Archive | Gardening

General gardening tips and hints

Secateurs and Why I Choose Them

Secateurs are an indispensable tool for the the tidy minded gardener and even me.

 Ergonomic  Features to Look For on Secateurs

  • I like to be able to find the secateurs when I inevitably put them down despite the intentions of keeping them about my person. I good bright colour for the handles helps. I have lime green and red on my two favourite pairs and surprisingly the lime green stands out even amongst leaves and foliage.
  • On a similar ‘ability to find theme’ I like the pair with a small loop at the end of one handle with a hole drilled in. This allows a string or wire to be fed through to facilitate hanging them in a suitable location.
  • The grips should be moulded for fingers so a good purchase and transfer of power can be distributed. On my right handed secateurs the blade section has 4 finger grooves and the other handle is curved for the thumb and palm without a groove.
  • The grips are often some form of rubberised or hard plastic which I find preferable to bare metal that strikes cold.
  • Most secateurs have a thumb operated locking facility to keep them closed and safe when not in use. The idea is sound but you need to be able to operate this with the thumb of the same hand. A fiddly or unsafe device can be very frustrating.

Selected Secateurs

 Functional Features to Look For on Secateurs

  • There are two basic options for the blades to bypass one another in a scissor type motion or for the blade to cut then hit an anvil like a chopping board. I like the bypass or parrot nosed version for the majority of soft wood and stem cutting. I find that leaves the plant wound less prone to damage. The anvil approach is good for twigs and dryer material.
  • The blade and access to keep it sharp are key features. When buying new secateurs look for the best you can afford but focus on the blade.
  • At the base of the blade at the junction of the other arm there is normally a notch that can be used to cut tough items like wire.
  • The return (compression) spring to open the secateurs after every cut is generally held in place by two holes or protuberances near the top of each handle. They are key to the functionality and fun of using your secateurs  and if they spring loose you can spend ages looking for them. Keep them oiled and clean and if necessary stretch them to make a tighter fit.
  • Blade replacements are faffy and I find it hard to locate supplies. Why don’t manufacturers supply spares with new secateurs.
  • A Falco branded pair have a finger side handle that twists a quarter turn as you operate. I like this but am not sure it stops repetitive strain injury as I assume was the intention. I wont know unless I buy a new pair as this feature disabled itself and no longer works.
  • I have not used ratchet or geared secateurs that cut in a number of stages but find that useful on my loppers.

 

Well used anvil secateurs

My Experience Using Secateurs

  • There is a tendency to want to twist when cutting tough stems. This sprains the scissor action out of alignment and can cause irreparable damage. I have done this with many cheap pairs before I knew better.
  • As you can see I have numerous pairs that are not all that clean. I do oil them and try to remember to wipe excess sap off the blades.
  • I have a sharpening stone that I use frequently. I once sharpened the inner bit of the blade and then you could see light through where  gap should be. Sharpen the external edge.
  • For  cutting thicker stems use a lopper or more robust shears.
  • I have a good pair that occasionally nip the skin as I close them. As well as painful and frustrating I am also put out by having forgotten the makers name!

Gardeners secateurs tips

 

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My Ground Cover Ideas

Ground cover plants are designed to do what they say in the title. They can cover the ground by design, happy accident or conscious neglect.

Creeping Jenny

Benefits of Ground Cover

  1. Treasure the ground cover plants that clothe the soil and rocks with leaves or stems preventing wasteful moisture loss.
  2. Ground cover reduces weed seed germination as the seed can’t reach the soil. Any weeds that do grow will likely be smothered or hidden from view.
  3. Most ground cover will flower and even foliage only plants are more aesthetically pleasing than bare or patchy ground.
  4. Ground cover is useful on hard to access land such as scree or steep slopes.
  5. Ground cover may creep or mound but most will grow lower than one feet high and be ornamental.
  6. They are easy to maintain with an occasional clipping after flowering or an edging trim to keep them in control.
  7. Ground cover can support wild life and help create a special habitat.

Hart’s tongue fern Asplenium scolopendrium

Selected Ground Cover Plant Species

    1. Ajuga reptans like plenty of water to produce purple-green leaves and spring flowers of blue spikes.
    2. Erigeron karvinskianus has small white flowers like lawn daisies. A copious self seeder.
    3. Lysimachia nummularia also called creeping jenny for reasons you will discover as it moves around your garden. In summer it has numerous smal,l yellow flowers.
    4. Sedum acre or Stone crop is a popular low growing succulent for ground cover.
    5. Stachys byzantina has grey wooly leaves on 6″ high stems. They look like Lamb’s ears hence the common name.
    6. Often excluded from ground cover plant list is lawn grass. I guess meadow achieves a similar purpose.

Saxifraga

Happy Accidents

Many times a garden will develop its own style with a series of what I call ‘happy accidents’. Looking at ground cover I would include the semi-evergreen strawberry with its habit of forming runners in my list of accidents. Other ground hugging evergreen plants include a range of recumbent or prostrate dwarf conifers such as Juniper horizontalis or Juniper squamata blue carpet.

Whilstnot planted as ground cover I notice saxifrage, Euonymus, Bergenia and even clumpy Dianthus are all fulfilling the cover role. The special evergreens have the edge over plants that loose there leaves in winter but I have some great covering clumps of cyclamen at the moment. Ivy, I would not consider a happy accident more a gardening disaster.

Pink Flowered Strawberry Lipstick

Conditions for Good Ground Cover

  1. There are plants for most circumstances and conditions. Problem areas of poor soil and poor access are often the drivers of the decision to plant ground cover.
  2. Heaths and heathers are good for soils with acidic ph and will cope with a comparatively low top soil on top of stone or rubble. Some ferns may be suitable in these conditions.
  3. Flowering ground cover generally appreciate full or partial sun with a soil that retains some moisture.
  4. Damp conditions offer there own challenges and plants from the primula, iris, polygonum or marsh marigold families may suit.
  5. Once the ground is virtually covered you may not want lush growth and for that a reason I do not apply extra fertiliser as it is not required.
  6. Delineate the boundary of the ground cover to give a smart appearance.
  7. If you are happy with an informal aspect allow several varieties to inter-mingle.

Book Cover

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Foliar Feeding Hints & Tips Frenzy

Foliar feeding does at least some good. First and foremost it makes me, the putative garden expert, think I am doing some good for the plants in my care. If the fertilised plants pick up any extra nutrients so much the better. If they also repay me with a better crop or display then wow!

What is Foliar Feeding

Foliar feeding is the method of supplying nutrients to plants through their foliage. It involves spraying water-dissolved fertilizers directly on the leaves. Many believe that foliar feeding is preferable to soil application and that it is associated with higher yields and better quality. However I am firmly of the belief that both forms of fertiliser application is best.

Foliar feed can involve the drenching of leaves and stems with suitably diluted liquid fertilizers. This allows nutrients and trace elements to pass into the plants system through direct leaf and stem absorption.

Greenhouse spraying helps humidity and the removal of dust from leaves so why not add some weak feed to the spray and add  nutrients to plants through their foliage.

I personally believe this method is a supplement to normal root based feeding  which is naturally derived from water uptake.

How to Foliar Feed

Mix up your chosen feed by diluting concentrated liquid feed or dissolving  fertiliser salts in warm water. Using  a very fine spray apply the solution on top and under all the leaves.

Evening is the  best time for plants to be treated with a foliar spray without jeopardizing the plants other root based feeding schedule and risking burn from strong sun.

Small amounts of nutrients should be applied little and often. I find foliar feeding useful for specific situations such as ailing plants in need of a ‘pick them up’. I spray the leaves of tomato plants all over.

To increases the retention of the spray solution, by reducing the surface tension of the droplets, add a surfactant like a couple of drops of vegetable oil in the spray. This will contribute to a more uniform coverage of the foliage.

Benefits of Foliar Feeding

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Miniature Pines are Smaller than Dwarf Pines

What is a Miniature Pine

  • Small pine trees have been grown and sold as Dwarf plants for years but true miniatures are raised as clones from potentially larger species.
  • Miniatures are classified as such if they will not exceed 40cm height or width over 10 years. Experts recommend exhibition quality plants should not grow more than 25mm per annum ie. 25cm in 10 years.
  • True miniatures are clones of other pines.
  • They may  grow as spontaneous sports, as bud mutations or seed faults .
  • Witches brooms creating miniatures pines are dense growths that result from virus infection or insect damage.
  • Bonsai are restricted growth plants and not true miniatures.

Miniature Pine Varieties

  • Pinus mugo Donna’s mini 20x30cm cushion form
  • Pinus mugo Mini Mini  globose habit 20×25 cm
  • Pinus mugo Suzi 30x30cm spreading with orange-broan new growth
  • Pinus mugo Zwergkugel 35x35cm
  • Pinus mugo unicinata Jezek 20x30cm  good cushion form
  • Pinus mugo Bonsai Kramer 10x20cm
  • Pinus syvestris Marshall  30x25cm
  • Pinus strobus
  • Pinus uncinata
  • There are many other species that sport or produce miniatures but pines are consistent favourites.

Dwarf Species include;

  • Dwarf conifers are at least twice the size of miniatures after 10 years. As the sign above shows many conifers are sold as Dwarf plants
  • The pine family includes Dwarf White Pine, Dwarf Swiss Mountain Pine,
  • Many conifers sold as Dwarf are just slow growers and will continue to grow into sizable trees given time and favourable conditions.
  • Dwarf Lebanon Cedar, Dwarf Alberta Spruce,  Dwarf Japanese Juniper.

 Collecting and Displaying Miniature Conifers

  • Miniature conifer is the catch all name for the smallest of the conifer family.
  • The size makes them ideal for use in miniature landscape plantings, alpine or scree gardens, troughs and pots.
  • Miniatures are also popular for exhibition purposes.
  • Restricting the size of a pot can cause the needles on lower branches to fall
  • Top growth shouldn’t extend over the pot. Repot as the conifer grows until you have a pot 36cm or so. There after the miniature pine may be happier in the ground .
  • The main shape and forms of miniature pines are conical, globus, pyramidal or spreading.

Growing and Cultivating Miniature Conifers

  • Miniature conifers are never likely to outgrow their situation.
  • Pot miniatures into a compost of equal amounts of John Innes no.2, grit and composted bark.
  • The aim is a tight bun with closely displayed needles and a compact display. Fertiliser is only needed occasionally and in frugal quantities.
  • Thatch or dead needles should be removed from inner branches to avoid die-back.
  • Shallow, plastic pots are lighter to move around and should not harm the plants.
  • Prevention is better than cure so treat for vine weevil and dose annually with a fungicide.
  • Top dress annually with compost.
  • Outdoor specimens can be trimmed in spring by candling (removing new extension growth) to retain shape.
  • Plants can be grafted onto clean longer stemmed rootstock but why would you want a tall miniature.
  • Side grafting on to compatible rootstock can be done in January and then kept frost free.

Comment

Miniature conifers and especially pines are worth growing in a cold greenhouse or outdoors. There is a range of shapes and colours to cultivete and a good supply is available from Kenwith Nursery growing miniature and dwarf conifers for the last thirty five years.

Kenwith Conifer Nursery

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White Fly Infestations

My Experiences of Whitefly

Sometimes I am too tolerant and generally that is true with whitefly infestations. Perhaps that is because I have not had a serious outbreak or a great deal of resulting damage. So live and let live unless an edible crop is involved. The worst that happens is on houseplants where these sap feeding insects can breed continuously through the year. As a gift to the windowsill they leave a sticky secretion on leaves which drops from the plant. Only in the greenhouse have the white-winged adults taken to flight from tomato plants when disturbed. Adults and the scale like nymphs have secretions that can make plants sticky and prone to sooty mould.

Brassicas, particularly my broccoli  are prone to large collections of aphids and or white fly that make the crop unappetising. Who wants to eat bugs unless they are on a bush tucker trail. If picking and squishing is not enough control I remove affected leaves or use soapy water as a spray.

What the Experts Say

  1. There are many forms of whitefly including those on outdoor plants that are species specific for azalea, honeysuckle and  phillyrea. (Over 1500 species)
  2. Avoid getting Trialeurodes vaporariorum whitefly from newly acquired plants.
  3. Treatment and cures include the use of sticky traps, a parasitic wasp called Encarsia formosa a tiny, parasitic wasp that preys on the greenhouse whitefly.
  4. Some strains have become resistant to controls but a insecticidal soap may be an efficient control.Failing that try a systemic insecticide such as Provado ultimate bug killer.
  5. Ladybirds love eating whiteflies and they are very cheap. Encarsia Formosa is
  6. ‘Due to the whitefly feeding, plants can quickly become extremely weak and may be unable to carry out photosynthesis. Leaves will wilt, turn pale or yellow, and growth will be stunted.
  7. Check undersides of leaves around the veins for white insects, even if they aren’t visible, and feel leaf surfaces for honeydew. If the whiteflies are feeding, they’ll suddenly all fly off the leaves in a swarm, so it’s very obvious.
  8. A half-and-half mixture of petroleum jelly and dishwashing detergent, spread over small boards painted bright yellow, is sticky enough to catch little whiteflies. To whiteflies, the color yellow looks like a mass of new foliage. The bugs are attracted to the cards, get stuck in the jelly, and die.’  Old Farmers Almanac

 

Gardener! gardener!  there is a white fly in my soup – well button up!

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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.
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