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24/07/2021

Advice for Limerick gardeners on planting during unpredictable weather

Dundalk gardeners give advice on planting during unpredictable May weather

Kimmy Hodgetts and Sean Phelan advice on planting in your garden during this month's unpredictable weather. Summer weather has started creeping up on us.

Foolishly, I have already had my first sunburn of the year when I was caught off guard by what looked like it was going to be another overcast day: I was wrong.

A few days later, I was slathered in sun cream determined not to make a bad situation worse and was met by nothing but dark skies, rain and hail: this time it was the the forecast that was wrong.

This is what makes the month of May such a difficult one for the gardener.

Mother nature doesn’t care if its summer or winter, if she wants a frost or blistering sun, that is what she will give us; no man-made calendar will ever convince her otherwise.

While it is still possible for her to send a freak frost that could wipe out all of your tender plants overnight, the likelihood of this diminishes with every passing day.

This arbitrary weather makes it difficult to determine when the right time is to plant out your tender annuals or turf out your exotics into their summer positions outside.

There are many things to consider when trying to figure this out. Exactly how tender are your tender plants?

Some will tolerate an isolated light frost, while others will dramatically collapse and slink into death at the first sign of a cold night.

Those that are the most delicate will definitely be safer under cover for the time being.

Other plants that are a rung or two higher on the hardiness ladder should be fine to go out to their permanent positions.

If you are wanting a little reassurance, keep your cloches handy and pop them on overnight. There is a good reason the old saying warns us to “never cast a clout till may is out”.

Frost is not the only obstacle that this month can throw at you.

Heavy rains, strong winds or even the hail that we have seen plenty of recently are things that your young and vulnerable plants will not appreciate.

I saw my first swallow of the year recently! Normally this is a cause for celebration that summer has started; but as it was intermittently lashing rain with the odd dash of hail, there was not much to celebrate.

Truth be told, the poor birds looked in shock! It was probably dreaming of the good life back in Africa and wondering why it ever came back at all. We may be getting the odd taste of summer, but its not quite time for the main course yet.

If your seeds were sown indoors and have spent all of their life indoors, you will be doing them a favour by hardening them off before permanently positioning them outside.

To do this, place them outside for a few hours before bringing them back in to their usual spot, repeating this daily with increasingly longer times for about a week or two.

This allows them to toughen up and adapt to the sun and wind that they have never experienced.

It is perfectly possible for plants to get sun burned if they are suddenly expose to much brighter light than they are used to. Plants are living beings, and respond to stimulus just like any other creature.

I'm sure some if you are reading this in derision as you’ve had plants in the ground for weeks now.

You are the adventurous gardener who is willing to risk it all for a head start in the growing season. Irish weather will always be about as predictable as a drunkard’s walk.

If we can experience all four seasons in a day, imagine the roller coaster that a whole month can give you. Fortune may favour the brave; but patience is also a virtue.

You can't say I didn’t warn you if everything goes to pot.

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