Don’t be tempted to ‘rescue’ baby birds which appear to have been abandoned by their parents. Generally they have fallen from the nest before they are able to fly and the parents are near at hand, feeding them at regular intervals. If the babies are in danger from cars, move them out of the way, under the nearest shrub or tree and then leave them well alone. The parent birds will be waiting nearby to return to their offspring.
Lifting and dividing bulbs
When the spring bulbs have finished flowering and the leaves have begun to die back, they can be lifted to increase the number of plants. Choose clumps that have been undisturbed for at least three years; a poor show of flowers indicates that the bulbs are becoming congested underground. This method is applicable to grape hyacinths, bluebells, snakeshead fritillary, ramsons (wild garlic), daffodils, crocuses and tulips.
Insert a fork well clear of the clump and push it down deeply to come up under the bulbs. Gently ease the complete clump out of the ground. Remove the excess soil and discard any bulbs that are soft or rotten. Detach the small bulbs and bulbils for replanting.
Replant the large bulbs immediately at normal planting depth. The small bulbs should also be planted straight away at two thirds of their usual planting depth. The tiny bulbils only need to be covered with their own depth of soil. Small bulbs will not flower in their first year and bulbils may take up to four years to reach maturity so it is a good idea to put them into a separate nursery bed.
Alternatively they can be planted directly amongst the existing bulbs, where they will eventually create a denser display, but remember to allow enough room for each bulb to develop to its full size.
Cutting down the nettle patch
Cut down half of a patch of stinging nettles to provide new growth for the next generation of butterflies. Small tortoiseshells, peacocks, commas and red admirals will lay their eggs on the shoots so make sure that the emerging caterpillars are well supplied with a diet of young nettle leaves.
Many useful flowering plants can be started off now from seed for flowering next year. Biennials sown now and planted out in the autumn will flower next spring or summer for one year only.
Sowing biennials – Biennial seeds may be sown either in pots or if there is room, in nursery beds. Pots should be filled with seed compost and the soil in the bed raked to a fine texture. Both soil and compost should be moist before sowing. Choose a lightly shaded position to protect the new seedlings from the heat of the summer sun.
Sow the seeds, thinly spaced and about 1cm (½”) deep. In beds this can be done by sprinkling the seed and then raking lightly to ensure that the seed lies just beneath the surface of the soil. In pots, seeds can be pressed lightly into the compost by hand. Water well, using a watering can fitted with a fine sprinkler rose. Remember to mark the positions of the different species.
Aftercare – Six weeks after sowing, crowded seedlings should be thinned out and transplanted to additional pots or beds. Young plants must never be allowed to dry out. In midsummer, pinch out the tip of each plant to encourage bushy growth. Plant out the grown plants in mid autumn to their permanent flowering positions.
Native yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) can be lifted and divided now if they have become over-crowded. After flowering lift the clumps out of the soil with a fork. Select healthy young pieces of rhizome and cut them away from the main clump with a knife. Discard the older parts from the centre. Cut back the leaves to 23 cm (9”) to make them more stable in the wind. Replant the new pieces so that the rhizome just shows above the soil. Ensure newly planted rhizomes have an adequate supply of water until their roots have re-established themselves.
Cutting the spring flowering meadow
Established wildflower lawns or meadows which have been managed specifically for spring flowering plants like cowslips and fritillaries, can be cut once they have finished. This is at the expense of summer flowering species but enables the grass to be used as a conventional meadow for the rest of the season.
Use a sturdy rotary mower, hand or motor scythe and cut back to 10cm (4”) high. Leave the cuttings on the grass for a day or so to allow insects and seeds time to find their way back to ground. Take off and add the clippings (sparingly) to the compost heap or use as a mulch around shrubs and perennials to suppress weeds and conserve moisture.
Providing extra food for hedgehogs
In dry spells when slugs, snails and worms may not be so easy to come by, hedgehogs can be given an artificial diet boost. This is particularly important now, when the babies are being born and the females are suckling and unable to travel far for food. Put out a saucer of tinned pet food and one of water each night in a regular spot. Don’t feed bread and milk which upsets the hedgehog’s digestive system.