LouiseOur competition to be crowned Wilko Amateur Gardener of the Year has begun and you have until 30th June to submit your winning entries.

Winners will be picked by a judging panel, including Sunday Express’ Gardening Editor, Louise Midgley. Get your garden looking competition-worthy with these top tips for gardening in spring, a guest blog post written by Louise.

The desire to garden in spring is stronger than at any other time of the year and even more so after a long hard winter. Those cherished days, when you reconnect with your garden under the gentle warmth of the sun, can’t fail to raise your spirits and spur you on to create a beautiful outdoor space.

A garden should reflect it’s owner’s unique style, be that a preference towards a formal, informal, modern or traditional design. Most gardeners will have different requirements for their outdoor space, depending on whether they have children, pets, grow vegetables, eat ‘al fresco’ or even work in a garden office, but how best they utilise the space is what counts.

To help get your garden in great shape for the season ahead, here are some jobs to get started on when time allows and the weather lures you outside.

Tackle two jobs at the same time

Arm yourself with garden gloves, a padded kneeler and trowel and work your way through beds and borders removing as many weeds as possible. Getting on top of weeds early in the season prevents them flowering and setting seed, which in turn restricts their number over the summer months. As you do this apply a thick layer of mulch to the areas of cleared soil but avoid covering the crowns of emerging perennials.

Rich organic matter, such as crumbly, homemade compost or bags of composted farmyard manure will infuse the soil with nutrients, suppress the weeds, prevent the soil from drying out and give an air of supreme order and tidiness to the garden. Don’t be tempted to try and dig it in, leave that hard work to the worms who will readily take it down and incorporate it into the soil below.

Pruning in early and late spring

There are two main periods for pruning in spring, both at the start of the season and later as spring slips into summer. Make light work of the task by using sharp secateurs and robust loppers.

Early jobs include pruning back buddleia davidii to roughly two feet above ground level and a couple of inches above a growing shoot. Left unpruned, the shrub will only produce flowers on the tops of the tall stems, whereas a plant that has been hard pruned will be altogether more floriferous because buddleias bloom on newly grown wood.

Cut back the colourful stems of cornus and salix shrubs now, to guarantee fresh new vibrant stems for next winter’s enjoyment.

Other shrubs that benefit from some judicious pruning include hardy fuchsias, Sambucus nigra, Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ and if you haven’t already done so, prune bush and shrub roses.

Later spring pruning involves removing the spent flowers and reducing in size early flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus, Ribes sanguineum and Forsythia.

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Sow flower and vegetable seeds

No garden should be without a sprinkling of hardy annuals. Not only are they easy to grow but also incredibly good value for money. Those who have already grown summer stalwarts such as Nigella damascena (love-in-a-mist) or Calendula officinalis (pot marigolds) will know only too well that their presence reappears annually, thanks to their reliable self-seeding habit.

Check seed packets for hardy annuals and directly sow into the soil. No less equal in beauty are half-hardy annuals (HHA), which can also be sown now but need under-cover protection from any plummeting temperatures.

Sowing vegetable seed outside can also get underway this month as the soil warms up. To provide a continuous supply of produce rather than an over bountiful glut, make several successional sowings every couple of weeks.

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Wilko Amateur Gardener of the Year Competition

This year put your gardening skills to the test by entering the Wilko Amateur Gardener of the Year Competition, which is being run in the Sunday Express S magazine.

Judges will be looking for originality and imagination from the gardeners entering. A sound knowledge of conditions each plant requires and how any perceived obstacles such as deep shade or a diminutive size are overcome and turned to an advantage, will all be taken into consideration.

All you have to do to be in with a chance to win is share a photo of your garden or outdoor project. There are six categories you can enter:

  • Best Garden Design
  • Best Allotment
  • Best Junior Gardener
  • Best Hanging Basket/Container
  • Best Wildlife Garden
  • Best Upcycled Garden

There’s a £100 Wilko gift card and a trophy for the winner of each category and the overall champion will win an extra £250 Wilko gift card.

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How to enter

Think you’ve got a winning entry? If you’re proud of your patch, email a photo to wilkogardener@wearebrazenpr.com confirming which category you’d like to enter. All photographs need to be yours alone. The competition is open between 26th March and 30th June 2017. Full Ts and Cs can be viewed here.

Good luck!

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