In the garden this week: Friday April 29, 2011

Prunus serrula would have been better kept to a single leader when it was a young plant

Prunus serrula would have been better kept to a single leader when it was a young plant

• Get any spring bulbs planted without delay. They need to be growing now to give you the anticipated display later.

• Rhubarb is a clumping perennial and benefits from being lifted and divided. It is a gross feeder and likes really well cultivated soil. So double dig the area (dig, then dig again) and add plenty of compost before replanting big divisions.

• Broad beans can be planted now for harvest in spring. Picked when young and tender, they are truly tasty. If they get away on you and go old and tough, dry them. They are also known as fava beans and are delicious when soaked, skinned and used in bean dishes or added to falafel.

• A reminder to get your strawberry runners planted without delay so they can get established and build enough strength to start cropping on cue in spring.

• It is only tradition that says garlic should be planted on the shortest day of the year. We have had good success planting considerably earlier, in May. The plants are stronger and better able to withstand the very wet early spring weather we can get here when temperatures are still cold. If you are going to plant your garlic early (and long keeping brown onions can be done at the same time), prepare the ground now. Dig it over well, adding plenty of compost and maybe some animal manure. Then leave it to sit for a few weeks before planting. These crops need excellent drainage, but they do better when the soil has settled a little rather than being freshly fluffed up.

• It is good pruning and shaping time on woody trees and shrubs (though best done when the overhead branches are not showering you in water). A good pruning job is when it is not clear by looking at the plant where you have been, despite the mountain of branches on the path beside you. Rather than hacking the entire bush, being selective about which branches you remove or shorten and cutting flush to the main stems makes a big difference. However, there are times when drastic action is required – such as the shabby camellia in Outdoor Classroom this week.

• Most trees are best kept to a single leader – one trunk. Where a trunk is forked near the base, it is a structural weakness in the tree which can lead to it eventually splitting apart. The earlier this is done to a tree, the easier it is to train what remains to a good shape.