GARDENING: Tips for staying ahead of weeds

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BY JOYCE RUSSELL

The grass grows fast and the weeds aren’t too far behind. For gardeners, the task of controlling these two things can seem like a constant task. The two can be combined, of course, so when mowing you can use the clippings to mulch between rows and around plants. If you do this every year, you will have a big impact on the weeds in your garden.

Try to cut the grass before it starts to sow and keep pulling weeds every day you see them growing in the garden beds. Use a hoe in dry weather to speed up clearing of large areas and always dig up pesky weeds like thistles, docks and dandelions.

You can choose to let grass and wildflowers grow in certain parts of a large garden. It’s a good way to support insects and can help be part of a wildlife corridor. It’s best not to do this too close to your vegetable beds or you’ll really increase weed problems. Also scatter plenty of bee-friendly flowering plants around the garden and note what you see coming to visit your insect-friendly garden.

It’s strawberry season, so it’s time to enjoy your delicious fruits from the garden.

Strawberries

The first varieties are now ripening. The fruits need lots of sun to reach full ripe flavor, so don’t be tempted to pick until they’ve turned a good red color. Watch out for slugs in the strawberry bed and cover the plants with netting mounted on sticks if you want to keep the birds away. If you lay a net directly over the plants, the birds will land on it and simply peck at the fruit.

Potted plants need a lot of water and fast growing plants can quickly deplete their supply of nutrients. Water daily in hot weather and use liquid food every 7-10 days. Plants growing in a bed that has been enriched with manure or compost won’t be so desperate for extra nutrients, but they will still appreciate a potash boost from a tomato-based food. ‘algae.

Later varieties will produce swollen fruit and they should begin to ripen as the earlier ones finish. In a good year, you can get several weeks worth of delicious strawberry harvests.

Fruit set and swelling of tomato clusters.

Growing Tomatoes

We haven’t had very cold weather in a while now and the tomatoes are growing steadily. Outdoor varieties are happy to root in the ground and they will now grow very quickly.

The plants should be strong and sturdy and the first fruits set well on the lower trusses. It’s not too early to remove lower leaves that are discolored – there are plenty of higher ones to feed the plant.

Most greenhouse varieties produce the best fruit if kept on a single stem. This means removing side shoots as they appear in the leaf joints. Take care to look around the base of the stem to see if any new shoots are sprouting, and remove them as soon as you spot them. I sometimes leave the most lateral shoot in place if the plant seems weak – this can act as a replacement if damage occurs at the main growing point. Remove it when new growth begins to grow taller and if the plant is growing well, you won’t need a replacement at all.

Start feeding tomatoes as soon as the fruits begin to swell. Use a purchased food that contains seaweed extract or make your own.

Harvest

Continue to harvest the peas and beans you have grown under cover. These will be nearing the end of the crops and the plants growing outdoors will soon take over. Don’t waste greenhouse space by keeping rows of barely productive plants in place. Remove them as soon as the harvest diminishes and make room for planting peppers, eggplants and melons.

Sow parsley

If you sow parsley now, you can have a good supply for several months. Plants can be quite slow to establish, but once they get started they produce plenty of pickings through late spring.

Sprinkle some parsley seeds in a pot filled with potting soil. Put a very thin layer of compost on top and water until everything is moist. The seeds take two to three weeks to germinate – don’t overwater them or let them dry out.

Prick seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow them until the plants are large enough to go where you want them. Put a few in the polytunnel or greenhouse and some go outside in a garden bed. They are very hardy once established and give a great taste of fresh herbs to many dishes.

Point: try separating a pot of parsley plants from the vegetable section of the supermarket. Grow in pots until each plant is established.

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