In the garden 25/04/2008

Plan to get onto planting woody trees and shrubs. While our soils are still pretty dry, the next rains should get the moisture levels up sufficiently to plant with confidence. April and May are infinitely better times for planting than spring, especially if we get more drought. There is still sufficient warmth for the plants to keep growing and they will establish nicely long before the threat of summer dry.

  • Tedious though digging may be, the better you prepare the soil the healthier the plants will stay. We only ever see the tops but it is what is happening below the surface that determines how good the bits above will look. Adding compost and humus improves the soil texture and fertility. Bio boost or good old blood and bone are cheaper options for fertiliser than the plastic coated bubbles (Nutricote, Osmocote etc) which are best reserved for container plants. After you have planted, lay a 10cm layer of mulch to keep the weeds down.
  • Only stake if you really need to and use as short a stake as possible. Believe it or not, over-staking causes the plants to be lazy (bit of anthropomorphism going on here) and they don’t work as hard to establish a good root system and strong trunks. The swaying and movement is what encourages them to establish well but that is of no comfort if you can’t keep the plant upright in the howling gales which may sweep down your garden. So less is better but some may be necessary.
  • We do not advocate stomping around plants in size ten workboots to tamp them in after planting either. You don’t want to compact all the soil around them and heavy footed stomping can also cause significant root damage. A gentler approach can firm the plant without needing to treat it like a wooden fence post.
  • Divide rhubarb clumps now. Rhubarb is a gross feeder so double dig the area where you are going to plant it and add lots of compost and plant food.
  • Plant broad beans which are really-o truly-o delicious when eaten fresh and young from the garden. These go in as seed, not plants. Don’t add manure to broad beans but compost never goes astray.
  • Get straight onto sowing down green crops in bare areas of the vegetable garden where you are not going to plant again until spring time. The importance of green crops can not be over stated in maintaining healthy soil capable of repeated cropping.

If you are not an inspired gardener, you may like Czech writer, Karel Capek’s comment:

There are several ways to lay out a little garden; the best way is to get a gardener.