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  • Sue

May's to do list

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Apologies for the late arrival of May's to do list, but I have been busy catching up on things that I should have done in April. It is that time of year - everything happens very quickly and if you have left undone those things which you ought to have done by can become a challenge.

In SW France we are in a period of hot weather which follows on from a rainy spring - so the subsoil is damp and growing conditions are even better than they would normally be at this time of year. Against a background of the inevitable weeding (if you can get them out of the ground) and watering here are other things which need doing over the next few weeks:

All tender plants can be brought out into the garden now. I have just planted out my dahlias, climbing annuals such as Morning Glory and Spanish Flag (both are members of the convolvulus family - which includes the dreaded convolvulus weed; a spectacularly vigorous climber in our garden at the moment). In the vegetable garden you can plant out your tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, chillis, cucumbers.....

Spring flowering deciduous shrubs should, as a general rule, be pruned as soon after they have finished flowering as you can manage - because next spring they will flower on growth they have made this year. How much you prune depends very much on the nature of the plant and your needs - for example, a newly planted specimen should be very lightly pruned for a year or even two years to gather strength, shape and size before you start to cut it back more aggressively. So far this year I have pruned winter flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), flowering currants (ribes), forsythia, Coronilla glauca and (very lightly) an evergreen Daphne odora. The next tranche will include cystus and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruiticosa). If in doubt as to whether to prune or how to prune try googling the answer - you will soon learn which websites you feel you can trust. My favourites are the RHS, and Gardener's World, which has a very good on line guide: The golden rule is, if you are not sure then don't. You can always have another shot at it later, but you cannot stick a branch back on.

Wonderful Rosa moyesii Geranium - it flowers only once, but the autumn hips make it worthwhile. The purple flowers are a clematis.

Deadhead flowering plants once the flowers have faded unless you want the seedheads to develop. Some plants such as phlomis, hydrangeas and even peonies have attractive seedheads which help to prolong interest in a border. This is especially true of some roses - such as Rosa moyesii which only flowers once, but then develops lovely flask shaped hips in the autumn. Deadheading serves several purposes - it prevents a plant putting energy into developing seeds at the expense of overall plant growth and, for some perennials and, especially, annuals it keeps the plant flowering throughout the summer. However, with some prolific self seeders such as Sisyrinchium striatum it is a hard call. The black seed heads look spectacular, but if you allow them to explode and spread their seeds you are bedevilled with tiny plants everywhere. You really have to observe closely and remember what works for you and your garden.

The sisyrinchium pictured above (cream/yellow flowers) can become a menace, but it is marvellous in a dry garden where other things fail.

Spring bulbs can now be dealt with. If you are allowing them to naturalise in grass or remain in the border until next year just remove the brown foliage after it has died and, if you need to, mark their resting place so that you don't accidentally dig through them during the next 6 - 9 months. This tends to be the case with stenbergia, snowdrops, crocus, daffodils, muscari and alliums. I also leave tulips in the ground and see what comes up the following year - some parrot tulips repeat flower for years, others do well for a few years and others - the species tulips - are the easiest of all to leave in the border with success. If your tulips have been in pots and you want to use the pot this summer then, once the leaves have died back, remove the bulbs, put them in a labelled paper bag somewhere dry and dark and plant them again late this autumn. You can of course leave them in the pots for the following year, but the display will not be anywhere near as good as this year. Far better to reuse them in a border or even a meadow where they can blend with other things.

Once your bearded irises have finished flowering you can trim them back - cutting quite aggressively so that the whole plant is only about 15 - 20 centimetres high. After flowering irises go into a period of dormancy and you can dig up congested clumps, divide the rhizomes and replant them. In fact it is a good idea to do this every 4 years or so to rejuvenate the clump.

Trim the iris as soon as they have finished flowering - and cut the seed heads from the euphorbias behind them too. This will allow light to play on the iris rhizomes which will in turn promote better iris flowers next year

Patrol the garden for pests - our big menaces are lily beetles ( they devastate some, fritillarias, lily of the valley, solomon's seal and - of course - lilies) slugs and snails (dahlias, hostas, anything young and delicious looking like baby lettuces) and box moth caterpillars. You can spray or put down pellets, but it can be quite therapeutic to take a regular stroll around the more vulnerable inhabitants of your garden and pick off the culprits - disposing of them in whatever manner suits your conscience. I find this works best late in the day when you have a glass of wine in the other hand.

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