Gardening with Patricia Jordan
April brings to mind sayings about the weather like ‘March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers’. The weather starts to warm up and the sunshine does indeed bring forth wonderful flowers in the flower beds, as well as in the citrus and prunus orchards. However, for the past four or five years I have noticed a distinct change in the weather pattern which brings a surge in temperatures in the second half of this month, as high as mid 30s. This increased heat burns the fresh foliage and flower buds. Even if the flowers have already been fertilised, the embryonic fruits fall to the ground and are lost! We may have to learn to cope with this as it would seem that it may be the weather pattern for years to come. If you still have oranges on your citrus trees, you should try to remove them as soon as possible, as now their peels are softer they are prime targets for the Mediterranean Fruit Flies. I know that people hang those sticky cards to catch them these days, but they are around and breeding fast. The next fruits they will target will be the prunus fruits, apricots, plums, cherries and nectarines, so be warned! If your citrus trees bore a heavy harvest last year, you may find that it is severely reduced this year, so be prepared for that. Heavy fruit crops can cause stress on trees and it may take some time to recover.
With so much growth everywhere after the winter rains, not only are the garden plants thriving but so are the weeds. Mallows and oxalis are going over now, so pull them out. It is never a good idea to put the latter in a compost heap or bin. Every tiny bit of the white root of oxalis can generate a new plant eventually, so get rid of them some other way.
However sunny it may be in the day time, some nights might still be chilly, so take care when planting out vulnerable bedding plants. Remember that if they are newly bought, they have been kept under cover up till now and might find an open garden, with many fluctuations of temperature, just too much. Garden centre plants are always ahead of those in the open garden. Some people won’t buy a plant unless they are full of flowers, but the exciting time for me is to select unusual plants that are not in full bloom, as they would have reached their peak before I have had time to enjoy them. I always look to see if there are new stems coming up from the root area, which will bring more flowers later on.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
The foliage of spring bulbs will still be around but don’t be tempted to pull it all off as the bulb is making the new flower for next season, before hibernating underground until the spring. Pretty little cyclamen will shortly be going over as well. While I have been enjoying their pink and white flowers for such a while, the time has come for them to make seeds and hibernate underground as our temperatures rise. I am always amazed how they begin to shoot above ground in the autumn after enduring such high temperatures in their dormant stage. You may find that hyacinths left in the ground year on year will eventually have shorter flower stems with less and less flowers on them. This is the time to dig them up and replace them in the autumn with new bulbs. People are always complaining about ‘blind bulbs’, that is bulbs that did not make a flower. This usually happens with daffodils. There are several reasons for this. Sometimes they become crowded together, so they should be lifted after the foliage has died down and replanted in the autumn. Another reason could be that they were lifted from the bulb fields before they had chance to make the flower for next season. Not good news at all. I do not have much success with tulips and talking with a Dutch man the other day, he said that the bulb fields in the Netherlands were comprised mainly of sandy soil, as tulips do not like to be damp and will rot off in wet conditions.
Dutch irises should be replaced every few years. Of course if you feed the bulbs after the flowers have faded, you may get another year or so out of them, but if they are flowerless then replacement is the only answer. Iris germanica known also as the ‘Flag Iris’ needs to be dug up every three or four years, otherwise there will not be any flowers. The easiest way is to lift the whole plant with a garden fork and separate out the different pieces. Discard those with dead flower stems, as they will not produce flowers any more, and replant the other good rhizomes making sure that they face into the sun to ensure flowers.
Start a regular regime for feeding plants especially roses, which are gross feeders. Pot plants, which should have had the soil refreshed by now or even re-potted, benefit from regular feeding too. Most plant foods have recommendations on them for feeding plants and potted plants can easily be fed with a soluble feed as you water. Remember that even decent potting composts have only a limited amount of nutriments in them – six weeks at most – so if plants are going to be left in pots all summer long then they will need something extra in the form of a slow release fertiliser. If you sowed annual seeds in drifts earlier on you may find that that you have far too many seedlings now, so some thinning may be necessary to allow the remainder to thrive. You will get better flowers if you do that. Seeds of cosmos, larkspur, poppies and nasturtiums are all sown directly into the ground and the tiniest bit of sun and water will help them to germinate.
I don’t plant sweet corn until the third week in April to avoid any die-back. This goes for veggies as well and it’s better to plant a few rows at a time so as not to have a huge harvest all at once. As a ‘southerner’ I am rather partial to runner beans and although there are lookalikes in the greengrocers, they cannot beat a ‘Scarlet Runner’, which I have grown a couple of times but only managed to get one crop each time. A reader in the Kathikas area advises growing Thompson and Morgan ‘White Lady’ beans, as they crop well and can take summer heat. (He also manages a super crop of raspberries too). Runner beans like well-mulched deep trenches and supports, plus water of course. I am going to try these out and will let you know if I succeed.
Now that the regular rains have reduced, check over your watering systems. During the winter all sorts of dirt and muck gets into the nozzles, which can be cleaned by taking them off and soaking them overnight in malt vinegar, brushing off the debris with an old toothbrush. If they are very old then it is best to replace them before you need to use them again. Keep on dead heading especially those osteospermums that do so well here, or they will seed everywhere. This month is such a lovely time in the garden with so much going on that a little work now will allow you to enjoy the delights that late spring brings.
Plant of the Month – Eugenia ‘Etna Fire’
This lovely flowering plant in the Myrtle family certainly catches the eye with its early spring foliage of bright red leaves. Eugenia ‘Etna Fire’ is new to the market resulting from plant trials at the foot of Mount Etna, hence its variety name. In garden centres this month, it would certainly rival Photinia ‘Red Robin’ for attractiveness. Although it can reach 5m in the garden, where it would be useful as a hedging or screening plant, it lends itself to topiary, or if clipped regularly would make an ideal pot plant for apartment dwellers.
Eugenia plants prefer acidic soil, so you may need to use some soil for acid loving plants in the planting hole or pot, and add some bone meal, if you can get it, or some slow release fertiliser, to the bottom of the planting hole. Feed the plant with ‘Ferticit’ plant food.
Known as the ‘Bush Cherry’ in Australia, this evergreen plant is ideal for hot gardens, but does not like low temperatures. It performs best in sun, tolerating some shade. The small white flowers may appear several times a year, yielding edible red fruits that can be eaten fresh or made into jams or jellies.