Weekend work

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The Independent Online
Setting out plants grown from seed is taking up most of my time at the moment. The first brave batch of snapdragons "Sonnet Mixed" (Dobies pounds 1.68) has already been planted out. This is too soon for safety, but there were no more windowsills to accommodate seed trays and the cold frame is also full. I thought of them as I flew over the snow-covered Brecon Beacons this week.

Nicotiana and yellow French marigolds are waiting to be pricked out. They will be making a later appearance in the garden than they should be. The nicotiana "Fragrant Cloud" (Thompson & Morgan pounds 1.19) is one I used last year and loved: white- flowered, about three feet tall and heavily scented.

The germination of the morning glory "Heavenly Blue" (Thompson & Morgan pounds 1.59) is a disaster - a solitary seedling gazing glumly from the kitchen window at the large space it and its fellows were supposed to fill. Fortunately there is time to sow again. Morning glories always sulk, turn yellow and rot off if they catch cold. The asters ("Comet Improved Mixed", Mr Fothergill pounds 1.45) are hulking great plants that could have been planted out weeks ago, if the weather were less draughty. It's dwarfer than my usual favourites, but I want it for a foreground planting.

It's simpler, of course, to buy strips of bedding plants at the garden centre - except that the choice is so limited. Choose plants that are compact and leafy. Avoid straggly plants, even though they may be in flower. A bedding plant that is already flowering in mid-May is usually signalling that it is starved and wants to get the whole business of producing seed over as quickly as possible.

When planting bedding plants, add a handful of general-purpose fertiliser, such as Growmore, to each square yard of ground. When planting in pots, mix some water-retaining polymer such as Broadleaf P4 to the compost. This will prevent it drying out so quickly during the summer months.

You can also incorporate a slow-release fertiliser, such as Osmocote. This is temperature sensitive. When the weather is cool and plants growing slowly, less fertiliser is released than when plants are growing quickly in warm weather.

Lilies will benefit from a mulch of leaves or compost. Those in pots will need a weekly feed of liquid fertiliser. Spread slug pellets around any that are still close to the ground.

Prune wall-trained specimens of japonica (Chaenomeles japonica) when they have finished flowering. Tie in any new growths that you want to keep and cut back the rest so that only two or three sets of leaves are left. My best japonica died on the hoof, just as it was coming into flower. It happened almost overnight. I suspect fireblight. I've planted another one in a different place - Chaenomeles "Moerloosii", which is pink and white like apple blossom.

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