Home & Garden

Make the most of long weekend in the garden

March 25th, 2023 5:50 PM

By Southern Star Team

Spring bulbs are realling starting to brighten the flower borders. (Photos: Ben Russell)

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By Joyce Russell

THAT cold spell is hopefully behind us and the ground is warming up. The long weekend may bring the weather for getting some things set in the garden and the chance to tick off some big tasks as done. Think about planting some early potatoes, onions, peas and broad beans. Keep sowing seeds for growing under cover and dig over beds for beetroot and carrots if you have the time. These jobs can be done over the next couple of weeks, but there’s great satisfaction in making a strong start to the list.

You may also want to get out the garden furniture so you can relax and admire your work between bouts of exercise.

Covering up

I put covers over newly planted crops at this time of year and I leave them in place until all frosts are passed. This helps to protect emerging leaves against the worst effects of freezing temperatures and I don’t have to check before every cold night to see if new vulnerable leaves have popped up. The vegetable garden may look thoroughly put to bed with all those covers in place, but underneath it all there are lots of things growing safely.

Covers can help you grow good crops but there are a few things to think about:

•Covers must let light through – this is essential for healthy plant growth.

• Covers must be big enough to be weighted down at the edges so they don’t blow away. And they must allow for plants to grow underneath without restriction.

•Some covers should be raised up on a frame to make a cloche, other soft materials can be laid directly over the top of potato rows.

•Some materials will let rain and air pass through, others can be lifted for you to water if needed.

• Horticultural fleece is cheap, but thin, and may only last two seasons before tearing. Fine woven mesh crop cover lasts much longer and is strong enough to clean in a washing machine. Clear polythene sheeting comes in light or heavy gauge – the latter will last many years. Recycled bubble wrap can make a good warm covering.

• Remove coverings on any hot days and replace them when things cool down. You don’t want to create a heated environment that forces soft growth.

• Remove covers when plants outgrow the space and risk of frost is passed.

Weed flower borders

Flower borders are full of healthy green growth and there are some lovely spring flowers providing colour. Take the time to dig out any perennial weeds between flower clumps and this will make the display look even better. 

Use a small hoe to remove annual weeds and when the ground is clear you can put a bark mulch down to keep things tidy. Compost or manure mulches will feed plants throughout the year, but it’s best to use well-rotted, and even sterilised, material so you don’t get masses of new weeds from poorly-made compost.

Time to sow cucumbers

You need a propagator to raise cucumbers from seed and you also need one big enough to keep plants warm as they grow over the next few weeks. You won’t be planting them out into an unheated greenhouse or polytunnel until early May and plants can be 30cm tall at that stage. 

Put one seed per 8cm pot of good compost and keep at 20C until they germinate. You can lower the temperature a little to 18C once two true leaves are grown. Sow one or two seeds more than the number of plants that you want so you can replace any that fail.

Keep compost damp, but not wet, and don’t crowd plants if you want to avoid root and stem rot. Heated propagators heat the base of pots, so compost dries out from the bottom up. Cucumbers can benefit from standing in a tray of water until they draw up enough moisture. Leave them drain before putting back on the heated base. I remove propagator covers in my polytunnel on hot days and allow plenty of air to circulate.

Tip: you can also try sowing a couple of early courgettes in pots with a bit of heat.

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