Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Dealing with Erratic Weather

After enjoying the delights of April when we were greeted by warm sunshine for several days, the weather is now back to erratic, un seasonal, ‘normal’. Even the hot days of April were tempered by cool nights, so any heat that warmed the ground was lost overnight. It did, however, compact spring into a few short weeks. Daffodils flowering with Magnolia’s and Ornamental Cherries and ‘Crab apples, like this one at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, plants bursting into flower and leaf simultaneously, showing off the multicolour splendour of freshly flushed foliage. Then to bring us back to reality, May began with plummeting temperatures and heavy rainfall – typical bank holiday weather!

Among this metrological mayhem, I planted a late crop of ‘early’ potatoes and now have to wait until the stems are about 9” tall before ‘earthing up’ – mounding soil around them so developing potatoes don’t turn green. Garden centres are offering good deals, in early May so they can clear remaining stocks of seed potatoes. Because ‘earlies’ mature so rapidly, only taking about three months to mature, they will be ready to harvest in July. Providing you can store ‘early’ seed potatoes in a cool dark place, their ability to mature rapidly, is a way of avoiding potato blight. Plant them successionally, for harvesting before July, when ‘blight’ normally attacks, then plant another crop in August, after the critical blight period, for a late harvest.

Non-flowering of daffodils, a regular complaint in spring, is due to a variety of reasons. In dry conditions, the leaves die back early and fail to form flower buds for the following year. They can struggle when clumps become too congested, too, so lift and split ‘blind’ clumps after flowering. Shallow planting also creates problems – they should be planted at 2-3 times the depth of the bulb, let the foliage die back naturally and don’t tie the leaves in knots, as this stops them from making the most of the sunlight. Bulbs in borders should be fed with general fertiliser every two-to three weeks during flowering and high potash fertiliser after flowering. Alternatively, just use high potash fertiliser. Narcissus bulb fly larvae, can destroy bulbs, entering through the root plate, to eat the centre of the bulb, they then pupate in the soil to infect again the following spring to midsummer. The only option is to lift and destroy affected bulbs. Resolves these problems and you should have a blooming good spring in 2011

Now the weather is warming up, lily beetles are also about. Both the orange-red bodied adults and the larvae, hidden under a glob of black excrement, strip Lilies, Cardiocrinum and Fritillaria’s of foliage and flower buds overnight. Adults can be picked by hand from plants, cup one hand underneath to catch the beetle as their defence mechanism is to drop from the plant as you reach to pick it up. Lifting plants in pots and gently shaking them, over an umbrella or plastic sheet is a way of catching them, too– these orange beetles are particularly obvious against a white background. Despite these threat – do not be deterred! Happy Gardening,