The above headline is a clarion call to all gardeners. If your thumbnails aren’t long in May, then you are not a real gardener! So for all you fancy Dans and Doras this post is your last chance to grow those nails.
17th May: Things I have been doing lately
🧟♂️ Deadheading. By now you should have started summer deadheading of various flowers. If you want repeat flowering then you must deadhead on a daily basis. This is especially important with Roses, but all plants will stop flowering once more than 50% of the plant has gone to seed. At this point the plant believes that its job is done and it can just shut down. By deadheading daily you are forcing the plant to continue flowering to make seed.
At the moment I am deadheading Roses every morning and sometimes I have to do it twice a day as one of my Roses “Blythe Spirit” flowers so profusely. I am also deadheading Carnations on a daily basis and soon it will be the turn of Marigolds. Right, this is where the thumbnails come in; just in case you were wondering. By growing your thumbnails long at this time of year you have with you at all times your very own personal pair of secateurs. As you stroll round the garden you can deadhead wherever necessary just by pinching the flower head between your thumbnail and your forefinger. By way of a health warning don’t try this with Roses, it hurts, instead use a pair of sharp secateurs.
Before we leave deadheading and go on to another thrilling topic, let me finish this by explaining the importance of proper deadheading. When you cut or pinch the dead flower out, don’t do it just below the flower itself. Instead follow down the stem until you come to the next leaf and cut just above this instead. In this way you are not leaving an unsightly dead piece of stem that can be easily infected.
And lastly the thumbnails; the first photo below shows them in all their grandeur. Notice the slightly green tinge to each nail and the nicks in each one caused by deadheading. The second photo shows Cruella (my wife) thumbs. She insisted that if I was having a photo of my thumb nail she wanted one as well. As you can see she doesn’t garden.
🚿 Spraying for garden pests. Some of you may be organic gardeners and never use chemicals in your garden. I, on the other hand would use nuclear weapons if I could get away with it. Don’t get me wrong I like the idea of chemical free gardening and I know all the arguments in favour. However, faced by a bed of Marigolds destroyed by snails or Roses sucked dry by Aphids, I would rather get my retaliation in first.
There are a few pests you should be watching out for at the moment. Slugs and snails will chomp through any newly planted out seedlings, so use slug pellets, but make sure they are bird and child friendly. Watch out for scale bugs on Oleander. If you are like me you will need to put your spectacles on. Scale will show up as a series of orange coloured dots. But put your glasses on and each little dot can be seen as a tiny bug. Last, but not least you have greenfly which can quickly infest Roses in their thousands. Greenfly also like Dame de Noche, Pink Trumpet Vine and strangely Lemon trees. The photo below shows the gardeners best friend at this time of the year.
🛌 Preparing bulbs for bed. By now all of your bulbs should have died back. If you have done as I recommended and left the stems on after deadheading, then the stalks should now be ready for cutting down. If you have cut them before now then you are a bloody idiot and a disgrace to gardening. It is only by leaving the stems intact to feed the bulb that we refresh the bulb for next year. Anyway, it’s time for the bulbs to go to bed for the Summer.
Cut the stems off as close to the ground as you can, but, try not to cut below the ground as you may let infection into the bulb. Once the stems have been cut off, place a thin layer of compost over the top and then give them a nice liquid feed. Don’t forget to say “goodnight, see you next year” it’s only polite and sends them to sleep knowing that you love them. The first photo below shows the bulbs shorn of their stems, whilst the second shows them tucked up in bed.
🖼 Making minor repairs to the lawn. Regular readers of this blog will know that my garden contains two great big lumbering Labradors who will roll, fight and generally cavort all across our lawns. They particularly like the small lawn right in front of our Naya (covered terrace) where they sleep most of the day. The end result is lumps, bumps and bare areas all over the place. To repair this I simply sieve some top soil and throw it over the lawn, then brush it in with a hard broom. This more or less levels the surface and I just allow the grass to begin mending itself. Where the patches are too bare or they have dug a hole, then I have to reseed and cover with fleece to stop the birds feasting on the seed.
The first photo below shows the small lawn after its new coat of soil. The second photo shows Tango dreaming of digging up the lawn.
🌱 Repotting seedlings and cuttings. By now your seedlings and cuttings should be ready for potting on. If you have taken lots of cuttings (and I told you to) then you will have a range of new plants for free. You need to leave cuttings in their pot until such time as you can see roots coming out the bottom of the pot. Then, if you have planted four in each pot, you need to separate them out and place them in larger pots. Similarly with seeds. If by now your seeds haven’t come through then it is likely that they won’t. If only a few have grown, don’t hang around waiting for the rest to grow as it won’t happen. In my case I needed to pot on some Lantana cuttings that had all taken successfully and some Pink Trumpet Vine seedlings, where only two had come through.
The first photo below shows the plants on my potting bench awaiting their transition to the next phase of their life. The second photo shows them happily seconded with the rest of the new plants waiting to be bedded out in a few weeks. Such joy!
🐴 Spreading horse poo. Horse poo or more politely “manure”, is widely recognised as a great garden elixir. I was overjoyed to be given a bag by a friend from Church and couldn’t wait to get muck spreading. However, a word of caution horse manure is fantastic, but not for all plants. Roses are ideal, as they are very hungry feeders and can easily cope with the strength of manure. Many other plants cannot so don’t just put it anywhere as you can badly burn and kill lots of plants. Also horse manure can contain lots of weed seeds because unlike cows with their four stomaches that effectively kill weed seeds, horses like humans have only one. So be prepared for extra hoeing.
The photo below shows Rosa “Creme de la Creme” avidly awaiting its three shovels full of poo.
🌋Spreading ash from log fires. Log burners are very popular in Spain and many people don’t realise that the ash byproduct of burning can be spread on to the garden to provide a beneficial feed. Burned wood doesn’t contain nitrogen, but it does provide phosphorous, potassium, calcium, boron and other elements that growing plants need. It’s also very alkaline and useful for raising the pH in gardens. You’ll need about twice as much of it as lime, but it will supply nutrients at the same time, and if you have a wood-burner it’s free.
Now I don’t have a wood burner, but I do have an outside fire pit (sort of) which we use beside our outside kitchen if the evening is a bit chilly. The last few nights have provided lots of ash and I have duly recycled it back into the garden. The photo below shows a fig tree becoming the happy recipient of ash.