Ne’er cast a clout till May be out

Longer days with warm sunshine have settled upon us, and with them comes the temptation to plant out indoor grown seedlings and tender young plants. Too much enthusiasm and a late frost will nip your ambitions right in the bud, so hold off for now and keep protecting vulnerable little specimens until we are safely into the middle of May. It’s your garden’s most dynamic time of year, so catch a ride on nature’s coat tails and get busy in your garden this week.

Sowing and Growing on
The rhythm of sowing seeds, pricking out seedlings and potting on young plants has kept gardeners busy for centuries. Growing from seed is an immensely satisfying process, looking to the future and reminding us of hope and renewal.

It’s simple to sow hardy annuals directly outdoors into well tilled soil. First, add some finer potting compost to improve the consistency and drainage of your soil and sow your seeds straight in. Cover lightly with fine tilth, water and depending on temperature, seedlings will soon appear. Poppies, nigella, marigolds, ammi and cornflowers are all easy to grow from seed, and will flower through into Autumn much to the benefit of birds and insects. With no greenhouse I’ve grown runner beans, sweet peas and garden peas directly outdoors for many years, with fingers crossed for a long hot summer!

If you have seedlings growing indoors, especially half-hardy annuals like cosmos or nasturtiums, then you can begin to harden them off. This is a process which changes the leaf structure and waxiness, making new growth more sturdy. Place them outside during the morning in a sheltered spot to protect against damage from the wind, and bring them back inside early evening. You’ll have to do this for at least a week until they are toughened up enough to withstand the great outdoors.

Seedlings grown in trays will soon be in need of pricking out and potting up. Handle carefully by the first true leaf, not the stem, pushing your dibber down to the base of the seed tray to capture as much root as possible. As a general rule move up into small sized pots or modules as some seedlings, especially tomatoes, dislike too much root space and will sulk. And let’s be honest, the last thing you need at the moment is a sulky tomato plant.

Keep your little plants watered, harden off and plant out into your garden or containers once they are well established with new leaf growth and additional evidence of roots at the bottom of their pots. Protect from slugs and snails, mulch when planting and water regularly there after. Annuals are thirsty all Summer long, but you’ll find your hardy perennials to be largely self sufficient after the first year.

Staking your plants
Taller or top heavy plants, think delphiniums, peonies and hollyhocks, will need some form of support before the end of Summer (don’t we all?) There are lots of different types of plant supports from basic bamboo canes to ready made metal half hoops. Tie plants in as they grow taller using gardener’s twine not plastic ties. Twine or string doesn’t cut into soft stems as they move in the breeze. I use the pliable red branches from a large Cornus shrub growing in the corner of the garden to form supports around certain plants or groups. Put your stakes in place soon rather than waiting for the sadly inevitable day when following a heavy Summer shower your prize blooms lie prostrate across the lawn, their horizontal forms impossible to persuade upwards without further damage. Hindsight is truly a wonderful thing.

In terms of climbers like peas, sweetpeas and beans, sow two seeds or plant out two young plants to each upright support, and tie in with string as they grow. Clematis, rambling roses and wisteria also benefit from being gently fastened to their trellis or frame. With early intervention you can encourage growth in the direction of your choice, or, alternately you can let Nature take control resulting in a spectacular Clematis Montana which is currently staging a military coups d’etat along my entire fence.

Whatever you grow, enjoy your garden this week.