Garden notes for May

Well it is time to enjoy those wonderful May days – warm and moist. You can almost hear the plants growing around you. The soil has warmed up enough to allow sowing of seeds such as marigolds, pansies, petunias and cosmos directly into the soil. However you would have had a head start if they had been planted in seed trays indoors, in March and April. So buying small plants from the garden centre is probably a better option now, but make sure that they are well hardened off before planting out. In the second half of the month we should be past any danger of frost in Eckington so it’s soon time to start hardening off the plants which have overwintered inside. They will suffer less of a shock with a few days outside and nights inside and will then grow on steadily into summer.

When planting into a container for the summer it was common practice to put gravel or pottery shards at the bottom to help drainage. This is a gardening myth. It is not necessary and can often create surface tension in the water which clings to the shards and actually impedes drainage. It also means that the pot contains less compost and therefore less nutrient content.

Sadly the pests will have woken up too. Aphids of all colours will be active and there will be too few predators yet to control them. So walk round the garden often and get squishing! Anything that is matt black, wedge-shaped and crawling is probably a vine weevil. Get rid of it before it lays eggs in your pots. I warn you – it crunches when squished! They produce small white grubs which quietly chomp away on the roots. Heucheras and primulas are especial favourites. The adults make semi-circular cuts in leaves which is often a sign that they are around. The most beautiful pest is the lily beetle. It is bright scarlet and obviously attacks lilies before anything else. Seeing them is easy but catching them is tricky as they vanish into the leaves as soon as they feel threatened. There is a large, grey, fat aphid which attaches itself to lupins and can completely cover the flower spike. Wash with soapy water if you can’t bear to squish!

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