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Scotts Gardening Diary March 2008

Gardening information from The Scotts Company (UK) Limited

Written by John Clowes


As soon as weeds start germinating and the buds of spring bulbs are popping through it’s time to get out in the garden and get working. Early feeding of shrubs, herbaceous plants and fruit should be on your agenda and so too is sowing seeds of flowers and vegetables. The lawn will need early attention after cutting, especially if moss has been spreading during the wet Winter.

The Ornamental Garden

Weeding is acknowledged by many people as high on their list of most disliked jobs in gardening. For most of us it comes top of that list and we are eternally grateful for the man-made weedkilling products that save us so much time and effort. Without gardening aids such as Weedol Gun!, Pathclear Season-Long and Roundup GC most of our gardens would soon revert to a jungle wilderness, as few people have the time needed for effective weed control using back and fork alone.

Yet the latest HTA survey tells us that about a quarter of all gardeners try to avoid using weedkillers completely, although one in ten admitted they had used a weedkiller either as a spot treatment or applied through a sprayer or watering can. Delving more deeply into the motives of these non users who prefer the hard work of hand weeding, or deep digging is fascinating.  It seems some people are reluctant to use traditional weedkillers because they think they may not be safe or environmentally friendly.

Well for those people, a new weedkiller called Weedol MAX has been developed that uses a new ingredient that is found in nature. The ingredient is called pelargonic acid and it was found as a tiny molecule in a host of different plants. When concentrated and sprayed onto unwanted plants this new active ingredient becomes a unique fast-acting weedkiller. It works by destroying several layers of plant cells, causing them to rupture, leak and die.  It shows effects in hours and can kill weeds within the day. Best of all, the active ingredient, pelargonic acid, is non-persistent so allows seeds to be sown, the area replanted, and children and pets can play on treated areas once the spray is dry. Weedol MAX is available as a concentrate for dilution and application through a sprayer over large areas and in a Ready-to-use Gun for quick spot treatment.

When weeds start to pop up then trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials start to grow too. That's when they need a dose of plant food to encourage new strong growth and plenty of flower buds. People who want to feed their garden throughout the season choose modern fertilizers such as Osmocote or Miracle-Gro Controlled Release Plant Food that feed slowly and surely every day for up to six months.

For those people that prefer to use natural organic nutrients in their garden the Miracle-Gro people have launched a variety of special fertilizers under the Organic Choice label. They are all 100% natural and from sustainable sources even the Compost Maker that provides natural soil bio-life and nutrients to activate a garden compost heap or bin into rapid decomposition.

For multi-purpose feeding all round the garden there is All Purpose Plant Food that will encourage more blooms and more vegetables organically. It conforms to the EU Directive on materials allowed for organic farming and is 100% chemical free so organic gardeners should feel especially pleased.

It’s time to sow hardy annuals in the garden so they can produce flowering plants for a summer display and perfume. The usual subjects include clarkia, South African Daisy (Usinia), scabious, cornflower and showy lavatera. For something new and attractive Thompson & Morgan have exclusively introduced Amberboa muricate, a form of cornflower which produces tall stems that carry attractive purple-mauve daisy-like flowers and a new marigold called Calendula Candyman Orange which T&M claim is the longest flowering and best double-flowered marigold they have seen in their trials. At £1.49 a packet this new seed promises strong, multi-branching dwarf plants that produce large, fully double blooms to brighten any border.

Topical Tip
Protect newly emerging shoots of perennials such as delphinium and phlox from slug damage with a sprinkling of SlugClear Advanced Pellets.

Roses, Shrubs and Trees

To ensure a stunning rose display buy a good rose fertilizer and be prepared to feed them twice this year. After a long winter sleep, wake up your roses with a feed of Miracle-Gro Rose 'Plus' sprinkled around the soil and worked into the top inch or so of soil. This hearty breakfast in March contains a mix of all the right nutrients your roses need to produce great results – active roots, strong stems, dark green leaves and plenty of flower buds.  Sprinkle the plant food around roses and work into the top inch of soil.

For really great results a mulch layer of Levington Farmyard Manure will hold in moisture at root level and ensure your plants have the benefit of modern science and traditional organics to provide all the nutrients they will need.

All roses will by now have produced some new red foliage that is bursting into growth. If last year your roses showed signs of blackspot disease, then now is the time to spray the plants with a systemic fungicide to give them protection. Find your sprayer and lightly cover the new leaves and stems with diluted RoseClear 3 or FungusClear Ultra so that the disease-fighting ingredients get inside the foliage to give early protection.

Topical Tip
Pick up any of last year’s rose leaves that show signs of blackspot disease placing them in you rubbish bin, not on the compost heap. This will reduce the carry over of disease spores onto this year’s growth.

The Lawn

The lawn will be looking rather unkempt as the grass starts into growth again after a winter of hibernation. First job of the spring is to lightly mow the grass, taking only a third off the length with the first cut of the year.

During the winter months, grass remains relatively dormant while mosses are successfully growing.  That’s why when spring emerges you find moss is a real menace.  Taking action now to kill off existing moss and help reduce its return by improving the drainage and reducing shade.

First kill off existing moss by spreading a reliable lawn fertilizer such as Scotts Lawn Builder plus Moss Control or dilute and apply EverGreen Mosskil Soluble over the lawn and leave to work for at least a couple of weeks. When the moss has turned brown and died, rake up the moss and put it on the compost heap.

To improve drainage, drive the tines of a garden fork into the lawn down to at least 15 cm (6in), repeating every 10 cm (4 in). If the soil is heavy clay then pushing sharp sand into these holes will give long-term benefits.

Shaded areas of the lawn that rarely dry out on the surface are likely to be the areas worst affected. Try to reduce the shade if possible, either by cutting back or thinning out branches on the evergreen plant or by replacing the shrub with deciduous plants.

Topical Tip
Trim the edges of the lawn back into shape ready for the start of the mowing season next month.

Fruit and Vegetables

Feed all fruit early in spring so that roots can draw on valuable nutrients whenever they come into active growth. Gooseberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and blackberries all deserve a spring dressing to encourage them into flower and fruiting. For natural nutrients look out for a new organic plant food called Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food. It contains all the nutrients required for balanced growth, with slightly more potash to encourage plenty of fruit set and flavour.

For an early crop of strawberries feed the plants now with the same plant food and cover with cloches or modern growing tunnel that uses either aerated polythene, micromesh or green fleece. This simple, but effective protection from hard frosts will encourage the strawberries to flower and will prevent the flowers from being damaged by frost and thus ruin the crop.

Topical Tip
Cover redcurrants and other fruit bushes with a fleece jacket to prevent hungry birds from stripping the buds.

When the soil is warm enough to be growing weeds then it's time to sow all manner of vegetables outside. Vegetables that will be transplanted to their final growing positions such as summer cabbage, sprouts and leeks should be sown thinly in fine soil that has been improved with the compost from last year's hanging baskets or patio pots. If the soil in this seedbed is particularly wet then covering the area with cloches or a growing tunnel will help the surface to warm up, dry out and encourage good germination.

For plants that will be growing from seed to harvest in the same spot such as parsnips, beetroot, shallots, spring onions, carrots, lettuce and hardy peas then the soil needs to be enriched with plant food to lift the nutrient reserves to an adequate level. Dress the soil with Miracle-Gro Controlled Release Plant Food before sowing the seed.

Tread over the area that is to grow onions this year to compact the surface. Snip off the brown ends from the onion sets before placing them in shallow drills 1 cm deep. As birds delight in pulling out onion sets from the soil, cover them with netting at least for a couple of weeks until they have rooted into the soil and have a firm grip.

Topical Tip
Sow a row of broad beans immediately. At this time of the year select a fast maturing variety such as Express which is acknowledged by many seed companies as the earliest and fastest growing long pod from a spring sowing.

Patio Gardening

Because of basic soil types, many of us are forced to grow lime-hating plants such as camellia, rhododendrons and azaleas in pots for display on the patio or placed between shrubs in borders. Everything grows well and the plant leaves remain a dark green powerhouse of energy if the ericaceous compost in which they should be planted is only watered with rainwater and the compost stays acid.

Unfortunately if the pots are watered with hard tap water that contains plenty of calcium it can change the natural acid conditions at the roots to something more limey. To keep these lime-hating plants happy and thriving feed the plants every couple of weeks with Miracle-Gro Ericaceous Plant Food dissolved in rainwater.

Feeding starts in March and should be repeated every fortnight throughout spring and summer. Feeding in spring will feed the existing buds so they produce big beautiful blooms full of rich colour for the variety. The inclusion of sequestered iron in this ericaceous plant food will help to prevent young leaves turning yellow, while the balance of major nutrients is used in summer to encourage many more new buds for next year's display.

Weedy paths and patios are unsightly. But you can water away these weeds – not just kill existing ones but also stop new annual weed seedlings from germinating for up to three months. For large areas of gravel paths, drives or patios simply dissolve Pathclear Season Long granules in water in a watering can and apply to the whole area. For smaller areas use the ready-to-use Pathclear Gun! Season Long. It's so easy and quick to apply.

Topical Tip
Patio pots containing winter pansies and spring bulbs will benefit from an occasional feed of Miracle-Gro Soluble Plant Food applied over foliage and down to the roots. Spring feeding will encourage more blooms and strong growth.


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