May Gardening.

Summer’s on its way, and it’s a busy time for the garden! As spring bulbs fade and herbaceous borders grow filled with the promise of colour to come. Temperatures are rising but there can still be a last minute frost to catch us all out, so keep an eye on the local weather forecast and protect tender plants accordingly.
The plant of the month for May is the Petunia. Petunias are a large group of tender herbaceous plants that originate from South America. Petunias are part of the Solanaceae family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes and tobacco. Petunias are available in both upright and trailing varieties, and are a staple plant for containers, hanging baskets and summer bedding displays. Petunias can tolerate relatively harsh conditions and hot climates. They need at least five hours of sunlight every day and they grow well in low humidity, moist soil.
Petunias are hungry plants and require feeding regularly with a high potash fertiliser, such as Phostrogen or Tomato Feed. Petunias require dead-heading, to remove the spent blooms and any seeds they produce. When dead-heading remove the base of the flower to include seed removal. Petunias that are allowed to go to seed will slow or stop blooming. Most petunias are F1 Hybrids and are sold as plants which are grown from cuttings, therefore if you want an exact replica of the parent plant do not bother collecting the seeds as they will either be sterile or not true to type.
In horticulture many terms are used to denote different types of cultivated petunias. These include Grandiflora, Multiflora, Supertunia, Viva, Tumbelina, and Surfinia. Some petunias have double-flowers and some are scented. Every year the range of petunias increase as growers develop more and more unusual colours, most of these varieties are grown under plant breeders rights and cannot be propagated (for resale) without a licence.
In the past 20 years calibrachoas, small-flowered relations of petunias (not true petunias), have made enormous strides. Calibrachoas have smaller flowers than petunias, smaller and narrower leaves, and more slender, but woodier stems. And, unlike petunias, the leaves are not sticky. ‘Million Bells’ was the first and, like the surfinia petunias, it’s determined to trail. Now, as with petunias, there are many series. Some of the colours are just captivating. There really is something for everyone in this vast range of plants.
Here are my other top tips for May:
• Earth up potatoes and promptly plant any still remaining
• Check for nesting birds before clipping hedges
• Watch out for red lily beetles, and treat accordingly
• Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs.
• Collect rainwater and investigate ways to recycle water for irrigation
• Regularly hoe off weeds
• Open greenhouse vents and doors on warm days
• Mow lawns weekly
Whatever May brings I hope you get a chance to step out into the sunshine and enjoy the season as you tackle this months gardening jobs.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800 www.p-rgardensupplies.co.uk

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