With many of us spending more time in our gardens, local gardening expert Andy Colquhoun shares some tips for getting your soil into shape.
‘I have farmed and gardened all over the world’, says Andy, ‘up near the Arctic Circle, and down under, but have settled in Devon in the last few years and I couldn’t find more beautiful gardens, incredible countryside and fantastic people.
Here are some jobs to be getting on with in your garden this month.
Nourish your soil:
After probably the wettest winter on record, spring is here and it's time to act now to make sure plants recuperate and flourish in summer. The problem with heavy rains is that they wash away huge amounts of nutrients from the soil, and plants, like ourselves, need not just water, but food as well. Nitrogen, phosphates and potash are the three main elements plants need to sustain healthy growth. A quick fix would be Growmore which is an inorganic fertiliser; once diluted, it works straight away when absorbed by the plants. The only drawback is that soil bacteria don’t benefit, which is an essential part of soil health. Fish, blood and bone is an organic fertiliser which contains all three necessary elements, but it has to be broken down by soil bacteria before it can be absorbed and so benefits bacteria in a way other all-purpose fertilisers do not.
So now we need some structure and the best thing for this is stable manure, farmyard manure, spent mushroom compost or spent hops. These are all bulky and can be dug into the soil to enhance its structure. This will improve drainage in our red Devon clay soils, but be aware, on the flip side, in sandy soils this will help to hold on to moisture.
Mulch your beds:
Lay as much mulch onto bare ground as you can, in beds and borders, around 2 inches thick between plants. Scatter fish, blood and bone (2 handfuls) to each square yard of soil and fork in before applying a layer of mulch on top. Our friends the worms will take this into the soil to help the bacteria and provide the nutrients. This will also seal in the moisture and suppress the weeds.
Look after your lawn:
Sow a new lawn or repair damaged areas from this month onwards - dryer lawns are better for this. Use a weed killer on established lawns and use products that are plant and animal friendly. It's a good time to rake the lawns to remove old plants and debris, removing last year's leaves at the end of winter and also helps to remove thatch build up. Thatch – the layer of dead matter that builds up in grass - chokes the roots of your lawn and stops them breathing and also restricts water and nutrient absorption. Raking your lawn and aerating the grass from the roots will enable weather, air and nutrients to reach them and will improve growth, leading to a thicker and healthier lawn.
Compost your waste:
Composting is a great way to use our kitchen waste and reduce the amount of food going to landfill where it adds a huge amount of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Here’s a handy guide to what to put on your compost heap.
- All plant material from garden
- Fruit and veg kitchen scraps
- Cooked pasta and rice
- Cardboard boxes
- Newspaper (Shredded)
- Stale bread, crackers, tortilla chips, crisps
- Used coffee grounds (worms love them)
- Used tea bags (but not the bag)
- Dryer lint, dog hair and human hair
- Hay, wood chips,
- Worm castings, tree cuttings
- Wool, bracken, ash from burnt hardwood
- Sawdust, leaves
- Meat (raw or cooked)
- Cheese, milk
- Dog or cat manures
- Coffee or tea bags
- Citrus peel and onions (too acidic)
- Glossy or coated paper and cardboard
- Coal fire ash
- Sawdust from treated timber
- Large branches
- Chemical fertilisers
Andy runs Linden Lea Gardening Services