Roddy Llewellyn's April Garden

PUBLISHED: 09:45 23 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:04 20 February 2013

Roddy Llewellyn's April Garden

Roddy Llewellyn's April Garden

Check dietary requirements when you're treating your plants to dinner

After a long and inhospitable winter, most plants are feeling hungry. Like a bear coming out of hibernation, they need a good square meal. I do not want to appear to be teaching my grandmother how suck eggs but it is a good thing to understand the difference between fertilisers and their labelling, because plants vary in their dietary requirements. The most important thing to look at is the NPK formulae and the numbers against each initial at the back of the container. N is for nitrogen, P for phosphorus and K for Potassium or Potash. Very basically, nitrogen (N) boosts leaf development and is useful for grasses and leafy vegetables like cabbage and spinach. A lawn feed, for example, will have a NPK ratio of about 14-2-4. Phosphorus (P) is essential for root development and seed germination and therefore very useful for root crops such as carrots, swedes and turnips. Bonemeal is an excellent source of phosphorus with a NPK ratio of 4-12-0. Potassium or potash (K) promotes flower and fruit production and is especially useful, therefore, for most flowering plants as well as potatoes and tomatoes. Concentrate liquid tomato feeds are always high in potassium with a NPK ratio of about 4-4-8.

The whole subject of fertilisers is a huge one, which can only be fully explained by using scientific jargon, but, again, basically, there are two ways of feeding plants. The first is by adding compounds to the soil, or by foliar feeding. The latter, remembering that plants absorb moisture through their leaves as well as their roots, has the same effect as you or I having an intravenous vitamin injection , i.e., it has an immediate effect. The former is normally longer- lasting, especially when you use a product like bonemeal, made from a mixture of crushed and coarsely ground bones from farm animal corpses, which is best added to the soil around the roots at planting time. I was only thinking the other day how odd it is that so many plants seem to enjoy feeding on old bones. It must be because plants have acquired a taste for them over the hundreds of millions of years of their evolution. Whatever you use, it is vital to read the manufacturers instructions.

If you somehow never get round to feeding plants and are looking for a reliable and rewarding groundcover plant, whether it is for the front of the border or in semi-shade, you cant really go wrong with any species of epimedium. I have always found them tolerant of most soils, so long as they are not too dry. They tend to take a little time to settle down but once they have, they are there forever.

A good all-rounder is E. perralderianum, an evergreen from Algeria with bronze leaves in the spring and bright yellow flowers from spring to early summer followed by glossy green leaves. E. x rubrum qualifies as one of the most decorative of all groundcover plants with red young leaves and crimson and pale yellow flowers. All deciduous species need to be given a short haircut with shears anytime during the winter so that the flowers are fully exposed when they appear early on in the season. Once established, a group of epimediums make it almost impossible for any invading weeds to become established.

It is in spring that the vegetable garden starts to be visited more and more. Without sounding smug, I dressed my plot with manure in the spring so all I have to do now is to give it a light dig to incorporate it into the soil. It is impossible to predict the weather but as a rule, the joy of the arrival of April is that so many crops can be sown into the soil outside now that it has warmed up a little. Broad beans, carrots, peas, shallots and nasturtiums can all be sown, and early potatoes, onion sets and summer and autumn cabbages planted. If you are waiting for your asparagus plants (one- year crowns) to be delivered, early April is the time to make space for them remembering that they need quite a lot of space 30cm (12) apart and 45cm (18) between rows. The crowns should have their roots splayed out and planted 20cm (8) deep into a trench that has been enriched with something like manure, although, without wishing to sound indiscreet, I was told many years ago by the head gardener at Windsor Castle that fish offal is caviar to asparagus


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