Preparing for the colourful blooms

Dr Jonathan Holliday recommends fertilisers and pruning to achieve colour and scent in the summer

As plants wake from their slumber and start to grow they need not just water but nutrients too. Phostrogen is great but it seems to me to make more sense to use fertilisers that are tuned to the needs of the different plant types.

The needs of the plant can change as the season progresses, with high nitrogen requirements during the growth period and high potash during cropping. Many garden centres have a reasonable range.

Chempak produces a good range of fertilisers, organic and natural, trace elements as well as interesting mulches. Try cocoa shells, the by-product of the chocolate industry. Clean and easy to use, they are effective and will repel slugs and snails from attacking those more susceptible plants. Chempak also sells aggregates and composts via its website (see links). I particularly like the coir compost, made from waste coconut fibre and dust, which comes as compacted bricks to be reconstituted with water.

Hydrangeas are useful in the border, in pots and indoors.  Propagation by cuttings can be done now and can give pretty potsful of flowers for the house later in the summer. Take cuttings of young, healthy, non-flowering shoots three to four inches long. Remove the central leaves at the tip, leaving behind just two leaves. Remove all the leaves further down the stem. In order to reduce water loss, cut the remaining two leaves cleanly in half at right angles to the stem. Finally, plant three or four cuttings in a four-inch pot of compost mixed with perlite or vermiculite additive to help retain air, and leave on the greenhouse bench or a window sill and wait for nature to do its trick.

Out in the garden there is more pruning to do. Lavender really does not like to be cut back to the wood, so to get the shape required without killing it off you must prune even before the desired shape has been achieved.

Forsythia gives gaudy golden/yellow colour to the spring border, and because the flowering precedes the opening of the leaves, the effect can be a truly big block of bright colour. It is important to remove any old or damaged wood as soon as flowering is over.

Another flowering shrub for this season is Osmanthus, an evergreen with a wonderful scent from its half-inch tubular white flowers that also grows to 10ft like the Forsythia.

It’s show time soon now. The Chelsea show is not to be missed on 22–26 May, but the first two days are for members only ‘Sell off’ starting at 4pm on the final day. If you do not want to join, try Keith Prowse Ticketing. And from 20–22 April the RHS Spring Flower Show is in Bute Park, Cardiff. 

Dr Holliday is a GP in Windsor

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