Seasonal tips to help you make the most of your garden.

MAY IN THE GARDEN

May gardening advice from the RHS includes: earthing up potatoes, late frost protection, summer bedding, No Mow May and general lawn mowing guide.

• If you are unlucky to catch a late frost, don’t despair as there is a chance the plants will put up new shoots for example these runner beans and marigolds.

• The best way to ‘No Mow May’– top tips from eco gardening expert Rachel Hammond.

• Comfrey and nettles are well under way now so you can use them to make a liquid feed for your garden.

• How to take care of your pond.

• Slugs, slugs everywhere… but there are ways to combat slugs without using pellets which are toxic to all wildlife.

• Best plants for bees and pollinators 

Veg Garden (see more below)

• Plant out onion sets and garlic (Bob’s choice is ‘Stuttgarter’ and ‘Red Baron’).

• Start germinating peas, runner beans and borlotti beans, salads and herbs.

 Your seed potatoes should have chitted by now (which is when they start producing sprouts).  See Hilly’s early potato planting video and protecting potatoes from frost.

• To avoid gluts and shortages, here are tips for successional sowing to acheive a continuous harvest.

• Turn tomato and cucumber seedlings on windowsills if they are getting leggy. Leeks sown indoors or under glass will soon be ready to transplant to final positions.

• Direct sowing (straight into the ground) during March and April it really is a matter of judging the weather conditions and soil temperature and making a decision. Those with cloches (low glass structures that are able to raise the temperature beneath), could sow carrots and salads crops earlier. 

You can still plant broadbeans. See Hilly’s broadbean video here. To kick start them, you can germinate them indoors first. Keep an eye on ones already growing in the garden that might be targeted by slugs.

• As your rhubarb shoots start to appear, you can ‘force’ them for sweeter, paler sticks that are etiolated as the plant tries to find the light

(Thanks to our green fingered contributors Head Gardener Bob Davison, Hungerford Allotment Plot 7 Marsh Lane blogger Belinda Robinson, Linda Forrester in Great Shefford and Hilary Reem in East Garston for their tips)

Mulching

Mulch beds & borders while the soil is moist to keep the moisture in and minimise future watering. You want to minimise the amount of bare soil in your garden by covering it with a thick layer of compost, straw, leaf mold etc A layer of stones on the soil surface also helps prevent water evaporation.

Borders

Divide and move around herbaceous plants such as Alchemillas and Hostas. Whilst the garden centres are eyeing up your wallets this time of year, think of the source of new planting stock which is free- ie the plants you already have in the garden.

Sew tender bedding plants on a warm window sill. Sow hardy annuals in a cold frame or greenhouse.

Spring Pruning 

Prune back hard your late summer flowering Clematis, such as ‘viticella’. This rule extends to many plants and shrubs that will flower on this season’s growth such as Buddleia, Spirea japonica, Lavatera, amongst others. When carrying out pruning it is good practise to apply a general fertilizer around the base of the plant. A good mulch with compost or leaf mould will also greatly benefit the plant over the coming months.

Mophead Hydrangeas can have their flower stems taken off now. Take them down about 30cm to a pair of healthy green buds.

Finish off any rose pruning this month, cutting out dead stems, and mulch, keeping this away from the stems and give them a feed.

Grow Your Own Veg

• How to get started growing your own veg – a beginners’s guide

• Latest inspirational blog from Belinda at Plot 7 Marsh Lane Hungerford Allotments

•  listen here (from 4 min 30sec) to Penny’s tour of Hilly Reem’s inspiring 60 year old veg garden (including a 100 year old rhubarb plant!). 

• If you don’t have a garden, you can still grow lettuce and sprout seeds on a windowsill for fresh and tasty salads or even grow potatoes indoors

how to plant garlic cloves so they stratify (separate into individual cloves) even if you are planting them in warm temperatures

More tips for growing your own produce:

Borders, Flowers & Shrubs

How to take softwood cuttings eg lavender, hydrangea

 It is easy to propogate your own geraniums 

 Helibores are expensive to buy but will create their own seedlings if you cut back dead leaves to allow sunlight through to the soil around the plant where the seeds will land.

• Gardening for Bumblebees by David Goulson explains that long- and short-tongued bees feed from different types of flowers. And they are not the types that are bred these days for their colourful petals. The bees need to be able to reach the nectar and pollen, so short-tongued bees like pussy willow, comfrey, geranium, catmint, field scabius, marjoram viper’s bugloss and Devil’s bit scabious. Long-tonged bees like lungwort, comfrey, catmint, phacelia, viper’s bugloss and devil’s bit scabious. 

Wildlife Friendly Gardening

Butterflies, bees and other polinators over-winter in dead leaves and hollow stems – so please resist the urge to tidy them away until temperatures constantly reach 10 degrees C or 50 degrees F and the insects are safely up and out.

Wiltshire Wildlife Hospital reminds everyone to be aware of hedgehogs in winter hibernation, under hedgerows, borders and untidy corners until the cold spell is over. If you accidently uncover a hedgehog in its winter nest, please call 07850 778752 for help and advice.

• If you find a bee swarm in your garden first please double check they are honeybees from this guide and then contact: Newbury Beekeepers, Marc Benson on 07746 374819 in Wash Common, Vale & Downland Beekeepers (for Wantage Area) or Swindon & District Beekeepers – any of these people will be very happy to collect the swarm from you.

Composting & Fertilizing

• It is worth growing comfrey to make a liquid fertilizer for your garden. Roughly chop up leaves in a bucket of water and nettle leaves too. Stir occasionally. When the water is dark green and smells like fertilizer then dilute it with more water and gives your crops a good drink. Here is a demonstration by Monty Don.

• reminder to men to pee on their compost heap! According to The Daily Telegraph this is an important chore and one that is physically easier for men and their pee happens to be slightly less acidic than women’s.

Watering

• Watering takes time and frankly, water is precious so here are tips on how to water your plants for best root growth. To prevent evaporation, we cover soil with gravel, mussel shells and big leaves like rhubarb.

• River-friendly rain garden design ideas to minimise the amount of watering you have to do – from ARK (Action for the River Kennet).

Gardening and Wellbeing

 How to garden without injury to keep fit – top tips from Andy at West Berkshire Injury Clinic.

 Sue Stuart-Smith explains in her book The Well Gardened Mind how gardening relieves stress and can transform our health, wellbeing and confidence.

Trees

• If you find tree saplings in your garden please nurture them to contribute to Newbury Friends of the Earth’s Lockdown Wood
 
• If you see woolly fluff on your fruit trees it is aphids and they are easily treated

• Early spring when the tree is still dormant is the best time to graft trees. When the tree wakes up, the sap will hopefully start flowing across the tissues of the graft. It is important to use a very sharp knife so the cut edges are smooth and clean and meld together (it is worth practicing the cuts on spare wood first.) For more information contact Growing Newbury Green. Here is a demonstration from one of the community orchards in Newbury.

Gardening Courses & Clubs

Gardening Courses with Sonia Wright near Marlborough. Something for every garden enthusiast at these one day workshops with award-winning gardener Sonia Wright. Gift vouchers available. To find out more, email sonia@soniawrightgardens.co.uk or call 07917 784602..

Newbury & District Gardeners meet fortnighly during the winter. Lecture series in Newbury open to the public.

If You Don’t Have Your Own Garden

When we can travel again, there are many allotments across the area which might have free plots. There are also community garden centres that are always grateful for volunteers and provide a social experience where you can learn a lot about gardening.

For inspiration on houseplants listen to Gardening Show with Linda & Jane on 4LEGS Radio: houseplants, terrariums and dragon plants (from 13 mins) – plus weeding, sowing crops under glass like chillis and sweet peas (from 27mins), early flowering plants and assessing the structure of your garden in the winter (from 30 mins).

 

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