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With thanks to Shimna Gammack
Let's assume that January and February are non-gardening months in north-east Scotland: too cold and dark generally and in any case you should leave well alone if the soil is waterlogged! March is therefore the start of the gardening year and the list of things to do is relatively short.
Hopefully you'll have some crocuses and the miniature multi-headed narcissi (Tete-a-tete, earlier flowering than February Gold which I've never seen flowering before March in Newtonhill) blooming in the tubs by now.
ROSE PRUNING: there are one or two donated rose bushes along the back border. Late winter to early spring is an ideal time for pruning, and apparently cutting all the shoots straight across (using secateurs) at the same height and removing only dead wood works just as well as more complicated time-consuming pruning methods.
BEDS AND BORDERS: this is a good time to fork over the soil in beds and borders (as long as the ground isn't too sodden), to improve drainage, kill moss growth and remove weeds while they're still a manageable size. If there is still some bark mulch in the garage, you could spread it around the plants in the back border to help prevent the growth of weeds.
PRUNE DOGWOODS, BUDDLEIA AND LAVATERA: Botanical name Cornus, dogwoods are those shrubs with brightly coloured stems (usually red, sometimes bright green - Diane should have some bright green ones) which give great winter colour. There aren't any in the community garden, but if you have any in your own garden, early March is the time to prune them to encourage best winter colour for next year. You should prune them right down to 6 inches from the ground and give them a feed of slow release fertiliser for best results. If you stick the pruned twigs into the ground or into a pot (cutting off the top to give you a stick about the length of a pair of secateurs), they're quite likely to root and this is therefore a very easy way to produce new plants, for your own garden, for the community garden (you could just stick them into the ground where you'd like them to grow, perhaps next to Roddy's cairn) or for selling at the Skateraw Fair. It also works for butterfly bush (Buddleia, which should be pruned in March to about 1 ft from the ground, making the cuts just above a bud, as should Lavatera), Weigela (of which there are one or two bushes in the back border). blackcurrant and flowering currant.
HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS: this is the time to lift and divide old clumps of herbaceous perennials (almost any type of plant which dies down in winter then sprouts up again from the ground in spring, hardy geraniums and Lady's mantle - Alchemilla mollis - are two examples which grow well in Newtonhill). I don't think there are any yet in the community garden that have got to the overgrown stage, but you may have some in your own garden that would benefit from splitting (divide by hand if possible, using two garden forks to separate tougher clumps, and discarding the old central woody portion of the clump) and then replanting into soil that (always assuming that the soil is not waterlogged) has been well forked over and enriched with compost or other organic matter and a handful of Growmore. Plant the new clumps about 2 feet apart. Again, if you end up with more than you need, you can plant the excess in the community garden or pot them up for the Skateraw Fair.
WINTER PANSIES: any winter pansies in tubs and borders should be dead-headed regularly to prolong flowering.
This is my second monthly e-mail of gardening suggestions, and I note that it's been snowing again. Hopefully the cold weather means you haven't been over-run with weeds yet. If it's been a particularly cold winter with a late spring, the suggestions for March can still be done in early April. I enjoyed seeing the pictures of the Bettridge Centre 3rd birthday party on the website, which is looking great from where I'm sitting. Hope everyone is well and that your weather warms up soon.
Here are the suggested gardening tasks for April:
SOW SWEET PEAS. A packet of sweet pea seeds bought now is far better value than plants bought later in the year. Sow outdoors in late April in their flowering positions, for example at the base of bamboo "wigwams" in the Rainbows' tubs at the bottom of the car park, or anywhere that you have a sunny trellis they can climb up. The "wigwams" may well need to be repaired.
SOW HARDY ANNUALS. In addition to sweet peas, hardy annuals such as calendula, candytuft, clarkia, convolvulus, cornflower, coreopsis, escholzia, godetia, gypsophila, iberis, lavatera, limnanthes (poached egg plant), linum, matthiola, nasturtium, nemophila, nigella, papaver (poppy), portulaca, tolpis and xeranthemum (everlasting strawflower) can be sown straight into bare areas in late April. Packets of seeds are relatively inexpensive, and some will self-seed and therefore come back again next year. Limnanthes (poached egg plant) and nasturtium both grow and self-seed well in Newtonhill. Cornflower, poppy and escholzia will look good in the
meadow area next to the pebble beach at the Bettridge Centre, and trailing nasturtiums (those with variegated foliage have extra interest) will look good in the corners of planters and tumbling out of the upturned boat. Prepare soil for sowing by lightly forking over, removing weeds and large stones. Water thoroughly if required. Sprinkle the seeds on the soil then rake in.
CHECK FOR SELF-SOWN SEEDLINGS. Perennials self-seed too, and now is the time to check borders for seedlings, which you can lift and transplant them, either to bare patches in borders or to pots for selling at the Skateraw Fair. Alchemilla (lady's mantle) and hardy geraniums are particularly prolific when it comes to self-seeding.
PRUNE any DOGWOODS, BUDDLEIA AND LAVATERA that didn't get pruned in March
(see March notes).
PRUNE HARDY FUCHSIAS, CERATOSTIGMA AND CARYOPTERIS. The fuchsia variety "Genii" with lime green leaves has been planted in one or more of the planters in front of the Bettridge Centre, and various other hardy varieties grow well in gardens around Newtonhill. Fuchsias provide colour well into autumn. When you see new shoots emerging from the base (if it's been a hard
winter, this may not happen until May), it is time to prune back the old growth down to soil level, taking care not to damage the new shoots. If you happen to have any cetratostigma or caryopteris in your garden, they should also be pruned in the same way. This pruning will encourage flowering, as flowering occurs on the new growth.
DIVIDE CONGESTED CLUMPS OF SNOWDROPS. If you're lucky enough to have very congested clumps of snowdrops in your garden, April is the time to lift, divide and replant them. If you have more than you want or need, the excess ones would look great planted under the silver birch trees in front of the Bettridge Centre.
INCREASE RHODODENDRONS AND CLIMBERS BY LAYERING. If you have a favourite rhodendendron, you can propagate it by layering. Peg down low-growing branches, making a cut in the stem where it is buried and tying the shoot tip to a bamboo cane for support. You can make the peg from a metal coat-hanger, or hold the branch down with a brick. The branch will root at the cut, and then next spring you will be able to cut the branch at the parent plant side and transplant your new plant. This technique also works for climbers, jasmine, clematis and honeysuckle.
FERTILISE SPRING FLOWERING BULBS. Sprinkle a generous handful of fertiliser around each clump of flowering bulbs to help bulk them up and improve flowering next year. Dead-head the daffodils, to ensure that all the energy goes down into the bulbs for next year's flowers, instead of into the seed heads. The energy comes from the leaves and the sun, so don't trim the leaves off (or tie them in clumps) until they start to turn yellow. Any congested clumps of daffs in your garden which have failed to flower well should be lifted and divided in September: mark their position and make a note in your calendar now. The smaller flowering bulbs such as snowdrops, chionodoxa and crocus tend to self-seed easily, so leave the dead flowers on and you might increase your numbers.
FEED SHRUBS, CONIFERS, TREES, HEDGES AND ROSES. Scatter Growmore around shrubs, conifers, trees and hedges. Feed roses with a rose fertiliser. which you should rake into the topsoil.
FEED LAWNS with a high nitrogen feed.
REMOVE PLAIN SHOOTS FROM VARIEGATED PLANTS. If there are any plain green shoots, cut them out or they will swamp your variegated ones.
Oops, where DID April disappear to? Your days are getting longer now and hopefully warmer too. Sorry I missed the first Wednesday of the month, but here are the suggested gardening tasks for May:
HARDY ANNUALS If you sowed any of these (such as sweet peas, hardy annuals such as calendula, candytuft, clarkia, convolvulus, cornflower, coreopsis, escholzia, godetia, gypsophila, iberis, lavatera, limnanthes (poached egg plant), linum, matthiola, nasturtium, nemophila, nigella, papaver (poppy), sweet pea, portulaca, tolpis and xeranthemum (everlasting strawflower)) in late April. they will hopefully be growing and, when they are big enough that you can tell your seedlings from your weeds, you should thin them out
to about 6 inches (15 cm) apart, or according to the packet directions. If the soil isn't damp, water well the night before you tackle this task. If you didn't sow hardy annuals in late April, you can sow them in May (early May if the packet directions suggest April at the latest - being in the north-east, you can do things a little later than most gardening magazines/programmes suggest). May is the time to plant sunflowers, which attract birds as well as being bright and cheerful and fun for kids to grow. The tall ones need to be staked, but there are dwarf varieties for those of us who have better things to do with our time.
DAFFODILS AND NARCISSI An advantage of living in a northerly climate is that your daffs are likely to be flowering still in May ("Actea" is a variety of narcissus that flowers really late in the season, as I'll remind you at bulb planting time). Remember last month's advice: dead-head them as required, but don't cut or tie the foliage until it starts to turn yellow, to get the best blooms next year.
HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS You can continue to lift and divide overgrown clumps of herbaceous perennials in May. Herbaceous perennials are those plants whose leaves die down in winter and then sprout up again from the ground in spring. Hardy geraniums and Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) are two examples that grow well in Newtonhill. Divide by hand if possible, using two garden forks to separate tougher clumps. Discard the old central then replant the portions into soil that (always assuming that the soil is not
waterlogged) has been well forked over and enriched with compost or other organic matter and a handful of Growmore. Plant the new clumps about 2 feet apart. If you end up with more than you need, you can plant the excess in the community garden or pot them up for the Skateraw Fair.
PRUNE SPRING-FLOWERING SHRUBS directly after flowering, but Clematis montana (that wonderful fast-growing spring climber that has white or pink flowers, I think there's one in the planter by the Bettridge Centre main entrance) is best left unpruned unless it's in dire need of tidying up. Forsythia, flowering currant, weigelia and other spring-flowering shrubs should be cut back by as much as one-third, to just above a good leaf bud. If your shrub has variegated leaves, check for any non-variegated shoots and cut them back completely.
BEDS AND BORDERS: Annual winter and spring bedding in beds and containers should be cleared once it's past it best, to make room for summer bedding. If Aberdeenshire Council are going to provide the community garden with free bedding plants again this year, they will be delivered in late May or early June, and you'll need to make sure that you're ready to plant them (or ready to keep them well watered). Clear the weeds from any area that's going to be used for bedding, the sooner the better before they get too big and strong. If the grey-leaved cineraria that we planted last year at the bottom of the car park has survived the winter (it's half-hardy so gets killed off by severe frosts), you could leave it in place if it looks half decent. The wooden planters would probably benefit from having a couple of inches of fresh compost added to them.
Good luck with it all. I know that most of you are reluctant gardeners so are not particularly interested in what it's like gardening in the Gulf Coast area (Gulf of Mexico, that is), but it is very very different. I had a powdery yellow mound on one of my trees the other week and I honestly had no idea whether it was animal, vegetable or mineral (my neighbours suggested it was a harmless fungus). There are garden pests here that I never knew existed. It's not strictly speaking gardening, but yesterday I was out picking blackberries along one of the country roads. Picking blackberries in early May was strange, but they tasted fantastic.