SPRING INTO ACTION.. Tidy up now to save you weeks of work later
A few hours spent spring-cleaning perennial beds and mixed borders now will save you weeks of work, not just next month but every month until late autumn. Start by raking up any dead leaves or bits of litter on the beds so you can see what’s what. The heavy rain and snow we’ve had this winter squashes the soil down, ruining the drainage and aeration that roots need to do their job.
To reverse the process, use a border fork to prong the soil over lightly – just go down a couple of inches.
Start at one end of the border and work backwards so you don’t tread on the area you’ve already freshened up. Before you start, give the soil a good dusting with blood, bone and fish-meal, or any other organic general fertiliser and work it in with your fork.
Watch out for weeds. There shouldn’t be many so early in the season but they need taking out before they can grow and spread.
Work round any areas of spring bulbs and avoid dormant crowns of perennials, which may not be visible above the ground yet.
Border forks are perfect tool to prong the soil over lightly
Next comes the really important job – mulching, which I rate as one of the great advances of modern gardening.
It means spreading a layer of compost or bark chippings a couple of inches deep over the exposed surface of the soil. The idea is that by covering the soil, any weed seeds present are kept in the dark so they can’t germinate.
Any perennial weeds will push through in the same way as your summer bulbs and herbaceous perennials do but you won’t have the constant thicket of ground-smothering weeds to keep on top of, so weeding is almost eliminated.
Mulching also traps moisture in the ground and acts as insulation, so during a hot, dry summer there’s less watering to do.
It’s also a way of working extra organic matter into the ground and there’s no need to dig or even fork it in since the worms do the job for you – in time. They grab hold of choice bits and drag them into their burrows, then recycle them as rich, friable wormcasts.
A two-inch thick mulch of well-rotted compost, spread now, will “last” until autumn. If you want a longer-lasting effect use bark chippings. They’ll still be there two or even three years later.
Then you can sit back knowing you’ve cut down your annual weeding workload by at least 90 per cent. It’s the best gardening investment you’ll make all year.
Next Sunday is the day that can make or break your reputation for the rest of the year.
FLOWER GIRL.. Make mum’s day with a garden-themed present
Be warned, Mother’s Day is something you forget, overlook or ignore at your peril.
Get it right and not only will your mum be happy but you’ll impress her friends too, which notches up even more brownie points. So it deserves a bit of thought.
The ideal gift should be showy. Perhaps a fully planted spring hanging basket for outside the front door, a large, colourful flowering pot plant, or a huge “hand-tied” bouquet.
If mum is a granny there’s kudos in beefing up your gift with something the children have made.
They’ll have fun putting together a bowl garden in a pretty china dish, using tiny houseplants known as “tots”.
They could make a cactus garden in a clay pot saucer, painted with cowboys and Indians or a desert motif. Or help them to make a bottle garden of ferns, fittonia, maranta and cryptanthus planted in an old sweet jar.
If granny is a cookery fan, plant up a kitchen windowsill trough with herbs from the supermarket and decorate it with small models of birds, butterflies or animals.
If you’re pushing the boat out, combine a day at the garden centre with shopping and lunch in the in-house café.
Or if it’s fine, why not take her on a garden visit? Do your homework as a lot of places don’t open till later in the season. Some of the nicest at this time are small, private gardens open for charity under the National Garden Scheme. Search on ngs.org.uk.
Combine the trip with a picnic or pub lunch.
By spending some family time together you know mum will love you all the more for making a fuss.
For more information on gardening and other subjects go to Alan Titchmarsh’s website: www.alantitchmarsh.com