March 31 - April 6
The weather we have had of late makes you think it is almost summer but we have a fair few weeks to go before I would risk putting tender specimens outside.
The weather we have had of late makes you think it is almost summer but we have a fair few weeks to go before I would risk putting tender specimens outside. In the greenhouse remember that the day temperature will be very high but to trap this heat you will need to close the vents at 4-5pm. Frosts should start to get less and less as we move rapidly towards summer. The clocks changing to the long awaited British summer time and that extra light in the evenings will make it much easier to get those outside jobs done. You could use the extra light each evening to cover up plants that are susceptible to the cold, horticultural fleece and frames are useful to keep the frost off. Pay particular attention at this time of year to peaches and apricots that are in flower, cover them against the frost and pollinate them in the day with a paint brush to ensure a good crop.
Encourage spring cabbage to grow on by sprinkling the root area with dried blood or other high nitrogen fertiliser. Brassicas are best raised in a seedbed and then transplanted into the main garden. Pick a sunny spot for your seedbed if the soil is not already alkaline add some lime as this will help prevent club root disease.
In early spring as the soil warms up, weed seedlings start to appear all round the garden. Remove as many as you can by hand before their roots get a really strong hold. Once the soil is clear of weed seedlings, apply a mulch of bark chips, well-rotted garden compost, old carpet or a synthetic material to suppress further germination. Buy a spot weed killer to treat individual weeds as soon as they appear, checking for new growth at least once a week throughout the season.
Give your blackcurrants a spring clean, cut back all shoots on newly planted bushes to within two buds of the base and get them off to a good start with a feed with a high nitrogen fertiliser. If your plants are well established, trim out any weak shoots and cut three or four of the older stems back to strong side shoots. Mulch round the bush with well rotted manure to a depth of 10cm and radiating 45cm out from each bush. In April, spray the plants with an insecticide to help prevent aphids, capsids and caterpillars. Also spray with a copper sulphate fungicide to guard against mildew and leaf spot disease.
The warm weather has started lots of things into growth and the tiny new buds are starting to burst and with it comes the first crop of pests. Slugs have eaten the tops of my tulips so badly that they have not even appeared above ground level.
I have considered slug pellets but with the wildlife feeding in that area that is probably not a good idea either. So I am left with trying beer traps that can be easily made from old plastic bottles with the tops cut off and a reasonable amount of beer in the bottom and, the slugs and snails die happy. A piece of slate or similar stone can be propped over the top to keep the rain out. The other method of keeping slugs and snails at bay is a nematode that can be watered on the soil and they carry bacteria that kill the slugs. The problem with the nematodes is it is not warm enough yet for them to be fully effective.
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Hydrangeas should be pruned now. Most people have a couple of hydrangeas in the garden - they are very good value plants giving a long display through the summer.
Having left the mopheaded flowers on over winter to help protect the plants from frost damage and to provide some winter interest it is now time to cut them down. Both the mophead and lacecaps are pruned in the same way; remove the spent flower heads, cutting back to a pair of buds beneath the flowered head. If the plants are well established and growing vigorously, then cut back about a third of the older stems too the base to prevent the shrub getting too tall and open. This encourages the growth of fresh replacement shoots, which will help to stop the shrub flopping over with the weight of the blooms. Don't cut them back to hard though as they will not grow back quickly enough to produce good flowers this year if you do. If the shrubs are small or recently planted it is best to only lightly prune if at all. Just take out the odd straggly bit to shape the shrub nicely.
In the vegetable garden things are getting busy it is time to finish preparing soil for planting. Any areas that have been dug over earlier in the year should be raked down to a fine tilth, this is also an opportunity to add some general balanced fertiliser. During the dry weather the soil should rake down quite easily, allow a couple of weeks between raking the soil down and sowing your veg seed, this is to allow the weed seed to germinate and the hoe these off while preparing to sow your seeds.
In the past several people have written in with scab causing problems on pear trees damaging the fruit. If they are sprayed as the flower buds open up, again when the white of the flower petal shows and again when the petals are falling, with a fungicide containing carbendazim (Spotless) this should prevent the problem.
t Norfolk and Norwich Horticultural Society present their spring flower show today (Saturday) 12-5pm and tomorrow 10-4.30pm at the Norfolk show ground. This show will feature the East of England Daffodil Championship as well as fruit, vegetables and flower arrangements. There is a lot to see at this free event.
t Easton College would like to invite you to participate in a new range of taster courses run in partnership with Radio Norfolk. The first session is on Wednesday 4th April 1-3pm. The course will look at the gardening basics, where to start, soil improvement and call a spade a spade. The cost of these sessions is £10. per session, to book a place call Easton college 01603 731219.