Things to do in the spring garden

It’s well and truly time to get busy outdoors. This is the most exciting time of the year in the garden; things suddenly begin to look green and vibrant and the warmer days and lighter evenings can gladden the heart of every gardener. Garden designer, Sheena Marsh, says it’s time to shake off the winter blues and get stuck into the shrubbery.

Patio cleaning

Getting the garden ready for summer should include giving attention to the patio. Regular sweeping is key to keeping the patio looking tidy. Dirt and slime can build up on a patio over time. Weeds growing between the stones can be removed with a knife, or use a specialist weed-killing product to stop them coming back.

Using a high-pressure washer is the easiest way of spring-cleaning the patio. There are a plethora of different products to choose from, so if you’re considering buying one, think first about the kinds of tasks you’ll use it for, then make sure the machine you buy has the relevant attachments.

Investing in a pressure washer can be a real time saver, making a whole host of garden cleaning jobs faster and easier. We clean bikes, fences, gutters, decks, even the wheelie bins with ours.

Follow the manufacturer's advice for the best pressure setting and direct the water away from grouted areas on your slabs. The higher the pressure, the more the grout is likely to dislodge - so a little bit of care is advisable.

If you don’t want to invest in a pressure washer, try a proprietary stone-cleaning product. Once applied, if you’re lucky, the dirt may simply rinse off. Depending on the state of your slabs and the product you use, you might need to employ some firm brushing. Alternatively, the most economical and environmentally friendly method of cleaning slabs is to use a solution of detergent, warm water and some thorough scrubbing.

But be warned, this is not a task to be carried out when you’re exhausted - you will need to be up for a good workout before you start.

Time to spruce up the lawn

Now is the time to give your lawn some attention after the winter damage.

The first thing to do is rake it vigorously with a spring tine lawn rake. In my opinion, this specialist tool should be in every gardener’s shed. Its long, flexible ‘teeth’ are ideal for removing worm casts, dead leaves and twigs, moss and dead grass which may have accumulated during winter months.

It’s quite hard work, but well worth the effort. Leaving winter debris on your lawn will make it difficult for the young grass shoots to emerge.

Once you’ve had your workout with the rake, give the lawn a dressing with a special spring food, available in garden centres now. In the business we use a mechanical spreader for this task because we’re generally covering large areas, but the quickest and easiest way to do it, is to use a feed applied with a watering can. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the correct dilution and within a few days the lawn will have taken on a lush green appearance.

The sound of a whirring lawnmower once signified the start of spring but because of the mild weather we’ve experienced this winter, you may well have started cutting your grass already. For now, while the grass is young, keep the blades raised quite high. Lower the blades later on this month as the growth quickens.

Always try to cut when the grass is reasonably dry.

Sow flowers from seed

If your garden borders have ‘bare patches’ now is a good time to sow hardy annuals outdoors.

Good examples include love-in-a-mist, nasturtium, sunflowerscalendulapoppies, larkspur, and lavatera. The best thing to do is visit a garden centre and choose from the many varieties available then it’s a simple job of sowing them straight into the ground.

Make sure the soil is well prepared and weed free and sprinkle them where you wish. The only thing you need to do is make sure that they are well-watered and kept weed free. If you’re not sure which are weeds, a good rule of thumb is the weeds are usually the seedlings that are growing quickest!

Protect plants

With the warmer weather and spring rains, we will almost certainly see an increase the gardener’s chief foes - slugs and snails.

They can cause enormous damage to young plants, so if you are not gardening organically, the easiest way to protect vulnerable new growth is to spread a few slug pellets around the base of the plants that are likely to be affected. There’s no need to do this for all plants, but the enemy does have its favourites - delphiniums, lupins, scabious make a very tasty meal for a slug!

There are several organic ways of dealing with these little pests; I sink a jar of beer in the ground with the lip just proud of the surface. In the morning, I find it filled with an amazing number of drowned snails and have no compunction about disposing of the corpses. It’s life or death in the battle for my delphiniums and every year I get a fantastic display, without the use of chemicals.

Give borders a tidy up 

Just set aside a day to go over the borders, doing those small jobs that make all the difference to the garden’s appearance. Lightly fork over the soil pulling out any weeds. It’s best to do it at this time of the year before they get too big and established.

Apply synthetic fertilisers

All plants need nutrients to survive, but there’s no need to feed absolutely everything every year. Trees and shrubs, for example, will grow quite happily for years, provided the ground is prepared properly when planting. With these all these, all that is necessary is to apply some fertiliser in the first two or three years after planting. After that, unless there is some obvious deficiency, they’ll cope well on their own.

The areas of the garden that most need fertilisers every year are the vegetable, fruit patch, annual borders and plants in containers. There are many varieties available in garden centres. Choose a slow release fertiliser and sprinkle over your borders. The rain should take it down into the roots of the plants. 

And finally… take time to enjoy your garden. Many studies have shown that simply being in the presence of trees and plants reduces stress so at this lovely time of year relax and stop and admire nature at its best. 

Sheena Marsh is the founder and a director of Oxford Garden Design who for over fifteen years has worked closely with hundreds of individual garden owners to produce practical landscape plans that result in gorgeous gardens. For more information on gardens they have designed in and around the Cotswolds visit the garden inspiration page on www.oxfordgardendesign.co.uk.