As we reach the second quarter of the year there are plenty of jobs to tempt gardeners outside. The April rain most of us had in the UK this year have really perked up the gardens and everything is growing at speed.
May sees the last of the frosts for much of the country and it is time to start hardening off tender plants like pelargoniums and petunias. These can be grown from seed and are also readily available from garden centres and nurseries as small plants at this time of year. The phrase hardening off refers to a way of accustoming plants to the outside after they have been kept indoors either for the winter or from sowing seed earlier in spring. The initial period, usually towards the end of the month, should only be for a few hours at the warmest part of the day, usually early afternoon. After a week or so the time can be slowly extended to morning through to evening, then in June when the possibility of frost has disappeared, they can stay outside day and night. At this point the plants can be put into their flowering position for the rest of the summer.
Out in the garden weeds need to be kept on top of, lawns cut weekly and spring flowering bulbs deadheaded as they fade. It is important that the leaves are left intact as they are essential for feeding the bulb as the embryo flower begins to form inside it. The leaves look messy but can be disguised by having other more interesting things nearby to distract the eye. Peonies for example look lovely at this time of year as their often red stems emerge and thicken into clumps. Euphorbias are also good for disguise, their tall stems thickly covered in leaves and topped with outrageously bright lime coloured flowers.
In the vegetable garden beetroot, chard and spinach can all be sown outside this month. Prepare the bed by digging it over with a fork and breaking the top soil into a fine tilth. Make a straight shallow channel in the soil with a stick, water it then sow the seeds thinly onto the damp earth. Cover with a thin layer of soil and label. If the weather is dry the seeds may need watering but usually they have enough moisture from initial watering.