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The Chelsea chop and other gardening jobs for May

    The Chelsea chop and other gardening jobs for May

    All of a sudden the days just aren’t long enough for all the intense gardening jobs pressing for our attention! I keep making lists, losing the lists, making new lists, going outside to do something on the list, and getting distracted by at least five other jobs on the way..

    But I won’t miss out my Chelsea-chopping, potting on my veg crops, and addressing the mealy bug problem on my crab apples..

    Let’s go Chelsea chopping!

    What with the great flower-show just round the corner, Caroline is by now more interested in Chelsea Shopping than Chelsea Chopping….but can I HIGHLY recommend the latter occupation to you! It’s a sort of pruning, really, done in the second half of May. Do it a bit later, in June, and it’s known as the Hampton Hack – I wonder why??!

    Here’s what it’s all about:

    Dozens of herbaceous perennials are putting on masses of growth now which often causes them to flop once they are laden with flowers, especially in a windy spot.

    Hyelotelephium (sedum) can get awfully floppy

    So what you do is grab the stems with one hand and chop them off with the secateurs held in the other hand, down to about half their height. BOOM! It feels brutal, but it will make them flower a little later and at a much sturdier height, require less staking etc. The prunings can go on the compost heap. Or turn them into softwood cuttings (– link to a piece/vid about them.)

    This Anthemis is getting the Chelsea-chop!

    I’ve done it for years and it really works!

    And here’s a great variation of the ‘Chelsea Chop’ to give you flowers ALL SUMMER LONG. Cut back about a third of this season’s shoots by half. In a fortnight’s time, do the same to another third of the shoots you’d left untouched before. Leave the last third unpruned – they will flower first. Then the first lot you cut back will come into flower, a little lower and sturdier. And then the last lot.

    Or how about snipping down some shoots, and leaving others to flower at their normal time? It’s another great way of ensuring a really long flowering period

    Try any of these versions of your Chelsea Chop with Phlox, Echinacea, Rudbeckia fulgida, Helenium, Anthemis (chamomile), Nepeta (catmint), argyranthemum(marguerite), Campanula (bellflower), Eupatorium (Joe Pye weed), coreopsis (tickseed) and lots of others. I shall be selectively sniping away at lots of my HPs this year, for sure. I made a short video of the process – link below.

    Perfect pots for crops

    During the pandemic, I wasn’t able to get to my veg patch proper, and tried growing vegetables and salads in pots instead – and it worked amazingly well! Growing them in containers gives you so much more control over the weeds, pest and disease problems that veg-growing seems to attract. The only problem is that decorative pots have gone up in price along with everything else, and ones that you use just for veg-growing can be a real headache to store when out of use. You may well want to use your best pots for flowering plants through the summer, anyway.

    Growing veg in pots really works

    That’s where foldaway ones come in super-handy. You can use old compost sacks, thick carrier bags, potato-sacks – almost anything as long as it’s got drainage holes. My concern with these is that they are not very sturdy, and I worry that the roots will be damaged if they move around or worse still, fall over.

    These Vigoroot pots are the perfect answer

    In our shop we have some fantastic recycled Vigoroot plant pots that Caroline is very evangelical about. Not only do they sit firmly on the ground when filled with compost, they promote extra-strong rooting by sort of ‘air-pruning them’. At the end of the season, you wash them, dry them and fold them away for the next year– simple! They look a whole heap nicer than a potato-sack or, dare I say it, a Growbag too! Definitely something worth considering when you pot on your veg seedlings or buy your veg plugs for the summer harvest.

    Flowers with shapes

    Wandering around the garden this morning I was thinking about spring flowers. Not Earth-shattering news, obviously. But I was thinking not about their colors this time, or their scent, but about the ‘form’ of them.

    The exquisite form of a Nectaroscordum flower – deeply satisfying

    Some are just the most exquisite and satisfying shape and deserve their place in the garden for that reason alone. Polygonatum (Solomon’s seal), Nectaroscordum siculum (Sicilian honey garlic – ‘common name’? Sounds pretty exceptional to me!), Euphorbias………I’m not talking here about stems or foliage, nor about the rare and exotic specialties that Laura goes in for, but common spring garden flowers that have a uniquely beautiful architecture to them.

    The flowers of Solomon’s seal just have it, don’t they?

    Are there more plants like this around in spring than at other times of the year? Do you have some favorites that fit into this category? I’d love to hear about them.

    Gardening shorts

    • My husband Nigel has got a book called ‘The Miracle of Vinegar’ by Aggie Mackenzie and Emma Marsdenand there is hardly an activity in life that can’t be improved with vinegar, apparently!
    Apparently we need vinegar for almost every activity in our lives……!

    The book doesn’t say much about gardening, but vinegar can be massively useful there too – for cleaning pots and tools, terring pests, and killing weeds (much better for the environment than proprietary herbicides too). I’m certain to get mealy bugs on my espalier’d crab apples this year, and will use a spray of apple cider vinegar (1 part vinegar to 4 parts water) every couple of weeks to get rid of them.

    • When you’re sowing carrot seed, always sow them sparingly to avoid having to thin them later. The smell attracts a wretched pest called the Carrot Root Fly, which can destroy your crop quicker than you can say Bugs Bunny.
    • A friend of ours brought us round some delicious rhubarb the other day – what a tart it made! Remember to harvest rhubarb by pulling it from the base rather than cutting it which can allow rot to set in. Never take more than half the available stalks, so that the plant can build up its strength for the next year.
    Pull off the rhubarb stalks, don’t cut them

    Here is the link to my short video on how to Chelsea Chop at will.

    A little heads up – As previously mentioned, it’s Chelsea Flower Show next week and the Growbags will be partying there next Saturday! For that reason, we will be changing our blog post from Saturday to Sunday, to include our reactions to the Greatest Show on Earth!

    NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the 3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

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