Early Spring Jobs in the Flower Garden

Jobs to do

Preparing the soil for outdoor sowing

The soil in beds and borders should be prepared for sowing seed as soon as it becomes workable. Drying winds and sun will hasten this condition and, when you find that it no longer sticks to your shoes, you can begin to fork the top few centimetres (inches) and break up the lumps. The initial deep digging should already have been done in autumn or early winter.

Remove stones and weeds as you fork and dust a dressing of super-phosphate onto the soil surface as you work, making sure that it covers the area evenly. An average application rate is 45g per sq m (14oz per sq yd).

Do this seed-bed preparation about ten days before you intend to sow, and then, on the actual day if possible, use a rake to level the surface and reduce the lumps of soil to an even smaller size, like crumbs. If done the day before, cover with plastic sheet overnight to protect from heavy rain.

Preparing the soil for outdoor planting There is little work to be done here, as the bulk of it should have been done a few months ago and it is merely a case of forking the surface, removing weeds and other debris, and mixing in a general fertilizer dressing, preferably a slow-acting mixture, such as hoof and horn and bonemeal, or a ‘straight’ (eg. dried blood), each at about 60g per sq m (2oz per sq yd). This is done about a week in advance of planting, to give the soil time to absorb the nutrients and so that plant roots do not come into direct contact with the fertilizer particles.

Sowing seed outdoors

Seeds to sow outdoors towards the end of early spring will be hardy annuals. Since these are all hardy, there should be no difficulty in growing them, but of course the same rules for successful germination apply to these seeds as to any other – they must have moisture, a fine soil surface and, even if they are hardy, a temperature above freezing. So it will pay you to cover the soil in some way for a few days before sowing, with cloches, plastic sheet or tunnels to warm it up a little.

Scatter your seed evenly and thinly on soil which has been watered with a rosed watering can if the surface is dry and rake or sprinkle a very light covering of soil over the seed, so that it is covered to about twice its own depth. Protect from birds.

You can also sow sweetpeas outdoors this month, in the place in which they are to flower. The trenches for them having been prepared in early winter, the seed should be sown 10cm (4in) apart and 5cm (2in) deep; you can sow a double, staggered row, with 25cm (10in) between the rows. However, sweetpea sowing at this time is somewhat of a last resort; results will not be as good as from autumn sowings and flowering will be much later, in mid-summer.

Sowing seed under glass

If you have frames, or can acquire one or two and put them in a sunny sheltered place, you can sow dahlia seed in them, in boxes or pans. They will all be collections of mixed colours, not named cultivars, but they can be bedding dahlias or the normal larger, decorative kind. They need a temperature of about 13-16°C (55-60°F) to germinate, so you should wait until late in early spring before sowing in a frame; alternatively you can sow them in the greenhouse (without heat) or in a gently warmed propagator in the greenhouse.

Other seeds to sow in warmth will be half-hardy annuals and bedding plants. The earlier in the month you sow these seeds, the earlier they will flower, but whenever you sow them, the resultant plants should not be put outdoors until thoroughly accustomed to lower temperatures, and preferably after any likelihood of night frosts. If they have grown very large and have to be put outdoors before the weather is right, cloche protection will help to prevent actual damage, though they are likely to stop growing temporarily.

If you want to try your hand at growing herbaceous perennials and rock plants from seed, early spring is the best time to sow it, if you have glass protection. Artificial heat is not essential, though a little will hasten germination, but they are hardy plants – don’t forget that most rock plants come from mountain sites where there can be snow into mid-spring, or even later.

Planting and dividing

The main plantings will be of herbaceous perennials, either of new plants, or of plants you already have, which need digging up, dividing and then replanting. This kind of plant grows well for three or four years, but then becomes straggly and does not produce as many or as good flowers. The centre of the crown becomes bare and the new growth appears round the edges, so that gaps start to appear, especially with such plants as golden rod (solidago), Michaelmas daisies and rudbeckias.

When you dig up the plants, lift them with as much of the root intact and unbroken as possible, then pull the crown apart into several good sections, each with buds and/or new-shoots on it. You will find that the parts with most life in them will tend to detach from the more or less dead central part. If the crow n is very tough and thick, with a mass of tangled roots, you can lever it into sections or use a really sharp knife to cut through the crown, but not the roots -disentangle these by hand.

You can take the opportunity to clear the crowns of any weeds that may be infesting the roots, and to clear out debris such as old stalks, leaves, stones, and slugs and snails, which all provide shelter for disease and other pests.

Make the planting holes large enough to take the roots of the plants spread out, without cramping and doubling up; roots put in bent back on themselves suffer a kind of strangulation and although the plant may not actually die at once, it grows slowly and is permanently weakened so that it dies prematurely. Put the plants in to the same depth as they were, filling the hole with crumbled soil, firm it in with the heel, rake the surface and water in if there is unlikely to be rain within the next few hours.

You can also dig up and divide snowdrops in early spring, as soon as they have finished flowering; they re-establish very quickly and suffer no harm from lifting while the leaves are still green. In fact, if left until autumn and then dug up and divided, they take much longer to recover, and may not flower in the winter following.

Sweetpeas which were sown in autumn can be planted in their permanent flowering positions, and staked at the same time. If you were unable to get biennials into their flowering beds last autumn, they should be moved as soon as possible this season.

Montbretias and gladioli are summer-flowering bulbs (technically corms) planted in early spring, preferably towards the end of it. Montbretias will do best if started into growth before planting, as begonias are, by putting them into damp peat in trays in a frame. As soon as they start to produce green tips and the beginnings of roots, plant them with 5cm (2in) of soil above them and about 10cm (4in) apart. They are very undemanding plants and although it is generally advised to divide them every three years, they will flower for at least twenty years without this. Well-drained soil, slightly starved growing conditions and a sunny place will give the best flowering.

Modern gladioli are varied as well as extremely pretty. There are three main groups of hybrids: the large-flowered, which are the best-known sort; the miniatures, or primulinus kind, which includes the Butterfly type; and the early-flowering colvillei hybrids; the last named are slightly tender and are therefore usually grown in pots, being planted in autumn and kept in a cool greenhouse for flowering in early to mid-spring. They can be planted outdoors, but only in really warm, sheltered places, and will then flower in early summer.

Gladioli are sun-lovers and lovers of dryish, or free-draining soil or compost; plant them 10cm (4in) deep and 15cm (6in) apart. You will get a succession of flowers if you plant them in batches, once every ten to fourteen days until the end of mid-spring. The large-flowered kinds should be planted in rows 30cm (12in) apart, the miniatures about 20cm (8in) apart.

Increasing from cuttings

Cuttings to take and root in warmth in early spring include the early-flowering and the last of the late-flowering chrysanthemums. Others include dahlias and fuchsias if new growth has started and pelargoniums – if these were not cut back last autumn – for flowering next winter in the greenhouse.

As with all ‘soft-tip’ cuttings, the ends of the new shoots should be used, while they are still green and soft and have not become hard and/or brown. Cut off a length of shoot about 7.5cm (3in) long, cutting just below a leaf or pair of leaves. Cut off the lowest leaves and put the cutting in the compost, so that half its length is buried. Make a sufficiently deep hole first with a dibber or pencil, against the side of the pot, and make sure the base of the cutting is resting on the compost at the bottom of the hole. Rooting occurs more quickly with cuttings placed at the side of the pot. Then fill in firmly with compost so that the cutting cannot be shifted with a gentle tug on a leaf. Water in, cover with a blown-up polythene bag and put in a warm shady place until the stem’ begins to lengthen, when rooting will have occurred. You can then take off the polythene bag.

Three or four cuttings can be put in a 9cm (3-1/2 in) diameter pot; hormone rooting powder can be used as an insurance. This method can be used for all soft-tip cuttings, no matter what the plant. Never use a shoot which has a flower or flower-bud on it, as it will not root.

more flower garden tasks in early spring …

29. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Flower Garden, Types of Gardens | Tags: , | Comments Off on Early Spring Jobs in the Flower Garden

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