The warmer days of late April can lull us into a false sense of security as the night frosts still pounce when least expected. Keep an eye on your tender plants and protect them as required on those cold frosty nights.
Any of your more tender perennials should be cut back at this time. Examples would be diascia, osteospermum or penstemon. Last year’s now untidy growth has protected the plant from the severe winter cold and should now be cut back and shaped to areas showing strong new growth. You could also trim lavenders and other grey leafed plants, such as santolina, to kick start new growth. After pruning, apply a general purpose feed, such as Blood Fish & Bone, and top dress the area around the plant with fresh compost. Don’t forget your winter flowering heathers as the flowers fade; a gently trim all over with the hedge clippers will keep them nicely in shape.
A popular shrub or hedge in Irish gardens is box (Buxus sempervirens). It is an easy shrub to manage as long as it is given a small amount of attention a couple of times a year. A spray of Top Buxus gives it a kick start for the growing season; being high in nitrogen with added magnesium, it is great for greening up the leaves. Top Buxus also contains ingredients to help control Box Blight. This fungal infection thrives in damp warm conditions, so watering the soil directly rather than the leaves is best. If you see a patch of brown/withered leaves on your box you should cut this out to prevent spread to the rest of the plant. Do not add this to your compost bin; it should be burnt or discarded.
For those of you who have roses in the garden, now is the time to start a simple care programme to keep them healthy and blooming all summer long. You should start by feeding your roses with a potassium enriched feed which you should water in well (eg. Westland Rose Food Enriched with Horse Manure). If your roses suffered with blackspot, rust or mildew last year, you could begin the growing season with a preventative spray of Roseclear. If you notice any black spot or rust, remove the infected leaves immediately and discard them rather than putting them in the compost bin. Any leaf drop from the plant should be cleared off the soil so as not to spread disease. Roseclear can be used every two weeks.
In the vegetable garden, don’t forget to mulch around your fruit trees and shrubs. As the plants are preparing their fruit for the coming season they should not be allowed to dry out – water well and apply a thick mulch of well-rotted garden compost taking care not to smother the stem. This would also apply to climbers and shrubs which are growing in the close to a wall; they will tend to dry out quicker in such a sheltered area. A thick layer of garden compost will help retain water around the plant’s roots as the surrounding soil starts to dry out in warmer temperatures.
Strawberries should have started to show fresh growth by now and should be fed with a potassium feed, such as Sulphate of Potash, to encourage fruit and flowers. Using a feed which is high in nitrogen at this time will give you plenty of green leaves but not a huge amount of flowers and fruit.
Now is the time to plan your summer pots and hanging baskets. Plant them up with your preferred summer bedding but do remember to keep them in greenhouse or similarly sheltered area for another few weeks to protect them from the dangers of late frosts.
For those who grow from seed, whether flowers or vegetables, remember to harden off your seedlings before transferring them to their final position outdoors. Hardening off is simply acclimatising the plant to the difference in temperature between its warm nursery and the great outdoors. This can be achieved in two ways: firstly you can move the plants outside for a few hours per day (to a sheltered area out of direct sunlight) for a period of about two weeks; or secondly you can harden off the plants by withholding water. This is an easier method if you have lots of young plants. Simply water well and do not water again until the first signs of wilting are evident in the leaves. Water well again and withhold water until the plants start to wilt again. This process should take about two or three weeks.