Spring clean your garden

by Kate Gould

Credit: Katy Wrathall

Small gardens, like small rooms, always look better for being neat and tidy – unless you’re deliberately cultivating the wild look. The problem, of course, is finding the time to keep everything shipshape but luckily with just a few hours of effort in the spring, you can make a big difference to the look of your garden for the rest of the year.

Choose a nice, sunny, spring day and put aside a couple of hours to tidy and sweep away the remnants of the winter garden debris. Plants often look weather-beaten at this time of year but as soon as the perennials are neatly cut down to the ground their appearance is improved almost in seconds.  A quick mulch and there is very little else to do for them throughout the rest of the summer. Shrubs such as hydrangea can be fairly quickly cut and tidied, as can roses.  If you are able to at this time, add in pea stakes or canes to support any plants that might need it (campanula, delphinium and phlox are such cases) as this will prevent difficulty later in the year when finding points to push in supports amongst the foliage will be challenging.

With the climate as it has been of late, one of the most important jobs to do when the weather improves is to feed the garden using a slow-release, granular, organic fertilizer.  The rainfall throughout winter will have leached nutrients out of the soil and so feeding your plants will not only encourage strong growth, but flowers too and a well-tended and fed plant is one that is less likely to succumb to problems later in the year.

After all this is completed, the next sunny day on which you can spare a couple of hours, might well be spent cleaning the patio.  No matter how carefully selected, any hard landscaping will bear some scars after being subjected to a year of British weather. If simply brushing and washing down your patio doesn’t get it as clean as it could be, there are a multitude of chemical and ‘green’ products on the market. You should of course always read the label and try a test patch first regardless of which product you purchase.  Some, such as Patio Magic, provide really good effects on sandstone and man-made paving.

If you’ve got a bit more time to spare, spring is a perfect time to generate plants for free. Herbaceous perennials are just pushing through the cold ground and can easily be dug up and renovated. Many plants die out from the middle and so by lifting, splitting and dividing, it is possible to remove unproductive sections and replant those bits that are most vigorous. Good soil preparation is always vital when replanting, as are the addition of a slow-release fertiliser, a generous watering-in and in most cases a thick organic mulch around the base to maintain water levels and prevent the newly planted sections drying out. All of these will ensure that the plants settle in much more quickly.

Your garden should never look barer than it does in early spring, but seeing some ground is not necessarily a problem. In fact how your soil looks tells you a lot about the health of your garden. A compacted soil, wet and claggy should be turned and aerated to help plants extend their root systems, whilst a dry loose soil should have more organic matter added to increase nutrient content, moisture retention and structure.  A little digging, mulching and feeding at this time of year may take some time but the garden will be all the better for it later in the year.

Kate Gould is an award winning garden designer with more than a decade’s hands-on experience transforming gardens of all sizes and a regular exhibitor at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show where she has been awarded three Gold medals. www.kategouldgardens.com

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