Gardening in Spring – Vegetables and Flowers to brighten your garden

by Ken C | Last Updated: 22/04/2021

May brings forth flowers with the help of April showers, but they’ve yet to arrive.

Even so, it is the time to think about planting our summer bedding plants.

Yes, now!

Well as soon as the frosts have gone.

Clear the weeds

If any areas that you intend to plant with bedding are weed infested, it is important to remove those before you start preparing the planting areas.

You could hand weed the beds working across them with a light fork digging them out, particularly pernicious weeds like nettle, dock and thistle.  Alternatively a weed killer containing glyphosate like Roundup will do the trick.  Safe to use, but always read the instructions.

But remember, if the weather is cold it will take a bit longer to work so be patient.

Feed the soil

Our soil has quite a bit of moisture in the levels below the surface, but don’t let that fool you into thinking in needs nothing added.

It does, and the more organic material you can add the better.

Home made or purchased compost dug well in to the surface will help your new plants thrive.

Why not add a slow release fertiliser like Gro-Sure it feeds all year long as the temperature rises it releases the nutrients to the plant roots. This does not mean that I would not liquid feed during the flowering period and here I would use Maxicrop alternating with Tomorite.

I have been known to dig in the winter bedding – this doesn’t include bulbs of course.

This can only be done if the soil is friable enough to allow the spade to turn the spit (or spade full) of soil straight back over thus burying the plants.

Once turned, chop the surface and there you have it.

Green manuring at its best!

Then, I’d recommend forking into the surface blood, fish and bone or even just bone meal but remember these are fairly slow reacting.

The down side, Foxes and even Badgers have been know to be attracted to these natural fertilisers…

And I should mention, apply the same principles to your vegetable plots and allotments and you will be rewarded with a bountiful harvest when the time comes.

What’s your soil type?

Generally, where I live, we have heavy soils like clay or dark sandy soils – both can grow vegetables very well.  There are also chalky soils, and everything in-between.

Clay soils like my old Dad’s plot was heavy clay, and it was always difficult to get the timing right to dig. It always seemed to be either too wet or too dry!

There are other disadvantages to heavy clay soils.

It can take a lot longer to warm up – like this spring.  We need seven nights when the temperature is above seven degrees. Some hopes anywhere in the country this year.

Clay soils are definitely improved by adding organic material and gritty sand in equal parts.

Am I showing my age when I say that I remember the days when we used to add sewage sludge to gardens – delivered on a truck from the sewage works in Chigwell?

Wow, that worked a treat on my Dad’s plot.  Six inches deep dug in, and the vegetable plot was as good as you would see on TV.

Sorry back to our clay soils – which are generally more fertile as they hold nutrients better.  Good for growing brassicas but sometimes root vegetables like carrot, parsnip and swedes can struggle.

Misshapen veg has never stopped us growing them!

Let’s not forget those light Sandy soils.  These are never as fertile, and won’t hold their nutrients as well – nutrients drain through really quickly indeed.

This is because the soil particles are larger. I know that sounds daft, but clay and heavy soils are fine which is how they stick together.

What are disadvantages of those light soils? They dry out very quickly, which is why it’s a good idea to add lots of organic matter to help retain that moisture to help the plants and seeds grow. But as an advantage, they are extremely good for root vegetables – straight carrots are always a treat!

When growing vegetables or bedding plants watering regularly will be so important, especially when directly sowing seeds.

Direct Sowing is easier as a fine soil can be broken down more easily to produce that fine tilth required for seed especially fine seed like carrot and lettuce.

When can I start direct sowing into my soil?

Let’s start with vegetables.

I know I go on about soil temperatures but germination just won’t happen without a decent soil temperature of 5 to 7 degrees.

It’s now time to sow all those useful vegetables to enjoy through the summer.

One of my favourites is beetroot. Let’s face it, with a touch of vinaigrette or french dressing what could be nicer? Then, keeping a crop in the ground until Autumn, served hot Beetroot can be a delight.

Ok I’ve gone on about the delights of beetroot but what else can we sow?

Carrots of course, lettuce, pea, cauliflower, radish, spring onion, leeks and turnips. And I must not forget my favourite, spinach.

The best one I recon is the perpetual one – it lasts longer in the ground and doesn’t go to seed quite as easily.

Every time I talk spinach it reminds me of when I was an apprentice working in London Parks.

The Father of one of the young lads I worked with, grew loads of spinach.  Once a week I’d take him home at lunch time on my BSA Motorcycle, and he’d pick spinach from the garden. Pop it in the saucepan and we’d pop a couple of poached eggs on top for lunch.

It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

How’s do I sow seed straight into the ground?

If the soil is nice and crumbly, put a line along where you are going to sow the seed with a Dutch hoe or, on a short run, use a trowel drawn along a line or a piece of straight wood.

With a watering can run some water along the drill and that’s it! It’s ready for sowing.

Be careful not to sow too thickly but don’t worry too much if you do. You can easily thin most crops later on .

In very mild areas sow dwarf French beans and sweet corn outside under cloches or even under horticultural fleece.

In cooler areas patience is still the rule of the day .

It will soon be time for marrow, courgette, peppers and cucumbers – but don’t be too eager.  The temperatures are still low, however they could be started off on a windowsill or a greenhouse.

The next bit of preparation that you should have on a veg plot is a seed bed for later crops.

This area must have good light and the soil must be good.

What you are saying is this for?  Well, sow cabbage, cauliflower and, most importantly, purple sprouting broccoli.

Enough of the vegetables.

What flowers should I be planting?

Now you think we’ve forgotten  flowers. We haven’t.

So here is my own experience.

When I was looking after my parent’s garden, I had taken over his flower beds taking out herbaceous plants and going for colourful annuals.

I was lucky enough to have parents that were liberal enough to let me play with their garden.

So a large border ten metres long and waved edge creating a width of up to one-half metres, I had loads of room.

I worked the clay soil into a fine tilth by adding lots of organic material and gritty sand, and marked out large swirls with a cane to have large areas of each plant and single colours.

Once the areas were sorted, I marked out drills as close as 10 centimetres apart and then started sowing – just the same as with the vegetables.

Once one bay was done, I moved onto the next.

‘Why not scatter the seeds?’ I hear you ask.

You can, but from experience when the seed germinates you cannot work out which is weed or flower, whereas you can if in neat rows!

When it comes to planting your garden, think about Calendula and Ageratum. Cosmos is a must, as are Cornflower, Nigella, Phlox, and Larkspur to name just a few.

And there we have it, everything you need to do in the garden this month.

Happy gardening!

Ken Crowther is an award winning broadcaster, author and member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture. He has been gardening for over 50 years and his knowledge and experience are drawn on to provide advice and information about garden design, plants for all seasons, gardening techniques and gardening tips. Gardening with Ken's broad appeal means he reaches a wide audience across the UK from amateur gardeners to top level horticulturists.