May is an eventful and exciting month in the garden, plants (and us) love the warmer weather and we can see daily changes as spring bulbs fade and herbaceous perennials unfurl from the ground and swiftly grow. 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.
Last summer as part of the design I created for Brandon in Bloom’s ‘The Wedge’ I used a plant that’s grown purely for its foliage colours: ‘Coleus’ (also known as flame nettle). The variety I chose was ‘red head’ as the display was planted predominately using red flowers to represent ‘blood & bandages’ in remembrance of 100 years since the ending of WW1. Every day without fail someone came into the shop to ask me “what are the red plants in the wedge?”.
Coleus (Latin name: Solenostemon scutellarioides) is ridiculously cheerful and flamboyant, available in a multitude of clown-like colours in crazy reds, yellows, greens, purple-bronzes, dark pinks and browns. An ornamental member of the mint family, it originates in Indonesia and Malaysia and arrived in Europe in the mid-19th century.
Coleus grows best in bright, indirect light, as the foliage colour is often enhanced when they are grown in the shade. Pinch the center stems out when the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall to induce bushier growth, and be sure to pick off the flower spikes as they form. If the soil is allowed to dry out, the foliage will wilt, but normally will recover quickly when additional water is provided. Water your plants thoroughly at planting time, and then mulch the entire bed to conserve moisture. The mulch will also help to heat up, and retain the heat in the soil, thereby helping your plants to get established in their new home. Avoid using fertilisers that are high in nitrogen as this encourages soft growth and poorer quality foliage, instead choose a balanced fertiliser. Pests to look out for include mealy bugs, aphids and whitefly, as well as slugs and snails!
Whilst in the garden they are grown as annuals, but Coleus are actually tender perennials and kept at a minimum 15C (60F) over winter they make a pretty houseplant. Coleus can be propagated from seed, or from cuttings and there are 100’s of varieties to choose from. The choice for the wedge for 2019 planting is ‘Wizard Mix’.
Top Tips for May:
• When planting up hanging baskets use a good quality compost, and add slow release fertiliser and water retaining crystals
• Trim back spreading plants such as aubrieta, alyssum and candytuft after they have flowered to encourage fresh new growth and more flowers.
• Start to closely inspect your plants for pests and diseases – early prevention is easier than curing an infestation.
• Harden off and plant out young vegetable and bedding plants.
• Earth up potatoes, and promptly plant any still remaining
• Collect rainwater and investigate ways to recycle water for irrigation
• Open greenhouse vents and doors on warm days
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