Spring can be traitorous – when it arrives, suddenly there will be a frost. But regardless of when it comes, the processes in the garden are the same. Garden expert John Taylor says the most important thing is to learn to know your garden.
When the ground has thawed, you are ready to begin. The exact time the ground warms up varies from year to year – and you cannot tell when it is from the kitchen window. You have to go out and put your hands in the earth.
Dig a little and see how it feels. If the earth is heavy and wet, it is too soon. The earth should be relatively dry. Malin Skiöld, head gardener at Rosendal gardens in Stockholm, says the time before the ground thaws should be spent in comprehensive planning.
“Think about what you want from your garden. Get inspiration from looking in seed and plant catalogues,” she suggests.
Read, otherwise you risk having a garden that flowers only in spring if you are tempted to buy everything that looks lovely on your first visit to the plant shop. You also need to know where the plant bed is situated, the type of soil and if there is competition from bushes or trees for nutrition.
Following the information on the seed packet is good advice. Many also want to know the exact temperature, but John Taylor prefers to give illustrative tips.
“I usually say that it is best to plant parsnips and carrots in your rain coat, beetroot in a t-shirt and jersey, and green beans in shorts and t-shirt.” According to John Taylor, the big mystery about gardening is also the answer to the mystery itself – your soil should be as alive as possible. Getting good soil is a continuous project, and it benefits as much from fertiliser as from a good garden compost.
Basic equipment to get started:
Good basic equipment for the garden enthusiast is: Secateurs, a shovel, spade, fork, lawn rake, ground rake. You also need a wheelbarrow, leaf basket and a compost holder in netting or wood. Check your tools before the start of the season, and have everything clean, oiled and sharp. Gloves and a pair of strong working trousers with places for tools and knee padding will make the job easier.
When the ground thaws:
Don’t use the cultivator or spade too soon. You would then break up the earth rather than airing it, with the soil then unable to transport nutrients or water. Cultivating too soon prevents the sun from drying the soil. Work the soil with spade or fork to a spade depth. You can also hire a cultivator.
Give your lawn a lift
After a long winter the lawn needs fertilising. A good way is to use organic chicken pellets. One sack is usually enough for a normal-sized garden. First rake the grass to air it. Spend a couple of days looking after your lawn and top dress it with the chicken pellets. If your lawn is in reasonable health and the soil pH is good, you don’t need to use lime. Otherwise it is good to do it now while there is still snow on the ground.
Don’t sow seeds too close together or too deep. Many people turning the earth take spadefuls that are too big, which soon gives you a back problem. Take smaller spadefuls and more of them. Plan the vegetables you want to plant well ahead of time. They require different planning. When you have dug your bed, water it and then plant your seeds. Then sprinkle earth over the bed but do not water immediately. If you water it and the sun comes out it can create a “crust” on the soil which stops the seeds from breathing. Herbicides are effective but not so good for the environment. Be stubborn and persistent and weed by hand instead. Begin early in the season and plan time for regular weeding. Use the weeds in your compost.
When you are sure there are no more night frosts, you can begin planting flowers. Flowers you can plant in the spring are for example forget me not, primulas, wallflowers and pansies – all plants that tolerate night frost. These can all be planted when the ground has thawed and combined with various bulbs.
Keep your garden flowering right through to autumn!
Invest in good plants which follow on from each other, for example peonies, day lilies and autumn anemones. Fill in with some spring bulbs and combine with a shrub of some sort, such as a flowering alder. A common mistake when planting trees is to set the plant too deep. Think about the situation, what you want it to do and the final height of the tree and find out what it will look like in ten years time. Fruit trees are nice but there are also lots of other decorative trees such as decorative crab apples and mountain ash.