As the days lengthen and the garden looks more inviting as it awakens, we tend to start with our visits to the garden centre. Indeed, many have been gearing up for our first visits for weeks as Easter weekend is for many, the chance to plan how to make the garden flourish this year.

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Splitting plants

When you are looking around, look for large plants which can be split as you put them into the ground or your pots. Often you can get two or even three plants from the one purchased pot by gently dividing them as you re-plant, making sure each has a reasonable amount of root with it. Great value for money! And at this time of year, even the little plants will get away well and bulk up nicely. Also do not choose plants which are in flower, if you can find plants in bud you will get a much longer lasting plant again providing you with better value for money and all the anticipation which goes with waiting for a new-to-you plant to flower.


Baby plants for you to raise

At this time of year, you can find very small plants either raised from seed by the nursery or very small cuttings raised and already showing roots at the bottom of their container. This is a job for you, which suits the time of year. The jeopardy of seed raising has been done for you and the only role for you is to pot them onto into slightly larger containers and watch them grow! Garden centres and also the supermarkets sell these tiny plants for a small amount of money – and you do the growing on (repotting) which you may have to do over the next couple of months several times. Many of these tiny plants are tender, which means they cannot survive cold nights and most definitely cannot take any degree of frost, so you will have to find space for them in the house or greenhouse. You also need to make a good choice here as the plants are not always given much love by the supermarkets and not looked after by experts, so they can be rather bashed up or un-watered.

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Seed sowing

If you want to have a go at raising seeds, this is by far the most economical and satisfying of all the garden tasks you can do at this time of year. There are many opportunities for finding lovely summer flowering plants to fill the garden beds with colour by raising seeds at home. Be careful what you choose between hardy and half hardy seeds as they need very different sowing regimes and some can only survive where they will flower and after all the risk of frost has passed. In Yorkshire this can be as late as the end of May (although I often take a chance on this and keep my fingers crossed). You do however, need to choose carefully and not take too many of the gorgeous packets home – remember all the hard work that has to go into the growing!

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Herbaceous perennials

Perennials give the best value for money if you are looking to fill gaps in the borders. They flower, year after year, often with very little attention. They may need to be divided (and the bits given to friends) every three or more years but you can enjoy them meanwhile. They are certainly a great deal less hassle than annuals which need to be replaced each year.

Herbaceous plants are sold in nurseries and garden centres and this time of year they have good stocks of many varieties, most of which will have a picture to help you choose. They are often small and whilst they are not that cheap, as we have said they come back year on year, and will increase in size rapidly. They will not all flower this year, so be aware that you may have to be patient. When planting these out then, make sure there is plenty of room for the plant to grow and not be overcome by it’s near neighbour! It helps to mulch around the newly planted perennial – it greatly increases your success rate. Mulch can be garden compost or specialist mulches.

In terms of value for money, mine goes on perennials every time and not on annuals which in our summers need a great deal of watering (sometimes daily) , are expensive to start with, need deadheading to continue to flower and last only as long as the season deems it.

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Plant quality

When choosing your plants at the garden centre or nursery ensure that the plant looks good, is in bud (if appropriate) and is balanced in the pot. I try to find smaller, cheaper pots of the same item as they will romp away for less money. The plant also needs to look healthy ie no brown leaves, no mould in the pot and if other pots have already started leaf emergence – then choose one of those. Check if there are roots emerging from the bottom of the pot which is a good sign of the plant being vigorous and healthy. You can be brave and knock a plant out of its’ pot to see (especially with expensive shrubs and trees) whether it is pot-bound, in which case the roots will be circulating round the base of the container and be quite dense. Most garden centres will not mind you doing this. The plant will take longer to settle into your garden if this is the case and some severely pot-bound trees may never be healthy specimens.

Check also that the top of the pot is not too weedy or with liverworts on the surface, as this indicates the plants have been sitting around for a while and should be avoided.

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During the winter months but often until the end of April (so you just have time) roses in particular can be purchased ‘bare root’. If your planting space for them is not ready, you will have to make a trench and ‘heel them in’ until you can prepare it’s final growing space. They are good value when you purchase them like this.

Whether you choose to visit a garden centre or nursery, you will find the staff very willing to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with you. They can be very helpful making the value of the plant you have chosen, even better and more likely to thrive in your care. This is the value in going local – you can speak to the staff. If you choose to go on-line for plants at this time of year, you are at the mercy of the company you choose. I have had a number of disappointments and use this choice sparingly. Use your visit to the garden centre to inspire and relax you and to make the best of the opportunity to plan the garden for this year!

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Whilst you might enjoy the odd trip to the garden centre, here at North Leeds Garden Design we can design your garden in its entirety to provide a haven full of colour and year round interest. Please contact us if you’d like to see a new garden out of your window for next summer.