Peter Dowdall advises to be one step ahead of the garden this month as growth will take off from now on.

What a funny climate we live in? 

Last October was a glorious month with some of the nicest days and the highest temperatures and levels of sunshine we had seen for all of last year. 

We were dealing with plants in full bloom later than they should have and wondering what was to become of rhododendrons and camellias that were opening up in the autumn instead of holding onto their buds til the following spring. 

Even in December and January we had not experienced any cold and roses and hydrangeas continued in full bloom.

The winter really only gave us cold during this spring. 

It’s only in the last month that we have experienced any frost worth talking about and as a result things are now flowering later than they should be. 

My Clematis montana rubens is only thinking about opening up its first few blooms now, whereas last year it was already past its best by this time, so short is its period of beauty.

We are officially in summer now even if the Met Office says differently. May Day is traditionally the first day of the summer season hence Mid Summers Day on June 21.

The Roman Goddess of flowers, Flora was honored in pre-Christian times with the festival Floralia normally during the last week in April and in Ireland the festival of Bealtaine heralds the start of the summer and was one of the most important days in the pre-Christian calendar.

Bonfires were lit and the ashes from them were believed to have special powers during the season ahead. 

Of course this couldn’t happen now as backyard burning is illegal, special powers or not. 

Rowan, hawthorn, primrose and hazel were all plants associated with the festival of Bealtaine and these continue to be common and important plants in the Irish landscape.

Indeed the humble primrose is undergoing something of a resurgence thanks to the great work being done by Fitzgerald Nurseries in Co Kilkenny. 

They have developed a new range of Irish primroses one of which, ‘Moneygall’ was gifted to President Obama and now heralds the Irish summer in the garden in the White House.

Whatever the origins of May Day, and whether you choose to honour the ancient Roman gods, Celtic gods, the god of the sun, or the universe, one thing is certain and that is from now on, it is all systems go in the garden. 

Dawdle at your peril for if you stop to take a breath, the garden will not wait for you and jobs missed during this month cannot be done later.

The ‘Chelsea Chop’ for example is something which will benefit your later flowering perennials if completed during the week of RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the third week in May. 

Be brutal and cut back weak, lanky growth from delphiniums, lupins, echinacaea, heleniums and others, to encourage new and stronger shoots which will make for better specimens later in the summer.

Leave this job til later in the season and you will remove too much energy and flowers. 

Bedding plants should be hardened off too and planted out during this month. 

Again, if you leave it until later, you simply won’t get the same display.

So too in the vegetable garden, seedlings started off inside can be planted into the raised beds during the next few weeks and others can be direct sown outside now for harvesting later in the season and into autumn.

You don’t need me to remind you that weeds will not rest as the temperatures are increasing and the daylight hours extending and they wll literally grow in front of your eyes from now if left unchecked. 

Hand weeding is the most effective way of removing the unwanted guests from your garden. 

Follow this up with a good mulch of bark or wood chip to ensure future seed cannot germinate.

Make sure you do this properly. 

Use a layer of mulch at least 8-10cm or 4” deep, otherwise you are wasting your time and money. Weed seeds cannot germinate if you cut out light and oxygen from the soil. 

A layer of 1 or 2 inches will not achieve the desired result and the weeds will laugh at you and thank you for giving them a warm environment with much humus in which to grow. 

Four inches or more will prevent them from germinating however, along with reducing water loss from the soil by evaporation during the long hot summer, which I know we will enjoy this year.

Roses too need attention to assure good quality, trouble-free blooms from now on. 

Check that new stems, which have been produced this year, aren’t crossing each other. 

Otherwise these will rub and leave an open wound which is where disease can get a hold. Remove these stems now and any infected leaves.

Prevention is much better than cure when it comes to fungal problems like blackspot and mildew which can affect roses. 

Ideally you would have sprayed the roses with a solution of copper sulphate during late March, but if you didn’t then do it now and it will prevent them from developing these problems.

Similar to the perennials and the ‘Chelsea Chop’ I will also prune back any weak and spindly rose growth now to help develop stronger and more bushy plants.


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