BRIAN KIDD: It’s full steam ahead as the new gardening year begins

Now's the time for pricking out those seedlings. Picture: peganum/Flickr
Now's the time for pricking out those seedlings. Picture: peganum/Flickr

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It’s a busy time. Suddenly jobs are piling up, weeds are growing, the lawn needs cutting, and there aren’t enough hours in the day even though the clocks have sprung forward.

If you have a greenhouse you are probably germinating early-sown seeds like begonias, lobelia and petunias. If you haven’t started seed sowing this is a good job to get on with in bad weather.

A propagator helps seeds germinate or perhaps you are like many wise gardeners and you have installed a soil-warming cable inside a shallow box large enough to take cells in seed trays.

It is still cold at night but lining the greenhouse with bubbled polythene will stop the temperature falling rapidly, but by dividing the greenhouse with the same material it is possible to keep one part of the greenhouse warmer by installing a greenhouse heater.

At home, Pam pricks out all the summer flower seedlings into cells; 24 plastic cells fit exactly into a standard seed tray. Put one seedling into each cell.

The results are rewarding because each plant has a good individual root. This means when they are planted into the garden there is no root disturbance.

Other advantages include fewer seedlings dying because diseases which kill plants when they are young, for example ‘damping off disease’, do not spread through the plants as happens so often when too many seedlings are packed into one tray.

I am sure you enjoy a visit to garden centres and nurseries. We often do this when the weather is horrid. Well, if you look around you will see seedlings ready to prick out.

Begonias? Look for Begonia Non Stop, but be quick, they will soon be gone.

Begonia Non Stop are brilliant in every way. Prick them out, one seedling in each cell in the 24-cell size to a standard seed tray. Use a universal potting compost. Give them lots of light and they will grow well. Plant them in the garden after May 21 to avoid frost damage.

When planting out, scatter the contents of a growing bag over two square metres of the border. Lightly fork this into the top two or three inches of soil. Scatter sharp sand over the surface using a 2kg bag over five square metres of soil to ensure they settle in and make good roots.

They will flower at the end of June and the mass of blooms will last until autumn. Once frost kills them, wait a week or so, dig them out and there will be a tuber at the base of each stem. Keep this in peat indoors in a frost-proof greenhouse.

Begonia Non Stop is one of the best bedding begonias ever. A pot of 25 seedlings is less than £2.

TOP TIP

Everyone seems to have forsythia, and very good they are too. Don’t be daunted by this job.

All wood which has finished flowering needs to be pruned off. Take a large branch and pull it towards you. Near the base there should be a strong shoot without any side shoots. This branch is cut down to that strong shoot. Once done, pull back another and prune in the same way. Repeat all around the shrub. The result will be lots of new shoots which will flower in 11 months.

QUESTION TIME

Q: Can you tell me the name of an evergreen shrub which is in bloom. The flowers are slim, greyish green about six to eight inches long and look just like the springs you see on secateurs but much longer. 
PH, Southsea.

A: An excellent description of garrya elliptica, an unusual shrub not often seen at garden centres because as soon as they go on sale they are snapped up.

Q: I bought a few small-flowering narcissus called Jet Fire after reading your article about them last autumn. We’re really pleased with them. They’re most unusual as they have orange trumpets and we have never seen them before. The blooms are being chewed on a few flowers, can you tell me what’s responsible?
DC, Copnor.

A: Tiny slugs about the size of a match head have done the damage. They feed at night. Use organic slug gel produced by Doff. No danger to birds, animals or children. Squirt a ring around the base of each stem on a dry day. Glad you like Jet Fire.

Q: I sowed a row of 40 broad bean seeds and only 17 germinated. The soil was disturbed but I haven’t seen crows. 
KF, Chichester.

A: Transplant the survivors to make a complete row. Plant more seeds. I sow broad beans in cells indoors because mice eat them when they are planted directly into an allotment.

Q: My Daphne is wonderful, I used a whole bag of John Innes No3 compost all over the top of the ground last spring. You told me to do this in your questions page. I am so pleased. When shall I prune the Daphne? GS, Southsea.

A: People think Daphne shrubs need acid compost but this is incorrect. You are another reader who has proved the point. Prune to a pleasing shape as soon as the shrub finishes blooming. Do not delay because the new shoots will bear flowers next year in late winter. The honey bees come into the garden as soon as Daphne is in flower.

THIS WEEK’S JOBS

• It’s more than likely the grass needs cutting. If it’s wet, drag a stiff broom behind you all over the lawn. This will attract drops of water on the leaves to fall on the ground. Leave it for an hour before you mow. The grass will be easier to cut and this will transform the garden. Try to cut the lawn regularly this year. Short grass takes less time to cut than long.

• Early carrots can be sown outdoors now. Prepare the ground by digging the soil but DON’T put in any manure or compost. Ten days prior to sowing, rake in two to three ounces of blood, fish and bone per yard run and rake this into the soil. Sow early varieties like Early Nantes and immediately cover the row with insect barrier mesh. Hoops made of plastic water piping two metres long with thin wood pushed in the ends of the piping makes a tunnel. Cover the hoops with the mesh. This will stop carrot root fly from laying eggs in the rows. The mesh is available from Waterlooville allotment association at the hut in Forest End, Waterlooville. It is less than £2 per yard, two yards wide. You must be a member, but it is not expensive to join. Open on Saturdays 10-11.30am.

• Plant onion sets now. A lot of gardeners will have done this already. Before planting the sets, put the baby sets into a brown paper bag, add some sulphur dust and shake the bag to cover the sets with the dus. This is a simple way of preventing onion rot.

• Herbaceous plants are starting to grow. This is the time to divide them and weed the border. After forking through, apply a really good feed such as Vitax Q4 fertiliser using 4oz per square yard and fork this in around the plants.

Support herbaceous plants in good time. Sprays of hazel pushed in around the outsides of all the clumps will support the new growth. The appearance of the border doesn’t look good but the plants grow so rapidly, in a month’s time the hazel sprays won’t be seen. If you visit Wisley you will see the gardeners there have already undertaken this job.

• In the greenhouse plant freesia corms, five around the edge of a 5in diameter pot and push in hazel sprays around the edge of the pot to support the foliage. Just imagine, the perfume in 14 weeks.

. Sow just 12 seeds of lettuce in the cold greenhouse. Be patient by sowing just one seed in single insert cells. These will be ready to plant outdoors in six weeks.

• Sow seeds in the same way for Brussels sprouts choosing early varieties. Please try F1 hybrids if you have not been successful with other types. The F1 types don’t ‘blow’ into open sprouts like the older varieties.

• Buy seed of curly kale, the tastiest winter cabbage and it looks good on the dinner plate because it is a lovely dark green (and it’s good for you). Sow the seeds in two weeks’ time.

• Sow seed of beetroot, just a short row. These seeds can be sown any time from now until the end of June.

• Did you remember to take the roses out of their pots and replace the compost with John Innes No3 compost? You will be amazed at how well the plants will grow and produce good flowers.

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