Thompson & Morgan Gardening Blog

Our gardening blog covers a wide variety of topics, including fruit, vegetable and tree stories. Read some of the top gardening stories right here.

Propagation, planting out and cultivation posts from writers that know their subjects well.

Best Drought-Resistant Plants

Drought-resistant planting at RHS Garden Harlow Carr. Image: Olivia Drake

Spring and summer droughts are becoming increasingly common across many parts of the UK. With temperatures rising and rainfall becoming less consistent, drought-resistant plants have never been more important to gardeners. A drought-tolerant garden can be more sustainable, saves you time and effort, and cuts back on the water bill. It’s also a great option if you’re away from home for long periods.

There are many garden plants that are well adapted to dry conditions, thriving on little water even in hot, sunny weather. Like all plants they will require watering for their first season after planting – make sure to install a water butt to collect rainwater if you don’t have one already! – but once established, these drought-resistant plants will pretty much look after themselves. Here we’ll take you through some of the best drought-tolerant plants to use for a garden that will look fantastic but let you leave the sprinkler in the shed.

Perennials

A selection of drought-tolerant perennials – salvia, verbena, echinacea and lavender. Images: Canva

Salvias

There’s a place for salvias in every garden. They can be one of the most long-flowering of all perennials, are loved by pollinators, and come in an almost endless array of colours, sizes and flower shapes. On top of that, they thrive in dry conditions! For flowering duration there’s no beating the award-winning Salvia ‘Amistad’, a border hero that sends up spires of deep purple blooms continuously from June right through to November. For containers or smaller spaces, try the compact Salvia ‘Salvatore Deep Blue’, which packs a punch at only 35cm tall. If you’re looking to plant en masse, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ is an ideal choice, providing low maintenance swathes of colour that will be abuzz with bees all summer long. Salvias don’t have to be purple, though! Try the pretty shell-pink Salvia ‘Dyson’s Joy’ for a pastel colour scheme, the elegant ‘Clotted Cream’ for a calming and refined white or ‘Hot Lips’ for adding a sizzling pop of colour to a hot border.

Lavender

Low-maintenance, highly drought-tolerant and providing year-round interest with its attractive silvery foliage, lavender is an obvious choice for any dry, sunny spot. English lavender ‘Munstead’ is one of the best, producing masses of deep blue-purple heads on neat, compact plants. These are ideal for edging paths or borders or creating a low hedge.

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis has become a key figure in dry borders and prairie planting schemes. Its slender, airy stems rise above other plants, creating height and texture. This reliable hardy perennial is incredibly easy to grow, requires little maintenance and will self-seed if allowed to create beautiful, naturalistic drifts.

Echinacea

Echinacea or coneflower is a hardworking perennial in any garden, providing valuable late summer colour with its nectar-rich blooms, standing up to dry conditions and needing little maintenance. It’s also a staple of prairie planting schemes. You can’t go wrong with the classic Echinacea purpurea, but if you’re looking for something a bit different, try the white version Echinacea purpurea ‘Alba’, the fiery bicolored red and yellow Echinacea ‘Parrot’, or the floriferous ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ in hot shades of red and orange for a superb addition to a hot border.

Grasses

Grasses are some of the most useful drought-resistant plants of all. Image: Canva

Grasses are a staple of any low-maintenance, droughtproof garden. Stipa tenuissima is a fantastic choice: requiring very little water, it provides year-round interest, structure and movement to borders, whilst providing a matrix through which drought-tolerant herbaceous perennials such as salvias, verbena and echinacea can grow for a stunning combination. Pennisetum alopecuroides or fountain grass is a very decorative ornamental grass producing beautiful pink-tinged flowerheads like little squirrels’ tails. The tall, upright Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ has become very popular as a screening plant – a low-maintenance, airy alternative to a hedge.

Trees & Shrubs

A selection of drought-tolerant shrubs and small trees – rosemary, rock rose, olive and ceanothus.

A selection of well-placed trees and shrubs is key to creating structure, height and year-round interest in any garden or outdoor space. There are a variety of drought-resistant shrubs and small trees to choose from – with the bonus that many are evergreen!

Rosemary

Rosemary is a wonderfully hardworking shrub. As well as being drought-tolerant, it provides year-round interest, repeat flowers over a long period, and is a valuable culinary herb! Rosemary comes in different forms to suit different spaces. Upright shrub forms such as the lovely ‘Tuscan Blue’ are perfect for adding evergreen structure to borders, whilst prostrate or semi-trailing forms such as ‘Corsican’ look wonderful tumbling over a wall or in sun-drenched pots, hanging baskets or window boxes.

Rock rose

‘Rock rose’ is a name that is shared by two related but distinct groups of plants: Helianthemum and Cistus. Both are evergreen and thrive in free-draining and nutrient-poor soils, requiring plenty of sun and little water. Cistus grow into larger shrubs than the typically low-growing Helianthemum. For a good-size shrub (to 1m) consider Cistus x purpureus ‘Alan Fradd’, which bears lovely, large white flowers with yellow centres and an attractive splash of crimson to the base of each petal. Cistus x pulverulentus ‘Sunset’ is a great smaller shrub (to 60cm), producing deep rose-pink flowers all summer long. Though they are much smaller sub-shrubs, Helianthemum are too good to ignore, though: Helianthemum ‘Golden Queen’ forms neat, low clumps that become smothered in sunny golden yellow buttercup-shaped blooms from late spring to mid-summer. At only 20cm high, it is ideal for containers, rockeries and the front of borders.

Ceanothus

Native to California, Ceanothus or Californian lilac knows a thing or two about heat and drought! This gorgeous evergreen shrub is perfect for adding height to a border or as a specimen plant. Larger varieties such as ‘Italian Skies’ can also be used as a small tree, developing an attractive bare trunk over time. In late spring or summer, the small, glossy deep green leaves become smothered in dense clusters of tiny blue flowers, which are an absolute magnet for bees.

Olive

Hailing from the Mediterranean, this elegant evergreen tree provides year-round interest with its narrow, silvery foliage. Our olive tree standard is ideal for patio pots and will happily overwinter outdoors in most parts of the UK providing it is in a sheltered spot; alternatively you can move it into a greenhouse or conservatory over winter.

Rosemary is one of the best drought-tolerant shrubs. Image: Olivia Drake

Ground Cover

A selection of drought-resistant plants for ground cover – thyme, lithodora, erigeron and aubretia. Images: Canva

Thyme

Thyme is another herb that is just as useful in the garden as it is in the kitchen. This mat-forming evergreen makes excellent dry ground cover as well as being a lovely addition to containers, rockeries and the front of borders. The pretty clusters of tiny flowers are also very attractive to pollinators. Thymus ‘Silver Posie’ is a particularly attractive variety, boasting a silver variegation to the leaf that intensifies in winter, making it a great addition to winter and spring container displays.

Lithodora

Forming a low, evergreen carpet, Lithodora is ideal for the front of borders, rockeries, gravel gardens and containers. Lithodora diffusa ‘Heavenly Blue’ is one of the best varieties, producing masses of vivid electric-blue flowers from late spring throughout summer.

Erigeron

Thriving in dry soils, walls and rockeries, this endlessly cheerful little daisy produces dainty white and pink flowers non-stop all spring, summer and autumn! It will readily self-seed to form a delightful carpet, making it ideal for ground cover. It also looks great as a gap-filler around taller plants in borders. Erigeron ‘Stallone’ is a floriferous variety with a lovely mix of white and pink flowers.

Aubretia

Surprisingly drought-tolerant once established, aubretia quickly spreads to form an evergreen mat which becomes smothered in four-petalled purple blooms throughout spring. As well as ground cover, it is perfect for rockeries, the front of borders and cascading over walls.

We hope this selection of drought-tolerant plants has given you some ideas for your own low-maintenance, sustainable garden that will thrive in a dry climate. For more ideas, see our list of drought-resistant plants and our guide to plants for dry, sunny borders. You might also find our water-saving tips useful!

The Best Plants for May

Close up of apricot coloured lupin flower spikes with the spherical purple heads of alliums in the background

Lupins and alliums are classic cottage garden plants for May – their contrasting shapes work beautifully together
Image: Shutterstock

May is a fabulous time in the garden – fresh spring foliage is injected with colour from early herbaceous perennials, tulips give way to alliums and iris, whilst numerous flowering shrubs such as rhododendrons, viburnum and weigela launch into bloom and the air is perfumed with lilacs. At the end of the month the world’s greatest flower show returns at Chelsea, inspiring gardeners for another busy season.

To keep up with your garden tasks, turn to my jobs to do in May blog . But before you roll you sleeves up and get stuck in, let’s have a look at some of this month’s best plants!

Lilac ‘Palibin’ (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’)

Close up of soft mauve panicles of Lilac 'Palibin' composed of clusters of small tubular flowers

Lilac ‘Palibin’
Image: Canva

This dwarf lilac is an old cultivar dating from around the early 1900s where it was already a popular garden plant in China before its discovery by Western collectors. ‘Palibin’ is quite different from the large and domineering common lilac. Slow growing, it will take up to 10 years to reach its maximum height and spread of 1.5 metres but will flower in abundance at an early age, making a perfect specimen for a container or small border. It lends itself to growing as a standard or bush form.  Unlike the large, heart-shaped leaves of common lilacs, ‘Palibin’ has small, delicate, slightly leathery oval leaves which give it added value throughout the season. In spring, deep purple buds open to lavender-pinkish airy panicles. The individual flowers are small but numerous and intensely scented.

Clematis macropetala

Close up of pale violet semi-double flowers of Clematis macropetala

Clematis macropetala
Image: Canva

It’s easy to be seduced by the large, showy flowers of later clematis, but the early varieties have exquisitely delicate blooms, are a valuable source of nectar for pollinating insects emerging from hibernation and don’t require any routine pruning. The nodding, semi-double blooms of Clematis macropetala are borne in abundance and make an exceptionally dainty feature scrambling up a wall or trellis.

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

Close up of flower of Geum 'Totally Tangerine' a five-petalled apricot coloured flower with scalloped edges to the petals

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Geums are valuable perennials for their early flowering and I love the way their ruffled flowers hover on long stems, dancing in the breeze. ‘Totally Tangerine’ wins my vote for the best variety. It is extremely long flowering and after its main May/June performance it continues to produce more flower buds below the earlier spent flowers. The flowers are sterile and so they don’t waste energy on seeding or demand dead-heading. The blooms are not a brash orange but a soft-apricot with subtle variations in tone. This means that they are easily combined with absolutely any colour – although they look especially stunning with purple alliums.

 

Aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow,

Aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’
Shutterstock

Aquilegias are one of those happy plants which look incredibly delicate but are as tough as old boots, growing in sun or shade and in any soil type. Their nodding flowers are held on long, graceful stems above a mound of feathery foliage. They don’t take up too much space and can be easily dotted in between other perennials to fill gaps. ‘Nora Barlow’ is an old variety with fully double flowers flushed red, pink and white. If allowed, it will throw up seedlings which will generally come true.

Astrantia major ‘Moulin Rouge’

Close up of maroon, pin cushion flowers of Astrantia 'Moulin Rouge'

Astrantia ‘Moulin Rouge’
Image: Sempra

A perfect partner for aquilegias, and equally well-behaved, are astrantias. If you haven’t grown astrantias before then you are missing out. The flowers of Astrantia ‘Moulin Rouge’ are distinctive from other flowering perennials. This is not plant which shouts for attention, but deserves close appreciation of its intricately detailed flowerheads, with maroon papery bracts surrounding a central pincushion. The deeply lobed leaves are also a handsome feature. Prefers a rich, moist soil.

Rhododendron ‘Blue Tit’

Close up of abundant trumpet-shaped pale blue flowers of Rhododendron 'Blue Tit'

Rhododendron ‘Blue Tit’
Image: Morley Nurseries

May is the time to visit woodland gardens when showy rhododendrons are out in force. These large specimens may be beyond the scope of most of us, but we can still enjoy the dwarf varieties. Rhododendron ‘Blue Tit’ is smothered in masses of clear, violet-blue flowers and is perfect for acid borders in sun or partial shade or as a feature in spring containers. Its dark, evergreen leaves provide useful background foliage for the rest of the season.

For more plants which are looking fabulous this month, see Looking Good on The Nursery.

 

 

Zany Zinnias!

View of a group of zinnia flowers in fruity colours of deep pink, pale pink, yellow and orange

Zinnia varieties come in deliciously fruity shades
Image: Canva

 

I’m an unabashed lover of zinnias. There is something about the luminosity of their colours and their unique shape – a ruff of stiff petals surrounding a central cone which is crowned with star-shaped golden florets – which I find irresistible. But when I mention zinnias so many people shake their heads and say they have no end of trouble growing them from seed. But they’re actually easy. All you need to do is observe one simple rule!

How to grow zinnias

Close up of a magenta coloured Zinnia 'Purple Prince' showing the central cone with a perimeter of star-shaped stigmas

Zinnias like this ‘Purple Prince’ are members of the daisy family. The centre of the flower is composed of hundreds of tiny, golden, star-shaped florets. These tiny flowers open from the outside towards the centre, forming a raised central cone encircled by stiff petals.
Image: Canva

Zinnias come from Mexico. They are hot season plants which loathe chilly days and nights as well as fluctuations in temperature between the two. As they are half-hardy annuals, many people sow them in February or March, thinking that they need a long growing season and that they will get ahead by sowing them early. What actually results is sad-looking seedlings which just sit and sulk. Before long their leaves curl up in disgust and go brown with botrytis (grey mould) infection.

Ipomea (Morning Glory) are similar in this regard. They resent fluctuations in day and night time temperatures and like it warm throughout the day and night. Expose them to cool nights and they soon develop sickly white patches on their leaves.

 

Close up of flower of Zinnia 'Cinderella Peach'. Peachy pink flower with prominent centre of peachy yellow stigmas surrounded by small pale peach ray florets

Not all zinnias are jazzy, they also come in delicate pink and peach shades such as this charming ‘Zinderella Peach’ which features a large ruffled centre.
Image: Thompson & Morgan

 

To grow zinnias successfully from seed, always delay sowing until the end of April or first half of May. It may seem late but the seedlings will germinate very quickly – within one to two weeks – and will grow on strongly. Seeds sown earlier will still be flailing whilst later ones rapidly catch up and overtake them.

Sow one or two seeds into separate modules filled with free-draining seed compost. They resent root disturbance and so modules are the best method. You can sow them direct outdoors but I find indoor sowing more successful as slugs love the seedlings. If you sow 2 seeds per plug and both come up then carefully remove the weaker seedling whilst holding the other good seedling in place by pressing your finger alongside it.

Once the roots of your zinnia seedlings have filled their plugs, pot them on into larger pots – I use 9cm ones. Don’t bury the stem deeper in its new pot – this reduces the chances of stem rot. The timing of potting up is crucial. Too early and the plugs won’t drop neatly out of their modules. This will disturb the roots and put a check on their growth. Too late and your seedlings will become pot bound. Pot bound seedlings fail to recover, remaining permanently stunted for the rest of the growing season.

When your seedlings are a few inches tall, pinch out the growing tips to encourage bushy plants. As soon as the root system has comfortably filled up the pot and is just beginning to poke out of the drainage holes, they are ready to plant out. Again – don’t leave it until they are pot-bound! If you sow them late April to early May, then they’ll be ready to plant out in June by which time all risk of frost will have passed. Plant them into freely-draining soil in a sunny position about 23-30cm apart. Water them well afterwards. The large-flowered varieties may require staking.

 

Zinnias as cut flowers

Several vases containing cut zinnia flowers in red, pink and yellow

Zinnias make long lasting cut flowers
Image: Shutterstock

Zinnias make fabulous cut flowers. They have long, sturdy stems and long-lasting blooms. The single coloured varieties make excellent matches for the jewelled hues of snapdragons (antirrhinums), salvias, dahlias and salpiglossis.

 

Zinnias in the veg garden

Close up of part of an allotment plot with large leafy cabbages alongside patch of deep magenta zinnias

Image: Canva

Zinnias look at home in the veg garden, providing welcome pops of colour amongst leafy vegetables and associating well with other potager annuals such as sunflowers. The single flowered varieties are also attractive to beneficial insects such as hoverflies.

Close up of honey bees on central cones of orange zinnia flower

Single varieties of zinnia attract plenty of pollinators
Image: Shutterstock

Zinnias in borders and containers

Close up of red, finely petalled flower of Zinnia 'Red Spider'

Zinnia ‘Red Spider’ has smaller, finer flowers
Image: Shutterstock

Zinnias bring intense colour in late summer and autumn and are good for filling gaps in borders or extending displays after most perennials have finished. They also lend themselves to hot-themed tropical borders alongside the luxurious purple leaves of the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), dahlias and cannas.

Compact varieties such as ‘Red Spider’ are also available. These have smaller, more delicate flowers which are good candidates for edging borders and associate well with ornamental grasses. Zinnias also perform well in container displays alongside other summer bedding.

 

Two glass jars featuring a bright mixture of annuals in magenta, orange, yellow and mauve

Combine zinnias with other hardy and half hardy annuals to make gorgeous vase displays. Here they are displayed with Antirrhinums (Snapdragon), marigolds, Celosia cristata, Rudbeckia and Ageratum
Image: Shutterstock

Problems

Zinnias like it hot and dry and will succumb to grey mould if it is wet and humid. There isn’t much to be done about this except keep your fingers crossed and hope for a good summer!

 

Take a look at our selection of zinnia seeds and get sowing now. They will hold their dazzling flowers through summer and autumn, providing zingy colour when everything else looks drab. Keep dead-heading them and you will get armfuls of colourful blooms for indoor displays too. 

 

 

Jobs to do in the garden in May

Close up of an early summer border with alliums, poppies, geraniums and cosmos

Image: Canva

The garden is really racing ahead and it’s a job to keep up with it. Getting on with tasks now will enhance your summer displays, but don’t forget to give yourself some time to relax outside and just enjoy it! 

Bedding

Close up of woman putting out pink petunias ready to plant them

Summer bedding is perfect for plugging gaps in borders
Image: Shutterstock

Spring bedding will be fading and it’s time to switch to summer varieties. If you live in cold parts of the UK and you don’t have a greenhouse or cold frame then you will need to resist the temptation to buy these frost-tender plants too early. Tender bedding plants need to be gradually acclimatised to outdoor conditions after purchase, but you can save yourself the hassle with our Garden Ready plants which have already been hardened off for you. Our pre-planted hanging baskets are also great time-savers.

Greenhouse

Greenhouse in a garden with doors and vents open

Open up the doors and vents in your greenhouse as much as possible
Image: Canva

It can get really hot in the greenhouse so ventilate it as much as possible. Invest in a maximum /minimum thermometer and keep an eye on temperatures. Ideally, you don’t want them to climb above 80 °F or 26 °C. When a greenhouse gets too hot plants stop growing, become stressed and succumb to pests and disease. Aphids, whiteflies and red spider mite will quickly take hold and multiple rapidly in these high temperatures.

In an overheated greenhouse small seedlings can be frazzled incredibly quickly. Seedlings which have just been pricked out are especially vulnerable and it’s important to have a cool, shady spot for them somewhere. Cool down your greenhouse and protect your seedlings by painting some greenhouse shading on the glass. I tend to paint shading onto one side of my greenhouse, which I use for seedlings, but leave the other side for my sun-loving succulents. The other way to cool an over-heating greenhouse is by ‘damping down.’ This simply means flooding the floor with water which will cool the greenhouse quickly by evaporation.

Feeding

Close up of person putting granular fertiliser around a young tree

New trees and shrubs will appreciate a spring feed with granular fertiliser
Image: Shutterstock

Container plants

At this time of the year winter rains have washed a lot of nitrogen out of the soil and plants may start to look hungry and exhibit yellow leaves. Specimens which have been permanently growing in containers will have used up all the nutrients in their compost and can struggle to put on new, leafy growth. Top dress them with a balanced fertiliser which includes trace elements such as Vitax Q4.

Bedding

When potting up seasonal containers and hanging baskets, professional gardeners always incorporate slow-release fertilisers into the compost. This saves an enormous amount of time on applying liquid fertilisers. Liquid feeds can be useful as a top up but are more wasteful as much of the feed simply drains out of the pot. They also tend to result in inconsistent feeding, promoting surges of soft, sappy growth. Try using a controlled release product such as Incredibloom instead – it will continue to feed your plants for about 7 months.

Roses

Feed hungry roses with a proprietary rose feed now. These contain high levels of potassium to promote flowering.

Pelargoniums (Geranium)

Pelargoniums will also benefit from a flower-boosting high potash feed. Avoid giving them nitrogenous feeds, which will encourage the production of leaves over flowers and create soft growth which is more vulnerable to fungal diseases.

Plant supports & ties

Close up of lilac delphiniums inside rusted metal plant support ring

Tall plants like Delphiniums are best supported early on
Shutterstock

Herbaceous borders

Plants are growing rapidly and it’s important to get them supported as quickly as you can. If you are like me, you probably tell yourself this every year, promise to do it next weekend, and then, before you know it, the plants have shot up, the first rain storm hits and everything falls over into a mess! It’s a wise idea to purchase some supports early on so you can avoid getting yourself into this pickle.

Climbers

All your other climbers, such as climbing roses and clematis, will need regular tying in. Sweet peas left to trail along the ground not only grow poorly but are targets for slugs and snails so tie them onto their canes or obelisks early on. I prefer natural jute twine as it’s biodegradable and blends in unobtrusively. Tie the twine in a figure of 8 allowing room for the plant stems to expand. I like to put the string around the plant stem first and then wind it around the support twice. That way you can hide your knots on the back of the support and the tie won’t slide up and down.

Watering

Close up of person pouring bucket of water around root ball of newly planted tree

New trees and shrubs should be ‘puddled in’ on planting and watered frequently during dry weather
Shutterstock

Springs have become increasingly dry and the recent weather has been warm but windy. This combination of high aerial temperatures and wind really licks the moisture out of plants and can quickly desiccate them.

Before you plant new plants, soak the root ball by plunging them into a bucket of water. After planting, water them regularly in dry weather. It is best to give plants a generous soak at longer intervals rather than frequent but sparse watering which only encourages surface rooting. Once the root balls of containerised plants have dried out underground they tend to repel water and can remain surprisingly dry after watering attempts, so aim to keep them moist.

Pruning

Close up of gardener sawing off a thick, low stem from a Ribes (flowering currant)

Cut out a proportion of the old stems from early spring flowering shrubs such as this Ribes (flowering currant)
Image: Annelise Brilli

Early spring-flowering shrubs

Prune established spring- flowering shrubs such as forsythia, Ribes (flowering currant), Spiraea ‘Arguta’ (bridal wreath), Exochorda (pearl bush) and Kerria japonica. These shrubs flower on growth produced in the previous year and so they need to pruned immediately after flowering.

You can take out up to one third of the oldest stems, cutting them back to a shoot/bud near the base. Pruning out the oldest stems will encourage the formation of new ones so that the wood is continually renewed. With Kerria japonica you can cut back all the previously flowered stems.

You can also trim back the top of stems to keep them tidy but bear in mind that these shrubs have an arching habit which you don’t want to ruin. Always try to prune them back to a convenient shoot lower down rather than leaving stubs.

Japanese Quince

Chaenomeles (Japanese quince) has a twiggy rather than arching habit. Shorten the new growths to encourage the formation of lots of short, flowering spurs.

Evergreen shrubs

Inspect evergreen shrubs and prune out any frost damage.

Pyracantha

Wall trained pyracanthas can be pruned back now, reducing outward-facing shoots to a few inches and removing completely any shoots growing into the wall. This will inevitably remove some flowers but it will promote the formation of short spurs which will become crowded with future flower buds and berries.

Dahlias, cannas and other tender perennials

Close up of dahlia tuber with lots of soft new shoots

Dahlia tubers should be shooting well by now
Image: Shutterstock

Harden off your tender plants which you have been overwintering in a frost-free place. Plant them out when all danger of frost has passed. This is always a gamble but generally you should be safe by the end of the month.

If you don’t see signs of growth on your tender perennials don’t give up on them too soon -they are slow into growth. All the top growth of tender Salvias may completely die off but don’t throw them away in haste – many varieties will re-sprout from the base.

Chelsea Chop

Crowds at the Chelsea Flower Show which takes place in May

The Chelsea Flower Show is a reminder to do the ‘Chelsea Chop’
Image: Shutterstock

Enjoy the Chelsea Flower Show which runs from 24-28th May this year, and use it as a reminder to try out a pruning technique called ‘The Chelsea Chop’.

If you want to keep your herbaceous perennials shorter, sturdier and more compact, you can chop them back by up to a half in late May or early June. This pruning technique will produce plants with shorter, self-supporting stems and more (but usually smaller) flowers. Not all perennials will respond to this treatment but those which do include: Asters, Echinacea (coneflower), Helianthus x laetiflorus (perennial sunflower), Hylotelephium (Sedum), Monarda (Bergamot), Nepeta (Catmint), phlox and rudbeckia.

Seed sowing

Close up of hand sowing seeds into seed drills in soil

Sow flowering annuals in rows the same way as you would with vegetables
Image: Canva

  • The soil is lovely and warm now and hardy annuals can be sown directly into the ground. Rake the soil well to make a fine tilth and sow them in rows. Sowing in rows makes it much easier to distinguish between your flower seedlings and weed seedlings. Once the seedlings have grown and you have thinned them out, you won’t notice that you originally sowed them in straight lines.
  • Thin out/pot on any annuals sown earlier.
  • It’s a bit late now to sow most tender annuals – best to buy them as ready-grown plugs.

 

Close up of deep red flower of Erysimum 'Scarlet Bedder'

Biennials such as Wallflower ‘Scarlet Bedder’ can be sown this month
Image: Canva

Don’t forget to sow biennials for next years bedding plants. Wallflowers like the sumptuous ‘Scarlet Bedder’ and dainty forget-me-nots will make fabulous partners for next year’s tulips. Pansies sown now will provide vibrant colour in the winter, whilst Bellis perennis ‘Pomponette’ will grace window boxes and border edges with bright pom poms next spring. For cut flowers, you can’t beat clove-scented Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus).

Close up of a pale pink foxglove flower spike

Foxgloves are cottage garden staples and great for bees
Image: Canva

If you are looking for some flowers for the wildlife garden, foxgloves will provide plenty of food for foraging bees. They should be sown now on the surface of trays of fine compost or in a patch of spare ground. The tiny seeds are like dust and shouldn’t be covered – they won’t come up if you do! Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) will also attract pollinating insects with its sweetly fragrant blooms.

Lawns

Close up of a drop spreader on a lawn

A drop spreader is a useful tool for fertilising large lawns
Image: Shutterstock

Fertilise

Apply spring fertiliser to lawns. If you only have a small to medium family lawn ecofective Lawn Feed is an organic treatment which will treat up to 150 square metres and is safe for pets and children.  For large lawns, Sportsmaster Spring & Summer is a high nitrogen, slow-release formula which you can use all growing season.

Try to keep your use of weedkillers to a minimum. Remove deep weeds by hand or spot treat them. If you are going to resort to chemicals, it is much more effective to use a separate fertiliser followed by a weedkiller product, such as Weedol, rather than a combined treatment. Fertilising first boosts the grass in its competition with the weeds, enabling it to quickly grow into gaps after treatment. Meanwhile the weeds will put out more leafy growth, which will absorb more weedkiller.

Mow

Keep mowing your grass every week, gradually reducing the height of cut as the weather gets warmer. Better still – stop mowing and weedkilling altogether! And join in with No Mow May – see below.

Pest control

Close up of a ladybird larva on a stem. The six-legged larva is pale grey with yellow spots.

Avoid using chemical pesticides which are not only harmful to your enemies but also your garden allies such as this aphid-munching ladybird larva
Image: Canva

  • All this warm weather means that pests are rapidly multiplying. Use environmentally friendly sprays such as ecofective Bug & Mildew Control to keep on top of aphids, black fly and red spider mite.
  • Order biological nematodes to control a range of pests which rapidly emerge in spring including slugs and vine weevil.
  • Whitefly in greenhouses can quickly become a real problem, so introduce the parasitic wasp, Encarsia formosa, before pest populations build up.
  • Treat roses with a preventative anti-fungicidal spray before blackspot, rust and mildew take hold.

Clematis

Close up of gardener using plastic coated twine to tie in clematis stems

Keep tying in clematis but use natural twine, which biodegrades, rather than this plastic coated wire.
Image: Shutterstock

  • Regularly tie in clematis to its support.
  • Clematis montana does not need regular pruning but if it’s getting out of hand in a confined space you can trim it back now and remove any dead or diseased growth.

Plant propagation

Close up of persons hand with pair of secateurs cutting a soft stem tip

Softwood cuttings should be about 3-5 inches (7.5-12.5cm) long
Image: Canva

  • Take softwood cuttings from hardy perennials, shrubs and tender perennials such as pelargoniums and osteospermums. Although softwood cuttings should be pliable, the very softest growth will often wilt quickly and is less successful. Wait until the material has firmed up slightly and gives a little snap when you bend it.
  • Once they have finished flowering, cut back and divide spring flowering perennials such as Pulmonaria (lungwort), Doronicum (leopard’s bane), Brunnera (Siberian bugloss) and primulas.

Rock plants

Close up of mauve and magenta aubretia plants cascading over a border edge

If you don’t prune aubretia after flowering it will become straggly and bare at the base
Image: Shutterstock

Spring flowering rock plants such as alyssum, arabis and aubretia should be cut back hard now to keep them trim and tidy.

 

Early spring bulbs & flowers

Close up of person's hand about to snap off immature seed pod of tulip

Dead head tulips and daffodils so that they don’t waste energy on developing seed.
Image: Annelise Brilli

  • Continue dead-heading daffodils and tulips but leave the foliage intact for at least 6 weeks after flowering. It is not worth doing this to ‘bedding’ tulips, which decline after the first year, but some tulips, such as Darwin hybrids, are reliably perennial and will continue to flower again next year.
  • Once the foliage is yellow, lift congested daffodils which didn’t flower well this year and replant them.
  • Fading spring bulbs which you want to keep for next season can be lifted and transplanted elsewhere to make space for summer bedding. Feed all your spring bulbs now, preferably with a low nitrogen, high potash feed.
  • Pulmonaria (lungwort) and Brunnera (Siberian bugloss) invariably get mildew at this time of the year. Simply cut all the foliage off and give them a good water and they will reward you with healthy new foliage.

 

Wildlife Gardening

Close up of a golden yellow pot marigold flower with a bee in the centre

Plants such as this Calendula (pot marigold) are important sources of food for foraging insects
Canva

  • Buy or sow insect attracting summer plants such as Nicotiana, (tobacco plant), Calendula (pot marigold), cosmos, sunflowers, salvias, heliotrope, Agastache (giant hyssop), wallflowers, Lobularia maritima (alysum).
  • Gently clear the pond of pond weed leaving the debris on the side so pond creatures can easily crawl back in.
  • “Join legions of gardeners and say “no” to the mow this May to help our bees, butterflies, wildlife and us!” says Plantlife. You don’t have to do much. Nothing in fact. Just relax in a garden armchair and let the wild flowers in your garden provide a feast for hungry pollinators. You might be amazed at what pops up in your lawn when you stop mowing. Instead of telling yourself that there’s nothing you can do to help the planet, do just this one simple thing and help to reverse the drastic decline in our insect populations.

 

 

Wisteria masterclass: best expert content

Wisteria floribunda 'Domino' from Thompson & Morgan

Wisteria flowers are highly scented and look fantastic trailing en masse
Image: Wisteria floribunda ‘Domino’ from Thompson & Morgan

Find everything you need to grow fabulous wisteria here. From troubleshooting flowering issues to keeping these vigorous climbers under control with correct pruning techniques, these independent articles, videos and Instagram posts are packed with useful tips. And if you’re tempted to plant one of these glorious vines in your own garden, take a look at our full range of wisteria shrubs for inspiration. 

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Herbs masterclass: best expert content

Golden Feverfew flowers from Thompson & Morgan

Herbs like feverfew attract pollinators and provide an edible crop
Image: Feverfew from Thompson & Morgan

Here’s everything you need to know to grow your own herbs. Hugely versatile, herbs are great for adding flavour to food, making fresh tea and even feeding to other plants. Take a look through these independent blog articles, YouTube videos and Instagram posts for a wealth of top growing tips. Want to grow your own? Browse our wide range of herb seeds or pick up a few herb plants to get your kitchen garden off to a flying start.

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The 10 Best Plants for April

Close up of pink cupped shaped flowers of Chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’ borne on bare stems

Chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’
Image: Canva

April is an exciting time and there is plenty to do in borders:

  • As perennials emerge, look out for losses and gaps and plan how you are going to fill them. Get new perennials in as soon as you can and sow drifts of hardy annuals into warm soil.
  • Hoick out any weed seedlings whilst they are still small but keep a careful eye out for those self-sown seedlings which you want to keep such as foxgloves. You can move these seedlings into the best positions, watering them well after transplanting them.
  • Lightly trim Mediterranean shrubs such as lavender, phlomis, santolina and Helichrysum (curry plant), nipping them back by 2.5cm-5cm to remove any frost damaged growth and keep them compact.
  • Plant up all summer flowering bulbs by the end of the month including gladioli, Anemone coronaria and lilies.
  • Once early flowering shrubs are over you can prune them if needed, this includes forsythia, Chaenomeles (Japanese quince) and Ribes (flowering currant).

1. Lamprocapnos spectabilis (Dicentra spectabilis)

Close up of Dicentra spectabilis flowers - pink heart shaped flowers hanging off horizontal stem

Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis)
Image: Canva

If you don’t yet have a corner of your garden dedicated to the spring, then now is the perfect time to plan and plant one. Whatever space you have, it’s so important to squeeze out every season of interest and Dicentra spectabilis is the perfect place to start as it’s a model spring beauty. Its only drawback is that the plant boffins have changed its name, so I now have to remember to call it by its clumsy new moniker of Lamprocapnos spectabilis. Also known as Bleeding Hearts, this plant is a real heart warmer as it is one of the first perennials to emerge, synchronising with spring tulips and providing an opening act before the main summer performance. Its fresh green, lacy foliage is beautiful in itself, and goes well with the unfurling fronds of other ferns.

The heart-shaped flowers dangle on arching racemes and their unusual shape has also earned it the nickname of ‘Lady in the bath.’ Peel back the outer petals of the flower to reveal the naked lady within! I love the plain pink form, but there are also the cherry red hearts of ‘Valentine’, whilst the simple white of ‘Alba’ will lift a dark, shady corner.

Although Lamprocapnos spectabilis is reported to need reliably moist soil, I have successfully grown it in dry silt. A native to China, Korea and Japan, its natural habitat is in rock crevices and it copes in drier soils provided it is given a shady spot. Once flowering is over, cut the whole plant down to the ground and it will remain dormant over summer, happily giving up space to summer flowering perennials and not caring if it is completely swamped by them. Lamprocapnos spectabilis doesn’t develop a woody crown so it can be left in situ for years, quickly bulking up into impressive specimens.

2. Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’

Close up showing raceme of bright yellow, four-petalled epimedium flowers

Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’
Image: Canva

You will want to reserve the sunniest south and west facing parts of your garden for the main summer display, but East and North East facing borders which receive sun for some but not all of the day are perfect for spring plants, as are dry spots beneath trees and shrubs. Epimedium provide excellent ground cover in these conditions, quickly forming spreading colonies. Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’ is a lovely form. The flowers are tiny, and in other cultivars can disappear, but with ‘Frohnleiten’ they are a bright sulphurous yellow and stand out beautifully against the foliage. The foliage is evergreen but will be looking tatty by early spring. Cut it all off in March and you will be rewarded with new heart-shaped leaves decorated with fine green veining against a rusty red background.

Close up of heart-shaped foliage of Epimedium 'Frohnleiten' with rusty red colouring and acid green veining

The foliage of Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’ offers equal interest to its flowers
Image: Canva

 

3. Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’

Close up of lime green flower bracts with red eyes of Euphorbia x martinii 'Ascot Rainbow'

Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Euphorbias or spurge are such valuable plants. Their chartreuse coloured flower bracts last for many weeks and they have the ability to really make other colours sing. Many are also evergreen, providing all year colour and structure. Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ is a real stunner, and makes a striking combination with brightly coloured tulips. Its evergreen leaves are beautifully variegated with gold edges and develop pink tinges during cold weather. The lime-green flower bracts are splashed with darker green patterning and have a dark red eye.

 

4. Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’

Close up of deep purple 4-petalled flowers of Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'

Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’
Image: Canva

The upright, lime green flowers of Euphorbias really make other colours pop. Combine Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ with the phenomenally long-flowering Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’.  This ‘perennial’ wallflower will survive the winter but it becomes horribly woody. However, cuttings strike with such ease and it is so floriferous that it’s definitely worth putting up with this drawback.

5. Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

Close up of the tiny, pale blue, forget-me-not flowers of Brunnera macrophylla

Brunnera macrophylla bears airy sprays of pale blue forget-me-not flowers
Image: Canva

The pretty blue forget-me-not flowers of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ associate well with the sulphur yellow of Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’ and its silver patterned leaves continue to provide interest long after the flowers have finished. You could even pair its silvery tones with a dark purple heuchera, such as ‘Plum Pudding.’

Close up of heart-shaped leaves of Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' showing green leaves with silvery white colouring between leaf veins

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ has handsome foliage
Image: Canva

6. Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’

Close up of Mauve and raspberry flowers and silver spotted lanceolate foliage

Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’
Image: Terra Nova Nurseries

Pulmonarias produce early flowers which provide an important source of food for hungry bees awakening from hibernation. Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ bears clusters of tubular, mauve to raspberry pink flowers on long stems above rosettes of silver-spotted leaves. As with all Pulmonarias, after flowering the leaves often get mildew but this is easily remedied by simply cutting them down to the ground. Water well and the plant will quickly bounce back with a fresh crop of lovely new leaves.

7. Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’ 

Close up of dark pink pendulous flower clusters of Ribes sanguineum 'King Edward VII'

Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’
Image: Dreamstime

The two shrubs which I enjoy most at this time of the year are the flowering quince, chaenomeles, and the flowering currant, ribes. I am constantly popping out to admire my Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’ which is covered in pendulous raspberry-red blooms that never fail to impress me. The bees love it too. If you fancy something a little different, plump for Ribes x gordonianum. The flowers are bi-coloured a subtle pink and creamy yellow which is exquisite.

8. Chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’

Close up of cup-shaped pink flowers of Chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady'

Chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’
Image: Canva

Striking an oriental note is Chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’ with its gorgeous candy-pink blooms set off with golden anthers. With bold, cup shaped flowers adorning dark, twiggy stems, Chaenomeles are bursting with spring impact. They offer a palette which includes reds and pinks at a time when the garden is often dominated by blues and yellows. Chaenomeles look wonderful trained onto walls or trellis which shows off their blooms, but they can also be grown as free standing shrubs or even used as flowering hedges.

9. Exochorda x macrantha ‘Niagara’

Exochorda x macrantha 'Niagara' shrub covered with abundant pure white flowers

Exochorda x macrantha ‘Niagara’
Image: Van Son & Koot

Meanwhile, just around the corner, I’ve been coveting my neighbours Exochorda x macrantha ‘Niagara’ which is already smothered in masses of white blooms. ‘Niagara’ is a much improved version of the old cultivar, ‘The Bride’ with more compact and manageable growth which is perfectly suited to smaller gardens.

10. Viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’

Close up of white lace-cap flowers of Viburnum 'Kilimanjaro Sunrise'

Viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’
Image: Van Son & Koot

The viburnums are also just starting to unfold their buds including one of the best selections, Viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’. Other forms of Viburnum plicatum have a very broad habit which is hard to accommodate in smaller gardens, but this one grows neatly upright, its tiered branches clothed in abundant lace-cap flowers which are prettily blushed with pink. This is a hard-working shrub which really earns its place, as in the autumn it rewards again with fiery red and orange tinted foliage. For the same qualities but in an even smaller package, plump for Viburnum plicatum ‘Watanabe’, which will happily grow in a pot or narrow border.

Given some sun, all three of these shrubs are easy-care plants and will even tolerate heavy clay. Like all early flowering spring shrubs and climbers, they are able to flower so early because their flowering wood grew last year. For this reason, any pruning should be carried out directly after flowering.

I shall definitely be treating my spring garden to an Exochorda x macrantha this year –  which April flowers will you be plumping for? Whatever you choose, after planting keep an eye on the watering – our springs are becoming increasingly warm and dry. Give your new plants a good soaking every one or two weeks until they become established.

Slug and Snail Control: The Ultimate Guide

Slug on leaf

Image: Canva

The sight of tender shoots pushing through warming spring soil lifts the heart of every gardener. After weeks of anticipation the garden is finally moving. We rush to the greenhouse and start frantically sowing, gleefully admiring trays brimming with new seedlings. Hoes and rakes are joyfully unleashed from dark sheds, the soil is tilled, seeds are scattered. At the end of the day, as sunlight rakes across our tired but satisfied brows, visions of perfect lettuces, juicy peas and drifts of flowering annuals dance before our eyes. Spring – the season of optimism! 

But behind that optimism is a hidden anxiety. There is something nasty lurking under the leaf litter at the back of your mind. And suddenly, in one damp night, swathes of innocent baby seedlings are ruthlessly massacred, eager buds nipped off in their prime, precious young shoots ripped to shreds. Yes! Those monstrous molluscs have returned: Slugs and snails.

Spring into action against slugs and snails

Tray of tomato seedlings

These seedlings are soft and leggy and provide excellent fodder for slugs and snails
Image: Canva

As temperatures rise, slugs and snails emerge from hibernation where the ability to super-cool their bodies has protected them from freezing. Meanwhile, generations of eggs laid in the autumn are busy hatching throughout April and May. All of these animals emerge with raging appetites and, as the spring garden serves up a banquet of soft and succulent food, who can blame them for gorging at the feast?

From 1 April 2022 it is now illegal to sell and use metaldehyde slug pellets. So, whether you like it or not, this particular weapon can no longer be part of your armoury against the gardener’s number one enemy. British gardeners have been using some 650 billion slug pellets per year – and there is no doubt about it – they worked. Sadly, they worked rather too well. Only a small amount of metaldehyde is needed to poison or kill non-target animals and as the pellets included a bait, every animal which occupies your garden – birds, frogs, toads, newts, hedgehogs, slow worms, mice, even your pets – was at risk.

The good news is that there are many alternative and safe slug and snail deterrents. But which actually work? Being prepared in advance of the enemy is crucial – so let’s examine the options – both silly and sensible – and whilst we’re at it, take a closer look at these much-maligned molluscs, delving into dark, damp corners to uncover some of their slimy secrets.

Hand to hand combat

close up of booted foot about to squash a large orange slug

Some gardeners are more ruthless than others!
Image: Shutterstock

Post-war gardeners were made of stern stuff. My mum would pluck a slug from the ground, confront it eyeball to eyestalk and then abruptly slice it in two with her secateurs. I don’t count myself as a squeamish gardener, but this is a bit too much for my stomach. Neither am I that fond of her other strategy: the nightly ritual of slug-stalking with a salt cellar which the following morning would leave hazardous pools of slug-gloop along the path awaiting my young unshod feet.

I am however partial to the satisfying scrunch of crushing snails beneath my boot. But I confess to being a cowardly killer, as I prefer not to look too closely at my victims as they flinch under my boot. As well as their eyes, snails have light sensing cells dispersed all over their outer skin which enables them to quickly react to the hovering shadow of a murderous hand or boot. Other suggested molluscan murder methods include collecting them all in a bucket. Exactly what you do with your bucket of slugs and snails afterwards I do not know or care to contemplate.

Close up of slug with clutch of translucent eggs

Slugs lay up to 200 eggs per square metre
Image: Shutterstock

Are these methods effective? Well, they certainly satisfy the gardener’s thirst for revenge. But do they make any significant dent in the population of molluscs which are busy consuming your garden? The problem is, although you may not find these molluscs attractive, they find each other positively irresistible. Both slugs and snails are hermaphrodite, which is a distinct advantage for such slow animals that might otherwise have difficulty bumping into the ‘right’ partner; and both enjoy very elaborate courtship rituals which can go on for hours. In fact, gastropods have voracious appetites for love as well as food and can boast of very adventurous sex lives, so adventurous that the next time I look a snail in the eye both of us might blush. All this romance means that the average garden has 20,000 slugs and lay as many as 200 eggs per cubic metre. So I’m afraid you may have won the battle, but the slugs have definitely won the war.

Create a slug zone

Close up of gloved hand holding a slug and in the background a bucket of slugs surrounded by tomato plants

Slugging it out with a bucket load of slugs is not for the faint hearted
Image: Shutterstock

One suggestion I have come across on the internet is to ‘deliberately attract slugs’ to an area of your garden away from your target plants and then to go out and collect them at night. Gardeners World suggests “using something they’re attracted to – old veg leaves, dried cat food, bread rolls, oats or bran”. To me, this sounds like a very good way of attracting rats as well as molluscs and given that rats have a considerable speed advantage, I suspect that both slugs, snails and the gardener are likely to end up disappointed by the results.

It also raises the same tricky problem encountered above –  what do you do with your bucketful of slugs and snails? One traditional solution has been to lob them over the neighbour’s fence. If you are having a boundary dispute with your neighbour this will probably give considerable satisfaction, until that is, those cunning slugs and snails find their way home. Unfortunately, scientists have discovered that snails are equipped with a homing instinct. This means they need to be hurled at least 20 metres away to ensure they won’t find their way back – a feat which would require the arms of an Olympic shot putter.

I’m left with a sinking feeling that this project is doomed to backfire – the neighbour is enjoying a garden freed of slugs, snails and rats whilst I’m saddled with a bucketful of slimy slugs and snails and a cold walk in the night to dispose of them.

 

Beer Traps

Research by Garden Organic found that slugs enjoy beer but turned their tentacles up at red and white wines, Cava, cider, orange squash and water
Image: Shutterstock

Beer traps are a well-known traditional slug and snail deterrent but they are a method which I definitely can’t advocate. Slugs and snails can sniff out fermenting beer from long distances and will be attracted to your boozy garden often without actually drowning in the beer, so you are likely to end up with a bigger population of molluscs than you started with. Meanwhile, a host of other beneficial insects will also be attracted to your traps and meet a sticky end. Personally I think it’s a waste of beer. Let’s move on!

Eggshells, sawdust, coffee grounds, wood ash, human hair, grit, etcetera, etcetera

Close up of person holding trowel and scattering wood ash between rows of lettuce

Disappointingly, natural home-made barriers such as wood ash are less than useless on slugs and snails
Image: Shutterstock

Sorry, but all of these methods are perfectly useless. This is because slugs and snails are equipped with a super power: slime! Acting as both an adhesive and a lubricant, this slime has miraculous elastic properties and the ability to change its consistency when pressure is applied. Get slug slime on your skin and you will find it a devil to wash off due to its supreme stickiness and impressive ability to hold water. Scientists have even taken inspiration from slug slime to develop medical glues which will bond wet tissues and stem bleeding. Even hedgehogs find slug slime troublesome to deal with. This video by Julia from The Hedgehog Diaries shows a hedgehog de-sliming its slug meal by rolling it on the ground!

Dr Hodgson of Exeter University has discovered that snails use up to 30 percent of their energy in slime production and reports that ‘snails move in convoys, piggy-backing on the slime of other snails to conserve energy’. Slime not only assists movement but is also designed to prevent injury when molluscs move over rough surfaces. Their sublime slime means that slugs and snails can happily glide across razor blades and they will be laughing off your puny human efforts to deter them with mere eggshells.

Wool pellets

Close up of grey slugs making slime trails across a piece of wood

Slime is a super power! But wool pellets are an effective weapon
Image: Shutterstock

Put aside your eggshells and coffee grounds and try wool pellets instead. If you find wool jumpers itchy, then so do slugs! Wool fibres are highly hygroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture. This, plus natural sands and grits in the wool and salts from sweaty sheep, sucks up slime and causes irritation to the slugs so they crawl off in search of easier food.

After placing them around the base of the plant the pellets are thoroughly watered. This causes them swell and bind together forming a dense matt which isn’t disturbed by wind or rain. Although wool pellets are quite pricey the mat will last for up to 12 months and has the bonus of acting as a mulch which will supress weeds and retain moisture, breaking down naturally in the soil to slowly release nutrients.

I planted out a lot of sunflower seedlings last year and tired of watching each one being felled by marauding molluscs I tried wool pellets. I’m pleased to report that they were a resounding success. They need to be piled up in a wide, thick barrier ( at least 4inches (10cm) wide and a few inches deep) so are good for protecting individual specimens such as hostas, delphiniums, sweet peas and lupins but not so useful for long rows of seedlings.

Grazers G2 slug and snail repellent

Bottle of Grazers concentrate and a bottle of Grazers ready to use spray

Grazers is available as a concentrate or a ready-to-use spray
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Grazers offer a range of organic pest-deterrents in a liquid form which are based on calcium, with different formulations tailored to different pests. I’ve certainly had success using Grazers to deter rabbits and pigeons, so their slug and snail formula looks a promising bet. What I have found is that for Grazers to be successful you need to apply it thoroughly and repeat spray at intervals. How often you need to re-apply will largely depend on rainfall, time of year and growth rates so it varies from several days to a few weeks. Fast growing young plants with soft tissues which are subject to heavy spring rains will need more frequent applications. If you are only treating one or two plants then a handheld sprayer is fine but keen gardeners would be well to invest in a pressure sprayer for this task. This allows you to make up a tank of mix and then grab it and speedily spray your vulnerable plants whenever required.

The calcium contained in Grazers is absorbed through plant leaves and stems into plant cells. It doesn’t kill slugs and snails but makes plant tissues distasteful so they will seek other food sources. It takes a little while for the calcium to be absorbed and moved through the plant, so if you are transplanting vulnerable young plants from the greenhouse to their outdoor positions, it’s a good idea to treat them with Grazers for a few days prior to doing so. Price wise, Grazers is a relatively economic option, but it obviously requires more labour than putting down wool pellets. However, it’s better suited to large areas of crops or ornamentals.

A note on gastropod grazing habits

Not for nothing are slugs and snails known as ‘gastropods’ –  literally an ‘eating foot’. These animals have evolved into highly efficient munching machines and they are not easily put off their meals. Grazers is the only commercial product which makes plant tissues distasteful to them. Both slugs and snails are equipped with a ribbon-like tongue called a radula which is covered in thousands of tiny teeth, neatly arranged in rows. In fact, the garden snail has about 14,000 teeth! By grinding the radula against its horny jaw, the slug or snail rasps at its food. This causes the ragged abrasion of plant surfaces which is characteristic of slug and snail damage. It also enables them to grind their way through tougher foods like your potato tubers. They may lose a few teeth in the process, but new ones quickly regrow in their place. Once past the mouth food enters a holding bay or ‘crop’ so slugs and snails can happily ‘eat on the run’, bolting down your entire tray of seedlings, rapidly followed by seconds and pudding before retreating beneath the tray to digest dinner at leisure, in the dark and hidden from predators.

 

Organic-approved slug pellets

Close up of slugs covered in blue pellets

Even organic-approved slug pellets should be used sparingly, not like this!
Image: Shutterstock

What’s in organic slug pellets and how do they work?

Numerous brands of organic-approved slug pellets are available including:

All of these products are based on ferric (iron) phosphate which is bound to a cereal-flour based bait. Iron phosphate affects the metabolism of calcium in the gut of slugs and snails causing them to stop feeding and die within three to six days. Any uneaten pellets will slowly break down releasing phosphate and iron which will be taken up by plants as nutrients.

Effect on earthworms

These pellets are harmless to mammals but there is one downside – they can be harmful to earthworms. As well as ferric phosphate, the pellets contain chelating agents which are toxic to earthworms that consume them, causing them to feed less, lose weight and die. The power of humble earthworms in maintaining a healthy soil ecosystem is not something to be casually dismissed, so it is essential that gardeners use these pellets responsibly.

Application

I wince when I see people pour gluts of pellets all over the place as this really isn’t necessary – the pellets are baited and so will attract slugs and snails to them. These molluscs are equipped with incredibly sensitive taste and smell organs in their lips and tentacles which can detect minute chemical traces in their environment. Slugs and snails find potential mates by sniffing out and following mucus trails and will back track along their own scented trails to find their way home. So, if you are going to use organic slug pellets, do so sparingly, just using 4 or 5 in an area the size of an A4 piece of paper.

 

Nematodes: a slug’s nemesis

Magnified image of a translucent nematode worm on a blade of grass

Magnified image of a nematode worm
Image: Canva

What are nematodes and how do they work?

Professional gardeners have been using living organisms to control pests, known as ‘biological control’, for many years. They are now readily available to amateur gardeners, and if you haven’t tried them yet then you are definitely missing a trick! Nematodes are microscopic worms which are naturally present in the soil and act as parasites on other living organisms. The great thing about them is that they are host-specific and so non-target species are left unharmed.

Close up of slug with swollen mantle having been infected by nematodes

Slugs infected by nematodes develop a swollen mantle
Image: Ion Colino – http://areitzsoroa.blogspot.co.uk/2010_12_05_archive.html, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55026740

There are nematodes for a whole range of pests and they all have distinctly unpronounceable and forgettable names. Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita is the one for slugs, conveniently sold under the moniker ‘Nemaslug’. These tiny worms with a big name are certainly the slugs nemesis. They enter the slugs body through its breathing pore, multiplying rapidly and causing them to develop a swollen mantle. The sick slug immediately goes off its food and often remains underground. So, although it takes between 7 to 21 days for it to keel over and die, damage to your precious plants is immediately reduced. Once the slug dies the nematodes tuck in and feed off its remains. They go on to produce another generation of hungry slug-killers which travel through the soil to hunt down new slug hosts.

Application and timing

Nemaslug is effective but it must be applied correctly and timing is crucial. The sachet containing the nematodes is mixed into water and applied onto the soil using a watering can or garden hose applicator. The soil temperature needs to be consistently above 5°C but you also want to apply it as early as possible in the spring to catch the first generation of young slugs before they turn into larger adults which are more resistant to infection. One application provides up to 6 weeks of control so, several applications are needed during the growing season. As Nemaslug is a live product with a shelf life, (it has to be stored in a refrigerator on receipt), the packet includes a small calendar to record applications and remind you when to order your next batch.

Good against slugs but not snails

Close up of brown lipped snails on plant stems

Nematodes attack all slugs but are not very effective on snails, such as these attractive brown-lipped ones
Image: Canva

Nemaslug is effective on all pest slug species and grey field slugs are especially susceptible which is good news as they are the most damaging of all garden slugs. However, if snails are your biggest enemy then Nemaslug won’t be much use. Although nematodes can kill snails, they tend to evade infection due to their largely surface-dwelling nature.

Being ugly, slimy and homeless, slugs have few fans, and seem to come in for the most blame. Meanwhile the snail, with its ingenious and pretty armour, its shy ‘peak a boo’ behaviour and the fact that the shell provides a convenient and dry hand hold for curious humans, has a slighter cuter reputation. However, of the 30 plus species of slugs in Britain, only 4 are really garden pests feeding off living plant material, the remainder prefer munching on dead organic matter. If you have a limey soil, point the finger of blame at snails instead. They prefer calcareous soils which provide the necessary calcium to build their shells.

Not so effective on heavy soils

Nemaslug is more effective in freely draining soils than heavy clays, as these allow nematodes to easily move about and find their hosts.

Harmless to earthworms

Nemaslug has the advantage over organic pellets in that it continues to work well in wet weather and numerous experiments have demonstrated that it is completely harmless to earthworms along with insects and other organisms.

Slug and snail control: A military strategy

Use a combination of methods

In the war against slugs and snails it pays to have a co-ordinated strategy, employing all of your cultural, chemical and physical controls to defeat these resilient garden adversaries. Don’t rely on just one of the methods above, which all have their advantages and disadvantages, but use them in tandem. Use an early application of nematodes to protect vulnerable root crops, such as potatoes, across a wide area of ground. Apply Grazers to leafy veg such as brassicas. Meanwhile, protect your ornamentals with Ferric phosphate and wool pellets.

Grow your seedlings on

Grow seedlings on until they have reached a reasonable size and their stem and leaf tissues have toughened up a bit before planting them out. Greenhouses can quickly get too hot in spring sunshine even when the ambient temperature is cold. Seedlings raised in excessively warm conditions grow very soft and leggy – perfect food for slugs and snails. Ventilate your greenhouse as much as possible to keep temperatures at a reasonable level and harden off seedlings in a slug-protected area (see below) before they go outside.

Concentrate your efforts

Pay especial attention to your nursery areas where seedlings and young plants are placed and concentrate your efforts on these zones, using Ferric phosphate pellets sparingly to protect them.  Reduce any hiding places in these areas by keeping them tidy and removing debris and leaves. Pay attention to crop margins which are adjacent to nearby cover such as hedges or long grass.

Check your seed trays

Slugs and snails love to hide beneath seed trays and pots so check underneath them everyday.

Don’t use high nitrogen fertilisers too much

Slugs and snails will go for soft juicy growth which is exactly what high nitrogen fertilisers promote. Aim instead for slow, steady growth. Where necessary use organic slow-release fertilisers or specialised feeds such as Chempak Low Nitrogen (good for firming up vegetables and vulnerable plants such as lupins and delphiniums), or Chempak High Potash (to encourage flowering rather than leaf and stem growth).

Water in the morning

This will enable the ground and foliage to dry out before foraging molluscs come out at night.

Be vigilant during wet weather

After every bout of rain check and renew your slug and snail defences where necessary.

Encourage wildlife

Close up of a thrush with a snail in its beak

Slugs and snails are a necessary part of a thriving ecosystem. Look after your allies in the war against them
Image: Shutterstock

All of the animals listed below eat slugs and snails, so it makes sense to recruit them as your allies. Our wildlife gardening guides provide plenty of tips for encouraging them into your garden.

  • Hedgehogs
  • frogs
  • toads
  • newts
  • slowworms
  • birds
  • ground beetles
  • centipedes
  • shrews
  • mice

Avoid the plants most vulnerable to slugs and snails

Close up of blue, white and mauve delphinium flower spikes

Sluggish gardeners who don’t have the energy for a war against gastropods may prefer to avoid susceptible plants such as these delphiniums
Image: Canva

If slug and snail warfare isn’t your thing, then don’t bother with the plants listed below :

  • Beans
  • Celery
  • Clematis
  • Dahlia
  • Delphinium
  • Doronicum
  • Gerbera
  • Helenium
  • Hollyhock
  • Hosta
  • Hyacinth
  • Lettuce
  • Lilies
  • Lupin
  • Pansy
  • Peas
  • Potato
  • Primula
  • Soloman’s Seal
  • Sweet peas
  • Tulips


Slugs and snails are here to stay!

Close up of slug coming out of the spout of a watering can

Molluscs have been around for 500 million years, which has given them ample opportunity to perfect the art of annoying gardeners
Image: Canva

There is no way of completely eradicating slugs and snails and if we could, our gardens would be in a terrible mess. Slugs and snails are primary consumers, munching through organic matter, fungi and algae and making it available to smaller organisms. Without them, we would literally be surrounded by rubbish. Think of them as one of nature’s dustmen, indiscriminate but efficient. They also form an important part of the garden eco-system, providing food for all sorts of animals. Concentrate your efforts on young seedlings and the most vulnerable plants, and accept that slugs and snails will always love your garden as much as you do!

Choosing the right plants for growing around patios

Overview of patio with flowers in containers

Liven up your patio with container-grown flowers and plants
Image: Sophie McAulay/Shutterstock

Adding a vibrant element to your patio area through plants, flowers, shrubs and grasses is a great idea. Not only do plants add colour and texture; they make the space feel alive. But how do you decide what to grow? First, you’ll need to choose patio plants that suit the conditions in your garden. Some require full sun while others tolerate shade. But you’ll also want to select plants that fit with your design goals. Whether you’re planning a traditional terrace or a contemporary space, here’s how to design a planting scheme for your patio.

read more…

Top ten wildflowers

Ox-Eye Daisy from Thompson & Morgan

Ox-eye daisies are easy to grow and very popular with pollinators
Image: Ox-Eye Daisy from Thompson & Morgan

Wildflowers are a low-maintenance and long-lasting addition to any garden. Often planted as annual or perennial meadows, they make a wildlife-friendly alternative to lawns or a quick and easy way to fill a border. Not sure which varieties to choose? The easiest way is to use a themed wildflower mixture. You can also choose individual varieties of wildflower seeds if you prefer to concentrate on your favourites. Here are our top ten wildflowers and how to grow them.

1. Cornflower ‘Blue Diadem’

Cornflower ‘Blue Diadem’ from Thompson & Morgan

Bees flock to cornflowers during the summer
Image: Cornflower ‘Blue Diadem’ from Thompson & Morgan

The intense, azure blue flowers of Cornflower ‘Blue Diadem’ were once a common sight dotted through golden cornfields. This charming annual makes an unforgettable impact in grassy meadows and summer borders. Sow between March and May for flowers in June, July, and August. The bright blue flowers grow up to 75cm tall and also look great in a vase.

2. Cowslip (Primula veris)

Primula veris from Thompson & Morgan

Cowslips bring a ray of golden sunshine to any garden
Image: Primula veris from Thompson & Morgan

Holding an RHS Award of Garden Merit, the stiff stems of Primula veris carry whorls of pendulous yellow flowers above swathes of lush, mid green foliage. Perfect ground-cover in natural planting schemes, the delicate fragrance of these edible flowers is an added bonus. Reaching a height of 25cm, sow your seeds between March and May for flowers in June, July and August.

3. Meadowland mixture

Meadowland mixture from Thompson & Morgan

A wildflower meadowland mixture includes classic grassland varieties
Image: Meadowland mixture from Thompson & Morgan

Our meadowland mixture includes over 30 types of pretty wildflowers including lady’s bedstraw, meadow buttercup, corn chamomile, wild clary, cowslip, crane’s-bill, ox-eye daisy and many others. With varied heights of 20-150cm, some flowers emerge the first summer after sowing, while the rest appear in spring, summer or autumn the next year.

4. Lychnis flos-cuculi

Pink petals of Lychnis flos-cuculi from Thompson & Morgan

Bright pink eye-catching ragged robin petals peak through the grass
Image: Garden World Images

A perennial wildflower with delicate bright pink flowers, Lychnis flos-cuculi (Ragged Robin) has attractive raggedy petals that come into bloom from May to August. A good choice for difficult, damp areas of the garden, the stems vary in height from 25cm to 100cm.

5. Wild poppy

Wild poppy from Thompson & Morgan

Create a field of red with wild poppies
Image: Wild poppy from Thompson & Morgan

The bright scarlet flowers of wild poppies (Papaver rhoeas) traditionally dot cornfields with bright scarlet flowers. Sow your seeds in thick swathes for a bold carpet of red, or scatter randomly through your borders and wait for the flowers to peep through your perennials. An annual flower that self-seeds happily, you can expect your poppies to return every year in early summer. Sow between March and October.

6. Cornfield mixture

Poppies and various other wildflowers in Cornfield mixture from Thompson & Morgan

Create a traditional meadow with this cornfield mix
Image: Cornfield mixture from Thompson & Morgan

Sow the cornfield mixture along paths or near your vegetable garden where the nectar-rich flowers will attract pollinating insects and beneficial predators. White campion, corn chamomile, field forget-me-not and poppies make up just a portion of this varied mix. Plants vary in height from 15cm to 60cm and flower during the summer.

7. Teasel

Closeup of teasel seed head

Teasel seed heads add interest to the back of beds and borders
Image: Teasel from Thompson & Morgan

Teasel is a tall, striking, thistle-like plant with serrated leaves and large spiny flower heads. It’s a valuable source of nectar for bees and butterflies, and attracts seed-eating birds to your garden. This biennial plant self-seeds freely once established, and the lilac flowers appear through July and August.

8. Fritillaria meleagris

Purple and white flowers of Fritillaria meleagris from Thompson & Morgan

Snakeshead fritillary has lovely nodding flowers
Image: Fritillaria meleagris from Thompson & Morgan

The captivating, bell-shaped flowers of Fritillaria meleagris are instantly recognizable by their distinctive snake-skin markings. Snake head fritillaries look best planted in drifts, and prefer damp shady areas and informal areas of grass. Sow these rare native flowers between March and May for flowers in the same months the following year.

9. Butterfly mixture

Assorted wildflower mix in a garden

Butterfly mix is colourful and very attractive to pollinators
Image: Garden World Images

Excellent for creating bold and varied drifts of colour in your garden, Butterfly mixture has been specifically designed to attract butterflies and other beneficial insects. Turn a section of your garden or allotment into a haven for wildlife by sowing the seeds onto prepared soil in the spring. Your flowers will appear between June and September.

10. Wildflower ‘Woodland shade mix’

Wildflowers ‘Woodland Shade Mix' seed box from Thompson & Morgan

Our woodland shade mix comes with vermiculite to aid even dispersal
Image: Wildflowers ‘Woodland Shade Mix’ from Thompson & Morgan

To brighten up darker corners of the garden, Woodland shade mix contains native foxgloves, sweet peas, forget-me-nots and more shade-loving woodland species. Scatter the mix straight from the box and rake into the soil wherever you want your colourful wildflower mix to grow. If you sow the seeds in spring and autumn, expect to see some species flower the same year, and some the following year, between April and September.

Share your wildflower patch or containers with us on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #YourTMGarden. For even more advice and inspiration, head over to our wildflower hub page

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