I have 35 good ceramic pots and numerous plastic pots and containers dotted around the garden. There is a 3 foot wide path all around the house that hosts many of these pots on a permanent or seasonally temporary basis. I enjoy ringing the changes about location and container content. What I don’t enjoy is watering the pots! Since the floods early in the year we have had scarcely any rain in Yorkshire and the ground is now dry and cracking up. Looking at the forecast April looks like being a shower free zone never mind a good soaker.
A plant pot that needs more water
Why Pots get Dry
Too little soil or compost to retain enough moisture often because the pot is too small
Compost too free draining eg sandy or gritty soil. Compost need some ‘heart’ to retain water.
Porous terracotta pots that allow water to be sucked out through the sides
Pots in too much sunshine with no shade
Pots placed in windy or draughty conditions
Plants with lush leaves that transpire readily and need copious amounts to drink.
Root bound pots or those filled with roots leaving no room for water soaked compost.
Excess roots and weed cover restricting water content
These comment apply to varying degrees to most ceramic, clay, terracotta and plastic pots, containers, hanging baskets plus similar plant containers.
You may notice pure peat or coir is very difficult to get evenly wet. Commercial composts have a wetting agent added during packing so this problem is initially circumvented
If pots get dried out the compost is very hard to re-wet. A deep soak for 12 hours is probably the best way to totally rehydrate the soil but that is not always possible. Damp compost will take up more water. Very dry soil sheds the water or lets it run right through. I start with a light wetting or dampner on the surface then 10 minutes later water properly.
Special care is very important specifically if the compost has shrunk away from the sides of the pot.
The problem of hanging baskets being difficult to re-water once they get a bit dry has a simple solution which is to use a wetting agent or a small dash of washing up liquid in the water .
Preventing drying out in the first place is as better step.
Drip or electronic controlled watering would be a top end solution.
A saucer under the pot would be a cheapo solution.
A community of pots to create a micro climate and increase surrounding humidity can help.
Placing the pot on soil or capillary matting would allow some leaching from the surrounding area.
I use a wick system for pots in the greenhouse with a strip of capillary fabric or matting trailing from the middle of the pot surrounded in compost with the end trailing out of a drainage hole into a sump of water.
As if all the heavy rain has not been bad enough the icy weather is just around the corner. Jack frost will be nipping into your garden this month and may stick around for 5/6 months or so. It is worth revisiting some of the issues and options gardeners face.
Consider your water features including both still and moving. I start by lagging my outside taps and draining hosepipes.
Be prepared for frozen bird baths and ponds with means of breaking the ice.
I have cleared moss of the paths and hope to reduce icy slips.
Check out hessian wrapping and/or horticultural fleece stock. I always remember to buy it when the frost has bitten.
Every gardeners tip says do not walk on frozen grass the stems become brittle and snap.
Give tender plants shelter in a greenhouse, cold frame, window ledge or under some cover.
Mulch well to protect roots.
Sweep snow falls off the leaves and branches to stop them being permanently damaged.
Wrap banana plants, tree ferns and exotics in sacking or other frost prevention measures.
Some plants, particularly alpines, suffer more damaged from water than frost . So maintain drainage and don’t panic in the frost
Irena Dorney a reader of my chrysanthemum post has asked ‘ Tell me do you overwinter your plants? I can no longer afford to keep buying new plants for my planters so I want to invest in plants with a perennial habit that will work hard in my raised bed.’
I am a Yorkshire man so yes I try to over winter many of my plants. I want value for money and the thrill of getting or keeping ‘summat for nowt’.
A major proportion of my garden is planted with evergreen shrubs and they overwinter themselves.
Alpines are generally designed for cold wintery weather but HATE wet so I don’t worry about frost but will shield or deflect rain from auriculas and damp haters.
Bulbs I leave in the ground or pots but take up begonias and dahlia tubers and keep them frost free for planting the following year.
You can forget about your tender annuals but the seeds are worth collecting. You then overwinter them as seeds or biannuals.
Selecting ‘hardy’ plants that are more likely to survive to survive is a skill worth learning. Violas will last better than pansies for example and dwarf conifers and acers do well in my pots.
One of the biggest risks to plants in pots is death by frozen roots. A big pot holds more soil and is harder but not impossible to freeze.
I gather pots together for wind and frost protection. A group of pots can create there own micro climate.
Under a hedge row I store many pot plants where I am fatalistic. If they survive great if not then c’est la vie & I try to propagate more.
Overwintering in a Raised Bed
Selecting herbaceous perennials can fill your raised beds. Herbaceous plants die back every year when the weather gets cold but the right ones regrow next year. If the winter conditions are harsh then mulch around the root area. Delphiniums, alstromeria and primroses have done well this year.
Tender subjects like musa (banana) or ferns can be wrapped in hessian or covered in straw but that is too much bother for me.
I grow rhododendrons and deciduous azaleas in a raised bed for the want of a larger area. Like many woody shrubs they do fine.
Getting to the grass root of the problem grass is the largest irrigated crop in the USA.
Like other crops grass depends on the health of the soil in which it grows.
Moisture and nutrient retention is crucial to keeping your soil in good shape.
Clover is good news not bad news at least in moderation. I bit less attractive but a force for good with grass. Nodules on the clover store and deliver nitrogen more effectively than synthetic fertilisers.
Home chemical applications tend to be significantly over done compared to agriculture. Less not more is far better.
Water wisely in early morning. Evening watering can encourage some disease.
Allow clippings to fall back on the grass and rot down to keep the soil in good heart.
Higher cutting blades and grass helps prevent weeds and helps retain moisture.
Other Methods for Healthy Grass Lawns
Scarifying – rake out the dead leaves and detritus
Aerating – spike the soil to allow air in and de-compact the ground
Feeding – nitrogen rich food is the grass’s choice
Top Dressing – a bit of sand and soil brushed in helps new roots
Moss Control – get rid of moss in spring
Weed control – selective chemical weed killer
Damage Repair – even the best lawns can get damaged – patches reseeding or just turning the edge of a turf around can help
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.
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.
General purpose grass seed contain a mixture in varying proportions of HQG seed plus smooth stalked meadow grass and timothy.
Hard wearing grass similar to that used for football pitches and children heavy use grass also include quick growing perennial ryegrass.
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.
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.
Do not think of yourself as a gardening dummy – you will learn most by experience
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.