SPRING TOPICAL TIPS
Your garden soil is likely to be in poor condition right now, after the very wet winter has washed away many of its nutrients. So one of the very first jobs to do, now that the weather has warmed up, is to get the soil up to scratch – then it can nurture all your plants, just as they’re starting to grow.
SOW YOUR VEG PATCH
The middle of April is the ideal time for filling the veg patch with crops you’ll be picking throughout summer and autumn. Hoe off any weeds and rake them up, then fork the soil over, sprinkle on general fertiliser, rake finely and you’re ready to sow. Things to sow now include carrots, lettuces, rocket, spring onions, spinach, Swiss chard, leeks and beetroots, along with annual herbs such as parsley and chervil.
Sow sparingly, since fresh seeds germinate well, then you’ll make every seed count. When seedlings come up, let them grow about an inch high before thinning them out to leave them at their final spacing (see the backs of the packets for full instructions). Find a spare corner to make a seedbed, with specially well-prepared ground, and sow crops that need transplanting later – this technique is mostly used for brassicas (calabrese, summer and autumn cabbages, autumn and winter cauliflowers, sprouting broccoli – check the backs of the seed packets for precise sowing dates for each variety). But be sure to leave enough room for planting frost-tender veg that can’t go outside until late May.
FEED THE GARDEN
Feed beds and borders with any good general fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone or another organic alternative. Sprinkle it on by hand all over the soil, applying it right underneath shrubs and round the base of climbers, perennials and clumps of bulbs. Trickle a line of fertiliser along the base of all your hedges – they’ll be feeling fairly starved after this winter and spring is the perfect time to feed them.
It’ll make them grow greener and stronger – which may mean a little more clipping than usual, but it’s worth it for the general improvement in condition and the “thickening-up” effect. In the kitchen garden, fruit trees, bushes and canes also benefit from a good start-of-the-season feed, so use the same general fertiliser for those too. But since they need extra potash to encourage flowering and fruiting, also give them sulphate of potash (at half an ounce per square yard). If they are growing in beds, sprinkle the feed evenly all over the surface of the soil.
Where you have individual trees growing in a lawn, apply their feed in a circle, covering the area underneath their entire canopy of branches. This same “cocktail” is a good late-spring feed for clematis, which is a greedy plant and also appreciates extra potash.
You could use the same mixture for roses if you want to keep costs down, but it’s worth using a special rose feed with added magnesium, which helps bring out the best in the flowers and toughens up the foliage.
A specialist feed is also advisable for lime-hating plants such as rhododendrons and camellias – this contains the extra iron they need, and liquid formulations are available for plants grown in pots. If you grow fruit or all-year-round shrubs in containers, they’ll also be ready for a good feed. In this case, it’s best to use liquid tomato feed and apply as liberally as you would with a normal watering.
If you really want to give plants a treat, on top of their normal April feed give them a dose of diluted liquid seaweed extract, which provides all sorts of trace elements. It’s an optional extra, but it makes the perfect start-of-the-season tonic to perk plants up after a bad winter.
For more tips and advice see also the RHS Wisley Website May advice page