Gardening with Patricia Jordan
May is such a lovely month in the garden. Everything is bright and fresh while temperatures are still bearable and heady perfume is everywhere emanating from the early flowerers such as wisteria, roses and sweet peas.
The Chelsea Flower Show is held this month in London, showcasing all that is new and wonderful in the early British summer garden. I well remember the ‘showing season’ and the heartaches when flowers had gone over too soon or were not mature enough to display!
Gardens here have recovered from the abundant winter rains, which were so beneficial and brought some wonderful displays of flowers everywhere. My mature clumps of Calla lilies have been sensational this year, well over 1.5m in height and much admired. I had to keep a watchful eye on them though, as the snails tried to spoil the virginal white flowers. Next to them were some hollyhocks plants that were chewed nearly to death by the snails. I hear that plans are afoot in the UK to ban slug pellets containing Metaldehyde from spring 2020. We will have to come up with something else to deter those blighters!
Having been a gardener and flower arranger for most of my adult life, my gardens are always full of plants for bees and butterflies to feed on and I was well rewarded recently when hordes of ‘Painted Lady’ butterflies swarmed in on my huge Echium webbii which attracted them to feed on the blue flower spires. It was a wondrous sight!
Not only do certain flowers attract bees but also humming bird moths, which are driven to a frenzy by the flowers of polygala! Verbena bonariensis is much loved by ‘Swallow-tailed butterflies’, whilst buddleja, which I have grown from seed on several occasions, is a well known shrub for attracting both bees and butterflies to its fragrant flowers.
Most people grow herbs and they are amongst the most popular plants to attract wildlife. Salvias (sages), fennel, thymes, borage, oregano as well as lavender and rosemary are the favourite hunting grounds of bees.
I expect that you are thinking that I am always writing about growing more flowering plants as well as trees and shrubs, to attract the butterflies and bees, but it is a serious concern which we must all try to address, even if you only garden on a veranda!
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
You may find that certain trees such as Tecoma stans, duranta and jacaranda are very slow to lose their leaves and sometimes need help by taking off those within reach. It could be that the night temperatures were not cold enough in the late winter to encourage the leaf drop. I love Jacarandas for their very frothy flowers, which come into bloom first if they haven’t been watered regularly. The leaves will appear before the flowers if they have been watered during the winter.
There are lots of bugs about now, some good and most not! Locusts are not good to have and there is nothing better than a dead one! I find that knocking them off a plant with a broom is the best way to deal with them or the leaves will be full of holes. They surprisingly like the very tough strelitzia leaves! When the British came here in the late 1870s the place was riddled with them and very serious steps were taken to get rid of them by burning them in huge pits. They are still around, though in smaller numbers thankfully! They devour soft green foliage, spoiling the unfurled canna lily leaves. For most other bugs you can spray with soapy water, or hang out those yellow sticky cards among your fruit trees, now that the flowers have all been pollinated. Greenfly can also make a real mess of plants. Sometimes they cause citrus leaves to curl up as they move around them. They also gather on rose stems, although Banksia roses do not seem to suffer that fate, perhaps because they are such early flowerers.
Although most of the big jobs have been completed, May is the last time to feed any fruit and nut trees that you have, until the winter. At this time of year as the new leaf growth comes in, it’s so important to feed the trees. Mature trees need a dose of 20.10.10 fertiliser, 900g for large trees and smaller trees need 300g. You may have to water the fertiliser in this month unless there is some rain. Remember when feeding that the fibrous roots are not near the trunk, so make sure that you spread it between the trunk and the edge of the tree canopy.
This is also the time to look for any mineral shortages which show in the colour of citrus leaves. If they are short of iron they will be a very light green colour, sometimes even yellow, with the veins showing up very clearly. Two dessertspoons of iron chelate mixed in ten litres of water should be applied to the watering area around the base to sort out this problem. An old Cypriot remedy is to put some iron nails in the soil around the base of the tree if you want to give that a try.
Zinc shortage is another problem that occurs in citrus trees and you will see this in a mottling on the leaves. For this problem, you will get better results by spraying the leaves with a mixture of a level dessertspoon of zinc chelate in five litres of water, which the tree can absorb more easily. Spray it onto the leaves until the mixture runs off. Then check all the fresh new leaves for signs of greenfly and black fly, for when they hatch and start to feed, they will spoil the leaves for the whole season. Use a soapy water spray for them or rub them off with gloved fingers.
Other trees which suffer from a shortage of zinc are pecans and at the beginning of the year, it is advisable to water 2 dessertspoons of zinc chelate mixed in 10 litres of water into the ground around the tree. Later in the year, the leaves may have dark blotches on them, so spray them this time with a level dessertspoon of zinc chelate in five litres of water until the solution runs off.
After the wonderful early flower show that wisteria puts on, the new leaves and tendrils start to appear in earnest and will need some help to wind themselves around trellises or supports. Care should be taken while performing this job as the stems are very brittle and can break easily if mishandled. Bougainvillea is also pushing out new growths which may need tying in or helping over supports, but watch out for the thorns underneath the stems that are there to assist the plant to cling on trees in its natural habitat.
The wonderful flowering plants that you see in the garden centres at the moment are difficult to resist. Many people won’t buy plants unless they can see what the flowers are like, which is probably when the plant has reached its maximum growth. I try to buy plants that aren’t at full growth that have lots of new stems and buds appearing at the base and get them home as quickly as possible. I plant them in the evening when it is cooler so that they have the night to settle in. Some don’t like to be moved at all once they are planted, so make sure that the spot you have chosen is the right one! Don’t sow any more seeds or take any more cuttings. You will probably get the seeds to germinate, but temperatures are rising steadily which may prove to be too much for little plantlets to survive now.
Plant of the Month May Plectranthus neochilus
Plectranthus neochilus are attractive ground-cover herbaceous plants that grow well in hot gardens. However they may die during very cold nights. These southern hemisphere plants can adapt well to high temperatures with the minimum of water and they are also salt and wind tolerant. Growing best in a shaded position in part sun in loamy to sandy soil, ensure there is good drainage, as root rot can occur if over-watered.
The succulent, highly-fragrant grey-green leaves are toothed or wavy-edged and the flowers appear on very short stems among them. These prolific light blue, two-lipped flowers are small and are attractive to bees and butterflies. They can be used in planters or hanging baskets but beware as these plants put on a lot of growth and in the garden can become somewhat invasive.
Stems root easily in water at any time or from soft-wood cuttings. Mealy bugs or spider mites can sometimes be problematic. Members of the Laminaceae family, they have various common names such as Smelly Spur Flower, Lobster Flower or Mosquito Bush, as well as being a deterrent to snakes and therefore known in some places like Cyprus, as the Snake Plant.