May 2012 Newsletter

Water ButtWhilst I strive as far as possible to make my garden wildlife friendly there are some garden visitors that I would prefer not to take advantage of my hospitality! I actively try to encourage birds, ladybirds, lacewings and more into the garden as they can keep pest numbers down in a big way and are obviously much better for the environment. I have a resident thrush that consumes vast amounts of snails – she whacks them on one particular paving slab and leaves the empty shells (and a certain amount of nasty mess!) for me just to prove just how many she has eaten! However natural predators may not be quite up to the job if there is a really bad infestation, I don’t want to destroy ladybirds and other good visitors so I only use Biological Controls which I find are really effective – especially against slugs - I really don’t want too many slugs in my veg plot! Nemaslug and other Nemasys products do not harm any other wildlife, children or pets and they are very easy to use.

The other pests that send me into an almost murderous rage are Cabbage White Caterpillars - I had a devastating attack a few years ago - I woke up one morning and my plants were alive with the horrible things, my brassica leaves were all lacy! It’s not just the holes in the leaves but the horrible ‘frass’ (that’s caterpillar poo to you and me!) that I hate and I just couldn’t bring myself to eat any even after washing! So now as soon as brassicas are planted they get covered with Insect Netting so the butterflies can’t get near to lay their eggs! The netting is fine enough to keep out cabbage and carrot root fly and whitefly too while allowing water and air to pass through. It also gives some protection from high winds and heavy rains creating a safe micro-climate. It is very light weight and doesn’t fray when cut. Remember prevention is always better than cure!


Sow Sweetcorn in pots in the greenhouse this month, they will produce strong plants ready to plant out in June. Courgettes, Marrows and outdoor Cucumbers can be sown in situ from the middle of the month provided the weather is warm enough, if it is still a bit cold start them off in the greenhouse or on your kitchen windowsill, or plant them out and give some protection with Fleece or a Cloche. Make sure you keep all emerging seedlings and young plants well watered. Sweetcorn is wind pollinated and best planted in large blocks, so the male flowers at the top of the plant can pollinate the female tassels lower down.

If you didn’t get round to sowing your Tomato seeds earlier you can catch up by growing from young Tomato Plants – there’s still time to order them if you’re quick! The plants will grow away quickly once potted on and if you haven’t got a greenhouse you can still grow Outdoor Tomato Plants in a sunny sheltered spot outside.

If you are gardening in the north of the country, bear in mind you may need to sow everything a bit later - be led by the weather and the condition of your soil, not what it necessarily says on the packet. Please don’t be tempted to transplant outside too early, there is nothing more disheartening than growing lovely little plants only to have them wiped out by a late frost – it could put you off growing forever - so be warned! If in doubt wait a week or two.


Veg Sowing of outdoor crops can really begin in earnest now but if it happens to be cold and wet in your part of the country delay sowing until the weather is more clement.  Mangetout and Sugar Snap Peas can be sown outside now as well as Kale, Sprouting Broccoli, Summer Cabbage, Carrots, Beetroot, Runner Beans, French Beans and many more.

Keep sowing short rows of Lettuce and cut and come again Salad Leaves every couple of weeks to ensure a continuous supply throughout the summer, these can be inter-planted between slower growing plants like brassicas to maximise space. As you plant your Brassica Plants protect them against cabbage root fly with Brassica Collars to prevent the fly laying her eggs close to the stem of your plants, where maggots will emerge after about 6 days and begin feeding on the roots before tunnelling up the main stem causing the plant to collapse You can also cover the bed with a Net Tunnel or Insect Mesh to create a complete barrier against all insects.


Plant up hanging baskets Planting up of hanging baskets and containers can begin in earnest now.  If you potted on your young Basket and Container Plants last month, they should have made good root growth by now. Pinch the tips out of any plants that are beginning to get a bit leggy this will give a much better well branched and bushy plant. Transplant them to their final containers incorporating Water-Retaining Gel and Slow Release Fertiliser into the compost to help water retention and feeding over the summer months. Give them a week or two to establish before placing them outside. If you like to see hanging baskets but are not sure how to plant your own there are some useful tips in our Growing Guide - ‘Plant a Hanging Basket’

Bedding Plants will also be growing away nicely but however good they look don’t be tempted to plant them into your borders just yet, even if we are having a mild sunny spell. The last thing you need is for all your patient potting and growing on to be wiped out by one late night frost! Begin to harden them off by placing them outside during the day but return them to the shelter of the greenhouse or cover them with fleece overnight. Don’t be tempted to place them in their final position until you are sure all risk of frost is past.


ChrysanthemumsTowards the end of the month you should be safe to plant out your Chrysanthemum Young Plants  they will start to grow away really quickly. Pinching out the growing tip will give you a well branched, stronger plant with more flowering stems. Chrysanths are invaluable for late summer and autumn borders, and come in a range of sizes, shapes and colours. They will often be going strong until nearly Christmas, and outlast almost everything else in a cold, wet autumn, giving a real splash of colour when nothing else is in flower.

Hardy Garden Mums are naturally free-branching and bushy and with the minimum of pinching out will form a spectacular dome containing so many flowers they will almost obscure the foliage!  They’re perfect for containers and border edges alike and will flower on and on until the first frosts.  Fully hardy, they will die back over the winter to re-appear the following spring, (just cut off the old flowered stems when the new growth appears in early spring).  If they are in containers remember to keep the pot protected from the frost so the roots do not freeze over the winter

Tips for the garden...

NemsSlug Prepare a trench for growing your Runner Beans, they relish a deeply dug trench with plenty of well rotted garden compost or manure dug into the bottom, this helps with moisture retention to the roots and feeds the plants as they grow. Beans love a sunny, well-drained spot and Runner Beans, French Beans and Dwarf Beans can now be sown outside directly in the soil where you want them to grow. 

Put your canes in position and sow two seeds per cane.  If the weather is still a bit cold you can still start them off in the greenhouse or kitchen windowsill. Rootrainers work really well for sowing beans and peas of all types as they like a deep root run which Rootrainers provide. Each cell opens for easier transplanting with minimal root disturbance and they are re-usable too. The cardboard inner of toilet rolls make an ideal bio-degradable pot for sowing runner beans. Stand the rolls together in a tray to keep them upright, fill with compost and sow your beans as normal. When they have grown on to about 4 inches plant them out – still in their toilet roll pot, this will prevent any root disturbance and the cardboard will help retain moisture as it gradually breaks down in the soil.


Avoid attracting Carrot Root Fly when thinning your carrots, do this job in the evenings if possible when there are less insects flying. The flies are attracted by the smell of the bruised foliage when you pull out the thinnings, and then lay their eggs close to the plants in cracks in the soil. When they hatch they burrow their way under the soil and feed on the roots. These little insects can be a real nuisance, but there are simple ways to outfox them!

They are low flying so growing in Raised Beds and placing a barrier of Insect Netting or Fleece at least 60cm high around the bed should help keep them out, make sure you tuck it well down to the soil with no gaps for the fly to get in (or cover the complete bed). A mulch of grass cuttings around the seedlings will make it harder for the fly to find a good spot to lay her eggs. Companion planting with plants which have a strong smell of their own such as Sage, Rosemary, Coriander or Spring Onions sown close to the carrot row will also help deter them by confusing the smells, or try growing a variety with good resistance to the pest such as Resistafly. Planting carrots in the same location year after year allows the fly to get a strong hold and multiply, so crop rotation is very important. Carrot Root Fly also likes to snack on Parsnips, Parsley (and cow parsley!) and Celery so avoid growing these crops in areas which have previously grown carrots.

Another solution is Nemasys Grow Your Own Biological Control it is a unique mix of different nematode species to target a broad range of pests including Carrot Root Fly and is extremely effective especially when used as a regular programme.


Keep earthing up your potatoes as they grow to encourage more tuber growth and protect the tops from any late frost which can kill off the foliage.  If you planted a very early variety such as Swift you may even be lucky enough to be harvesting a few tasty new potatoes from the end of the month! Nothing beats the first freshly dug new potatoes, boiled with a large sprig of Mint and served with a knob of butter melting over them – my mouth’s watering already!

Slugs love potatoes and the little grey ones that live in the soil will be highly active now. To prevent them nibbling away at your crop water the ground around your precious plants with Nemaslug which contains millions of naturally occurring nematodes which kill slugs above and below ground. They are completely harmless to birds, animals and children.


Mulching fruit crops around their roots helps them retain moisture and keep weeds down. Remove any suckers growing between rows of Raspberries and take out any overcrowded canes to allow light and air through the stems to help fruit ripen.

Thin out overcrowded fruit on Gooseberry bushes to allow the remaining fruit to increase in size. Remove Strawberry runners as they are produced to allow all the energy to go into fruit production rather than into producing more plants. Lay straw or weed suppressing fabric around and between plants to keep fruit clean and easier to pick. Cover Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots overnight with Fleece if a late frost is forecast to protect the emerging blossom. Cover soft fruit with Bird Netting to prevent birds having a better fruity feast than you do!