Work for the week

On naked branches, the star-shaped, pristine white blooms of Magnolia stellata look wonderful, filling dull spots and drab corners alike in much the same way as snow does.

SPRING BULBS herald the opening days of March, but by the end of the month their thunder is stolen by the early magnolias, in particular the variety stellata which takes on the look of a white bridal hat joining the riot of blossom on the almonds and ornamental cherries in neighbouring gardens. Like nasal hairs their flowers creep up on you — nothing one day then suddenly, there they are right before your eyes. To ignore them is impossible and this year they are earlier than ever. On naked branches, the star-shaped, pristine white blooms of stellata look wonderful, filling dull spots and drab corners alike (light shade suits them admirably) in much the same way as snow does. This variety may be one of the very best for a small garden, but it is by no means the only contender. There are dozens to choose from and now is the time to visit nurseries where they can be seen and inspected.

AN EARLY SENSATION: Have I introduced you in the past to the Clematis ‘Early Sensation’? This evergreen variety bears early, creamy-yellow flowers which open during late February as the strengthening sun finally begins to warm the cold ground. The foliage of this upper class beauty is quite unlike any of the larger hybrids for it is tidy in habit, has foliage which is deeply cut and excitingly curly like the better strains of culinary parsley.

Because of this, and the fact that the plant will only reach in total to six feet (eventually it may achieve a similar spread) it would look handsome grown on a wall painted a soft shade of terra-cotta! On the other hand, it looks perfect growing up through the likes of a rhododendron or other evergreen. No pruning needed and certainly no staking or supporting.

MIND-YOUR-OWN-BUSINESS: Soleirolia, which looks for all the world like tiny shamrock, has become a real nuisance in recent years due no doubt to all the rain and perpetual damp. It can be very invasive once it gets established.

Control is possible using a selective lawn weed-killer (if it is growing in a lawn) with D50, available at Co-Op Superstores. Mind-your-own-business is successful because it seeds freely and the smallest piece left uncollected will take root. Just imagine how many new plants could be formed by failing to use the grass box whilst mowing! The secret of success therefore is perseverance and the removal of all clippings.

LAWNS: Do not neglect the feeding of lawns, especially following treatment for moss control. Use the best lawn food you can afford. All contain preparations that contain slow release nitrogen to give a fast initial green up and then, long-term feeding to the roots. Controlling the rate of nitrogen uptake helps to prevent surge growth immediately after application, thus keeping the lawn richer and greener for up to 8 weeks.

Those with large areas should use the cheaper potato fertiliser sold as 7.6.17. Do not use 10.10.20. This latter is fine for cows, silage, and haymaking but it is useless for building up a quality sward. The rate of application for the potato fertiliser is a fist-full per square yard. Let the weather wash it in. Moss, if you want to use a DIY method, is easily controlled with sulphate of iron mixed at the rate of one small tea cup to 2 gallons of water applied via a sprayer or watering can. Do not overdo the mixing rate or burning of the lawn will occur.

PROTECT: Take precautions with the emerging growths on delphiniums, lupins and other perennial plants. Slugs are very active just now so lay pellets thinly around vulnerable plants (please cover with a piece of tile) or water the surrounding soil with liquid SlugClear. Owners of inquisitive pets prefer to use the liquid method for no bait is visible on the ground. Re-apply the liquid following heavy rainfall.

TOPICAL TIP: Feed spring bulbs during and after flowering with any brand of liquid food applied over the foliage and around where roots are spreading.

This will encourage plump bulbs to form for the following year’s display. If you can follow with a mulch of rotted manure or garden compost you’ll leave them smug, satisfied, and utterly contented.

RHODODENDRONS AND AZALEAS: Azaleas, rhododendrons and many other ericaceous plants are about to burst into bloom following heavy rains and they now need a feed to give of their best. When planted out in the garden too many rhododendrons and azaleas fail to maintain the fresh vibrant look when first purchased. Like us, they need a good supply of balanced nutrients for strong growth. Applying osmocote about their positions will ensure adequate nourishment over the entire summer and through to autumn when they begin to form new buds for the following year. Mulches also help so attend to this also.


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