Hartley Magazine

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

Making the most of your Garden Centre

Although it is May and the garden centre is awash with beautiful bedding, it’s better to resist the temptation to buy until you are certain that the last frost has past – particularly after the erratic spring we’ve just experienced – if you live in a ‘frost pocket’ or northern parts of Britain. Suppliers make a fortune out of gardeners who buy early and are caught out later! If you simply can’t resist, make sure that you listen to the weather forecast regularly and have sheets of newspaper or horticultural fleece nearby, ready to cover your bedding plants. It is ok to plant up your hanging baskets, they can have a few weeks in the greenhouse to establish, before putting them outside. Once outdoors, they can easily be moved back into the greenhouse for protection if needed. Buy your plants from a local supplier with a good reputation, prices may be higher but the choice should be greater and if there’s a high turnover at the garden centre, plants won’t be around on the benches for too long becoming ‘pot bound’ and yellow leaved.

Choose your plants carefully; select colours that work well together in bright or pastel shades and estimate the number you need beforehand. The plants should be compact, pest and disease free and the leaves should show no signs of yellowing, make sure there aren’t masses of roots growing through the drainage holes and that the compost is moist. Finding out which day of the week new deliveries arrive, guarantees the widest choice of top quality plants. When you buy bedding plants, acclimatise them to outdoor conditions for a couple of weeks, leaving them outside during the day and bring them into the glasshouse at night and when they’re finally planted out, give your new plants a boost by watering in with liquid general fertiliser before changing to high potash fertiliser to encourage flowers. Fruit trees in blossom would benefit from frost protection too, if trees are small enough for this to be practical, carefully cover them with a double layer of horticultural fleece.

Once the soil warms up some of the more tender crops like French and Runner Beans, Squashes and pumpkins can be sown directly outdoors, rather than being started in the greenhouse. One way to encourage germination is to put an upturned glass jar over each squash or pumpkin seed to act as a mini greenhouse. Train the stems of squashes round a circle of twigs or canes in the ground to keep them under control, with a prominent marker cane to mark the planting position so you know where the roots are, among the mass of stems when watering later in the year.

If you have missed out on sowing some of your vegetable crops under glass earlier in the year, pop into your local garden centre, DIY store or seed company on the internet and buy some small plantlets instead. I’m growing some grafted tomatoes, which are said to have greater vigour, resistance to disease and nutrient disorders and improved all round performance; the flowers on the first truss have appeared and I can’t wait for harvest time -even that’s over a longer period too. Happy Gardening!