There are all sorts of special occasions – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, May Day and a fair sprinkling of saints’ days, too. There is even – imported from the US – Secretary’s Day. But the most pivotal day in the gardening calendar passes by unnamed every year. So I’ve taken the liberty of christening it myself. I like to think of it as Frost-Free Day.
This is the day after which you can be as certain as you’ll ever be that we’ve seen the last of the cold stuff – the day you can safely start on your summer bedding outside.
It’s a busy time. There are flower beds to plant, tubs and hanging baskets to fill and on the veg patch all the cold-sensitive crops such as French beans, runners, courgettes, sweetcorn and outdoor tomatoes want putting in.
The day doesn’t fall on the same date each year. Every year is slightly different, depending on weather conditions and according to where you are in the country.
In a mild season and with a sheltered southwestern location, the last frost may be over as early as late April or early May. In the Home Counties it’s usually about the middle of May, while exposed parts of Scotland can still experience overnight frosts until early June.
All over the country there are “frost pockets” where cold lingers, so it pays to familiarise yourself with local conditions. Watch the weather forecasts and keep an eye on other gardeners to see when they start planting. If in any doubt at all, play safe and wait a few days.
A lot of people are so anxious to get their half-hardies out they skimp on a very important detail – soil preparation. Frost-tender plants only have a shortish season to do their stuff so it’s essential they grow fast and furious from day one and they’ll only do that if the ground is good.
So, before you start planting, fork the ground over, remove any weeds, stones and roots and if you haven’t already worked in some organic matter, do so now. Use well-rotted material or invest in a bag or…