Well the Easter holidays are upon us and no one could have predicted that we would all be asked to stay at home to keep people alive.
Our minds are having to cope with the unthinkable and I feel like our daily routines have become the stuff of disaster movies with needing to avoid social contact outside of immediate family and being wary of anything we touch incase it is contaminated but it is not all bad. Out of the chaos we can find hope and peace. I personally am finding my sanctuary gardening.
Although we are advised to stay home is does not mean you have to stay inside. If you have any space at all outside of your four walls then spend as much time as possible outside in the fresh air, away from the television and social media and constant updates that can have a very negative affect on your mental health. Stay positive. Do things that make you smile. Keep the news updates to a minimum and maximise your time being proactive and productive. Sow some seed. Plant some hope! You will feel a great sense of achievement...which is hard to come by at the moment.
Here's some tips and ideas for gardening tasks you can do over the Easter holidays and in the coming weeks.
Sow veg seeds under glass: courgette, pumpkin, cucumbers, kale, tomatoes, lettuce, & herbs.
Direct sow veg outdoors: beetroot, broad beans, carrots, peas, spring onion, parsnips, potatoes.
Sow indoors annual flower seed if you have not already: sunflowers, nasturtiums, marigolds. zinnia, cosmos, nicotiana, great to get small succession sows of herbs on the windowsill too.
Sow outdoors hardy annuals: calendula, wild flower seed, poppies, cornflowers, nigella, lupins, sweet peas, larkspur.
Set out fruit bushes, canes and runners i.e. strawberries, raspberries.
Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb harvest now! Super sweet pale stalks of forced or the dark pink skin of traditionally raised; all taste great in crumbles or flapjacks.
Pot on dahlia tubers from their winter slumber into fresh pots of compost but keep indoors until frost risk passes.
Repair lawn bare patches with seed. Feed your lawn for wonderful green results.
There is still time to mulch to suppress weeds and retain water just be cautious of new seedlings popping up all over the place, don't smother ones you wish to keep. Well-rotted horse manure, shredded wood/bark, damp newspaper, straw, or grass clippings all help soil structure and hopefully add a good dose of worms...
It is also FINALLY the month to prune Penstemon and Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips.’
Plant summer bulbs such as Gladiolus, Crocosmia, Oriental Lilies and Begonias.
See my 'Can I plant bulbs for the summer?' article on Richard Jackson's Garden website for lots of colourful ideas.
Time to increase watering houseplants. Feed when new growth appears. Re-pot or top dress with new compost.
Succulents make fantastic container displays. Sempervivum, houseleeks have become incredibly popular. They are highly ornate and require minimal attention so a good option for busy people. Experiment with your pots or build an alpine rockery. Household bricks also make ideal creative containers.
Lift, divide, replant over crowded bulb clumps to increase your stock i.e. snowdrops.
Lift and divide herbaceous perennials.
Tie in climbing and rambling roses and clematis.
Deadhead daffodils; leave leaves to die back naturally for about six weeks so the energy returns to bulb to create next year's flower.
Deadhead, cut back and feed spring containers and bedding displays.
Look out for slugs and snails on new shoots! Either pick them off, use copper rings, shingle/egg shells, wool pellets or nematodes ‘Nemaslug’. I cannot bring myself to use slug pellets anymore BUT if you are using slug pellets try to use organic ferric phosphate or products derived from plant extracts (child & pet friendly).
I find garlic oil works very well and nourishes the plant. Buy pre-made or better still, make your own - click here for the recipe and method!
Avoid metaldehyde-based products at all costs.
Check pots for over wintered vine weevil. They will be reaching their most destructive larvae stage now; eating plant roots. Organic treatment: try introducing Nematodes. Nemasys is safe for the environment, children, pets and very importantly, safe for other wildlife.
Ponds: clear excess blanket and duck weed; leave waste on pond side so wildlife can crawl out safely. Pop in a barley straw bale to keep water clear and reduce weed regrowth.
Annual weeds. Gently hoe / agitate soil surface or pull shallow roots. Be careful to avoid new seedlings and existing plants. Deep digging will bring dormant seeds to the surface and actually create more weeds so try and keep soil disturbance to a minimum. The 'No Dig' method has many benefits!
Regular weeding will prevent weeds going to seed and reduce spread. Look out for annuals such as annual meadow grass, annual nettles, hairy bittercress, groundsel, chickweed, speedwell, cleavers, fat hen, shepherd’s purse, and creeping oxalis & buttercup. Many weeds are edible so you could even harvest and steam leaves or add to a salad. Just be very careful to check that what you are foraging is definitely edible! Do not want any upset tums.
If you fancy further reading, I can highly recommend all these books:
'Wild About Weeds, Garden Design with Rebel Plants' by Jack Wallington, 'The Weeder's Digest, Identifying and Enjoying Edible Weeds,' by Gail Harland, 'Weeds, The Story of Outlaw Plants' by Richard Mabey, 'The Book of Weeds, How to Deal with Plants that Behave Badly,' by Ken Thomson and 'Grown Your Own Drugs' by James Wong.
Many 'weeds' are an extremely beneficial food source to wildlife so we can all make small changes in our garden to help. Try leaving an area of your lawn uncut. Let the wildflowers grow; it helps the wildlife and provides you with an attractive carpet of flowers. It is a win win!
Tackle perennial weeds such as ground elder & bindweed. They really take off this month. Avoid using chemicals - fatal for the environment and potentially for you too!
As a wildlife gardener I never use chemicals in the garden. Preferred method is to dig out as much root as possible. It is virtually impossible to dig out completely as even an inch of root left in ground re-grows but new plants will have weaker/unestablished new roots so easier to remove and over time the problem can be managed and maintained. Digging out needs to be regularly repeated.
Remove tap rooted weeds with a specific taproot tool to avoid disturbing soil and plants around the weed. Try to remove entire taproot or it will re-grow.
Put weeds to good use – make homemade nettle compost tea! High in nitrogen. Great for promoting new foliage.
Gardens are delicately balanced ecosystems so try not to totally eradicate pests as they will be a food source for other creatures i.e. birds/frogs love slugs & snails! Everything co-existing, with no dominant species, will equal a healthy garden!
All photos taken by Debi Holland © 2020