What to do in the Garden over Easter
– auf Deutsch lesen – At long last the weather is picking up and we are starting to enjoy proper spring weather. I hope the frosty nights of the past weeks are gone. It takes a lot of time every evening covering tender plants, every morning removing fleece, bringing plants outdoors again. Our team of diligent gardeners have been taking no risks. Experience has shown that one cold night can destroy the strong new growth on a plant, stunting its progress for the rest of the season. So, as the soil warms up, and plants start thinking about summer, it is time to get cracking. You must prioritise the work as there are a few tasks that urgently need doing.
Prune clematis and roses
Summer-flowering clematis hybrids, that flower on new growth, need to be cut back to about 30-50cm as soon as possible. When the weather warms up, they quickly come into growth. Now is also the time to tackle the roses. Our shrub roses in the border are cut back by approximately one third. Although they are planted in tight groups of three, we treat them as one, leaving the middle of the group a little taller, rounding down towards the sides. Also the three climbers that grow up on the façade of the roothouse have just been pruned and tied. This always involves the long ladder, as ‘Guirlande d’Amour’ has grown to the top. The shoots on this one we cut back to about two buds, producing little ‘witches fingers’ from where she can produce new flowering shoots. The one of the right hand side is the climbing ‘Cécile Brunner’, with charming little flowers, but is quite a vicious beast. On this one we left most shoots intact, simply tying them down in big loops, so she can make billowing pillows of flowers in summer as she will produce masses of flowering shoots, coming of the sides of the more horizontally trained stems. Make sure your ladder is well positioned, and somebody is there to stabilise it!
Tidy up your borders
If there are still remains of last year’s perennials, you must cut them back now. By Now it is often easy to break them off with a short sharp twist of the wrist. The material can be chopped or broken up into smaller pieces and put on the compost heap. If you have not yet done so, now is a good moment to spread one or two centimetres compost across the beds before the bulbs and perennials become too large to impede the work. Especially if you are gardening on poor sandy soil, this helps to maintain soil fertility and increases its water-retention capacity.
If you garden on poor soil, you should feed bulbs as they emerge, preferably with a potassium-rich or a specific bulb fertiliser. It will help them to re-build their energy for next year’s flower. And remember to leave the leaves until they have turned brown. After flowering they will also continue to build up strength for the following year through photosynthesis. Big clumps of snowdrops can now be lifted and divided to increase the cheerful white carpets in future seasons. Make sure to make a note of bulbs you want to plant in the autumn. Which variety, where it should be planted!
Be kind to your hedges and give them a nitrogen-rich fertiliser such as horn-meal. This will be released slowly in the course of the season and encourage good new leafy growth that will ensure your hedge remains nice and dense. Check your box plants for the tight little nests of overwintering boxtree caterpillars and remove them.
If you want to enjoy a nice green lawn rather than a patch of rough grass, now is the time to act. Scarify it by vigorously raking the moss and dead grass in two opposing directions. If you have a large lawn, hire a machine for the day, it will save a lot of muscle-ache! Where the soil is very compacted, aerate it by inserting a digging fork deep into the soil and move it back- and forwards a few times to create hollow tubes. Into these you can then brush a mixture of sand and compost.
Areas that are particularly bare can now be re-sown. Temperatures should be above 9 °C in order for the seeds to germinate. If you sow too early, the sparrows will enjoy eating all the seed instead. Buy a shade grass mixture if the area is not in full sun. Now is also the time to apply a nitrogen-rich spring fertiliser, that will encourage lush new grass growth.
We have started to sow annuals for pots and the border. I love using tobacco plants and cosmos as gap-fillers. They will provide many months of colour, filling possible flower-gaps during the season. Cosmos, zinnias and sweet peas are also valuable cutting flowers. Our dahlias have just been potted, so they too can go into the borders as strong vigorous plants, that will hopefully intimidate the slugs.
The first early vegetables can now be sown directly into the beds. Broadbeans, radishes, beetroots, salads, rocket, spring onions, mangold, spinach and cool-weather herbs like chervil can go in. if you cover the beds with some light fleece, you will create a sheltered microclimate in which the seeds will germinate evenly and more quickly, and will grow on faster.
Indoors you can sow all the tender more exotic plants such as basil, tomatoes, aubergines and chilies, and give your beans a head-start. Peas and beans benefit from soaking overnight, as does parsley.
Now is also the time to chit potatoes. Place them in egg cartons, making sur the end where lots of little eyes that indicate new shoots are showing upwards. Place them in a cool room in daylight at about 15°C. The early varieties can then be planted out from Mid-April onwards, and will provide a much higher yield if they have been allowed to come into growth before planting.
Creating new beds in weed-infested areas
It can be very time consuming and frustrating to create a new planting area where there are a lot of perennials weeds such as ground elder or couch grass. Even when you have spent hours meticulously digging out every last root, you will find that some still come up in the following season. If you have the patience, it is worth waiting for one season before planting, instead filling the space with potatoes. These are an excellent crop if you want to clear soil before you plant a new bed or border. The dense foliage-cover prevents light from penetrating. By the time you have harvested the tubers in late summer or early autumn, you will have a nicely prepared new planting bed. Alternatively, you can sow a greenmanure such as nitrogen-fixing lupins to improve the soil quality for one season.
Pest- and disease control
Generally ensuring your plants are in good health will make them more resistant to possible problems. Prevention is better than control! If they have the right growing conditions, a suitable fertile soil and sufficient water, they will be set-up for the season. The number one problem for all gardeners are slugs. now is the moment to put out slug traps. The first little monsters are already out and about. If you catch them early, they will not have the chance to reproduce.
I wish you wonderful days in your awakening garden. Plant yourself a cheerful Easter display, and remember to keep deadheading the violets, they will flower for many months to come!Leave a comment