds of half-hardy annuals to pick from, among the most popular being petunias, verbena, bedding begonias, bedding Busy Lizzies and red-flowered geraniums, correctly now called pelargoniums.

When planting these summer flowers in containers, make up a compost mix of half-and-half good garden soil and compost - either good garden compost or bought potting compost. The soil helps growth, makes watering easier, helps to prevent vine weevil damage and makes pots heavier and less likely to blow over.

In much the same situation, the tender vegetables, such as runner beans, courgettes, sweetcorn, summer and winter squash and pumpkins, cannot be planted out until the danger of frost has passed. Even a cold night without frost can turn these plants yellow and affect growth badly.

Now that the time to plant is upon us, most people will simply buy plants at a garden centre. The seeds for these plants are normally sown in mid-April, but it's not too late even now to sow the seeds, which will be much cheaper than purchasing plants.

There is also still time to sow some hardy vegetables. In fact, the second half of May is the time to sow main crop carrots. Very good crops of peas and French beans can be had if you sow now too, as well as lettuce, rocket, radish, Chinese greens, kohlrabi, white turnips, and, from plants, late summer cabbage, cauliflower and green broccoli.

Looking further ahead, May is the month to sow seeds of winter and spring cabbage and cauliflower, and sprouting broccoli for April next year.

However, unless you have considerable space and experience, quick turnaround salads and green crops offer better value and quicker returns. May is a good time to sow herbs or to plant shop-bought plants. Fruit bushes and trees of most kinds are still available in pots and can be planted now as long as they are watered in dry weather. Indeed, apple trees might well have fruit on them that will ripen in autumn.

With the very good weather of recent weeks, grass has been growing well in lawns. But if it continues dry, growth will slow down and the grass will turn pale or even brown. Do not water lawns. Not only is it a waste of water, but it is also largely a waste of time because the first bout of rain sees the grass recovering rapidly.

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If the weather turns wet, a dressing of lawn fertiliser might be required for a green lawn. Anyone with time on their hands, might like to consider reducing the size of their lawn area, in the most simple of ways, by expanding their bedding borders into the adjoining grass lawn area. This can be done by skimming off the grass sod. The sods contain very good topsoil and should be stacked to break down and this soil produced is ideal for potting mix. Even if a border is only widened by 40 to 50cm, it produces a lot more space for shrubs and perennial flowers, while reducing the size and work involved in maintaining a lawn.

Ornamental trees, shrubs and perennial flowers can still be planted as they are supplied these days in pots with their roots intact - it's now too late to put in bare-root plants. Make sure to water new plants, not every day, but every second or third day until they have rooted out into the surrounding soil and have begun to make new growth.

Given that travel within Ireland, or abroad, is unlikely to resume for a while, the hiatus allows time for special projects, such as the making of a garden pond, laying slabs of stone for a new patio or paths, making a pergola or a garden bower, setting up or decorating a garden shed or the construction of a greenhouse or polythene tunnel. It takes some time to do your research, purchase and take delivery, so why not take advantage of spare time this summer?

What to do now

  • With the dry weather, vegetable seedlings which emerged quickly, have slowed somewhat. This will largely rectify itself when rain falls again, but if you have a sprinkler of some sort, apply a decent watering each week.
  • In general, lawns have done very well so far, with vigorous growth from late March onwards, because winter and spring had been so wet. If your lawn looks pale, apply some lawn fertiliser but not to a wildflower lawn.
  • If you didn't tidy up your borders during April, try to do so as soon as possible, hoeing and hand weeding any unwanted seedlings that are present, and these areas will stay largely weed free for the rest of the summer.

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