March 2010 Newsletter

In the vegetable garden prepare a seed bed

If you are short of space for growing your own vegetables, but are eager to give it a try there are lots of varieties you can grow on a patio. Marshalls Gro-Sacks make ideal containers for growing many vegetables as well as some delicious early potatoes – they are even deep enough to grow carrots – try Rocketor Amsterdam Forcing for the earliest crops. Plenty of salad crops can be grown in containers or Gro-bags. Cut and come again lettuce such as Salad Bowl or Baby Leaf Salad Mix with different coloured and textured leaves, look good as well as taste good. Tomato Garden Pearl is excellent for growing in a container – you can even grow it in a hanging basket! Runner Bean Hestia has been specially bred for container growing. It has stringless beans held well above the compact foliage and has pretty bi-coloured flowers too. If you fancy something a bit more exotic try the baby Aubergine Ophelia, it is a very pretty plant and the glossy dark purple fruit are freely produced.

Strawberries do really well in a large container and if you get one with planting holes round the sides giving you more plants and ultimately more fruit. Herbs make great container plants, the Herb Plant Collection containing Thyme, Sage, Tarragon, Rosemary, Marjoramand Pineapple Mint gives you enough plants for a couple of mixed pots to keep nice and handy by the back door.

Here’s a little tip to help with both watering and drainage when growing in large containers, when filling them with compost stand a piece of drainpipe or something similar upright in the centre and fill with gravel. As you fill with compost gradually remove the tube releasing the pebbles in the centre. This will help water reach all the way through the compost and also help with drainage to prevent it from becoming waterlogged. This is especially useful when planting in the sides as well as the top of containers such as a strawberry planter.

It is the perfect  time to build

Onions, shallots and garlic can be planted this month provided the weather hasn’t been too wet and the ground is workable. If you have ordered heat prepared onion sets they will be delivered in late March – early April, which is the ideal time to plant them out. They have been specially heat-treated for a period of 20 weeks, which helps to prevent bolting. The skin of heat treated sets is a bit darker than regular sets and they have slightly lower moisture content. They cost a little more but the increased growing period and high quality yield more than makes up for it.

If you would like to get ahead early with seed sowing

If you would like to get ahead early with seed sowing there are some vegetables you can start now in a Heated Propagator. Tomatoes, globe artichokes, celery, early cabbage, cauliflower and onions can all be started early with some heat and reasonable light levels. Sow early peas in modules or a length of guttering ready to plant out once established and when the soil is a bit warmer. Broad beans and lettuce such as All the Year Round can also be sown in modules now to get a head start on direct sown plants, ready for planting out later.

Rhubarb  Crowns

If you are one of the many gardeners that struggle against clubroot the scourge of the brassica grower - help is at hand! Cabbage Kilaxy and Cauliflower Clarify are two very desirable varieties that have proven to be highly resistant to most clubroot strains. Clubroot is a fungal infection causing the roots to swell into ‘finger’ like galls that interfere with the uptake of water to the plant, resulting in severely stunted growth. This horrible little pathogen can survive in the soil as ‘resting spores’ released from these galls, for up to fifteen years! Clubroot loves warm, moist, acid soil, which is why the normal recommended treatment is to improve drainage and to lime the soil prior to planting, but in a badly infected area this may only have a partial effect.

Bear in mind that Clubroot is easily spread through infected soil particles on shoes and tools. So clean and disinfect your garden tools and footwear after cultivation of any infected areas to avoid passing on the problem. Citrox is a natural garden disinfectant that can be safely used on all your tools and is effective against a wide range of bacterial and fungal diseases. It is effective on pond accessories and bird tables too. It can even be added to water butts to keep water sweet and free from disease.

Begin your  gardening year with a spring-clean

Seed raised bedding plants are a very cost effective way to get a lot of plants for a small outlay. They are invaluable in the summer border, plant in larger groups and drifts for the most impact, a massed bed of Geranium Bullseye Scarlet will always turn heads. Begonia Non-stop does exactly that – it flowers non-stop all summer in pots and borders. Of course Lobelia Regatta is the perfect addition to pots and hanging baskets. A bed of Antirrhinum Liberty can keep you in cut flowers for most of the summer. Busy Lizziesare lovely in a shady situation and our mix stands up well to the vagaries of the British climate. Pot them up when they arrive and grow on ready to plant out strong little plants towards the end of May when all risk of frost is past.

If you have ordered your basket and patio young plants they will soon be arriving.  The more vigorous varieties such as geraniums and petunias can be planted directly into your containers but the others will benefit from potting into 3½in pots to grow on. Incorporating water retaining gel crystals and slow release fertiliser with the compost will save you time and effort later in the summer. Even if the weather is mild do not be tempted to place these tender plants outside just yet. For late summer colour in both the border and the vase you can’t beat Chrysanthemums, Early Decorative Sprays will flower from mid-August providing blooms for cutting until the first frosts.  Hardy Garden Mums have so many flowers they form a complete dome and completely hide the foliage! These easy plants deserve a place in any border and will pop up every spring for years.

Some summer bedding plants

Spring is a great time to get children interested in gardening they just love watching things grow and hands on activities such as sowing seeds will keep them entertained while they learn. Allowing them a little area of their own in the garden to work on and plant their own flowers and vegetables will give them a wonderful sense of accomplishment when their seeds flourish and grow. Get some kiddy sized tools to give them a real sense of ownership of their little plot. Some quick growing seeds will kick-start their interest, cut and come again lettuce and salad leaves with a mix of colours, shapes and textures are always a good one. Red leaved lettuce Dazzle is a small Little Gem type perfect for kids. Carrots are great favourites too and of course radish is firmly near the top of the list.

Sunflowers are always a favourite with children, especially the very young and Bee and Butterflyor Bumblebee Margin Mix will bring loads of fascinating wildlife into the garden. Children just love watering and tending the seedlings every day watching them grow.

If the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor sowing yet why not get them to sow some Micro-Leaf Vegetable seeds indoors on the windowsill? These tasty little plants are harvested as soon as the first true leaves appear, they are easy to grow and best of all they give very quick results which will surely get your children raring to get outside and grow even more vegetables!

Gardening Tips
If you are thinking of growing your own

Plant chitted early potatoes from the middle of the month if the weather is fine and the soil has begun to warm up in your area. Add a light sprinkling of Potato Fertiliser or Organic Extra to your trench before you begin to plant. Handle tubers gently so you don’t damage the shoots and plant with shoots uppermost. Cover with soil and as soon as the new growth appears begin to earth up, covering the emerging shoots as they grow until they are just covered each time. Keep mounding up in this way until you have a good ridge and there is no more chance of a frost to damage the new leaves.

As fruit bushes and trees begin to come into  growth

Finish preparing your seedbeds incorporating plenty of compost and organic matter to improve structure and drainage. Fork in a good multi-purpose fertiliser such as Marshalls Organic Extra – a super-concentrated farmyard manure which releases nutrients to the soil over a long period, boosting healthy growth and producing bumper crops, a couple of weeks before you begin sowing.  It is a super top-dressing for fruit trees and bushes too. When weather conditions are favourable sow carrots, parsnips, beetroot, broad beans, peas, spinach, swiss chard, lettuce, summer cabbage and cauliflower, but be prepared to protect the beds if cold weather is forecast.  In a frost-free greenhouse make the first sowings of peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, celery, globe artichokesand salad leaves.

As you harvest your spring cabbages

Be on the lookout for signs of slugs and take preventative action now rather than wait until your seedlings have been decimated! Nemaslug is one of our best-selling products – because it really works! Just mix in a watering can and water it onto the soil – nothing could be simpler. Nemaslug contains millions of naturally occurring microscopic nematodes that kill slugs both above and below ground. It is completely harmless to birds, hedgehogs and other wildlife as well as pets and children.

If you don’t like using chemicals on your garden pests you may like to give companion planting a try. By combining plants carefully they can help each other by attracting beneficial insects to help repel pests or grow some ‘sacrificial’ plants - for example Nasturtiums` which are a magnet for cabbage white butterflies to lay their eggs on and if planted in the proximity of brassicas the caterpillars will often prefer to chomp on them instead of your cabbages! French Marigolds in particular help repel white fly, greenfly and blackfly and are particularly useful grown near tomatoes. Sage is disliked by many pests and can be useful planted close to carrots and brassicas.

Growing flowering plants such as Limnanthes (Poached Egg Plant) or Bee Margin Mix near your veg plot encourages natural predators such as hoverflies and ladybirds which consume a vast number of aphids, as well as enticing bees into your garden to pollinate runner beans and other vegetables. While companion planting may not eradicate all pests from your garden - they might at least help to give your plants a fighting chance!

If you managed to sow and over-winter a green manure crop

If you sowed your own sweet peas in the autumn, pinch out the tips to encourage branching and move them to a position giving maximum light and sun.  Seeds can still be sown outside and a covering of fleece will give protection and encourage growth, but flowers will be a few weeks later. When these seedlings have developed four leaves pinch out the tips to leave two promoting stronger stocky growth. If you love fragrant Sweet Pea blooms for early cutting, but don’t have facilities to sow your own then Sweet Pea Plants may be the answer for you.  They have been carefully grown under ideal conditions and are supplied as multi-sown modules ready for you to plant out.