Hartley Magazine

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

Extending the flowering season and other seasonal suggestions.

Image - May 2017 (1 of 1)
Dead heading ‘Welsh Poppy’ (Papaver cambrica) to encourage more flowers and control a prolific self-seeder

Remove dead or fading flowers from ornamental plants to encourage a longer flowering season. Most can be removed by snapping them off between your finger and thumb or removing them with scissors. It is a particularly useful exercise with roses, because you can wrap your hand right round the petals, gathering them all before they fall. The only ones to leave are the seed heads of fruiting crops, plants grown for their ornamental berries later in the year or plants with lots of flowers, where deadheading is impractical. You should also remove flowers from young plants so all of the energy goes into establishing them, and plants that seed very freely are worth deadheading, too.

‘Hardening off’ or acclimatising plants to a change of conditions is essential before moving plants like courgettes from indoors to their final position out in the garden as the weather warms. To do this, put them outdoors in a sheltered spot during the day and bring them in at night for two to three weeks before finally planting out. The higher the indoor temperature the longer plants take to ‘harden off’. The process ensures that they are tough enough to survive though it is useful to have horticultural fleece standing to protect them against the impact of unexpected cold. Some plants like ‘Morning Glory’ are particularly sensitive to cold, turning yellow at the slightest shock, they may give up and not recover.

Now your greenhouse tomatoes are growing well, it is important to remove the side shoots of ‘cordon’ varieties to form a single productive stem. Don’t use scissors or secateurs, they snap off easily using your finger and thumb. Make sure your tomatoes are well watered, too, particularly if they are in growing bags where the compost dries out rapidly. Water them twice a day if possible, as one large soaking often leads to water-logging. Erratic watering causes calcium deficiency displayed as ‘blossom end rot’, later in the season, when the end of the fruit furthest away from the stem, turns black, so aim to keep the compost constantly moist.

When thinning vegetables, select the most vigorous seedlings and maintain the correct spacing between the plants, put your fingers around the base of those you want to keep and gently ease out weaker seedlings to minimise root and soil disturbance. Thinning is easier when the soil is moist, so water the rows first in dry weather. Watering is particularly important when thinning carrots, ‘Carrot fly’ are attracted to the crop by the smell of the juice, detecting one molecule from over 1km away! To avoid problems, thin carrots on an overcast day and water again after thinning. You don’t have to pull them out by the roots, pinch off the tops just above soil level and bury them in the compost heap. If you ‘station sow’ by putting two or three seeds at the correct spacing and removing the weakest seedlings, it reduces thinning and saves on seed.

Mow lawns a little and often, preferably twice a week when they are actively growing, taking a little off at a time. Start from a different point on the lawn each time, to improve the quality of the cut. Regular mowing reduces the volume of clippings, these should be mixed into the compost heap as thick layers are slow to rot.

Happy gardening. Matt