So that was May? Not much better than April from a gardener's point of view, was it? For the most part it was dreary, overcast and too much on the cool side for our liking. The end of the month seemed especially chilly at times, whereas many previous Mays have been warm, pleasant and blessed with clear blue skies. Early indications suggest June will be considerably better - let's hope so!
We know the weather is an overriding concern for many gardeners because so much of what we can or can't do is dependent on it. We have recently installed a weather station on our trial ground so we can accurately monitor conditions here and, year by year, build up a picture which we hope will be both informative and interesting. Unfortunately, the only thing it is unable to do is forecast accurately tomorrow's weather!
Half-hardy container and bedding plants should now go out to their flowering positions. Water them in well when newly planted and remember to keep those in pots, baskets and window boxes really well watered at all times, as the growing medium tends to dry out much more quickly than soil in the garden. This is particularly so in strong winds and warm, sunny spells.
Wherever they are growing, all summer-flowering plants will benefit from regular feeding with a good quality plant food, but never apply it at a higher rate than the manufacturer suggests.
Delphiniums are usually at their best in June, but bear in mind taller varieties may need staking to keep them upright as they flower. Do not use a stake higher than the bottom of the flower spike. We like to delay staking for as long as possible; stakes are not the most attractive feature in a border and the less time they are on view the better. Once they have finished flowering, the plants can be cut back. Leave some foliage, and you will find that sometimes they re-shoot from the base to give a second flush of flowers around September.
Delphiniums are perennial, flowering for the first time the year after sowing. There is still time to make a sowing of seed of these beautiful, majestic plants, and if you are not keen on the taller types, try our Magic Fountains, a lovely blend of shades of blue, lilac and white, growing to around 90cm tall. It is a lovely, well-balanced, manageable mixture.
Many roses, too, are at their best in June. It may seem like a bit of a chore, but if you can spare a few minutes once or twice a week to dead-head spent blooms you will be really well rewarded with plenty more blooms. We find the best technique is to remove the faded head at the first leaf below it, as this encourages the plants to re-bloom fairly quickly.
Once bearded irises have finished flowering, they can be divided to provide additional plants. This prevents them becoming overcrowded and encourages better flower production. When replanting a section, ensure it has two 'fans' of leaves attached. Bearded irises do best in well-drained neutral to slightly alkaline soil, and in full sun. In autumn they will benefit from a mulch with well rotted organic matter.
While you may already be enjoying your 'earlies', maincrop potatoes will benefit from further earthing-up as they grow. A draw hoe is the ideal tool for this, pulling up soil from either side of the row to encourage further root growth and tuber development.
Broad beans are one of the great treats this month. We like them picked and enjoyed the younger the better, while they are still tender and green. Larger, rather grey-skinned beans are best skinned, but the texture is rather 'mealy' compared with that of younger beans. When harvesting has finished, the stems can be cut down to ground level, as the nitrogen nodules in their roots provide food for subsequent crops.
This is a good time to make direct sowings of fennel and oriental 'greens' like mizuna and pak choi. We offer an excellent range of pak chois, including the striking Red Choi F1 and the broad-stemmed Yuushou F1. For something a little different, why not try Tatsoi Rozette F1, which is fast-growing and has attractively glossy leaves. Mizuna is becoming more widely grown, and its finely cut leaves can be harvested over a long period - lovely in summer salads and stir-fry dishes! Sowings made in June and July are much less likely to run to seed (bolt) than those made earlier in the season. Pick the leaves young for a mildly spicy flavour.
Why not make a late sowing of carrot seeds for giving you a supply of delicious roots into this winter? That great old favourite Autumn King 2 is perfect for the job, as it stands in condition in the soil for long periods. Or how about giving our Rubrovitamina a go? You may not have heard of it, but it produces really large roots which are high in carotene; its flesh is deep red and has a great flavour.
If you are growing brassicas, such as cabbage and cauliflower, you could make use of the space between the rows by sowing seed of fast-growing vegetables such as radish and salad leaves. If you want to be different, try our radish Kulata cerna, with its striking, black-skinned roots and clean white flesh, or Mooli Mino Early, capable of yielding really long, pure white, tasty roots. Known as 'daikon' in Japanese, it can even be steamed or pickled.
Onions produce the best bulbs when grown in fertile soil and without check to their development. As bulbs start to swell during June, they will really benefit from the application of a good general purpose fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone or Growmore. If it's dry at the time of application, water the feed into the soil round the plants.
Blueberries are increasingly popular with our customers - probably because they are both delicious and nutritious. They have the added advantage of giving a good crop when container-grown. Keep the plants well watered at this time of year, when they will also benefit from a feed with a high-potash content to encourage berry development. Unfortunately, wild birds love the fruit as much as we do, so it's a good idea to cover the plants with a mesh netting or even a piece of net curtain before the berries start to ripen.
Apple trees often experience the 'June drop', when small fruits drop naturally from the tree. This is usually no bad thing, as it allows the remaining ones to develop fully. If your apple tree still looks to have a good crop after this phenomenon, remove any which look damaged or are mis-shapen. It is best to leave just one or two fruits per cluster, and the same goes for pears. This may seem harsh and wasteful, but the process allows remaining fruits to grow larger and tastier than if all were left on the tree.
Shortening new shoots on whitecurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries will not harm the plants. They all form their fruit on older wood, so cutting them back now helps to keep them tidy and promotes good air circulation through the bush.