Now that the big winter cut down is over its time to get your garden ready for its Spring spurt of growth. In Spain we are having a lovely Winter with lots of sunshine and, unfortunately from a garden perspective, little rain. This can lull you into a false sense of security as you can tend to think your garden will stay like this for a long time, but it won’t! In 3 to 4 weeks time everything will spring to life and unless you have everything ready you will be playing catch up all Summer.
Right, so here we go these are some of the things you should be doing to get the best out of your garden this Summer. Cruella (my wife) has just read this over my shoulder and declared this the most boring thing she has ever read. I protested that it was essential reading for gardeners, she snorted and wine came down her nose. I am worried, I think she is beginning drinking earlier each evening ever since the cat died.
15th February: Things I have been doing lately.
💨 The garden blow job. Everytime I write that this blog gets the wrong sort of traffic. Those of you with a higher moral code will know that I am of course referring to blowing up leaves and other detritus off your gravelled areas, so please stop sending me emails for Russian brides.
You will remember that I reshaped the big Bay tree in my last post. Having left the leaves to dry out on the gravel it is now time to blow them all onto the lawn this serves two purposes: Firstly, it stop the leaves mulching down into the gravel and providing an area for weeds to set seed. Secondly, it’s an economical way of clearing up the leaves. Once blown on to the lawn the leaves can be mown up and then placed on the compost heap to mulch down. The photos below show my trusty blower having done its work and my mower after clearing the lawn.
💦 Checking irrigation. You should try and change your irrigation systems batteries at the same each year. I have 11 different irrigation systems all of which require the batteries to be changed annually. Now is the time to do this. Don’t assume just because your irrigation is working now that it will work all Summer. The batteries will go without warning and your precious plants will die quickly in the Summer heat. The photo below shows one of my many systems that need new batteries. Cruella has just gone by looked at my screen and made a deep moaning noise whilst making a pretend hanging gesture.
✂️ Taking early cuttings. To be honest it is too early to take cuttings, but as you go round your garden you will find succulents that have broken off in the wind (or been molested by Labradors) either way pick them up and place them in a little bit of water till you are ready to pot them up. Because succulents store water in their leaves and stems they last much longer than normal cuttings which must be potted up straight away.
Before planting your new cuttings take a knife (never secateurs or you will crush stems) and cut just below a leaf node and dip the cutting in hormone rooting powder/liquid. The photos below show some cuttings waiting to be potted up, the preparation process and their final place on the potting bench. Click on each photo to enlarge.
🌾 Getting ready to sow seeds. Now is the ideal time to plant some seeds. Hopefully you saved lots of seeds from last summer’s flowers. If so now it’s time to get plants for free. If not it’s your own fault (I did tell you), now you will have to go out any buy new plants!
I use a small cheap three shelf plastic mini greenhouse to grow all my seeds. This is all you need in Spain, a real greenhouse is not necessary in our temperature. The photo below shows my mini greenhouse waiting in its Winter position beside my shed.
Before you start planting seeds you need to make sure that you have washed everything down to ensure you are not passing last year’s pathogens on to this year’s seeds. Thoroughly wash all your seed trays and remove any old compost attached to them. Also wash your greenhouse down inside and out. This will both get rid of pathogens and clean it up to allow maximum light penetration. The photo below show my seed trays sparkling as they dry on the drive.
🌼 Sowing Marigold seeds. Now different seeds require different techniques. Some require to lie on the soil, some need to have a layer of compost over them and still others need pushing deep into the compost. Cruella has just gone past again holding a bottle she looked at my pictures and pretended that she was being sick. I think we need a new cat!
Marigolds are one of my favourite plants for here in Spain. They are simple to grow from seed and flower all Summer long in full Sun. To sow Marigolds you need to mix up a nice store bought compost with some Perlite to let lots of air into the soil and keep it nicely free draining. The photo below shows one of my trugs with compost and Perlite ready to mix. Also it is important to mention that you should make sure there are no lumps in your compost as these will hinder the seeds germinating.
Once you have the compost ready then just sprinkle lots of seeds over the surface of the compost and lightly cover by sieving a light covering of compost over the top. I use a little sieve from a seaside bucket and spade set. The photos below shows the seeds sprinkled in their seed trays ready for covering with compost. The second picture shows the sieving process that covers the seeds. Remember, just a light coating of compost or the seeds will struggle. Click on each photo to enlarge.
🥔 Sowing Butternut Squash seeds. Growing Butternut Squash is very easy all you need to do is save some seeds from a store bought Squash that you have used in cooking. Make sure the seeds are clean of all vestigial plant matter and have been washed and dried. Then simply place the seeds on top of your prepared compost with about 2 inches between each seed. You finish the process by using your finger to press each seed about half an inch into the compost and closing the compost around the seed. The photo below shows the Squash ready for sowing.
🌸 Sowing Pink Trumpet Vine seeds. I like Trumpet Vine and harvest seeds every year so that if necessary I can fill gaps in my hedges with this robust and colourful climber. Again, the method of sowing this type of seed is different. A little tip, if you look at seeds they normally give you a clue as to how they will germinate and the best way to sow them. Marigold seeds have sharp pointed ends and a slight feathering at one end that makes the seed capable of burrowing into soft soil. On the other hand Butternut Squash seed is heavy and coated with a strong outer coating that will provide sustenance to the seed whilst it lies on the ground waiting to get covered by nature.
Trumpet Vine seeds are completely different they are an air borne seed that is blown off the plant in strong winds and uses its helicopter type seed wings to pilot itself away from the mother plant. The first photo below shows a handful of Trumpet Vine seeds, note how the seed sits in a translucent case in between its two wings (isn’t God wonderful). The second photo shows them sitting in a seed tray where they will barely be covered with compost. Click on each photo to enlarge.
💧 Watering seeds. If you water seeds from the top as a lot of people do, then it is likely that you will damage the seedlings or cause “damping off” where the seeds will succumb to mould. It is far better to place the seed trays into a large tray with water for 10 minutes. The compost will suck up just the right amount of water. Do this every two or three days, depending on where you are storing the seed trays. Finally, place your seed trays into your mini greenhouse or somewhere they can get lots of light but not too hot. The photo below shows my seeds safely tucked up. I will keep you informed of progress.