Yarty Gardening Club – May 2021
This month sees our first garden visit as a club. We will be visiting Forde Abbey Gardens on Thursday 20th May, meeting there at 2pm. This is a self-drive visit and will be subsidised for members.
I am really looking forward to seeing fellow gardeners again on this, the first of several visits this summer. By now, most members will have had at least one Covid vaccination and so I hope that you will feel confident enough to venture out. We will be following the social distancing rules and please bring your masks. It is particularly important to remember to wear them if you are sharing a lift with anyone outside of your ‘bubble’.
May is a busy month in the garden. The days get ever longer, and the plants respond with exuberance, promising a summer of colour, fragrance and bounty. However, the weather can be fickle at this time of year. Temperatures can soar but it can be shockingly cold too, sometimes on consecutive days. So keep an eye on the forecast and some fleece handy, ready to protect your precious plants; but enjoy the increasing warmth and spend more time outside enjoying the garden.
Watch out for vine weevils; the ‘Pest of the Month’. At this time of year adult vine weevils are looking for host plants to lay their eggs. As vine weevil beetles don’t fly, they can often be spotted crawling up the sides of a greenhouse and are easy to recognize with their dark grey/black body and long nose. A tell-tale sign you have vine weevils is notches eaten around the edge of leaves, but it’s the cream coloured grubs that do most damage by eating the roots off many plants, especially those grown in pots. Their favourite plants seem to be cyclamen, heucheras, primulas, sedums, sempervivum and strawberries. Keep an eye open for beetles over the next few months and if found, the best way to deal with them is to squash them!
Most gardeners enjoy sharing their gardens with wildlife. This month is the beginning of moth-flight season for many native species. Plant night scented flowers now such as Nicotiana (tobacco plant) and Oenothera (evening primrose) to attract moths in the summer months. Jasmine and honeysuckle will fill the evening garden with fragrance too, attracting moths which in turn will encourage bats at the start of their breeding season.
Adding wildflower plug plants to areas of existing lawn is one way to create a mini meadow, but why not try ‘No Mow May’ this year.
Research undertaken by citizen scientists across the UK, who have taken part in the largest-ever survey of the humble lawn, reveal that incredibly simple changes in mowing can result in enough nectar for ten times more bees and other pollinators.
- The highest production of flowers and nectar sugar for pollinators was on lawns cut once every four weeks. This gives ‘short-grass’ plants like daisies, selfheal and white clover a chance to flower in profusion, boosting nectar production tenfold.
- Areas of longer unmown grass were, however, more diverse in their range of flowers, with other nectar-rich plants like oxeye daisy, field scabious and knapweed increasing the range of nectar sources for different pollinators and extending nectar availability into late summer.
Why not become a citizen scientist and take part in Plantlife’s ‘Every Flower Counts’ survey this month?
- Simply leave your mower in the shed for No Mow May and let the flowers grow.
- From 23rd May to 31st May take part in ‘Every Flower Counts’ at https://www.plantlife.org.uk/everyflowercounts/ by counting the number of flowers in a random square metre of your lawn.
- Enter your counts on the website and instantly receive your very own Personal Nectar Score, showing how much nectar is being produced by the flowers on your lawn and how many bees it can support.
A few other things to do this month:
- Pull out rampant pond weeds before they clog up the water. Blanket weed is particularly invasive. Make sure that floating leaved plants cover no more than 2/3 of the water surface.
- Plant up aquatic baskets with water lilies and other pond plants.
- Sow or turf new lawns before the weather gets hot and dry.
- Repot pot-bound and top-heavy houseplants.
- Lift and divide spring flowers such as primulas before it gets too hot.
- Put up supports for herbaceous perennials & biennials before they grow too tall & flop over.
- Prune frost damage from evergreens cutting back to healthy growth.
- Prune trained pyracantha – keep them close to the wall and shorten side shoots.
- Divide hostas as they are coming into growth.
- Plant Clematis – up walls, through large shrubs or up obelisks/hazel wigwams. Sprinkle blood, fish & bone in the planting hole and place broken tiles over soil to prevent earth drying out too rapidly. Give plants a good soak & ensure there is a support system for the plant.
- Feed roses and shrubs.
- Plant out tender annuals, such as Zinnia & Tithonia from mid-month. Also, dahlia tubers and cannas once frosts have passed.
- Give clumps of spring-flowering bulbs a generous drench of liquid feed before the foliage dies down. This will help improve flowering displays next year.
- Begin feeding containers with a weekly liquid feed.
- Plant out gladioli corms at 2 to 3 week intervals to extend flowering season over the summer.
Yarty Gardening Club – April 2021
Well it’s here; the moment we have all been waiting for.
Members of the Yarty Gardening Club will at last be able to meet up on the 15th of April.
We will not be meeting in either of the halls, but instead have booked Brimsmore Garden Centre for an ‘after hours’ exclusive shopping experience. Sadly, we will not be able to have a talk this time, but from 6pm until 8pm we will be able to meet up with our gardening friends again, while we browse the lovely spring plants at the Garden Centre. There will be a 25% discount on anything you buy on the evening (that isn’t already discounted) so it is a good opportunity to look for those seeds, plants or sundries you would like for the new season.
By now most of us will have had at least one Covid vaccination and so I hope that members will feel confident enough to venture out, following social distancing rules and wearing a mask.
If you feel unable to join us yet, there are still lots of things to be getting on with in the garden and greenhouse:
- Lots of vegetables can be sown now such as French and runner beans, parsnips, carrots, peas, lettuce, spinach beet, beetroot, summer cabbages, sweet corn (from mid month), kale, calabrese, sprouting broccoli & cauliflower to eat in winter/early spring.
- Sow annual herbs too:- basil, dill, parsley and coriander inside. Grow them on in pots.
- Sow pumpkins, courgettes, cucumbers & tomatoes to be grown outdoors in warmer weather.
- Squash early infestations of aphids.
- Earth up early potatoes and plant main crop potatoes before mid month.
- Check fruit trees for woolly aphid and blast off with water.
- Cut off new colonies of sawfly grubs from gooseberries and currants.
- Protect strawberry fruit blossom from frost damage by covering with fleece.
- Remove any flower spikes that develop on rhubarb.
- Plant out autumn-sown sweet peas, tying in the shoots to netting & sow more sweet peas, direct into flowering position for flowers in late summer.
- Keep sowing hardy annuals for colorful summer displays.
- Plant summer-flowering bulbs: alliums, gladioli, oriental lilies, irises & freesias. Add layer of grit to deter slugs. Plant the gladioli in succession over a few weeks for continuous summer flowers.
- Deadhead daffodils and early flowering tulips which have gone over & feed clumps of tulips.
- Prune spring-flowering clematis after flowering.
- Lift and divide late season flowering perennials and grasses.
- Go on night slug hunts in/after damp weather.
- Keep on top of weeds in the garden! A little every day is better than one major battle.
- Buy young plug plants to save money on later bigger pots. Pot on immediately and plant into containers or hanging baskets in May.
- Keep an eye out for frost and protect plants with fleece or cloches.
A bit of advanced notice about the club competition for the Buckland Flower Show this year; Members can enter one geranium plant in a food container (the show will be supporting The Taunton Food Bank). Victoria will be selling the geranium plug plants, (50p each, maximum of 5 plants per person) and will email us when they are available.
Yarty Gardening Club – March 2021
It’s amazing what you see in the garden when you just stop and look. Normally if I sit down outside with a cuppa, I only manage a few minutes of relaxation before I start to notice a number of jobs that ‘need’ to be done, and then I’m up and on them. Lock down has given us all enforced time at home, but I am discovering the unforeseen advantages of this latest lockdown in a particularly cold spell. It is too cold to venture out to do any meaningful gardening. The greenhouse and veg beds are looking after themselves and I have been spending more time looking at the garden from the house.
Feeding the birds is something we have done every day (even during major building works) and we enjoy watching the antics of an increasing variety of species. Even the juvenile sparrowhawk who has learned how to hunt in the garden! The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch at the end of January gave me the motivation to watch the garden more closely than usual. Having settled down for one hour of observation, the count started very slowly and so I took to scanning the branches of the trees with the binoculars. Much to my surprise, I discovered a lesser redpoll along with a number of siskins. They were accompanied by a mixed flock of goldfinches, coal, marsh and long tailed tits which all came to make use of the bird feeders. Scanning along the shrubs, I found four bullfinches and then, looking beyond the hedges into the far side of the garden, a patch of blue. I had to do a double take, as to see a kingfisher in the garden is unusual. Admittedly it was sitting on a willow branch above our pond – but there are no fish in it, and we are surrounded by pastureland. I would normally have missed this delightful visitor if I hadn’t been taking the time look. So since then I have made the time to look more carefully at my surroundings. I have seen my first butterfly of the year, a pair of Jays and even came across a snipe feeding on a grassy path.
When we moved to this area, we brought with us five big pots of snowdrops from our previous garden. These I duly split into small groups of bulbs and planted them ‘in the green’ as the gardening books advise. Over the past five years those original bulbs have bulked up and been divided each year so that we now have a swathe of snowdrops interspersed with pink Cyclamen coum. The combination really lifts my spirits even on a dull day. It is definitely worth planting snowdrops or increasing your stock and now is the time to lift and divide them.
It is also a good time to plant out into the garden any forced hyacinths or daffodils which were inside for Christmas.
Other jobs to do in March include:
- Sow annuals for cut flowers this summer: gypsophila, poppies, nigella, larkspur, cornflowers, calendulas, cosmos, verbena, nicotiana.
- Sow some sweet peas to give a mid-season crop of flowers.
- Plant spring-flowering bedding plants (pansies, primulas) to fill gaps in borders, avoiding slow emerging perennials!
- Deadhead early bulbs and look out for blind bulbs. Water them well and add a high potassium feed until the foliage dies down or lift and divide them.
- Plant out new strawberry runners (30cm apart).
- Weed strawberry beds and mulch well. Trim off any old or dead leaves and remove any moss from crowns. Give the crop a top dressing of blood, fish & bone.
- Plant rhubarb crowns.
- Start sowing summer cabbage & calabrese for an early summer harvest.
- Sow tomatoes, aubergines, lettuces, broad beans, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, leeks, parsley, peas, rocket, beetroot, cucumbers, spring onions
- Plant early potatoes in containers for an extra early harvest.
- Repot herbs growing in containers and divide invasive herbs such as mint and marjoram. Replant and pot some up to give away or overwinter.
- Sow nasturtium, limnanthus and tagetes seeds to help combat pests and attract pollinators.
- Finish cutting back any remaining dead stems from clumps of perennials.
- Lift and divide clumping perennials, particularly Hemerocalis & Kniphofias
- Deadhead hydrangeas, cutting back to just above a healthy bud.
- Last time to move shrubs before they are fully in growth. Keep them well watered.
- In the first half the month, finish pruning hybrid tea bush roses to ensure a good shape.
- Prune hardy shrubs that flower on new wood in summer, such as Buddleia Davidii, Caryopteris, Fuchsia, Catalpa, Sambucus and Perovskia.
- Prune dogwoods and willows for winter colour next year. For ‘Midwinter Fire’ cut 1/3 to half of the oldest stems down to the base.
- Cut back any overgrown ivy. Old leaves on wall-trained plants can be sheared away.
- Top dress plants in permanent containers, removing top 5cm of old compost and replacing with new. For trees and shrubs in pots, mix in some controlled release fertiliser granules.
- Weed and then feed herbaceous borders with blood, fish and bone before the spring growth really gets going.
- Edge the lawns.
- Tidy up ponds for spring – removing netting and scooping out any old plant debris. Lift and divide any perennial pond plants. Pot them back into netted baskets in John Innes 2, dressing the surface with large grit/pebbles. Remove any buildup of sludge in the bottom.
Yarty Gardening Club – February 2021
February can be a difficult month for the gardener as the weather can be quite unpredictable from one year to the next. In 2018, the ‘Beast from the East’ brought severe winter weather during the last week of February, in what was the coldest period for a number of years. However, in 2019, February was the hottest on record for the UK, with daily maximum temperatures the highest since records began in 1910. February 2020 was the wettest February on record; so, what will this year bring? As I write this, the garden is emerging from a sustained period of cold weather, with hard frosts in the morning which lingered throughout the day in some frost pockets. Gardeners’ spend lots of time and energy during autumn months preparing their plot against the ravages of winter weather, but as I wandered around, taking pictures of the familiar trees and borders made beautiful by the coating of hoar frost, it started me thinking about the benefits of winter weather to our gardens.
Snow and hard frost are naturally characteristic of the winter months. Typically, in the UK, there may be between 7 and 10 nights per winter month where the temperatures are below freezing. Frost can actually benefit some plants.
Parsnips should never be dug before a decent frost, because the cold turns the starch in them into sugar. And the sugar makes them much more delicious. This is one reason why parsnips used to be fed to working horses in winter. Turnips and swedes are two more root vegetables that are best left in the ground until they have been exposed to frost – after which they will taste even better in your warming winter stews.
Most winter brassicas such as, Kale and Cabbage, are not afraid of the cold; although extremely hard weather will do some mechanical damage to their outer leaves. Brussels Sprouts will taste sweeter after exposed to some frost. Leeks can look very sorry for themselves on a cold morning, but they are pretty tough. Just wait for the frost to melt before harvesting them.
Frosts can also disrupt pest and disease cycles and improve soil structure – when moisture within soil freezes, it expands, and splits open soil particles. This makes the soil easier to work in the spring.
Deciduous fruit trees benefit from winter chilling. If an apple tree doesn’t get enough ‘chill hours’ (between 0 and 6C) the flower buds may not open at all or they may open late in the spring. Blossoms may also bloom at irregular intervals and, although this might seem beneficial, the longer the bloom time, the increased likelihood that the tree will be exposed to disease. A very mild winter will therefore affect fruit production. Blackcurrants, blueberries, plums and cherries also need this period of chilling before they start to grow in spring. A cold winter ensures that buds burst rapidly in the spring and flower together, when pollinators are abundant.
Snow helps preserve moisture in the soil during winter and provides water to the soil as it melts in the spring. Because of the ‘fluffy’ structure of snowflakes a lot of air is trapped, and this acts as a very effective insulator. This insulation effect also helps protect perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and strawberry plantings from alternating freezing and thawing cycles. If the snow keeps the soil from freezing, roots will continue to grow and earthworms and bacteria in the soil continue to turn garden debris into beneficial compost. If we do get snow this year remember to:
- Shake excess snow from the branches of small trees, shrubs and hedges, to prevent them from becoming disfigured by the weight.
- Use string to support conifer branches and stop them being pulled out of shape. Branches that move away from the main plant won’t spring back into place when the snow melts.
- Remove heavy deposits of snow from the roofs of greenhouses to prevent the structures from bending under the weight and to allow maximum light to the plants growing inside.
- Try to avoid walking on snow-covered grass as it will damage the turf beneath and leave marks on the lawn.
- Don’t forget to put out fresh water for birds each day during frosty weather.
There are still a few jobs that you can be getting on with if the weather is not so cold:
- Pot up some lily bulbs for early flowers indoors.
- Clean out bird boxes ready for the season ahead. Do this in the middle of the day so that birds, like wrens, can use the boxes for overnight roosting.
- Prune overwintering pelargoniums to stop them becoming leggy. Make cuttings from suitable prunings.
- Check plants in the greenhouse for early greenfly & wipe off with damp tissue or fingers.
- Make new sowings of broad beans if not done last month and sow some winter salad leaves (mizuna, winter lettuce, rocket) and carrots in tubs.
- Prune winter flowering deciduous shrubs like viburnum, mahonia & jasmine as flowers go over.
- Cut back any remaining dead stems on perennials. Cut off any tatty leaves left on evergreen perennials before the new season’s growth starts. Tread carefully if the borders are full of emerging spring bulbs. The tidy up will attract birds who will eat pest larvae & slug eggs that have overwintered in the soil.
- Late winter is a good time to prune most roses. Cut back all stems of shrub roses by a third. Established shrub roses will fare best if a few of the oldest stems are thinned out to improve light & airflow. Snip off any old leaves and pick up any fallen ones to reduce risk of blackspot.
- Check for slugs and snails – under stones, pots, sheet mulches on empty beds or any piles of debris in the garden. Remove the adults and dispose of any eggs on the bird table.
If you are a club member, don’t forget to take advantage of the golden club voucher to get composts and mulches at a discounted rate with free delivery from Brimsmore in February. We are always happy to welcome new members; see our website yartygardeningclub.co.uk for details.
Yarty Gardening Club – January 2021
A Very Happy New Year to all Yarty Gardeners.
Whether you are already in our club, or perhaps just thinking about joining a gardening club to give you some gardening inspiration this year, we are hoping to start meeting together again from April. From May to August we are planning some garden visits, but of course we will need to be following whatever rules the Government issues in the springtime.
Although we have been spending a lot more time inside over the Christmas holidays, January is a lovely time to walk outside into the garden again as it begins to come alive. Snowdrops, aconites, the first hellebores, and catkins are all coming into flower, promising a wonderful new year of gardening.
Hellebores are one of the most robust and beautiful flowers of early spring but, in order to appreciate the elegant flowers, it is a good idea to remove last year’s foliage which can be blotched or yellowing. Snip off any leaves that have fallen below the horizontal to reveal the flower buds and to enjoy the beautiful flowers.
It’s a good idea to spread an organic mulch over borders and vegetable beds (if you haven’t already done so). Spread it at least 5cm deep, evenly over the bare soil and let the worms mix it in. If you are a club member, take advantage of the golden club voucher to get composts and mulches at a discounted rate with free delivery from Brimsmore this month. We are always happy to welcome new members; see our website yartygardeningclub.co.uk for details.
Sweet peas sown now make robust plants that flower earlier than those sown in March. Choose a deep pot for good root growth and, once germinated, keep the plants cool so that roots develop before the shoots really take off.
Winter is the best time to cut large branches from apple and pear trees, as they will be fully dormant, and the cut will have plenty of time to heal over before the sap rises in the spring. Avoid pruning cherry or plum trees at this time of year.
Cover one or two crowns of rhubarb to exclude light and provide shelter to the buds. This will mean that you can be eating forced, sweet, pink rhubarb stalks much earlier than the rest of the crowns. It is also a good time to plant new rhubarb crowns or divide old ones which have started to give fewer stalks.
Don’t forget to:
- Recycle or shred your Christmas tree. The shreddings make a good acidic mulch for ericaceous plants.
- Pot up some lily bulbs for early flowers indoors.
- Prune autumn fruiting raspberries, cutting them down to the ground.
- Order seed potatoes, onion sets and shallots.
- Make new sowings of broad beans as soon as the soil temperature is above 6C. Cover with fleece or a cloche. If your soil is very wet, sow them in pots in a cold frame or cold greenhouse.
- Take petrol mowers to be serviced.
- Plant out bare-root trees, shrubs and rose bushes if the ground is not frozen or waterlogged.
- Water planted containers positioned under eaves or against walls. These can dry out quickly.
- If you dug up dahlia tubers to store, check them now and throw away whole mouldy tubers or cut of any mouldy parts you find straight away.
- Bring some potted strawberry plants under cover for earlier fruit.
- Don’t forget to put out fresh water for birds each day during frosty weather and clean out bird boxes ready for the season ahead. Do this in the middle of the day so that birds, like wrens, can use the boxes for overnight roosting.
Is there a boring bit of your garden that could be livened up with some flowers this summer? Draw a ground plan of this area and decide which plants you could order. If you browse some seed company and nursery websites you will easily find a dazzling variety of seeds, bulbs and plug plants that you can grow. It’s easy to get carried away and so some careful research to check that these plants are suitable for your site and soil will save a lot of heartache later in the year. Seed sowing will save a lot of money if you have a large area to fill, buying now will ensure the long growing season that some smaller seeds (begonias, impatiens, petunias, antirrhinums and salvias) need.
January is one of the least productive months in the greenhouse when it comes to harvesting crops and so it is a good time get it ready for the busy year ahead. The aim is to remove overwintering pests and causes of disease such as red spider mite and moulds. Choose a warm, sunny day and if you have to move plants outside while you clean, cover them with some fleece to protect them. Once you have swept away all of the debris, wash the windows, floor and benches with an environmentally friendly cleaning product. Mop up any pools of water to minimise the chance of regrow the of mound, algae and moss. Then open the door and any ventilation to let water evaporate as quickly as possible. Bring your plants back into your clean, tidy greenhouse and you’re all set for spring.