What a wonderful month of the year to enjoy, with every plant deciding winter is very definitely going and suddenly we are all caught out with plant growth – where do we start to garden?
Hopefully we have tidied up all that winter detritus and done our essential maintenance of tool sharpening, mower cleaning, greenhouse cleaning and airing – sorry to be boring but they do come first!
What comes next
The garden whatever size requires healthy soil, so often taken for granted as everlasting!! It’s not. Lightly rake over to bring much needed oxygen to compacted winter soil surface and remember your plants breathe (respiration) through the plant roots to a large degree so lightly digging over with a trowel in the root area NOT DAMAGING THE ROOT BALL, will make a big difference to health and energy for growth of your garden in Spring. Add a light mulch of fresh soil compost for soil improvement and preferably manure that contains the vital biological nitrogen producing microbes.
Soil is often so forgotten and therefore neglected but its soil that contains the vital food – nutrients that plants depend on. Nitrogen N for green growth, phosphorus P for strength and potassium K for flowering. Look for NPK on fertilisers and decide from your soil and plants what you require for ornamental or vegetable growth. Vegetables generally require alkaline soil so additional liming with a calcium product may be required. May I strongly recommend an inexpensive but really useful pH meter to simply stick in to moist soil for an instant guide to your soil. These meters also give a fertility and moisture reading at a click of the settings!
To add to these plant foods top up the soil with a dressing of fresh loam (clay –sand –silt mixture) and then compost and manure that contain the living microbes producing the all important nitrogen mix for a really surprising thank you from your garden plants.
If you have ericaceous plants, rhododendron family, heathers, camellias, pieris, enkianthus and vaccinium fruit shrubs such as delicious blueberries, cranberries etc then do not use ordinary clay loam, use branded ericaceous soils that do not contain calcium, but iron and manganese instead with grit, bark and plenty of organic (compost). I favour generous ericaceous liquid feed this time of the year its worked wonders for my acid loving plants.
Where to start, at the beginning, but where in a garden!?
May I suggest perhaps a sheet of paper and simply list the following range of plants to think over. Start looking for what you want out of planting in your garden and where, sun or shade, dry or moist its very important to the planting.
Small trees and shrubs, some evergreen for winter pleasure, some flowering such as Prunus, winter Prunus, Amalankia is superb for all year round three leaf colour changes. Crab apples have all year colour and superb late ornamental fruits not forgetting quinces for tasty jellies and so many special small fruit trees worth searching around for.
Cane fruit should be cut hard back from old growth as all fruit is on new growth and start feeding. Plant broad beans and most vegetable seed sowing can commence with some protection from heavy rain and snails.
Spring bulbs such as moisture loving tall Camassia, Erythronia (dogs tooth violet), fragrant Convallaria (Lily of the Valley) many can be grown in containers.Keep an eye out for summer bulbs ready in May for pots.
Borders and Beds – Aquilegia, Anemonies, Phlox and Armeria – so many to chose from. Tough Herbaceous perennials are superb ongoing value on sale soon.
Climbers – divide Clematis into early woody, mid summer and late summer entirely new growth. Grape vines, attractive Ivy, climbing Hydrangea petiolaris, sweet peas. Try some easy grow suprbly colourful annuals from seed, – blue ensign morning glory Convolvulus and orange Thunbergia-black eyed susie in a container with a cane, what can be simpler to grow from seed in a pot.
Ground cover consider for difficult steep banks and difficult soil – Trillium sessile rhizomes Cornus canadensis, colourful phlox, campanula, aubretia and packysandra - terminalis is a good choice but look in books and websites to see what looks good for your ground.
Hedges can be bought on line with whips and I have found the mail order service of one hedges -for -u company really excellent in delivery packaging and healthy condition.
Now April is commencing I advise visiting garden centres and quality websites but make your orders worth while with delivery charges about a fiver. Just enjoy a relaxing look around as a ‘plant hunting tourist’. The choice is wonderful but decide what’s going to work for you and your garden plan first.
Take your time, and above all enjoy the wonderful start to Spring.
Tony Arnold MCIHort Science for the Gardener
Secondary Science Resource to RHS Schools Gardening www.rhs.org.uk/school gardening