I was reading an old book by Adam the Gardener the Sunday Express tipster and looking at his suggestions for January.
Rose Pruning In January
In January your roses should be dormant and some pruning has advantages.
Winter pruning can therefore be done lightly leaving harder pruning to be completed in march or april when you can see how the tree is responding.
This pruning reduces wind rock that can lead to frost getting down to the roots from loose soil.
Start pruning by removing dead wood and growth that crosses and crowds the center.
Standards and wispy growth should be pruned harder. Floribunda varieties need more top growth for a mass display
Tools should be really sharp to prevent bleeding and branch damage.
Do not prune during hard frosts.
I have been astonished how many rose trees I have growing in the garden. It was only when I embarked on the January prune/trim that they became visible and obvious. The rugsa roses that I cut back in autumn were treated to a bag of horse manure to set them on their way in spring.
Trees small enough for your garden can still provide a range of interest. That may be leave shape, blossom, berries, bark or colour changes.
This selection grow 15-50 feet high with a maximum spread of 30 feet.
Top Ten Garden Trees
Sorbus or Mountain Ash make fine specimen trees. Sorbus vilmorinii has creamy white flowers and a typical scent in spring. Clusters of red berries fade to white but the feathery leaf turns a dark red in autumn.
Arbutus andrachne or unedo aka the Strawberry tree has glossy evergreen leaves and white flowers. The trunk is also a feature on these 20′ trees.
Ornamental cherry trees have stunning displays of spring flowers. Try Prunus x subhirtella Autumnalis
Silver birches Betula jacquemontii Grayswood Ghost has yekllow catkins and good autumn colour.
Ornamental Crab Apples have caught my attention recently and malus floribunda with pale pink flowers followed by golden fruit gives interest through until winter.
Judas Tree, Cercis siliquastrum is covered in pink blossom before the leaves arrive in spring. This is followed by purple pods that can last through winter.
Acers are ever popular and the palmatum varieties offer late season colour changes to the leaves. Osakazuki and sango-kaku are currently on offer.
After a wet early spring 2018 the UK had a very dry summer. You are never to old to learn and I picked up some new tips and reinforced some old watering tips.
Dealing with Dry Weather
Water the plants not the soil in between them. Pay special attention to new plants as their roots are more vulnerable than established plants. Cut back perennials if they look like they might die, be cruel to be kind.
A wet spring will not leave the soil wet through summer. Chalky and sandy soils will dry out fastest.
Water the right amount at the right time. A good soaking once a week is better than a light sprinkling every day. Water when it has time to soak down to the roots in an evening or early morning.
Protect plants from drying wind with a windbreak.
Let lawn grass grow a bit longer during dry spells and do not bother watering your lawn.
Don’t bother watering fruit trees once the fruit has started to set and swell.
Group vegetables together according to their watering needs. Leafy crops, tomatoes, runner beans and potatoes need most water. Courgettes only when they start to swell and asparagus and root crops are more drought tolerant.
Patio plants need attention and care. The bigger the pot the more moisture the compost will hold. If they are drying out add a drop of washing up liquid the the water and or create a sump in a saucer or tray.
Don’t let clay soil develop cracks for more evaporation to escape. Add organic compost, mulch and sharp grit.
Make Watering Easy and Effective
Watering around the base of a plant means some water evaporates before it reaches the roots.Dig a channel between rows and fill with water from a can or use a length of guttering with holes in the sides to channel water where you want it.
Sink pots into the ground near plants so roots do not need to come to the surface to get a drink. Larger pots for established plants can have an old dish cloth in the bottom to deter slugs and slow down the seepage.
A mulch of grass clippings or Strulch will slow down evaporation .
Many contraptions can be created to drip feed or target water to the roots. A half buried plastic pop bottle with holes in the side or try a piece of hose with a funnel.
Soaker hoses need to be in the right place but are a simple solution to efficient watering.
Turn off your fountains and moving water when practical.
A Word About Recycled Water
Adjust water features to minimise splashing and spray drift.
Use a pond liner near the water feature to capture excess water and channel it back into the sump or reservoir.
Clean household water can be used in water features as any soap or detergent is not aimed at your plants.
Rain water is a valuable commodity for watering some plants as it is soft and gently acidic.
Now part of this garden is down to crazy paving the Qualcast grass box is needed less and can be put to a different use. It looks like a ‘unibarrow’ has got in on the act to make a feature planter for these pansies.
Being green is second nature to Gardeners because we are so near to nature so reuse, reduce and recycle is part of our DNA.
Tips to help you reuse old tools
Sharpen blades, even on old spades, with a whet stone – angle the blade at 5-10° and push and pull across the stone – 5 times should be enough
Bind the handles of old tools with bright insulating tape so you can find them easily.
Look at car boots and secondhand sales for special tools that you will only use occasionally. I got an Onion hoe this way.
Put on a new handle or repurpose a tool so it can do an easier task. An old hand fork can be given a long handle for light digging without bending.
Go to a hire shop and reuse their tools
Old tools are often very well made and it is worth the effort of having them repaired professionally. If they have lasted a long time it is a sign they are fit for purpose.
Remember the 70 year old spade that had 10 new handles and 3 new blades.
I get most of my many gardening books from charity shops and I recycle them there too.
I reuse garden center pots for seedlings and growing-on but would prefer more compostable materials to be used by suppliers.
Good gardeners recycle old plants via cuttings, seed collecting and splitting of clumps.
Buy locally grown plants as they will suit the local conditions and don’t come with exotic airmiles
What to Reduce in the Garden
Make low maintenance areas and reduce the labour you need.
With the right plant selection you will also reduce the amount of chemicals required.
‘Oh the old bamboo the old bamboo never-ever bother with the old bamboo’ That song reminds me to weed out the poor and damaged canes I have left over from previous seasons. Away with split canes that snag and frustrate and may carry disease.
In Praise of Canes
A good long one will do better than a good short one – well not always as excess length waves around and looks untidy. Fortunately you can shorten canes with secateurs and the off cuts can be used for shorter plants.
Why should Sweetpeas be forced to spend energy on climbing when I can help them with a good cane arrangement.
Why should runner beans get top heavy and risk being blown sideways.
Good gladioli and chrysanthemums will be better for a bit of practical and moral support
Temporary solutions to problems can often be solved by judicious use of canes.
Now my plants are able to perform with the aid of my new canes, string and net supports.
I like the idea of mixing bamboo canes with more twiggy stems. I also like the idea of putting two canes across the middle of twin rows of canes for extra support and rigidity
This year I resolve to support my plants better than ever before.
None Bamboo Canes
A Large Hazel has already provided a crop of stems to use as further supports. They can be woven in with other supports and look more natural than bamboo.
Willow and hazel can be cross hatched to provide a frame work for shrubby plants to grow through.
Pea sticks are often short slivers of bamboo painted a dark green. Useful for around 12″ of support.
Nylon and other plastic ‘canes’ are obviously not canes but are long lasting and can do a similar job.
New tree and shrub supports are more likely to be stakes and ‘gardeners should be choosers’ when it comes to the right strength of item for the job.
To my surprise Amazon now supply or arrange to supply canes in volume via the web – it makes transporting the 7-8 foot ones in my car a thing of the past.
Vermiculite is a natural mineral ore that has been heat treated to expand into a light, spongy worm like, inert substance. Vermiculite is made from mica whereas perlite, a similar gardeners aid is a type of highly porous volcanic glass. Because vermiculite is permanent, clean, odorless, non-toxic and sterile and very light it has many uses for gardeners.
Gardeners Uses of Vermiculite
Vermiculite greatly improves seed compost by promoting aeration and drainage, important for seeds and cuttings.
Vermiculite improves germination and reduces the risk of damping off when applied as a thin layer on top of your sown seeds.
A 50:50 mix of compost and vermiculite is ideal for the germination of seeds, because it’s aeration properties and water holding capacity make it a suitable medium for direct contact with the seeds.
Vermiculite used alone without compost helps germination but seedlings should be fed with a week fertilizer solution when the first true seeds appear. I have some African Violet seeds being grown this way at the moment.
Large seeds can be mixed with Vermiculite in a small polythene bag closed at the neck, and kept in a warm place until the seeds just start to germinate.
Vermiculite can be mixed into compost for taking cuttings.
Mixed with compost vermiculite can also store Dahlia and Begonia tubers through winter.
Slower germinating seeds should be covered with grit in preference to vermiculite.
For fine seeds it can be ground down finer that that shown above.
Mix with peat or coir to make a soilless growing medium for the home gardener to promote faster root growth and give quick anchorage to young roots.
Vermiculite is also used as a growing medium for hydroponics.
Heavy sticky soil can be conditioned by the addition of vermiculite.
Available from good garden centres
Vermiculite for Cuttings
Vermiculite 50% sphagnum moss peat 50% compost stimulates root growth, giving quicker anchorage of the plant and uptake of nutrients.
Thoroughly water the vermiculite before inserting cuttings.
Do not compress around the base of the cutting.
Vermiculite gives a very light open compost, holding more water and facilitating re-wetting, thereby lengthening the time between watering.
Vermiculite absorbs excess nutrients and releases them slowly to the plants via the finest root hairs.
Use a lower proportion of vermiculite under mist irrigation in Summer say 25%.
The clue is in the name Seed Tray – this note is about seeds in trays and although they can double up for seedlings the issues are different. Seed sowing probably starts in February and is reaching its height by the middle of April.
Seed Tray Review
Old wooden seed trays with slats and high sides are still in use. They need care when cleaning before new crops are sown.
Plastic seed trays from rigid polypropylene with drainage holes can be used time and again and are easy to store and clean. There is generally a pattern of ridges to improve drainage.
I like to use the thin plastic segmented inserts like those in the photograph inside a normal seed tray .
It adds rigidity and makes for easy movement
They are cheap enough to be disposable but last a couple of seasons with care.
They vary in the number of cells, 3×5, 8×5 or 4×6 for example.
Each cell can be for individual seeds or used for several fine seeds. It makes pricking out and planting far easier.
The cells can also be used for growing on after pricking out. 15 or 24 good plants can be raised in one tray.
Do not put plastic inserts in a tray without drainage holes or the compost may get water logged.
Seed trays can be used to hold individual pots in one place. Up to 15 square 3″ pots can be put in one tray and they are a bit deeper than a standard tray.
Disposable or disinfectable, plastic labour saving devices were not available to our parents and grandparents but take care how you dispose of them.
Alternative Seed Trays
If you can find them old fish boxes can make good seed trays. The polystyrene variety helps to keep an even temperature. Some old fruit boxes can be adapted as seed trays. In both instances make sure there is adequate drainage.
You do not need a tray per se, any container with drainage holes will suffice. I use a lot of old plant pots for starter seedlings.
Rubberised plastic trays usually in black are more rigid and I find them better than the extruded green plastic shown above.
Home made compressed capsules, rolls of paper, even cardboard toilet paper tube can be pressed into service.
Seed Tray Tips
Take care when watering to get all the area damp. Some composts and soils are difficult to get evenly wet
Label your seed sowing with the date and type of seed sown.
Sterilise your used seed trays in Jeys fluid or similar.
To water from the bottom fill a larger container and stand the tray in the water until enough has been taken up by capillary action.
Do not leave seedlings too long before pricking out. Long roots soon become stunted. Seedlings need space to develop roots.
Carefully push out the cell contents from the bottom if using a plastic product. Otherwise a firm tap will generally loosed to compost.
Be careful small cells hold less soil and moisture.
The edges and cells near to the drying sun can be hostile to seedlings.
Exposure to sun and the elements can make some plastic brittle.
Prick out and pot on as soon as possible (when two leaves are showing).
Special Seed Sowing Devices
Matching the seed tray to the plant you are growing may dictate the tray you use.
Sweetpeas need a long root run and trays tend to be too shallow. I use deep pots but you can sow in root trainers or home made paper tubes.
Biodegradable peat pots can be used for plants that do not like their roots to be disturbed.
Individual pots may be best for large or expensive seed.
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.
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!
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.
Benefits of Ground Cover
Treasure the ground cover plants that clothe the soil and rocks with leaves or stems preventing wasteful moisture loss.
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.
Most ground cover will flower and even foliage only plants are more aesthetically pleasing than bare or patchy ground.
Ground cover is useful on hard to access land such as scree or steep slopes.
Ground cover may creep or mound but most will grow lower than one feet high and be ornamental.
They are easy to maintain with an occasional clipping after flowering or an edging trim to keep them in control.
Ground cover can support wild life and help create a special habitat.
Hart’s tongue fern Asplenium scolopendrium
Selected Ground Cover Plant Species
Ajuga reptans like plenty of water to produce purple-green leaves and spring flowers of blue spikes.
Erigeron karvinskianus has small white flowers like lawn daisies. A copious self seeder.
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.
Sedum acre or Stone crop is a popular low growing succulent for ground cover.
Stachys byzantina has grey wooly leaves on 6″ high stems. They look like Lamb’s ears hence the common name.
Often excluded from ground cover plant list is lawn grass. I guess meadow achieves a similar purpose.
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
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.
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.
Flowering ground cover generally appreciate full or partial sun with a soil that retains some moisture.
Damp conditions offer there own challenges and plants from the primula, iris, polygonum or marsh marigold families may suit.
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.
Delineate the boundary of the ground cover to give a smart appearance.
If you are happy with an informal aspect allow several varieties to inter-mingle.