Cruella (my wife) arrived back the other day. I didn’t know she was coming but I got a bit of a clue when the chickens started fussing around with their feathers and grooming each other. Anyway, the sky went dark, there were low threatening clouds and a hint of lightning. The chickens trooped out of their coop and formed a circle on the lawn waving little flags they had made (don’t ask). Cruella spiralled down out of the biggest dark cloud and made a perfect landing in their circle whilst waving enthusiastically at the chickens who all clucked appreciatively in chickenese; I hid in the shed.
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough the big rat is back in the compost heap. Whilst not meaning to conflate Cruella’s return and the appearance of the rat – I am sure it is not just coincidence. Anyway, I knew he was back as I saw his tail disappear into the compost when I opened the bin lid. Of course it is not the same big rat, as his predecessor was duly dealt with as he will be eventually. But don’t let this put you off composting. Ratty’s appearances are very rare, especially if you never compost cooked food. But more about ratty later, on with the gardening.
9th April 2023. Things I have been doing lately:
Pruning back Ice Plants. Ice plants are popular in Spain for their early spring flowers and the fact that they don’t mind a bit of neglect. By now your Ice plants should be flowering profusely, but as you know they soon die back unless you deadhead vigorously. If you want more flowers then try and deadhead them every couple of days. The easiest way to do this is to use a pair of hand scissor shears. The new flowers will start arriving at a level just below the spent flower stems. This gives you an ideal opportunity to shear off the longer spent stems leaving the new flowering stems to grow. If you wait too long then the new stems will be as long as the old stems meaning you will have to prune each stem individually which is very time consuming.
The first photo below shows one of my Ice plants with new and old flowers and ripe for shearing. The second photo shows my shearing technique. With a bit of luck the plant will produce more flowers for a few weeks yet. Click on each photo for a larger view.
Time to take early cuttings. If you see vigorous new growth on your plants then why not try taking some cuttings. The obvious benefit of taking cuttings for your own garden is that you get free plants from something that has already proved itself in your garden.
Taking cuttings is simple. Just go to a vigorously growing non flowering stem and then using a knife (never secateurs as they crush stems) cut just below a leaf node and pop your cutting into a plastic bag to keep it fresh. The photos below show that I have been taking cuttings from Swedish Ivy (creeping Charlie) and Dianthus. You don’t really need to cut Dianthus or carnations, just pull hard on the stem you want and it will come away. Click on each photo for a larger view.
After you have taken a few cuttings you need to prepare a 4 inch pot with either seed compost or your own sifted compost. Now I am a bit fussy with compost for cuttings so I tend to use my own compost and then sift it to get a fine mix that I then add Perlite to for added drainage. The photos below show my patented sifting methods. Click on each photo for a larger view.
Fill your 4 inch pots and then gently tamp down to remove any pockets of air. Take each cuttings and remove all the leaves apart from a few at the top; this will stop the cutting losing too much water. If you have rooting hormone powder or liquid, then dip each of your stems into this before placing four of them equally spaced out around the side of the pot very close to the edge. The first photo below shows the pots ready to receive their cuttings after dipping in hormone liquid. The next photo shows the little cuttings under shelter in the shade for a few weeks. Click on each photo for a larger view.
Sowing seeds. If you intend to grow plants from seed this year – and you should. Then you better get on with it. If your garden is based on succession planting; as mine is, then it is important to have a conveyor belt of plants coming through ready to plant out. It is very hot at the moment during the day so it is important to get seedlings underway or they will just fry by the time you come to planting out.
I collect seeds from all my various plants in the Autumn and always have envelopes full ready to sow. In addition I will occasionally buy a packet of seeds as an experiment. This year it is Lupins which I will sow now to hopefully flower next year, but we will see. One innovation I am trying this year is to use all the various plastic containers that I get from the supermarket containing strawberries, blueberries, grapes etc. These are ideal for sowing seeds as they are handily perforated both in the bottom and the top which is good for seeds allowing drainage and good air circulation. So far I have sown the following:
- Mini sunflowers
- Dutch Marigolds
- Trumpet vine
Usually I buy a little plastic mini greenhouse each year for seeds, but this year I am just sticking them under a sheet of plastic and using the supermarket containers. The results of my early sowing can be seen in the photos below, we will see how it all develops. Click on each photo for a larger view.
Get ready to feed your plants. Now is the time to stock up on the various plant foods you will need for summer. It is important to use the right food for the right plant. Yes, of course a general purpose feed is ok, but you will get more out of your plants if you feed them with an appropriate targeted food. The photo below shows the array of feeds that I use.
From left to right, they include:
- Ericaceous plant food. This is used for acid loving plants who dislike a lime soil. My soil is not acidic but sometimes I have things in pots that need this type of feed. We are very lucky where I live as it is in the middle of a Pine wood so pine needles are good for ericaceous plants.
- Iron mixture. Not really a food but enables plants to take up food more efficiently. You can buy packets of Fe in a powder form that you can mix yourself. I remix this to the colour of a Rosé wine and add a Glug to every watering can feed. “Glug” is a precise measure defined as more than a drip, but less than a pour.
- General purpose feed. This can be used on more or less any plant and will do some good but definitely no harm.
- Orchid feed. I only have one orchid but this is a must if you have orchids.
- General purpose granular feed. This is a good general purpose feed that can be sprinkled around between packed plants in the summer. When watered in this will feed for about a month. It says 3 months on the packet but this is an exaggeration.
- Grass food. I know that not many of you have lawns in Spain, but if you do, then you must feed them at least 3 times a year starting at the end of April through to about October.
- Citrus feed. This is for all you citrus trees and you should have been feeding this for at least the last month or so. This is essential before and during blossom time to ensure a good crop.
- Special food for fruiting plants. This encourages healthy and abundant fruit for crops like figs, persimmons, plums, peach, apple, pear, grapes etc.
- Geranium feed. I don’t know why I bother as the Geranium moth destroys all my plants before they get the benefit of it. But I have hopefully been developing one that is more or less moth proof. All it has to do is get through this year and it should be immune.
Well there you have it. A lot of plant food, that can be expensive, but most of it will last more than one season. Also it is important that you read the instructions on the bottle. If you enthusiastically overfeed, you won’t necessarily get more flowers or fruit. You are more than likely to get lots of bright green soft growth.
The big rat. I was going to finish with a finale about my battles with the big rat. But I was relying on Tango the lonely blind Labrador to accompany me and show his killer instincts, but, sadly those days are gone. From the photo below you can see that he prefers to sleep in the shade. He dreams of past battles in the bright colours he will never see again. God bless him, the rat can wait.
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