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Looking back at the month of April, you would be forgiven for asking what season we were in, such was the weather. The wet, cold and frosty weather prevented a lot of planting and sowing. May is the month when the temperatures rise and the day length increases. There is usually a major burst of growth during this month and it is well to be prepared for this. May can also be a relatively dry month and this dry weather can be combined with late frosts, so be warned! Take care planting out the summer bedding plants from frost and don’t let anything dry out in a dry spell.

Now that the grass is growing, it is important to cut it at least once a week or 10 days. You can still put your 3:1 lawn weed and feed out on the lawn. For those that have compost heaps and want to keep them as organic as possible, don’t put the grass clippings on the compost heap until the lawn has been cut at least three times; after carrying out any treatment of hormonal weedkillers on the lawn.

You can give evergreen hedges their first clip of the season now. Slope the sides so that the top is narrower than the base. This will allow light to get to the lower branches and then the hedge will have leaves almost to the ground. Before you start, check that there are no birds nesting in the hedge. If there are, delay cutting until the young have flown.

In the vegetable garden, mould the soil up around the shoots of the potatoes. This will help kill any germinating seed seeds, improve the weight of the crop and they will be easier to lift at harvesting time. If there is a chance of frost, cover the young growth completely to protect it from the cold. Weed growth also picks up momentum in this month, so keep them in check with the hoe. You can also use a pre-emergence herbicide for weeds with crops such as potatoes, carrotts, parsnips and parsley. This is a good month for sowing seeds of vegetables, including parsley which likes high soil temperatures to germinate.

Apple trees will need spraying for apple scab disease if they are not resistant varieties. Pear trees are usually free from scab disease. You can control scab by spraying with any systemic fungicide. Check currant bushes, raspberries, strawberries for greenfly, as apart from the damage they do, they also carry viruses. An organic way of getting rid of greenfly is to use washing up liquid with tepid water, spraying the top and underside of the foliage. Gooseberries will be the first fruit of the season. Pick the fruits while they are young before they become full of seeds.

The bedding plants for the summer are coming on stream. Because the way the weather has been, it’s probably best to be a little cautious. Another few days of mild weather going into mid May, will probably see the fear of frost through. All the usual varieties are available and this year there are lots of varieties of the increasingly popular Surtinia Petunias.

How to plant up a hanging basket in four simple steps:

  1. Place the basket on a bucket which will help keep it steady. With moss or a bought liner, line the basket packing moss firmly in place. It’s easier to use if you moisten it lightly.
  2. Use a multi-purpose compost to fill the basket, gently firming it down, but not packing it. A lot of people add Swellgel or Basket mate which turns into a gel and helps retain moisture, not drying out as easily.
  3. Remove well watered plants from their pots. Plant the centre working outwards, firming the plants in place as you go.
  4. Water the basket evenly and hang in a greenhouse or light and sheltered place for about two weeks so that the plants can establish.

There are two tips for this month. Firstly, if you get your chimney cleaned, hang on to the soot for your vegetable garden. It contains some nitrogen fertiliser and other minerals, especially sulphur. Both are necessary in the production of healthy green growth. Traditionally soot was applied to the ground to be used for onions. A domestic chimney can produce a few kgs of soot and will be enough to apply to about ten square metres. Onions benefit from nitrogen and sulphur directly, but they also benefit from increased soil temperatures. Being black in colour, soot radiates back less of the sunshine that falls on the soil surface. A raising of temperature of a couple of degrees is possible and this aids onion development. While soot has been used with onions, it can be used for other vegetables also. It would benefit leafy vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce and spinach, plants that effectively use nitrogen.

Secondly, keep all forms of styrofoam packaging material, for example Hifi, TV and fast food boxes, for breaking up to mix into compost or to place in pots before filling them with compost. The styrofoam opens up the compost to allow air into the roots and provides very good drainage.

Lastly, the questions I have been asked recently which are fairly common. Here are the answers.

Q. If I paint the timber products in my garden (railway sleepers, log rolls, trellis, etc) with cresote, will it cause damage to the plants?
A. Yes, the fumes of it can harm plants, so use some form of wood stain thats harmless to plants.

Q. I have access to a lot of mushroom compost to use around the plants in my garden, is it safe to use?
A. If you are going to use it as a mulch, it is best allowed to rot down outdoors where its relatively high salts content will be leached out. Established hedges are unlikely to be adversely affected however.

That’s it for now, happy gardening.
Bosco McDermott, Jnr. Glynn’s Garden Centre, Lydican