Archive | Gardening

General gardening tips and hints

Winter Soil Tips

Soil in Winter

  • Winter is a time for rest for both the gardener and the soil. Some gardeners dig over their soil and leave it in ‘big clods’ for frost to break it down into a tilth. I prefer a mulch method and letting the worms do the digging.
  • Remove any perennial weeds and hoe off remaining annual weed seedlings.
  • Do not walk on wet soil to avoid compaction and squeezing out air from the soil.
  • Don’t walk on frozen ground.
  • Keep soil disturbance to a minimum.
  • Add organic mulch to improve soil drainage.
  • Add garden compost or soil around leeks,  sprout plants and broccoli to reduce wind rock.
  • Most fertiliser application can wait until spring but  add Lime to your vegetable patch.
  • Gather fallen leaves and rot them down separately to form leaf mold.
  • Protect special plants from excess wind, rain and water-logging with some with shelter.
  • Root our any weakling plants that you are not going to try to cultivate next year.
  • Have a good therapeutic tidy up, clean and renew paths and leave the garden looking smart.
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Persicaria Knotweeds

When is a weed not a weed? Well not very often if it is growing in the wrong place. If you have planted Persicaria then that is Knot a weed it is a notweed or not depending on your spelling.

Persicaria affinis aka Polygonum affine Common Name: ‘Knotweed’ flower from late summer until the frosts with spires of red, pink or white flowers held aloft as with these massed plants by the lake at Grewlthorpe.

There are over 150 species of Knotweed which get their common name from the swollen nodes on the stems.

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Soil Conditioners and Conditioning

Garden Chemicals

What is Garden Lime

  • I have just given a dose of lime to the areas in my veg plot that have been cleared for winter. I like to give a bit of extra magnesium to some soft fruit trees as well.
  • Often supplied as a powder of crushed limestone but also available as concentrated crystals.
  • Garden lime helps to maintain soil condition.
  • Calcium is consumed by vegetables and an extra supply is welcomed to replace calcium that has leached out of the soil by rain.
  • Lime reduces soil acidity.
  • Lime help break down heavy clay soils.

Garden Chemicals

During the summer I have occasionally fed my tomatoes with liquid seaweed fertiliser and we have had a great crop but I think most other growers had a good tomato season.

 What is Calcified Seaweed

    • Calcified seaweed is dried seaweed and lime or other calcium based salts
    • Calcified seaweed is an organic substance without any nasty chemicals. There is concern that it is no longer approved by the Soil Association for use in organic growing, due to concerns that the harvesting of this material is not sustainable and has adverse effects on the marine environment.
    • Seaweed is rich in minerals, encourages beneficial soil bacteria, helps improve heavy soil structure and neutralises acid soils.

Uses of Calcified Seaweed

    • As a soil improve and clay breaker it breaks up the heaviest clay without damaging soil pH.
    • As a compost accelerator it speeds up the breakdown of organic garden waste.
    • Seaweed adds trace elements and minerals to the soil.
    • Calcified seaweed neutralises acid soil
    • Adding seaweed is beneficial to bacteria and is used in lawn treatment.

Maxicrop Organic Cal-Sea-Feed Calcified Seaweed 6kg tub from Amazon

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Food Plants for Birds

Selecting plants that produce seeds and berries at different times of the year can provide food of birds through the seasons.

Berries

Ivy fruits in November and can last for 6 months so it is a winter staple. The early fruiting plants include Wild Cherry & Raspberries with Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Holly, Elder, Yew, Rowan and Guelder-Rose providing berries from August.

I have a large Berberis Darwinii whose plentiful berries are devoured by Blackbirds every year. They also like sloes, rosehips and haws. The Mahonia looses its berries to some birds but I can’t see who eats them from my window and it is often too cold to sit watching.

Soft fruit and crab apples seem to appeal to a range of birds as my strawberries get pecked over as do most similar varieties if left unnetted. Cottoneaster is pecked over but Pyracatha seems to last on the shrub until spring.

Gooseberries sometimes succumb to pigeons at the flowering stage and I put this just down to badness of the pesky overfed birds.

Seeds

In the garden the most popular seeds seem to be the expensive shop bought variety put out in even more expensive feeders.

Growing the right plants can provide the seeds and nuts birds crave. Teasel and thistles would be high on any avian menu. Beech, Hazel and Silver Birch or Hornbeam would be a main course. Centaurea, Sunflower and Scabious would suit Chaffinches while Coal Tits and Siskins like conifer seed.

All that food for thought but I still put out peanuts (crushed in spring), dried meal worms for the Robin and Niger seed hoping to get Greenfinches. In winter and early spring it is fat balls that I hope to tempt the taste buds with.

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Edible Hedges You Can Grow & Pick

Sloes and damsons are in good supply this September in your local hedgerows. I have relied on my own blackberries this year but from the train window yesterday there were masses of plump black fruit for picking.

Forage amongst the book shelves to get a cornucopia of edible wild plant ideas.

Book Cover
You can plant your own edible hedge now until late March which will give you a supply of edible fruit and berries for years to come. Bare rooted plants are very reasonably priced.

Easy Step by Step Hedge

Clear the ground to remove weeds and old roots by digging or using Glyphosphate based weedkiller. Leave for a few weeks.
Pick a frost free day and when ready to plant put bundles of bare rooted plants into a bucket of water to give them a drink.
Mark out the line of the hedgerow bearing in mind you will want two staggered rows of plants. You can put down mulch matting and plant through it if you wish.
You will need 4-5 plants per square yard.
Continue Reading →

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Support Tips for Gardener’s Plants

Great big flowering Dahlias need some good support early in the season. A walled garden helps but these 4 by 4 canes with string every 12″-18″ add that bit extra. When the plants leaf-up and start to flower they will be heavy and liable to damage without support.

Young trees sometimes called ‘whips’ need support and the ability to flex in the wind. These angled posts are ideal with a support about one third the way up the young stem. After 3 years they should become self supporting. The angle keeps the support away from the roots. Continue Reading →

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Hosta Little Tips

otley show hostas 035

I am no great fan of large leaved hostas probably due to lack of space in my garden where I prefer to grow other plants. However the dwarf varieties are easy to get on with.

An alternative name for Hostas is Funkia. That appeals to me and helps describe how the plants can create congenital abnormalities and abnormal formations. (Teratology).

Small Hosta Tips

  • There are a host of varieties to start to growing and collecting may become an obsession. There are 49 named varieties of ‘mouse-ear’ varieties alone.
  • Water well in spring even before the first leaves show. Roots need water particularly as the light increases.
  • The better the roots the better the plants will display.
  • In spring restart the plants with slug bait, slow release fertiliser and a mulch.
  • A weak solution of Tomorite makes a good foliar feed.
  • Epsom salts will provide needed magnesium when the leaves have hardened in early summer.
  • Water  lightly  in autumn to fatten up the roots for winter.
  • Allow plants to make good clumps. Leave for 3 years or so before dividing. I tend to be too impatient dividing to get more plants.
  • Encourage flowers and collect seed to increase your stock.
  • The more light a hosta gets the more water it needs.

otley show hostas 050

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Minimum Cultivation- No Dig

What is ‘No Dig’

  • ‘No Dig’ gardening or not turning over your soil is  growing in popularity with organic farmers and some gardeners. It is a term used for clearing the ground and establishing a minimum cultivation area without digging.
  • The substitute for digging is mulching.  The garden may be covered with paper or cardboard and topped with a deep layer of compost. Worms will help drag the organic matter down into the soil.
  • Plastic sheeting is a poor substitute as it brings nothing to the party but stifles weeds.
  • Alternate layers of manure and straw can help build up the quality of ‘no dig’ soil.
  • Water well avoid walking on the plot and plan to plant through the mulches with minimum disturbance.

Benefits of Minimum Cultivation

  • This form of gardening is less labour intensive compared to dig a spit deep or heaven forbid, double digging.
  • Using a good layer of straw or compost improves soil structure and builds up over the years.
  • The soil remains in good heart and there should be less soil erosion and runoff
  •  Beneficial invertebrates, fungi and earthworms will enjoy the lack of disturbance and repay the no dig gardener with increase fertility.
  • Minimum cultivation reduces the loss of nitrates and reduces leaching.
  • Less wear and tear on the gardeners back.
  • The texture of the soil will become darker and crumbly with a good tilth.
  • Digging can bring up perennial weed seeds that are best left deeper in the soil where light can’t set them into germination.

Book Cover

 

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Compost Corner Experiences

                                                   Compost bins

This is a view of a corner in my Yorkshire garden that shows some recycling activity. I have tried various compost bin methods over the years. Initially I started with an open pile which was untidy and slow. At about this time I acquired a shredder which chopped up brown twiggy waste but only  squelched leaves.

I graduated to a wooden frame compost bin  structure the remnants of which are showing next to the dustbin. This was fine particularly when I used ‘garrotta’ as a speed enhancer but as the volume of compostables grew the space needs also grew. (The more compost I had the more the plants grew and thus the more compost I got until Les Barker made a song out of it).

Thermo Plastic Bins

  • Now the latest incarnation is the thermo plastic green bins. One is always in current use and the other is rotting down older compost. The volume reduction continues for about six months.
  • This has been a good investment in terms of conversion speed, heat generation in the pile and crumbly results.
  • I leave the lid open occasionally to increase the dampness.
  • Despite using hard standing the big bins twist as they fill and the double split lids do not work very well.
  • The bottom half is separately hinged so in theory you can extract compost from the bottom as it rots. I find it is too solid and prefer to empty the bin in total. Coarse bits can start off the new bin.

Other Compost Corner Items

  • The black plastic bin is used for leaves and slow to compost items that will take a couple of years to rot down. I sacrifice pure leaf mold for composting coarser items.
  • The burner dustbin with air holes and chimney was used for burning far more before the plastic bins came into use. Now I tend to put bits of trash, old labels, broken pots etc in this bin as I work near the compost bins.
  • The blue lid in the fore front is a local authority recycling bin that is the 4th they have supplied and is now superfluous to my needs. Now I recollect there were also two other bins one now buried to make a second pond and one converted into a potato barrel.
  • The bird feeders and brush speak for themselves.
  • The wheelbarrow is full of recycled seed and potting compost mixed with perlite. This will be used up on some pot plants after adding some granular fertiliser.
  • There is a tub of grit and gravel which I plan to use but never get around to doing so.

                                    An Old Bin System

Tips based on Looking Back

  • Heat is key to quick compost. It is increased by air so fork or turn the pile.
  • In days gone by I creosoted the fence see above. Keep chemically treated matter away from an organic compost heap.
  • There is a sense of achievement by creating and using good compost. It is worth the effort and beats taking everything to a landfill tip.
  • Hedges grow and in my case have created a rain shadow and trimming problem.
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Help Plants Through a Wet Winter

Plants can drown when roots are left in wet soil for protracted periods. Short immersion whilst dormant is seldom fatal but saturated soil drives away the oxygen needed by plants to help them transpire.
Also in winter some plants are prone to root rot Phytophthora or rot off at soil level.

waterlogged garden

Not Waving but Drowning

Selecting Appropriate Plants for Wet Winters

  • Avoid silver leaved or grey perennials.
  • Mediterranean hot arid loving plants and many alpines do not like our cold, wet winters.
  • Pot plants that suffer quite easily and can die include Orchids, African Violets and other fleshy rooted plants.
  • Bog lovers, Hydrangeas, Cornus, Dogwoods and Hosta are just some of the plants that may thrive through a wet winter.

Improving Survival Chances

  • Wet soil is created by compaction or because of a high water table and poor drainage.
  • Incorporating grit or pea gravel as a surface mulch will help keep the base of the plant drier.
  • Plant on top of a slight mound
  • Improve drainage by spiking, trenches and with soak-aways or land drains.
  • Avoid compacting the soil by walking on the ground when it is wet.
  • Work your soil and dig in organic matter during the other seasons.
  • Spring flooding is especially dangerous when plants and roots start to respire. Divert excess water and be prepared

Pot Grown Plants

  • Lift pots off the ground with pot feet or onto bricks.
  • Lay pots on their side to avoid excessive rain settling on the center of the plants.
  • Improve drainage by incorporating perlite and coarse grit in the compost.
  • Move pots under cover or into a rain shadow.
  • Put a slanted pane of glass or cloches over special plants. Allow air to circulate.
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