How to wake your garden up after winter

As the days begin to draw out and temperatures rise, we can finally start to wave goodbye to winter. For those with green fingers, spring can be a busy time preparing your garden for nature’s splendid colour show, as trees, plants and flowers burst into bloom. Here, Saltram’s Garden and Outdoors Manager, Nick Allison shares his top three easy steps to help prepare your garden for its springtime awakening.

Step one: the foundations

The foundations of any great garden is in the soil. If you look after the soil, the plants will look after themselves. That’s why it’s important to begin mulching your beds and borders when preparing for your garden’s springtime showcase. Compost and well-rotted manure are full of microscopic life. It’s this that brings new life to the soil itself. They trap moisture in the ground beneath and their dark colour absorbs the warmth of spring sunshine, triggering plants to grow more quickly.

Spring Tulips beginning to burst into bloom.
Tulips shoots in the Spring

Not only that, solid foundations help show off your bright and beautiful springtime plants. At this time of year, some spring bulbs have already broken through the soil. Plants such as peonies send vivid red stems up through the soil, whilst others announce their arrival with a cheerful green telling us winter is coming to an end. This whole drama of emergence and growth is best shown off against a simple background of good dark manure or compost.

" Modern garden design has roots in the outdoor theatre design of the first Elizabethan age, and as Shakespeare nearly said, ‘All the garden's a stage, and all the plants and bulbs merely players; They have their exits and their entrances.’ "
- Nick Allison, Garden and Outdoors Manager, Saltram.

Step two: fill in the gaps

A brilliant way to fill gaps and keep your garden looking full and fresh, is to grow annuals. Shrubs and herbaceous plants return year after year, growing in the same spot and slowly getting bigger. You'll be able to see this at Saltram.

If you’d like to create a different look or colour scheme each year, grow annuals as bedding and plant them out amongst the permanent plantings when they are big enough to compete. There are hundreds to choose from in your local garden centre, just follow the two basic rules:

  • Start growing your selected annuals in good time, so they are big enough to plant out in spring.
  • Plant them into good, cultivated soil. You can dig in well-rotted manure before planting so there is plenty of organic matter for them to get their roots into.
Visitors browsing the plants for sale at Saltram, Devon.
Visitors browsing the plants for sale at Saltram, Devon.

Hardy annuals can be started earliest of all. They can even be sown directly into the beds. Half-hardy annuals however, need to be grown indoors until after the last frost.

Step three: stop the slugs

Taking early action against those mischievous slugs could help save your garden from a total invasion. Slugs love well-drained soil that never dries out - just like most garden plants. The closer to this ideal soil you have, the more slugs you’ll get.

A slug on the lawn at Tyntesfield, Somerset
Slug at Tyntesfield, Somerset

Using slug nematodes is a good way to ensure slugs are kept at bay. This is best done before the start of spring. The mixture contains billions of microscopic creatures that, when mixed with water and poured over the flower bed, swim through the soil. These microscopic creatures only target the slugs and are especially useful in targeting the clandestine Keel Slug, which spends the day underground, only to emerge at night to eat the shoots and leaves.

Slug nematodes are completely harmless to other creatures and you’ll notice a huge difference in all of your plants. Keep an eye on your Delphiniums. They’ll grow up straight with not a nibble or mark on them. 

Delphinium (Ranunculaceae) 'Blue Lagoon', with deep royal blue flowers.
Delphinium (Ranunculaceae) 'Blue Lagoon', with deep royal blue flowers

Alternatively, slug pellets are very effective. However, as an independent conservation charity, our focus is on returning nature to its healthly and beautiful state - and this applies to our gardens too. With this in mind, try to avoid nasty poisonous pesticides or slug pellets, which contain metaldehyde. Instead, organic-approved pellets are just as effective and wont harm you, or any other wildlife in the process. Using pellets' only drawback is that they melt in the rain and need to be reapplied quite often - especially in the rainy South West.