Pruning, potting, planting, mulching and watering; the list of things to do in the garden at this time of year can seem overwhelming. With all large projects, making a list helps break down the task into manageable bits and this strategy is very effective when organising your garden. Once you’ve got the garden up to scratch you can sit back in summer and enjoy the results of your labours with a guilt-free conscience. If there’s any time left for outdoor projects, why not use it to pot up some plants into attractive containers for eco-friendly, low-cost Christmas gifts this year? Keep them fed and watered and, come December, they’ll be looking gorgeous. As will your garden if you follow our checklist of top 10 things to do in the garden this month.
1. Spring prune
Once frosts are over it’s time to prune winter or early spring-flowering shrubs such as Rhododendron, Camellias and Daphne. Normally all that’s needed with these shrubs is a gentle thinning out of the canopy and tidying up the shape of the plant rather than a drastic slash and burn.
START slowly, removing frost-damaged, old and diseased branches or those rubbing against each other (which will encourage diseases) to allow light into the centre of the plant.
Next, REMOVE side shoots that are crowding the plant as well as those that give the plant an uneven look. Trim older stems by a third to encourage new shoots to develop lower down on the plant.
Don’t chop all the stems to the same height; stagger your clipping heights for a more natural look.
Cut stems close to the main branch so you don’t leave ugly stumps and just above a healthy bud.
2. Cut back spring-flowering perennials
Many such as Aquilegia, daisies and Delphinium (above) may reward you after flowering with a second flush of blooms later in the season. SPREADING compost around the base of plants will also give them the boost they need to produce more flowers.
3 Wise up to snails
To protect your Hostas and other large-leafed plants that are prone to snail and slug damage, try not to water in the evenings so the soil is dry when these pests are on the prowl.
A walk around the garden after it’s been raining is the perfect time to trap slugs and snails. Put them in a container in the FREEZER if you’re not keen on baits or the squashing method. Feed them to the ducks next time you go to the park.
4 Pot up Christmas gifts
Flowering annuals and shrubs CAN MAKE low-cost, gorgeous Christmas presents. Buying them now means they’ll be looking lush and lovely come Christmas time. LIQUIDfeed and water regularly to keep them nice and healthy. Scented plants such as gardenias are always popular as gifts or you could try Alyssum, Begonias, busy lizzies, carpet roses, calla lilies, Fuchsias, Hydrangea, lavender, marigolds, Metrosideros ‘Tahiti’, passionflowers, petunias and Zinnia.
5. Plant summer perennials
Pineapple lily (Eucomis species) and other bulbous and tuberous perennials such as Begonias, Calla, Dahlias, Gladiolus and lilies can be planted if all danger of frost has passed in your area. Use stakes to support them and protect from slugs and snails.
6. CHOOSE heat-loving tolerant plants
With the holiday season approaching using tough, drought- tolerant species is the best way to ensure your garden will still be looking halfway decent on your return. For both garden beds and containers, some of the best heat-loving annuals are Calendula, Kalanchoe, Petunia, marigold and Zinnia. Drought-tolerant perennials include Arctotis, Astelia, catmint, daylily, Dietes grandiflora and Dietes bicolor, many Dianella and Lomandra species. For shrubs try bottlebrush (pictured), Grevillea, lavender, Helichrysum, rock rose (Cistus) and Santolina.
7. Water in the morning
The downside of warmer temperatures is that we need to water our gardens more. For some it’s not a chore at all, especially when combined with a glass of wine in the evening. However you’re actually better to water gardens in the early morning so the sun dries out wet leaves properly, before any fungal diseases can infect plants. If you’re short on time, automated WATERING SYSTEMS are ideal for early-morning watering.
8. Water vegetables regularly
Most vegetables need plenty of water, particularly leafy greens and root vegetables such as beetroot, which will START to flower and go to seed if allowed to become too dry. Remember to thin out beetroot, carrots, turnips and other root vegetable seedlings to ensure you get good-sized crops
9. Keep kitchen gardens weeded
Warm spring weather encourages weeds to germinate, so get the hoe out and remove them while they’re small. It’s much, much harder to get rid of weeds if you let them mature, particularly if you wait until they flower and SPREAD their seed around the garden. Weeds harbour slugs, snails and other pests and take valuable nutrients that your vegies need. Mulching around young plants will not only help keep weeds and pests away but also retain moisture in the soil.
10. Clean up ponds
REMOVE leaves and algae from ponds and refill with fresh water. For ponds with fish in them it’s best to leave water in a bucket for a day to allow the chlorine levels to reduce, or better still use harvested rain water.
Getting the ratio of water plants to surface area correct is crucial for healthy ponds and the fish that inhabit them. Water lilies are perfect for ponds as their leaves shade the water in summer but become dormant in winter, allowing the sun to penetrate. And of course water lilies look stunning when in bloom and make a lovely cut flower.