As I said in my previous column a few weeks ago, during this Covid-19 crisis many will think about tackling their gardens for the first time in years. As the weather starts to improve, I am sure that many people are looking out their front windows thinking, maybe this is the year they will plant a few brightly coloured plants and make the garden look decent for the summer months ahead.
In fact, with so many of us not at work, it’s the perfect time to get reacquainted with the garden. I for one decided to do just that, and I hope that many others will do the same, as gardening is one of the best stress relievers and a simple way to get exercise. The satisfaction in seeing the fruits of your labour begin to take shape in early June will really help in getting through this pandemic.
- As gardens become smaller, and apartment living more popular, many people are growing plants in containers to decorate patios and balconies. Three of the most useful kinds of container are: Window boxes, hanging baskets and large planters. Now is the perfect time to plant up your outdoor pots and summer hanging baskets, but do not put them outside straightaway. Let them get established for a few more weeks by placing them in a sheltered area of your garden out of full sun. If high winds are forecast, move them into a porch or a glasshouse if you have one. Establishing the plants encourages roots to grow out, and increases their drought tolerance. This means they will be able to withstand the drier months ahead.
- With garden centres and DIY stores about to open in the next few weeks, I am sure there will be a rush to buy all that is needed to get you going again. However, many of the local garden centres have been selling online for the last month or so, and delivering all that is needed: plants, compost, hanging baskets etc. I got my supply locally, which was delivered very efficiently to the door. Just check out your local garden centre.
- Remember a hanging basket can weigh over 20 kg when planted, so it is important to ensure that the supporting hook or bracket is secure. To facilitate the filling of the traditional wire basket with compost, the round bottom should be supported in a bucket or large pot. A liner, placed in the open basket before filling with compost, is essential to reduce watering. Pre-formed liners are available for standard-sized baskets in a range of material, including plastic or coconut fibre. Importantly, waterproof liners greatly reduce the need for watering, especially in summer. A small saucer can be placed at the bottom of your basket to serve as a water-holding reservoir. Once the basket has been prepared, compost is added during the planting operation.
- Plants to consider for hanging baskets are trailing fuchsia, trailing verbena, trailing lobelia, and trailing begonia. There are so many to consider but I think the big mistake that many people make when planting a hanging basket is that they initially put too many plants in. You have to give plants the room to grow. Filling it from the word go might look lovely for the first month, but by the end of July the basket will have run out of food and space to grow any further. It’s sad seeing people taking down their baskets and throwing the contents into the brown bin at a time when they should be flourishing. A typical 12” or 14” basket should have no more than four trailing plants planted around the top, with maybe a Busy Lizzie, Marigold, Petunia or a more upright plant in the centre. Many people plant trailers through the baskets but I find they get lost when the plants above really get growing.
- Trailing Surfinia Petunia’s have been the stand out trailing plant for many years now but they grow to an enormous size during the course of the summer. From experience I leave them out of baskets. If you want to plant a 20” basket that you see outside public houses or the like, and you have the room, they are certainly a great plant that will give you a fantastic display for months. The biggest thing to remember with hanging baskets is to water regularly. Not so much in the early weeks, but as the plants grow, it is imperative that they are kept watered, especially in hot spells. If you are going out for the day, water them before you go and again at night, when the plants really absorb the water.
- Feeding your baskets is another essential job that needs doing. You can buy many slow release fertilizers, such as Osmocote, which is sold in a small round pellet form. Mix in with your compost when putting your basket together and this will feed it for the summer. Just follow the instructions of how much to mix with the compost. It is always worthwhile during the really dry months to add a bit of liquid tomato food to your watering can, as this really encourages the production of more flowers. Do this weekly and you will be rewarded. All the above advice is the same for pots, wooden containers, or any other planters that you will find to fill.
- Other plants to consider for planters or window boxes are the dwarf Dahlias called Dahliettas, Osteospurnums, Bedding Petunias, Marigolds and the many colours of Busy Lizzies which provide multitudes of blooms right throughout the summer.
- Another top tip for all budding gardeners out there is dead heading your summer plants. What this means is the removal of dead flowers on all your bedding plants on a regular basis. I go out for maybe 10 minutes late in the evening, just before watering the baskets and planters, and remove all the dead flowers. I bring out a scissors with me to do this, as I find that some of the dead flowers will not break off easily and you can damage the plant if you pull too hard on them.
- It’s important to check plants regularly for pests. Pay close attention to the shoot tips of a new plant, and check for pests, such as capsid bugs. Also check the underside of leaves, which can attract aphids, mealy bugs, red spider mites, and thrips. There are plenty of ways to ward off these unwanted pests in an eco and wildlife friendly way without causing damage to your plants.
- Apply nitrogen-rich summer feed to your lawn to encourage leafy growth. May is the best time of year to do this, as the longer daylight hours and warmer soil creates the perfect conditions for the grass to grow. Always fertilise your lawn after mowing to avoid disturbing the fertiliser on the surface.
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