May: to-do list


1. It’s officially the start of hedge-clipping season. The amount of cutting necessary depends on the type of hedge you have. You should always aim to make the sides of the hedge slope in slightly, so the base of the hedge is just a tiny bit wider than the top – this way you avoid creating shade that kills out the bottom of older hedges. Traditional hedges (box, hornbeam and beech) need tackling early this month. This way you can give them a second trim in late August/early September.  If you have a fast-growing hedge, such as privet, or evergreen honeysuckle you need to resign yourself to giving them a gentle trim every six weeks for the rest of the summer with the last cut should be no later than mid-September. Hedges composed of wild box and yew should be content with a single clipping in late August/early September.

2. Look out for climbers and wall shrubs that are putting out a lot of new growth. This needs your attention before the weight of it pulls the whole plant down. Tie in the shoots you wish to keep and cut back or prune out completely any that are growing away from the wall and not enhancing the overall shape of the plant.

3. When primroses and polyanthus finish flowering it is time to dig up and divide them. The division rejuvenates them. If you have used them purely as spring bedding and need the space for your summer planting, replant the best divisions in a container or nursery bed (if you are lucky enough to have the space for one!) and then replant them again in the autumn when you remove your summer bedding.

4. Once you are certain there is no further risk of frost, plant out pot-grown dahlias and tender exotics. It is best to wait until late May/early June to plant out rooted dahlia cuttings and dry begonia corms.

5. Continue to deadhead your daffodils but do not be temped to cut back the foliage, however untidy, until it dies back naturally. Each day on sunshine strengthens the bulb for next year’s growth.

6. Grow courgettes on your window ledge in pots. My bedroom window is currently home to mine. Sow two seeds to a pot and cover with cling-film or paper until the seedlings emerge. Pluck out the weaker of the two seedlings if both have germinated.

7. Check lovely new green growth on trees, shrubs and roses for the dreaded greenfly. If the ladybirds are not plentiful or unable to keep up, then you may have resort to insecticide. Or diluted washing up liquid, my preferred tactic.

8. Now is the time to support your perennials. The last thing one wants to see is a border full of wire and sticks – so it’s best to put them in just before they are really needed. Use sticks and canes to support the main weight-bearing stems and keep them short enough that they become swiftly hidden by leaves as the plants grow. As a rule of thumb,  I try to use supports that are one-third to half the eventual height of the plant.

9. Time to plant up window boxes and containers – nothing is quite so transformational to the garden. Instant results! For window boxes, short, trailing plants are best as they don’t block your view or your light.  For tubs and troughs try upright, bushy plants – a trough of herbs is wonderful – rosemary is ideal for this. For pots and patio containers, plants such as pelargoniums can be relied upon to last all summer if you look after them properly.  Always remember to leave a 1 inch gap between the top of the compost and the rim of the container to allow room for watering.

10. Prepare for slugs and snails to arrive at your restaurant! It’s easier to ‘sort’ them in containers. I am not a fan of slug pellets – they are ugly, unsafe for pets and not terribly ‘green’. I prefer to use copper ‘slug rings’ around my pots and for the first time have just purchased some nematodes – a biological slug treatment. I’ll write about them at a later date…




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