Spring Garden Jobs
In previous pages on this site we’ve had a look at the different types of location and soil required by garden plants, at ways in which to plan beds and borders in relation to the size and shape of different types of plants, and at the immense range of colours and textures available among, , and shrubs. Here we consider all these matters in the context of time: how to organise work in during spring.
Weather varies more in March than in any other month of the year. Gardeners in the North must take the time-lag due to the colder temperatures into account before sowing. In areas where the temperature falls below 6°C (43°F), plants, and even the, will wait to grow until April.
Meanwhile, the low rainfall and the drying winds result in goodweather, and there is no longer an excuse for delaying the digging. Make a point of skimming off the weeds first, burying them below ground as you go. Borders can be tidied up, stems cut down and the soil dressed with hoof and horn meal.
Rampant growers, in particular the aggressive Michaelmas daisy, rudbeckia, solidago, and saponaria, should be divided; replant young, healthy offsets.
Seedlings ofannuals (summer ) must be pricked out before they jostle each other, otherwise they will grow tall and spindly, and never fully recover. Hardening off should begin at an early stage.
Bulbs make an important impact on the garden scene this month. Winter-floweringflower in profusion and the blue, mauve, and purple cultivars of reticulata come into full bloom, together with chionodoxas, sibirica, , and the first ( ). Later-flowering cultivars of the winter-flowering heaths (Erica) break into bloom, taking over from those that started in December and January.
Forsythias open their yellow bells, and the yellow Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) and bright red and pink flowering quinces (Chaenomeles) begin blooming. Lungworts (Pulmonaria) produce flowers of red, pink, and blue, while the earliest leopard’s bane (Doronicum) opens its first yellow daisies.
Finish putting in border plants and lifted trees and shrubs as soon as possible. Shear off the dead flower-heads from winter-flowering heaths that have finished blooming to keep them compact. Takeof delphiniums and lupins as soon as the shoots are about 100 mm (4 in) high. Make sure each has a solid base, and set them in pots of rooting compost in a frame. Scatter general around hardy border plants and roses and mix it into the soil surface.
Towards the end of the month prune climbing roses and hypericums; also deal with large-flowered (hybrid tea) and cluster-flowered (floribunda) roses and butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) before the month is out. Layer shoots ofshrubs to make new plants before their leaves get in your way. Plant a batch of for early flowers.
This is the month of hope and anticipation.
Warm sunshine is often followed by frost at night and if you are caught napping and a favourite plant is frozen, it should be thawed out by spraying with tepid water; afterwards cover it with bracken or paper.
As many nurseries as possible should be visited, especially those where ornamentalare in full bloom. The cherries are a great sight, from rather crude double-pink Kanzan of by-pass renown, to the more distinguished white gean, or wild (Prunus avium ‘Plena’, also known as ‘Multiplex’), one of the loveliest of all.
Spring-bulb planting is the keen gardener’s regular autumn chore, but comparatively few plant the summer-in late March, and by not doing so miss a lot. In go Caen anemones, the single poppy flowers with black centres, and the richly coloured St Brigids, the galtonias or summer , the exotic in exciting colours, and others that deserve to be seen more. Spring-flowering shrubs that have bloomed, and in particular the free-growing forsythia, can be pruned; and any last planting of rhododendrons or azaleas made towards the end of the month.
Daffodils and narcissi make a brave show this month, together with the early, blue grape ( ) and the majestic crown imperials ( ). Yellow leopard’s bane flowers make a sunny display and are joined by Omphalodes cappadocica, epimedium, bergenias, and the earliest-flowering ajugas. Perennial yellow alyssum, purple to red aubrieta, and white arabis make masses of colour wherever grown as ground cover. The periwinkles (Vinca) start flowering in earnest this month, as do barberries (Berberis) and Jew’s mallow (Kerria japonica), while the flowering crab-apples (Malus) and snowy mespilus (Amelanchier) cover themselves in blossom and the early-flowering brooms (Cytisus) burst into colour.
Sow seeds of hardy annuals to flower in summer. Also, sow seeds of perennial border plants, such as oriental(Papaver) lupins, and coral flower (Heuchera) in a prepared seedbed out of doors if a lot of plants are needed cheaply. They are rarely up to the quality of named varieties, but help stock a new garden until better plants can be afforded. Plant for the main summer display. Start staking quick-growing border plants, such as delphiniums. Late April is a good time to put in evergreen trees and shrubs, including .
The weather can be very changeable in May. In general, north-westerly wind will dry the soil and a sudden drought may make watering of the newly planted a must. Meanwhile, late-May frosts sometimes pay us out for any foolhardy planting. Plants, too, can be caught napping, having responded to a mild spell and hot sun-shine.
The battle against rose pests has now started. Combined insecticides and fungicides have lightened the work of spraying, but if the bushes are to be kept clean they must be sprayed every 10 days or so.
Get busy in the, staking, supporting, pinching any leggy growth, thinning out the Michaelmas daisy and delphinium shoots, transplanting, weeding and sowing a few annuals to fill the gaps. Precautionary spraying against blackspot and should begin in earnest. Delphiniums and other soft-stemmed plants must be defended against slugs, and the fast-growing seedlings of border plants encouraged with a dressing of . All and seedlings under glass should be given as much air as possible.
Late narcissi are joined by regiments of colourful tulips and the bluebell Endymion hispanicus. The pretty cultivars of the dead-nettle (Lamium maculatum) produce their pink spikes, which go well with the variegated leaves. By now all the plants grown for their foliage – silver artemisias and lamb’s tongue (Stachys lanata), the hostas in wide array, the brilliant ajugas, the variegated and yellow- and purple-leaved shrubs – are contributing colour to the scene. Masses of blossom are provided by Japanese cherries,and (Primus), the flowering thorns (Crataegus), wisterias, and .