Tag Archive: maintenance

Now's the time for cleaning up in the garden

Now’s the time for cleaning up in the garden

1. Elf  ‘n’ safetee

  • Frosts can still be a hazard, so keep vulnerable plants protected at night if frost is forecast (fleece or cloches). March winds are also ferocious so make sure exposed plants are well supported.

  • Remove moss and weeds from paths, terraces and driveways. Dissolve washing soda crystals in hot water and brush over paths and patios to remove green algae – it’s cheaper than specialist treatments off the garden centre shelf.

  • Protect new spring shoots from slugs. There is a wide range of possible methods – why not  try an organic one?

Fork over your borders

Fork over your borders

2. Making your bed

  • Prepare seed beds – lightly fork and rake over to achieve a fine tilth, removing larger stones,weeds etc..

  • On your borders clear up any remaining dead stems, leaves etc. and then weed, fork over and add nutrients – incorporate as much organic matter as you can. You can add a mulch on top of the bare soil to suppress further weeds and keep moisture in.  This might be of composted bark (at least a year old to avoid it removing nutrients from the soil). A 5cm deep layer, spread before the soil dries out, and with newspapers between the soil and the mulch, will slow down the rate the bark decomposes, so it could last for 2 – 3 years.

  • Thawing and freezing conditions may have  lifted some plants – give any that have risen out of the soil a gentle firm around the stem.

Now's the time to divide and transplant perennials

Now’s the time to divide and transplant perennials

3. Moving on – position your plants

  • Late March/early April is a good time to transplant shrubs and trees – as soon as the soil is workable, but before buds have swelled or broken open.

  • Divide and transplant summer perennials and fertilize established ones as soon as new growth appears.

  • Plant summer – flowering bulbs and tubers (e.g. gladiola, lilies and dahlias). You can continue planting additional bulbs every couple of weeks until mid June to ensure a longer flowering period.

  • Check that any plants growing against the house walls and under the eaves or under tall evergreens have sufficient moisture – incorporating organic matter will help with moisture retention.

  • Plant ornamental grasses (or lift, divide and replant existing ones) and mix them in with your shrubs and perennials.

  • Plant shallots, onion sets and early potatoes towards the end of the month

  • This is the best time to move snowdrops – “in the green”. Once the flowers have faded dig up the plants, take care not to damage the bulb or the foliage. Tease out the bulbs into smaller groups and replant them straight away at the same depth, watering to settle the soil around the roots.

  • Plant Primroses and Pansies.

Onion sets can be planted out

Onion sets can be planted out

4. Cut above – pruning for growth

  • Cut back winter shrubs and generally tidy up around the garden.

  • Cut back established Penstemons.

  • Prune winter Jasmine after flowering.

  • Cut Honeysuckle back to strong buds about 1m above ground and remove some older stems to encourage new growth at the base.

  • Finish pruning fruit trees before the buds swell.

  • Roses can be pruned this month – and start feeding them (all-purpose fertiliser and/or manure).

  • Remove any plain green stems from variegated shrubs otherwise they will eventually all revert to green.

 5. Stake out

  • Gather sticks or buy plant supports and get them in place around perennials that are likely to need support – best do it now so you don’t trample on surrounding new growth in the border and before the plants grow too tall or bushy to put in supports easily. Try making ‘lobster pot’ shapes over the plant base by weaving pliable willow, dog wood or hazel cuttings from coppiced plants – these look more natural than metal supports.

6. Feed and Weed

  • Give bulbs that have finished blooming some fertilizer – a ‘bulb booster’ or bone meal.

  • Top dress containers with fresh compost.

  • Fertilize shrubs and trees if this wasn’t done in February.

  • Use an Ericaceous fertilizer to feed acid-loving evergreens, conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.

  • Use an all-purpose fertilizer for deciduous trees and shrubs – Bonemeal and/or Fish, Blood and Bone are ideal..

  • Fruit trees and bushes will benefit from a high potash feed (wood ashes is one source) – a liquid feed of tomato fertilizer on the strawberries is also well worth a try!

  • Regularly hoe vegetable beds so that weeds are not taking any available moisture or nutrients.

  • Mulch all fruit with your own compost or well-rotted farm manure, making sure it does not touch the stems, as this can cause rot.

  • Turnover your compost pile to encourage new activity and generate future supplies of compost to feed your garden!

  • Pot indoor plants into bigger pots if they need a ‘refresh’ or if the roots have filled the existing pot. Increase the frequency of feeding indoor plants (high nitrogen feed for plants grown for their leaves and high potash for those grown for their flowers).

Seeds can be sown in trays or open ground - or in these modules for easier transplanting

Seeds can be sown in trays or open ground – or in these modules for easier transplanting

7. Sow, sow, sow

  • Sow seeds of summer plants indoors, in propagators or in trays or modules on window cills or other light, frost – free places.

  • Sow seeds outdoors once the soil has warmed up (use cloches or coverings a week or two before you sow to warm the soil) – only plant small amounts of veg that you actually like to eat and choose well – tried, hardy veg varieties that don’t mind the cold – carrots, peas, broad beans, spinach, radish, parsnips and leeks.

  • You’ll need labels, finely raked soil and a string line or cane to help you sow straight – and ensure you sow at the right depth and spacing.

8. Grassed up

  • Repair damaged lawns with new seeding or turf – choose the right grass mix for your situation and expected use.

  • Make it easier to mow your lawn by eliminating sharp, awkward corners – create curves that you can mow round.

  • Remove a circle of grass from the base of trees in the lawn (ideally at least 1m diameter, but possibly more for bigger trees), and mulch with chopped bark/compost. It will take less time to cut round the trees, the trees will benefit from the cleared space underneath, and you’ll avoid colliding with and damaging the tree trunk.

  • As soon as possible start cutting the grass. If it has not been cut since last autumn it will be long, tufted – and probably hard work! Choose a dry day, and once the soil has dried out sufficiently. Cut it to about 5cm and remove the cuttings, and on the same day (or soon after), cut it again to half this height. .

nest box9. Critter care

  • Buy or make nesting boxes to attract birds to your garden (see simple construction pic from the British Trust for Ornithology opposite).   Hang them on a wall rather than from trees if you have cats in the area.

  • Carry on putting food out for birds but make sure there are now no large pieces – these are potentially harmful to fledglings.

  • Keep the bird bath topped up with water

  • If your wildlife pond does not have any frogspawn try to get some from another pond that has plenty. Check any submersible pumps and clean filters. Thin out oxygenating plants

10. Dear diary

  • Get a notebook and use it to keep important gardening information; what you plant in the garden, where you got it from; planting /transplanting dates; harvesting dates and quantity/ quality of the crops. Also record any pest or disease problems, what was done and how effective this was. All this information will be helpful in planning your garden in future years.

Old School Gardener

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elps-gardenfurniture-cleaningWood- clean with a pressure washer or stiff brush and water; apply wood preserver to non-treated softwoods, and apply, if desired, teak oil to hardwoods once a year to keep their colour.

bench cleaningCast iron- clean with a damp cloth. It rusts slowly when exposed to air. You will need to sand down (or use a wire brush/wire wool) damaged areas and apply a rust converter, followed by an undercoat and topcoat of paint.

Aluminium- wipe down with a damp cloth, and oil all fittings and moving parts.

patioset_electricsanderPlastic and resin- clean with a damp cloth and detergent, or with a proprietary spray cleaner.

pressurewashingStone- clean with a pressure washer or stiff brush and soapy water.

Upholstery- use a proprietary liquid or spray for cleaning.

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Old School Gardener


Anthemic tinctoria 'E.C. Buxton'- suitable for the 'Chelsea Chop'

Anthemic tinctoria ‘E.C. Buxton’- suitable for the ‘Chelsea Chop’


Avoid the need for staking by growing compact versions of tall perennials or plant them close together so that they support each other. You can also cut back later flowering perennials in late spring by pinching out or cutting back stems by about a half- the so called ‘Chelsea Chop’- this will promote more compact and later flowering plants that do not need staking. Also, select flowering plants with weather-resistant blooms which stand up to wind and rain and that don’t need regular deadheading for continuous flowering.

Further information:

Plants for Gardening in a rainier Britain- Daily Telegraph

Rain- proof flowers

Pruning perennial and annual plants- BBC

Dwarf perennials- Guardian Garden Centre

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’ (Reader’s Digest 1999)

Old School Gardener


You can grow things that can be harvested before the summer holidays - if you start early enough and with the right varieties

You can grow things that can be harvested before the summer holidays – if you start early enough and with the right varieties

You’ve got a functioning School Garden and it’s going well. How do you keep it that way? Today’s post looks at top tips for managing and maintaining your School Garden.

Managing the children

  • Model behaviour in the garden – children need to be encouraged to be calm, watchful, focused, attentive and interested. Encourage reflective learning as children undertake informal activities in the garden – eg picking flowers for the school reception.
  • Mentoring – encourage children to act as mentors to younger, less experienced colleagues and perhaps have others with key responsibilities in the garden, e.g. for tool issue, checking and gathering. This will encourage learning – and reduce the work required of the Garden Coordinator!
  • Divide whole classes into smaller groups to allow for more in depth learning on more complex tasks and to avoid children tripping over each other in particular parts of the garden
Jobs like building 'bug hotels' and laying paths are best left to 'Garden Gang' days when you can get a good level of adult support for a few hours

Jobs like building ‘bug hotels’ and laying paths are best left to ‘Garden Gang’ days when you can get a good level of adult support for a few hours

Managing the garden

  • Be prepared – set aside time for planning gardening sessions. Use a robust book in which to plan and record lessons and reflect on what happened.
  • Make sure children take notes and regularly write up what they have been doing and learning in the garden, and encourage them to take ownership of it by contributing to its planning and management
  • ‘Garden gangs’ – schedule longer sessions of a few hours when parents and other volunteers as well as children can come in and do more substantial tasks in the garden – path or pergola building, greenhouse construction etc.
  • Look out for bargains or second hand tools and equipment – a local ‘freecycle” website or similar could be worth a look.
Taking notes

Taking notes and helping to plan for next year…


  • Make ‘rainmakers’ out of yoghurt or juice bottles – cut off the necks and make holes in the bottom. These can be filled from larger buckets of water around the garden and then used to mimic the gentle effect of rain. This avoids the dangers of over watering the plants (and the children!)  if watering cans or hoses are used. As plants mature you can use other, larger plastic bottles (with the bottoms removed and the necks plunged into the ground alongside the plant) – these can be filled with water (from watering cans) to get water to the plant’s roots.
  • Keep clean – have a suitable boot scraper/brush and mat outside the school, to avoid bringing mud into the building and havea suitable place to store boots (maybe on a trolley).
  • Plan for summer –  either grow things that can be harvested before the holidays (and replace these with a mulch or grow a ‘green manure’ to both cover and feed the soil); arrange special summer holiday activities which can also enable basic garden maintenance to be done, or arrange a schedule of parents and others who can come in over the holidays and water, weed etc. Perhaps get people committed to this at an end of term event or meeting. And you could use a combination of all three approaches!
  • Maintain a record of parent/ community skills and assets (diggers, power equipment, trailers etc.) which can contribute to the garden at different times.
Have somewhere children can wipe their feet off and store boots

Have somewhere children can wipe their feet off and store boots

Generating support

  • Give presentations at parent events and especially those for reception children, whose parents might be new to the school.
  • Ask for donations – unused tools or materials, or funding for specific items like a wheelbarrow.
  • Celebrate – have a spring garden party or other events during the year to celebrate your achievements and generate further support.

    Ask for unused tools and equipment for the School

    Ask for unused tools and equipment for the School

The final post in this series will look at ways of involving children in planting and nurturing the School Garden and what to do at harvest time, including cooking in the garden.

Other posts in the series:

Growing Children 5: Top tips for School Garden activities

Growing Children 4: AAA rated School Garden in Seven Steps

Growing Children 3: Seven tips for creating your dream School Garden

Growing Children 2: Seven Design tips for your School Garden

Growing Children 1: School Garden start up in Seven Steps

School Gardening – reconnecting children and Nature

Source & Further information:

How to grow a School Garden’ – Arden Bucklin-Spooner and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books

School Gardening Club- ideas

Budding Gardeners- lots of advice and info

Garden planner tool

Planning your school garden

Food & Agriculture Organisation School Garden Planner

California School Garden Network Guide to School Gardening

School Gardening Wizard

School garden fundraising

Garden Organic support for schools

Old School Gardener

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