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Digging the new season; If the weather holds, make the most of April to prepare your garden for summer.

t's nice to snuggle up inside watching the snow drift down - but it can also be frustrating.

IThis day last week my garden was covered in another white blanket but midweek it was full-on sunshine with cheery dwarf daffodils waving at me from the front beds.

I want to be out there - I really dislike this stop-start gardening. Will the weather ever decide what it wants to do, dump all its snow, spill all its rain, so I can get on with my gardening year!

My frustration is that the last two weeks of March is a very active time in the garden - there's loads that can be done.

I live near the sea so the ground hasn't really frozen hard.

Your conditions may well be very different so don't start sowing seeds outdoors until soil temperatures have reached and sustained 6degC for maybe a week and there are no severe weather forecasts on the horizon. If the ground isn't still frozen hard you can plant hardy summer bulbs such as lilies, either in pots or direct into the ground.

Tender bulbs such as gladioli and dahlia can be started indoors for planting outside after the fear of frost is gone.

Plant bulbs at three times their depth and have slug and snail controls ready for when the tender young shoots emerge.

These might take the form of copper bands around pots, organic pellets, crunchy barriers such as crushed egg shells, or nightly patrols with a torch to remove them by hand.

Biological controls are also a possibility - microscopic worms that you put in the soil which destroy the snail - these need a minimum soil temperature of 5degC to work.

Make sure to get some seed potatoes ready for planting. Early potatoes are absolutely delicious and easy to grow because you don't have to worry about blight. If you grow them in containers or grow bags, half fill with compost and place the seed potato just underneath the soil. As shoots emerge, cover with more compost and keep going until the pot is full.

Given our fluctuating temperatures, it would be a good idea to keep some horticultural fleece to hand so you can cover them if frost is on the way.

All going well, you will be harvesting your golden treasure in late June.

Another easy crop to grow is the broad bean and it can be sown right now - either indoors for planting outside next month or in milder areas under a cloche, directly outside.

The Sutton is a dwarf variety, probably best for the smaller garden, growing to around a foot or so in height.

Space seeds around 9in apart and pinch out top shoots when the first pods show to help prevent black fly.

Mulch borders - this is your best insurance for plant welfare for the rest of the year - it retains moisture, improves soil and suppresses weeds.

Use your home-made compost and if you don't have any, garden centres sell bags of bark or well-rotted manure.

With all the cold weather you might not have been able to do any pruning. It's better to get it done now before sap starts to rise and new growth begins.

Bush roses can be cut back hard to within around three to four buds from the base of the stem. Floribunda roses that produce lots of flowers at the top of each stem can take a lighter clipping.

I spent a day recently tackling all the climbing roses as well - this is a bigger job and depending on how high your climbers are, it may be a two-person job, with one person holding the ladder.

You want to retain the main upright canes as a framework, although you can remove one or two older canes completely to stimulate new growth. Then cut back side shoots off these canes to within a couple of buds.

My roses are growing around pillars so I chose one or two very pliable main stems and coiled these around the pillar, tying them in which will hopefully stimulate plenty of side buds to grow and flower.

While up on my ladder, I also chopped back whippy side stems of the wisteria. Solanum jasminoides, a slightly tender but vigorous climber, is somewhat frost damaged with brown burnt leaves but I resisted the urge to clip this back yet until I'm quite confident we've come to the end of the really harsh weather.

Once you get going you can get quite scissor happy so what else can you be doing right now? Buddlejas are due a hard prune - right back to a woody stump - as are lavatera. It looks very drastic but it will keep your shrubs in check and won't diminish flowering later on in the year. Finally, say a little thank you to your spring bulbs such as daffs and snowdrops which have provided much-needed cheer through the chilly days.

Allow their foliage to die back naturally and give them some liquid feed to boost them for next year.

ASK DIARMUID Q Could you please tell me what is going on with my privet and what to do. It looks like a green fungus is growing on the branches and the wood is brittle and breaking easily. Also, any new leaves that appear are very small.

I should add that this privet is more than 40 years old.

Dorothy Bridges It looks like moss and perhaps lichen are growing on your privet. While these don't do any harm in themselves, they can indicate a shrub that isn't thriving.

I think your best bet is some rejuvenating pruning this spring to bring some new life to an old shrub. Also give it a generous dollop of mulch and all-purpose fertiliser.

Leave it a few weeks until we're sure the harsh weather is gone, then cut it back hard.

PLANT OF THE WEEK RIBES SPECIOSUM The flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, is a familiar sight in many gardens - a reliable foot soldier of hedges and shrubberies. It does however have a lesser known cousin, Ribes speciosum, which deserves to be planted more widely.

Its scarlet flowers look a little like fuchsia, hence its common name the fuchsia-flowered currant. It's very thorny, similar to gooseberry, so handle with care or use as a burglar-deterrent plant.

It's beautiful trained against a south-facing wall where you can admire its serried ranks of scarlet flowers, and it will appreciate the shelter and warmth.

CAPTION(S):

Mulch borders - this is your best insurance for the rest of the year

Privet makes a perfect hedge, but it does need TLC from time to time

Ribes speciosum, PS9.99 (2 litre pot) from Ballyrobert Gardens (ballyrobertgardens.com)

Planting bulbs in a freshly dug bed

It's time to prune shrubs like buddleja and wisteria, left, and plant tender bulbs such as gladioli
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Manchester Evening News (Manchester, United Kingdom)
Date:Apr 3, 2018
Words:1138
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