A touch of frost still a threat in May days

Garden slug
Garden slug

EVERY gardener who has been seriously preparing for the coming season is faced with the most difficult two weeks of the growing year.

Potted plants need to be kept moving but for the likes of dahlias and early chrysanths where it is too late to re-pot and early planting may need protection.

The slug, enemy of farmers as well as gardeners.

The slug, enemy of farmers as well as gardeners.

Those who are avidly buying plants which are not yet hardened off have protection problems of their own.

Added to this is the final soil preparation and the focus on making decisions on the use of beds and possibly stretching the rules of crop rotation.

There are numerous reports of severe damage to early potatoes wrought by the frost and those suffering most were allotment gardeners.

The answer is fleece. This light and durable product is almost a vital necessity since it offers frost protection, allows the plant to grow as normal and receive any rain. It is in truth a mini poly-tunnel, not of plastic but polypropylene.

My own main-crop has been covered for more than a month without becoming drawn or damaged in any way. It gives the grower peace of mind amid the prophecies of the weather forecasters. It can be thrown over all those plants standing outside when the cold-frame and greenhouse are at bursting point.

It is almost perfectly translucent, and at a width of two metres will set you back about 50p for a metre of the standard grade. It can be stored anywhere, and with the aid of a few bricks will be with you forever. One piece, not secured, lives on as a white flag in a neighbour’s tree.

A large local store is now offering plastic bell cloches which are useful for outdoor protection of larger plants already set out.

Trying to outwit our feathered friends I have just sown my pea crop in pots. The idea is that a later planting in mid-June will not attract so many to tear at the delicate growing point, and since maturity comes in about ninety days a mid-August offering will be welcome.

With five peas to a small square pot the method has brought some success in the past and also allows more time for preparation of the bed. Remember the old method of rolling seed in paraffin, thereby preventing mice taking the outdoor newly sown seed.

Slugs are almost absent at the moment and there is a fairly new totally natural product which defeats them. It later decays and gives nitrogen back to the soil. It is based on wool shoddy, a product once sold in its pure form to gardeners. It is in the form of pellets which are placed in a circle round the plant stem. Slugs will not cross it as it absorbs their natural slime. It was on offer at last years shows at Harrogate, and is called Slug Gone.

For autumn planting make a note of two tulips. The first is Mount Tacoma, a double white with lasting qualities and a sturdy stem. It last for weeks and makes for an eye-catching display. Different, but just as valuable, and just as late, is Don Quichotte, which is a tall late offering with triumph ancestry, of a deep pink shading to purple.

Last month one weed was omitted, possibly not even a favourite as a wild flower, except with geese who feed off it. To many it is known as sticky-bud. In its infant form the stems are clearly identified by five or six leaves.

Galium aparine is growing at express rate at the moment and should be cleared immediately before its hairy leaves encircle your garden, and its adhesive balls unsettle your dog. Previously mentioned common poppy is betraying itself with its yellow heads. Get the trowel to work. In this yellow form It is more accurately known as the Welsh Poppy, carrying the Latin title of meconopsis cambrica.

Finally, the basis of this column has contributed directly to a happy family. Only five minutes after sieving some garden compost a seagull arrived and departed laden down with the rougher discarded elements of my efforts.