Archive | Tips Hints and Ideas

Help for the new and not so new gardener

Mowing Techniques & Tips

When one man went to mow it was to mow a meadow. Do you want to let your lawn get into that state? If not here are some tips but probably not enough to get you a stately home lawn.

Technical Approach

  • Little and often is usually a good plan. One a week in spring, during dry spells and autumn but more frequently in summer.
  • Aim to cut about one third of the height with each mowing
  • An occasional cut during mild weather in winter with the blades set high.
  • Start the year with the blades set high, upto one and a half inches for coarse grass down to a quarter of an inch for a bowling green standard fine lawn.
  • The best cuts are made by cylinder mowers with a large number of blades. I now use a lithium battery model.
  • Rotary mowers, strimmers and hover mowers are best for long tougher grasses.

Mowing Problems

  • Remove clippings otherwise you may encourage worm casts, weeds, aeration problems and disease.
  • Some recommend leaving clippings in hot dry weather to reduce evaporation but I find it unsightly and ineffective.
  • Avoid scalping off the top surface by taking turns too quickly of dropping of the edge of the lawn.
  • Setting to low can scalp the grass.
  • Keep blades sharp and correctly set to avoid tearing the grass rather than cutting it.
  • Alternate cutting horizontally and vertically to get the football pitch chequered effect.

Mowing in Special Situations

  • Inspect the area for hazards such as sticks, stones and animal droppings.
  • On a slope always mow side-to-side, not up and down the hill.
  • Choose the right mower, ride-ons are not good for steep slopes. Electrict mowers can be dangerous in wet conditions.
  • On wet grass raise the mowing height and keep the speed down to reduce the load on the motor.
  • The stripes you see on a lawn or playing field is simply light reflecting off the grass blades that have been mowed in one direction then the reverse. A mower with a roller helps accentuate the effect.
  • Treat weedy or moss infested lawns with proprietary weed and feed 3 days before cutting and leave for 3 days after dressing.

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Bonanza of Nasturtium Flowers

When it gets backendish as October begins to give way to colder nights, have a look around your garden.
The Nasturtiums are still flowering strongly as they clamber up this wall but one good frost will see them turn soggy and die. As Nasturtiums are good at self-seeding I will doubtless get many new plants next year without any effort.

Nasturtium
Tips Growing Nasturtiums

  • Nasturtiums do well in poor soil. If the soil is too rich then you will get more leaf than flower.

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New for Ponds or Renovated Ponds

I may be behind the times but here are some new, or new to me, ideas to enhance your garden pond this summer.

New Pond Design

‘Islandscapes’ and Floating Planters

‘The Next Big Wave In Ponds’ (Oh please) ‘enhance the beauty and biological health of ponds, providing innovative filtration and a lush growing environment for terrestrial plants. lslandscapes offer food and fun for fish, frogs and other wildlife’ according to the blurb on Freedomponds.com
Velda do several floating planters made in covered styrofoam.


Ecopond Tadpole Food

I have to admit to never thinking of feeding tadpoles but if I did here is the answer. Ecopond Tadpole Food provides the nutrition that tadpoles need up to the point where they develop back legs (4-6 weeks after free swimming begins). See also frogspawn tips on Gardeners Tips

Preformed Ponds

Pond

Rubberised or rigid plastic ponds are one of the easiest methods of creating a new pond. I bought one in a kidney shape with 3 different depths created by shelves. It saved a lot of hard work once I had dug an appropriate hole!
In one garden I saw such a preformed pond raised up rather than buried and think that is a creative idea if you can support the weight of water.

Pond Liners

Now you can cover black PVC liners with a stone coating. This makes the black edge of a pond look natural with a pebble or stone finish. Sold in various widths it could be used to finish off a butyl lined pond or as a run off into your garden proper. The brand I have seen is Oase Stone Liner.

All these products are available from the links above or a specialist like Bradshaws of York. Amazon supply the preformed ponds.

Pond Renovation

  1. As winter approaches all ponds need a bit of tlc to see them through the winter.
  2. If removing dead leaves and waste from the bottom of the pond leave the sludge on the edge so any small creatures can crawl back into the water.
  3. Repair leaks to prevent having to regularly top up the water. Evaporation is unavoidable so you may want to think of easy top-up methods.
  4. Create ways of stopping leaves dropping into the pond. Nets are unsightly unless semi submerged. Barrier hedges of box to stop prevailing winds may help.
  5. Make edges safe and secure. Reinforce and renew if necessary any childproof measures.

Read more on Preformed Pond Shapes including installation tips.

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Growing Towards the Light

Teasel seedheads

 

Light Affecting Growth

  • Some plants do not require high levels of light for growth, because they are adapted to low light conditions (such as jungle and forest plants).
  • Plants left in the dark will grow taller than plants in lighted conditions  but they will also be yellower and more spindly.
  • Increased height is often a response to low light levels – the plant is trying to grow over anything that may be blocking the light, and will grow towards any source of light.
  • Etiolation is an extreme form of photosynthesis, and it occurs when you keep a plant in the dark too long.
  • When a plant is blown down, like this teasel, its efforts to regrow will produce distorted stems or branches.
  • Plants on a windowsill may grow only one one side, towards the light, unless turned frequently. (I must turn my pelargoniums again this afternoon).
  • Seedlings need good, even light as a spindly plant many not recover. Beware sun through a window can burn seedlings.
  • Too little light and leaves may brown and drop off.
  • Blue daylight bulbs are the best if natural light is unavailable.

For more details read science for schools

Etiolation is a process in flowering plants grown in partial or complete absence of light. It is characterized by long, weak stems; smaller leaves and often pale yellow coloring. 

Blanching is the exclusion of light to prevent greening up of Celery Leeks and other plants

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Grow Healthy Hydrangeas

Hydrangea

There are several types of Hydrangea to consider. The Mop Heads or Hortensia above, the lace caps or other species. They are a rewarding group[ of plants to grow well but need the right conditions to excel.

Provide Suitable Growing Conditions

  • All hydrangeas thrive in moist well drained fertile soil.
  • Too wet and humid and you may get root rot and botrytis on foliage.
  • Hydrangeas appreciate partial shade.
  • Shallow chalky soil or light sandy acid soil may cause yellowing of leaves. To cure this water or foliar feed with Epsom salt (Mangenisum Sulphate).
  • Hot dry conditions can encourage powdery mildew.
  • Hydrangeas can be prone to insect attack from Aphids, Red Spider mite, Capsid bugs and even Vine Weevil.

 

Hydrangea

 

Flowering Problems

  • The main cause of non-flowering is pruning too hard and cutting off the buds. Just trim off the old heads in spring to the first fat buds.
  • The failure of flowers to turn blue is caused by a shortage of trace elements of Aluminium. This is available in acid soils but not alkaline soils.
  • Some species will change from pink to blue by using a proprietary preparation or colourant. This is unlikely to work when the soil is too alkaline.
  • If you have a pink flower this can be enhanced by applying limestone or chalk during winter.
  • White flowers remain white whatever you do. Some fade to a pink tinge.

8 foot hydrangea

 

Other Sources of information

Hydrangeas available from Thompson & Morgan

See Help to change Hydrangea colour
Hydrangea Hydrangea an enthusiasts site

Amazon for Hydrangea books

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Warm Your Soil

Late winter and unseasonal snow has left many garden soils cold and inhospitable.
Spring is the time for new root growth and annual plants and vegetables need the best start possible.
Vegetables and ornamental plants need a bit of warmth to get established and growing away.
Clay soils is traditionally slow to warm through as they hold a bulk of water.

runner bean

Warming Your Soil

I use several methods to warm the soil and control the amount of water.
A cloche will cover an unsown area until you are ready to plant. It will slow down heat loss at night, speeds germination and also offers protection to young plants – I have started off my onion sets under a plastic tunnel type of cloche this month.
Black absorbs the suns heat and white tends to reflect heat. You can lay black plastic on an area of soil to get some warmth but ensure a good contact between the two. Hoe off any weeds before planting out.
Horticultural fleece is best for protecting young crops from late frost and will only do a little to warm the soil.
Compacted soil is inhospitable and likely to be cold. Incorporate plenty of humus and dig over to get air into the soil.

More Tips for a Cold Soil

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Orchid Compost a Treat for Orchids

If you want to make your Orchids feel at home then use good Orchid compost and mimic natural conditions as best you can.
There are many proprietary brands available but you could do a lot worse than talk to an expert at a local Orchid show.

Orchids love humidity but hate wet feet so a free draining compost is preferred.
Some orchids are epiphytes that grow on other plants and trees and need to retain enough moisture when the opportunity arises.
All roots need air in greater or lesser proportions and some orchids have roots that grow out of pots into open air. That gives a clue as to what good Orchid compost will be like.
Orchids do not get any real food value from the free draining compost so need dilute feed in with the watering.
Orchids

Content of Orchid Compost

  • Bark chippings which come in differing sizes. For plants with thick roots choose a larger chips, if they are small and thin then choose small chippings.
  • Sphagnum moss, bark and  styrofoam mixed is good  for seedlings or very thinly rooted plants. It tends tol dry out quickly so watch the  watering.
  • Rock wool  mixed with a little perlite can seem dry on the surface   when very wet underneath and over time breaks down into a hard mass.
  • Lump peat and styrofoam is good for Phalaenopsis and those plants requiring a little more moisture retention.

Orchid Compost Tips

  • You can buy a proprietary Orchid compost at most garden centres
  • Compost breaks down and Orchids need repotting into fresh compost but only every couple of years.
  • Put some large crocks of foam at the bottom of the pot to aid drainage and retain air pockets
  • Repot just after flowering not whilst in flower.
  • Let bark compost soak in water overnight before repotting.
  • Thompson & Morgan Chempak orchid growth feed. It is a high nitrogen liquid fertiliser containing plant foods, magnesium and six trace elements to promote growth

Orchid compost is available from Amazon

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Gardeners Winter Vegetables

Get sowing for some winter greens and veg like Beetroot, Spring Cabbages, Lettuces, Spring Onions, Chicory, Fennel and Rocket.
cabbage

Unless you already have a well stocked allotment or vegetable garden you need to be thinking about next years winter vegetables. Settle down with a drink and some good seed catalogues and plan to enjoy the fruits (or veg) of your labours through to next Christmas.

The well named Tundra Cabbage will take all that winter can throw at you and still produce firm heads until April. Blue cabbage Aurtoro looks so good next to Autumn yellows and oranges and it can be planted in the flower garden. The heads are firm and the leaves tightly packed to make a vegetable that stands well. It will also help make a warming winter soup.

Cabbage Tips

Plant Spring cabbage 12in apart.
Earth up the soil around their stems to prevent rocking and help them against the cold.
In cold frost prone areas cover with fleece or cloches. Watch out for pigeons which may get deterred by netting.
Young plants can be thinned for spring greens and leave the rest to heart up.

Curly Kale with crinkly leaves is another vegetable that shouldn’t be restricted to the vegetable patch. Redbore a purple leaved variety grows on tall sturdy stems that look interesting through winter. Other varieties like January King 3, Red Winter or Westland Winter, a blue green, can add more variety to the garden and your winter grub. If you like the blistered crinkly leaved varieties go for Resolution or Traviata F1’s.

Parsnips are just ready to start lifting. They can be left in the ground until needed and I think a bit of frost does no harm to the flavour. Interceptor Carrots can be harvested through to March and reverting to the purple theme Purple Haze Carrots can be picked until Christmas.

Seasonal favourite Brussels Sprouts need that bit of frost to bring out the sweetness and take away some of the sulphur taste. Pick from the bottom of the stalk and then you can finish off eating the top of the stalk like a small cabbage. I find Maximus F1 have a long cropping season and a good flavour. Support the stalks if grown ina windy conditions.

Late Cauliflowers to consider are Haddin or Deakin F1’s that will hold until February if you don’t eat them first.

Autumn sown Spinach is a healthy crop containing iron and vitamins.
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More Phalaenopsis Moth Orchids

It is easier to call a Phalaenopsis by its common name of Moth Orchid

This moth orchid (called Phalaenopsis) is blooming for a second time this year and the last blossom lasted over 5 months. On one arching stem there are 12 flowerheads and one unopened bud but there is also 4 other stems at different stages of flower production and at least 25  2½” diameter flowers are currently on display. This floriferousness may be due to a happy accident after the first (and only) stem flowered I followed received wisdom. I trimmed off the spike to around 1 inch above the first node on the spike stem, somewhere below where the first flower had appeared, near a little bump. The stem regrew but horizontally and I wanted to tie it up a cane. Being too vigorous I broke the new flowering stem but all the new ones have turned up at the funeral so to speak.

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Streamside Gardens to Delight

fast-stream

If you are lucky enough to have a stream running through your garden you can plant many colourful plants at the side.

Plants for a Streamside

  • Primula Candelabra hybrids look special in spring and early summer. The flowers appear on the 18 inch stems in tiers of red, yellow and orange.
  • Many Iris varieties are at home by the side of water. The Siberian Iris sibirica can be yellow, white, purple or blue and the sword shaped leaves grow well in moist soil. Iris laevigata flowers purple and can grow right at the margins with its feet in 3-4 inches of water.
  • For soft greens, Alchemilla Mollis grows almost anywhere in my garden and Hostas also like a moist soil.
  • Astilbe can be a fine herbaceous plant with fern like foliage and plumes of frothy flowers.
  • For a bit of annual colour you could sow Mirabilis jalpa the Four o’clock flower growing to 3-4 feet tall with some Impatiens accent series for a lower grower.
  • Bugle is good for ground cover Ajuga reptans Burgundy Glow for blue flowers and tricolured leaves. Persicaria superba has pink flowers later in the year and spreads well.
  • For a tree in acid soil the Amelanchier is hard to beat with flowers, berries and coloured autumn leaves or the Spotted laurel and Black Pussy Willows both like a moist soil.

Other Tips for Gardening by a Stream

  • Plants that prefer dryer conditions should be planted higher up the banking.
  • Give plants enough space to develop, the moist and humid conditions will generally encourage lush growth.
  • Beware fast flowing streams and those likely to over flow there banks lest they wash away your prize plants.
  • Foliage and texture can be as important as colour but a bright splash (no pun intended) of yellow or bright white can be reflected by the water.

harlow-carrHarlow Carr Candelabra primula by the stream 2008.

Read more about Wild Iris on Gardeners Tips.

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