Phil Calvert’s gardening column

Phil Calvert

Phil Calvert

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We have been popping out to the allotment for some time now but our activities have been largely restricted to digging over the raised beds, incorporating compost into the soil to enrich it and sprinkling a little fertilizer here and there.

I’ve tied in the blackberries ready for their imminent surge of growth, but in truth I have done little more than do a bit of tidying up.

Perhaps of all the tidying activities, it is cutting the grass that really give the garden a lift. It isn’t just a case of shortening the grass, the mower picks up leaves and bits of twigs and seems to give even the weariest of lawns a more cared for look, rather like dragging a comb through your hair.

So far, however, the mower has not had an outing except for a brief start-up to make sure it still works. I think this is about to change. Frosty nights bring growth to a standstill and I have been able to spend my time doing other things. But in the last week there has been slight surge in growth.

I plan to get the mower out soon, with the blades on the highest setting to just freshen it up. Not a bad time to think about feeding it too. I usually suggest a dose of lawn sand, but generally if things are not looking too bad I apply a combined feed, weed and mosskiller. I’d leave sowing grass seed to patch up bare areas for a little longer to allow temperatures to rise and aid germination.

Last Tuesday, the first daffodils came into flower outside our house and this seems to mark the shift from the winter-flowering stuff into the spring-flowering plants. This is usually a good prompt to get out of your chair, get out of the house and examine perennial plants. Generally, there is only slight growth at present, but cutting away the untidy woody bits from last year’s display is easier now than waiting for fresh growth to make the job that bit more fiddly. Just chop out the old stuff with a pair of secateurs, apply a bit of a compost as a mulch to both smarten things up and encourage growth. Two ounces of Fish, Blood and Bone (always read the packet) is good practice too.

Garden paths can look a bit time-worn after the winter and so they benefit from a good sweeping, followed by an application of a plant-safe algicide to kill off moss, lichens and algae, but without damaging nearby plants with any run-off.

Speaking of algae, the first signs of green-water algae have just appeared in our pond. Your first line of defence against this nuisance is the UV lamp in your garden pond filter. Check it soon. The bulb may still be functioning but they need to be changed annually as their algae-killing radiation function degrades over several months, and as winter gives a fairly clean start, March is the obvious month to put a new bulb in. If you have no UV on your filter, use barley straw or barley straw extract to keep algae firmly in its place.

While you’re messing with the pond, always turn the power off to your in-pond appliances, especially if you are wielding the secateurs. Pond plants just like garden perennials need cutting back ready for the new growth to emerge. If they look in need of perking up feed them with a pond-friendly fertiliser.

The fish in the pond may be interested in feeding as temperatures rise. Feed them by all means, but be moderate in the amounts you give them. You often find they feed on one sunny day then after an overnight chill they lose interest again, so clean out any uneaten food if still there after half an hour. Your fish will be pretty run down so consider applying a pond tonic to support their immune system.

The best job, however, is planting new things. Slowly, but surely, the soil is warming up and that means the beginning of the gardening season.

Shrubs, trees, alpines, bulbs and fruit can all be planted now and there is always an immense sense of satisfaction in preparing an area for planting then introducing new stuff. The plants are waking up so time to start planting.