Archive | Novice Gardeners Advice and Pointers

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

The Iceman Cometh

Norwegian Iceman Sculpture Cardiff

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.

Early Preparations

  • 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.

Plant Protection

  • 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
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Good Gardeners Tips

A tip for today

  1. Fertilise weekly weakly
  2. N for leaves
  3. P for roots
  4. K for fruit and flowers
  5. Fertilise when plants need to grow not as they go into a rest period
  6. Stand thirsty houseplants on damp clay granules to maintain humidity
  7. Houseplants can burn from strong sun through a window
  8. Houseplants will grow towards the light so turn the pot regularly.
  9. Houseplants can get pests like other plants so watch and treat when spotted.
  10. Do not sow seeds too early (they can get a growth shock in cold snap). They will catch up by up to 4 weeks no problem.
  11. Sow seeds thinly, smaller the seed thinner the sowing.
  12. Sow big seed individually
  13. If sowing in plastic cell trays chose an appropriate size 4’s, 12’s 15’s etc
  14. If sowing in plastic cell trays keep
  15. Mark or label what and where you have sown seeds.
  16. Practice gardening until you get it right – keep on gardening for the rest of your life hoping to never get it wrong.
  17. Keep conifers well watered or they will go brown.
  18. Golden conifers go greener in the shade, golden in the sunshine.
  19. It is bad luck to be superstitious about your plants.
  20. Mulch to keep soil moist.
  21. Mulch to keep down weeds.
  22. Mulch to make an area look tidy.
  23. Mulch to improve soil texture
  24. Deadhead flowers to try get another flush of youthful blooms.
  25. Deadhead to direct energy away from making seed.
  26. Deadhead to maintain a tidy appearance
  27. Prune to remove sick and damaged shoots
  28. Prune to keep plants tidy and in check
  29. Prune to encourage flowering and fruiting
  30. Prune to maintain a hedge’s shape
  31. Prune to encourage new growth
  32. Plant bulbs as deep as the bulbs size
  33. Daffodil bulbs need time in the ground plant early autum
  34. Tulips can be planted up until November/December
  35. Grit or gravel on top of pots deters moss and helps watering
  36. A saucer under a pot holds water – beware of water-logging which will rot roots
  37. A saucer under a pot holds water to help watering. Use some gravel to keep pot out of a permanent puddle.
  38. Clay pots dry out quicker than plastic or ceramic pots
  39. Black plastic pots get hot in the sun.
  40. Standing pots close together creates a useful micro climate
  41. In winter keep tender plants in pots frost free.
  42. Stand pots on feet so they do not freeze to the ground (a cause of damage to pots)
  43. Refurbish plants in pots by removing the surface soil/compost and replace with fresh compost
  44. Pots rely on you for care, there is no worms to aerate or feed the soil nor a water table.
  45. The bigger the pot the more water it can hold – small pots dry quicker
  46. Some plants like to have the roots constrained in a smaller pot to encourage flowering.
  47. Plants become pot bound when the roots fill the pot – repot with fresh compost in a bigger pot
  48. For a low maintenance garden try conifers of varying sizes.
  49. Dwarf conifer are available in different varieties, shapes, textures and forms.
  50. Keep tools sharp
  51. Keep tools clean and disinfect to avoid transferring pathogens
  52. Keep tools where you can find them and where you want use them.
  53. Appropriate tools for the job make gardening and  life much easier
  54. If your orchid loses   its leaves and turns yellow, it’s dead.
  55. Wait until daffodils are in bloom before pruning roses.
  56. Cut the roses down to the same height as the daffodils – this requires some commonsense as there are small and tall daffs and a wide variety of roses but it provides a rule of thumb.
  57. You don’t need to cut down your fuchsias for winter but stuff Strulch, straw or pine needles between the branches.
  58. When new growth starts you can trim up your Fuchsiaskale
  59. When planting out leeks or onions dip the roots in water just prior to planting. The weight of the water keeps the roots extended.
  60. Make a homemade birdfeeder in an old hanging basket and add a perch by using a strong stick or cane.
  61. The soil on plants from garden centers is often too dry and hard to re-wet. With care you can shake off this compost and replace it with your own.
  62. Alternatively leave the pot in a dish to soak in water, with a drop of washing up liquid to break the waters meniscus and simultaneously water from the top.
  63. Pansies and to a lesser extent viola are prone to black root rot if over watered. Be sparing when watering.
  64. Create smaller beds they are easier to maintain in tight spaces.
  65. Take photographs of your garden regularly and at least every season.
  66. Take photos before and after a renovation project or new planting.
  67. Take photographs of plant labels at botanic or show gardens of those plants you like.
  68. Keep old plant labels (and seed packets) in date order as a reminder
  69. Use some sort of mulch to line the spaces between your vegetable beds.
  70. Birds adore the red, egg-shaped hips of the wild dog rose.
  71. Best rose hips are produced by species roses.
  72. Where there’s muck there’s brassicas – they love a lot of horsesh…
  73. When summer sets in with all it’s usual severity don’t walk on frozen grass.
  74. Visit New Zealands exotic Taranaki world-renowned rhododendron garden
  75. Keep reading Gardeners tips

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Comments made about Overwintering

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.’

Overwintering Generally

  • 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.

Overwintering Planters

  • 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.

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Soil and Healthy Grass

Grass Land, Meadows & Lawns

  • 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

  1. Scarifying – rake out the dead leaves and detritus
  2. Aerating  – spike the soil to allow air in and de-compact the ground
  3. Feeding – nitrogen rich food is the grass’s choice
  4. Top Dressing  – a bit of sand and soil brushed in helps new roots
  5. Moss Control – get rid of moss in spring
  6. Weed control – selective chemical weed killer
  7. Damage Repair – even the best lawns can get damaged – patches reseeding or just turning the edge of a turf around can help
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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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