Archive | Novice Gardeners Advice and Pointers

Learning to garden is part trial and error and part recommendation, learning and application of information.

A Quick Spruce Up

I am not thinking of a Spruce conifer but an early smarten up and tidy of your garden. Here are some instant and relatively easy wins.

  1.  Initially focus on areas you can see from your windows and main viewing points. Then tidy, trim and weed even if it is still wintery.
  2. Turf out any old pots, hanging baskets or unsightly remnants that will never look as good again.
  3. Give borders a 10 minute make over to remove the worst looking offenders.
  4. Brush paths and tidy hard landscapes.
  5. If time and weather permits cut your lawns on a high setting for the first time this year
  6. Renovate and fill any bird feeders.
  7. Paint or clean garden furniture

Other quick improvements to your gardening enjoyment include:

  1. Treat yourself and garden to some seasonal gap filling plants such as bulbs or primulas.
  2. Plan or start a new project to give a bit of style to an area in your garden.
  3. Put some peat around ericaceous plants like rhododendrons and camellias and reapply bark chippings to improve appearances.
  4. Start your spring shopping with seeds or seedlings if you can protect them from frost.
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Grass for a New Gardeners Lawn

A well maintained green sward with stripes from a lawnmower is the epitome of a British garden. It could be something to do with the amount of rain we get but it also depends on the type and care of the grass.

  1. High quality grass (HQG) seed mixtures containing fine bent grass and fine fescue grass seed are for top class grass but can be high maintenance.
  2. General purpose grass seed contain a mixture in  varying proportions of HQG seed plus smooth stalked meadow grass and timothy.
  3. Hard wearing grass similar to that used for football pitches and children heavy use grass also include quick growing perennial ryegrass.
  4. In new gardens I have often resorted to buying turves. Turf is best laid in autumn. Stagger the turf like a brick wall and stand on a plank as you lay the turf.
  5. The secret of a great lawn is in the preparation. Dig over, remove weeds, firm down with your heels, rake over and firm down again, collect any stones and rake to get a fine tilth into which you can sow your seed. Trim the edges and keep them that way for a tidy appearance.

Book CoverDo not think of yourself as a gardening dummy – you will learn most by experience

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Stopping or Pinching Out for New Gardeners

Some plants want to grow their own way without human intervention. It is a gardeners job to try get the best result by growing for crop quality, size of floral display. Knowing what you aim for will help you decide how to train your plants to do what you want not what nature will allow to happen.

  1. A good example is a tomato plant that will continue to grow taller and produce more leaf and less tomatoes if left to its own devices. So tomato plants are ‘stopped’ when the plant has 5 – 7 flower trusses so the energy goes in to producing fruit not leaves. Nip out the growing tip two leaves above the last flowering truss.
  2. As tomatoes try to throw side shoots at every opportunity these also need ‘pinching out’ before they sap energy. This is similar to stopping but nipping the side growth with finger and thumb. Bush tomatoes can carry more side shoots but I still constrain mine and it is fatal to allow cordon varieties to run amok.
  3. Many ornamental plants benefit from restricting the number of flowers by pinching our excess buds. HT Roses, Chrysanthemums and Dahlias that have groups of buds together are among those I dis-bud.
  4. Dis-budding works well on apples and fruit trees as well. Instead of a clutch of small fruitlets take off all but one of a cluster and let the remainder grow larger.
  5. Deadheading plants will often encourage another flush of flowers. Once plants set seed they think it is all over but cutting off old flowers delays reproduction of seed. Try this on sweet peas.

 

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Getting Starter Plants For New Gardeners

New gardeners are keen to get going and it may be painful to wait for several months to grow your own from seed or cuttings. Fortunately there are several ways to shortcut the process by buying starter plants.

  1. Plug plants are available from mail order seed merchants and local garden centers. These plugs are plants grown for gardeners to ‘grow on’ (ie allow to develop in a bigger pot for a while) or to harden off and plant out. Check the instructions that generally come with the plugs.
  2. Jumbo plugs are what they say in the name. More compost and bigger plants at a bigger price but I buy these for special perennials or quicker colour displays.
  3. Early in the spring you can find small individual seeded pots sown densely then germinated so the seedlings can be pricking out and grown on.
  4. Bigger seeds are often available in a nest of 4,6 or more black plastic pots. I buy special tomato varieties and some vegetables this way.
  5. Local market stalls and nurseries will sell plants in individual pots. This can give you a quick start but take care. Plants should look right ( not be drawn and thin) and pots should be an appropriate size  for the plant with no roots growing out of the holes in the base or weeds on the surface.

Sweet pea seedlings from a local grower

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Good Soil for New Gardeners

To some soil is a brown mess to make mud pies from for others it is a crusty, cracked, rock hard piece of the garden that takes effort to cultivate into good soil. Mixing in more sand will help both these conditions. Soil that is too sandy will drain through very quickly.

  1. Good soil contains clay, sand and silt in varying proportions. A preponderance of clay is called a heavy soil and can lead to the crust or a ‘pan’ referred to above.
  2. Air and water are the other crucial components of soil. They give and maintain life for all plants and other life forms.
  3. Dissolved nutrients and decomposing plant matter (humus) provides food for the numerous creatures that make their home in the soil.
  4. Millions of microbes (fungus & bacteria) are present in good soil and their beneficial effect is just beginning to be fully recognised.
  5. Worms help aerate the soil and maintain a balance structure. Other creatures help compost dying plant matter.

 

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Five Windowsill Plants for New Gardeners

In this series of ‘fives for New Gardeners’ I have limited the number of photographs I have included but I am proud that I grew this African Violet from a leaf rooted in water. Gardening includes a bit of pride so I am happy enough for now.

  1. Orchids were very expensive some years ago but new breeding techniques have allowed prices to drop and varieties on offer to increase. Orchids should re-flower on an extension of the old stem if you are patient and they are happy with the conditions (East or North facing windowsill and not too much water)
  2. Cyclamen have been bred to last well on a windowsill and the various sizes and colours are now worth seeking out. Look for the less garden hardy Persian varieties for the exotic look.
  3. Not always thought of as a windowsill plant I like the geranium or Pelargonium which my mother used to grow in great number on a window ledge.
  4. I have just ordered some gloxinia corms to try growing by my windows this year. I have do OK in the past but want to do better this year.
  5. Back to my current favourite the African Violet. If you have a safe watering regime the plants will reflower several time during the next 12 months and are available in a  range of colour shades. I also like the furry texture to the leaves.

Beware collecting windowsill plants can become addictive. I have a dozen plants on the windowsill  in the study come spare bedroom right now! What will I do when new seedlings need the same space?

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Five Summer Flowering Bulbs for New Gardeners

Bulbs are commonly understood as plant storage devices and here the term bulb is used to cover various forms of dormant plants.

  1. Underground plant storage is provided by nature in various forms examples of which include corms for crocus, bulbs for daffoilils, tubers for Dahlia or rhizomes for Lily of the valley.
  2. A top performer in summer is often one of the many varieties of Lily. The Asiatic lily can grow in tubs on the patio to 12″ high. Larger double flowered lilys can be over 3′ tall.
  3. Dahlia tubers are easy to grow and provide masses of flower from late summer until the first frost. Decorative, pompom, single and cactus Dahlia varieties refer to the petals and flower shape.
  4. Begonias are brash flowering corms that are progressively being used as border plants. They need lifting to regrow the following year.
  5. Crocosmia is a hardy corm that produces a spray containing many red or orange flowers along its stem.

Asiatic Lily

As a further thought, where would Barry Humphries have been without his famous corm The Gladioli?

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Five Terms for New Gardeners

There is a whole new language to be embraced when you first start to garden. We have just selected 5 gardening terms that you may come across.

  1. Annual is a plant that grows and dies in the same year. (not from neglect but because it is programmed by nature to behave like that). Many weeds and quick growing flowers are annuals. Biannuals grow one year and flower the next.
  2. Hardy annuals spend their life outdoors. Half-hardy annuals need some spring and early summer protection. Most popular bedding plants are half-hardy annuals.
  3. Perennials are plants that are designed to last several years and keep performing for some time. To keep clumps of perennials healthy it is worth digging them up when they get over crowded, discarding the old woody middle and replanting healthy remainder.
  4. Herbaceous perennials are plants that die down at the end of the flowering period and new top growth appears the following season. This is unlike hardy  perennials such as shrubs and trees which tend to be woody.
  5. Bedding plants are those that are used in the border or beds to give a spring and summer display after which they are normally lifted and composted.

A rose is a Perennial shrub

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New Gardeners Should Try Runner Beans

One of the easiest and highest yielding vegetable crops to grow are runner beans. You may not need all these 5 tips to do well but here goes:

  1. I keep some bean seeds from last years crop but a new packet of seeds will germinate in May for planting out as soon as the danger of frost has gone. Alternatively buy plug plants for June delivery. Pests may eat seeds sown direct so I start each seed in a small pot.
  2. Give the young plant something to climb and twine up. A 6′ cane and some wide spaced netting will do.
  3. There should be no more problems before you get a crop but beans are heavy feeders and drinkers so a rich, moisture retentive soil will help and so will a good drink in dry weather.
  4. Flowers, red or white are insect pollinated so do not need to be sprayed with water (an old folks tale).
  5. Pick the bean pods when young and pliable. When they get a bigger bean in the pod they will stop producing new pods. Otherwise the plants will produce until October or so.

 

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Ornamental Berries for New Gardeners

Some plants give double pleasure by producing berries after their flowers have already performed. Here is my top 5:

  1. Rose hips shown above come in various sizes and shapes. Ruga roses have large robust berries whilst this ‘Rambling Rector’ produces lots of hips after a grand flush of summer flowers.
  2. Holly berries are a seasonal favorite that on 12th night we take out of the house. Holly bushes are either male or female and it is the latter that produce the berries.
  3. Small black and purple berries are less ornamental but do a good job feeding the birds. Elderberry and Berberis are two larger shrubs that do well in my garden.
  4. Whilst thinking about birds the cottoneaster family can produce prolific feast of berries that get gobbled up in autumn.
  5. I find that the pyracantha berries are not eaten by the birds until winter is in full spate. They are available in red orange and yellow berries and are good structural shrubs an ornamentals.
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