In the Garden
Wonderful Window Boxes
As late summer fades imperceptibly into early autumn, it can be sad to see much-loved and once fantastic-looking beds, borders, pots and planters start to look a little worse for wear. It may be all part of the natural part of gardening, but it certainly makes me feel a bit gloomy. If it is having the same effect on you, why not treat yourself to some late summer and early autumn colour in a pot, planter or, better still, a window box? That protected spot close to the house should help to ensure that everything keeps on and on performing for as long as possible…
There are many different sizes and styles to choose from, from woven willow to classic hardwood and urban chic aluminium, and in just about every conceivable colour too. But whatever you go for make sure it’ll fit easily on to the window sill and won’t be too heavy! Take time to choose one that will suit the style of your house, fit all the plants you’d like to include, not weigh too much and is within budget.
There are lots of plants that’ll work – some of my favourites are hardy Gerberas (these do need a good warm, sunny spot), variegated ivies and the wacky, compact Crassula with fleshy foliage and stems studded with dusky pink flowers. But take time perusing the local garden centres or nurseries for the combination that makes YOUR heart sing.
Some window boxes have impermeable liners, so if this is the case add an inch or so of horticultural grit or gravel to provide drainage – then if you do overwater (or it rains too much) the excess water will be less likely to sit around the roots and cause the plants to suffer or even die off completely. If you’re trying to keep weight to a minimum then use broken up polystyrene from bedding plants or the packaging around household appliances – this lightweight recycled material is a good alternative to the grit or gravel.
A good quality multi-purpose compost is perfect for a temporary planting like this, but if you intend to remove any shorter lived or non-hardy plants such as the gerberas and replace them with other hardy, seasonal stunners later in the year then you may be better off using a 50:50 mixture of a loam-based compost and a multi-purpose one. I find that this 50:50 mix allows for better stability from the weight and texture of the loam, combined with better aeration and drainage from the multi-purpose compost. Just fill the window box about half full with compost, gently firming it, but make sure you don’t compact it or else the plants won’t get their roots down so well.
Next it’s the fun and inventive bit as you get the plants into position. If you are including trailing plants like variegated ivies, place them where you can enjoy their full glory by cascading them over the edges of the window box – this looks fantastic and adds to the apparent size of the display without adding significantly to the weight of the container. A larger plant like the Crassula gives a good focal point, and then why not add some dizzy colour like the ever-smiling gerberas to flank the central plant? Gently move the plants about until you’re happy with how they look, then fill in gaps between the root balls with more compost, firming gently with your fingers to ensure there’s no subsidence later on. Once you’re totally happy, water the box well using a watering can with the rose in place, so imitating rainfall.
A stunning window box along these lines can be created in well under half an hour. Make sure it is secured properly on the window sill – and remember that you’ll need to be able to open the window (or access the box from outside) in order to keep it adequately watered during drier weather. As well as regular watering (often all the more necessary due to the ‘rain shadow’ effect from the roof or eaves), the window box will benefit from occasional feeding with high-potash feed and of course will need to be regularly dead-headed!
Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com and you’ll find some great gardening items: Nemaslug, green controls for leatherjackets, chafer grubs, ants and greenfly, plus garden plant supports, raised bed kits, Easy-Tunnels, gardening tools, Grower Frames, signed books and more! Or why not book Pippa for a gardening talk?
Daddy-longlegs or crane-flies are starting to hatch out now – you may have seen their dangly-legged dancing as they get into your house, clattering against the windows and the lights? Maybe they are not your favourite creatures – indeed, many shy away from them! But these are the adults and it is their young – known as leatherjackets – that really cause grief in gardens. If your lawn has yellowing patches on it or you’ve noticed it being ripped up in the last few weeks, chances are leatherjackets are to blame, and it is likely that the problem will get a lot worse.
So what happens? Well, leatherjackets feed on the roots of grass (and can also cause problems in flowerbeds and vegetable plots) and this may cause the plants they attack to be weakened and even die back; worst of all, these juicy larvae are an extremely tasty snack if you happen to be an animal such as a crow, rook, magpie, badger or a fox. So as soon as there are leatherjackets in your garden, these animals come along in search of them, ripping up your lawn or excavating beds and borders in the process. Lawns are usually worst affected and can be devastated in a matter of days.
What is the best way to check if you have them? Early in the evening, water a couple of the yellowed patches really thoroughly and do the same with a patch that has been ripped up. Next, cover these areas in black polythene weighed down with a couple of bricks or similar. A double layer of black bin liners will do fine or, better still, use an opened-out plastic compost bag as this is particularly thick plastic. Next morning, lift the polythene and you’ll see the pests on the soil or lawn surface.
So how do you know leatherjackets are to blame? Leatherjackets are even less good-looking than their parents: greyish-brown, tubular, legless, up to about 4.5cm long and so nearly transparent that you can often see inside them, lunch and all.
You can remove a good number by repeating this black polythene trick – then, collect up the pests and put them on the bird table where they’ll be a useful source of free and nutritious bird food.
If you want a much quicker, easier and more thorough solution then I suggest you use the biological control nematode ‘Nemasys Leatherjacket Killer’. It is quick and easy to apply – I just use a watering can and water it onto the affected area shortly after I’ve seen the first daddy-longlegs and when soil conditions are right, so usually late August to late October. As long as you keep the area moist for about three or four weeks, it works a treat – and is even safe if you have a dog, pet rabbit or other pets (or kids!) who use the lawn.
So how can you get hold of this? There are two pack sizes available, suitable for standard lawns or those with a very large area to cover but you won’t find them in garden centres as they have a short shelf life. You can, however, find out more and order them from www.pippagreenwood.com/products in the Protect Your Plants section. We’ll send them out by first class post in an insulated envelope for you to show those pesky leatherjackets who’s the boss!
Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com and you’ll find some great gardening items: Nemaslug, green controls for leatherjackets, chafer grubs, ants and greenfly, plus garden plant supports, raised bed kits, Easy-Tunnels, gardening tools, Grower Frames, signed books and more! You can even book Pippa for a gardening talk at your local gardening club.
A garden without perfume is, well, like apple pie without the cream! However good your flower beds and borders may look, however well-clad with climbers your walls and fences are, if there are no wonderful scents and perfumes your garden will be missing a vital ingredient. That’s not to say you have to sacrifice the colour and texture when you use perfumed plants. Far from it – many heavily-scented flowers are also really good-looking. So what is perfume all about and how do you make the most of it?
Perfume plays a role in plant evolution and their success; in many cases it is there to attract attention to the flower and to entice a suitable pollinator. Once lured over by the perfume, the insect can enjoy the nectar the flower offers and pollinate it in the process, so increasing the chances of it producing a new generation.
There are a good number of plants which produce an alluring perfume during the evening or night-time. At this time of day there are not likely to be bees or butterflies about but there will be moths, especially during the summer months. Moths can be useful pollinators and although a plant like the sweetly-perfumed night-scented stock may not have flamboyant flowers, it will be successfully pollinated.
For most of us, the stronger the perfume the better. But weather conditions can alter the level of perfume that reaches your nose. In a wind-swept spot the perfume can literally be blown away, and if temperatures are unusually low this too can cause scent levels to drop. So bear this in mind when choosing where to put your perfumed plants.
Smaller or more subtly-scented plants grown for their perfume can pass unnoticed if sited too far away from where you can enjoy them. The classic examples are some of the polyanthus or the miniature iris, whose perfume will easily pass you by if they are grown in a far-flung border. Plant smaller perfumed plants in raised areas or perhaps in pots so that you can enjoy all they have to offer!
If you’ve space for a small pergola, it has the potential to make a great home for some perfumed climbers, and what could be lovelier than to wander from one part of the garden to another via a tunnel of perfume? There are many perfumed roses which make great pergola plants and have flexible stems, such as the repeat flowering climbers ‘Ena Harkness’ (red) or ‘New Dawn’ (pale, dusky pink) or ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ (brightest pink).
Make sure that the air coming into your house via windows left ajar is delicately fragrant. Pop smaller perfumed plants such as ‘Nemesia Fragrant Cloud’ or lavenders into window boxes or wall baskets, and enjoy their wonderful perfume as it wafts into bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting rooms.
If you enjoy sitting out on your patio or in your back yard after sundown then, as well as having daytime perfume, be sure to include some flowers that will be at their best in the evening. For a warm summer’s evening the small creamy-white flowers of night-scented stock take some beating, or if you want something a little showier then try the night-perfumed nicotianas or tobacco plants such as Nicotiana sylvestris.
Make sure that patio pots and other containers have their fair share of perfumed plants – vibrant colours can be provided by most bedding plants, but try to include a few scented stunners as well. How about some hyacinths or one of my favourites, the Heliotrope or cherry pie, with its flowers in white or shades of purple and whose densely packed flower heads will produce perfume throughout the summer?
Wall shrubs are a perfect way to disguise a less-than-attractive house or garage wall. For a sunny spot the blue-flowered Ceaonothus produces a distinctly honey-perfumed scent, or go more exotic and plant up a wall on a well-drained soil with the pineapple broom Cytissus batanderei – with its lovely silvery-coloured foliage and bright yellow flowers it looks sensational, but once you sniff those pineapple-scented blooms you’ll be hooked.
Create an arbour from a readily-available kit or from scratch if you’re handy with a saw, then clothe it in perfumed climbers such as sweetly-scented roses or, if the arbour is in a shadier spot, why not use the spicily-scented honeysuckle? You’ll be in heaven sitting on the arbour’s seat in the shade of the plants with their flowers’ scents all around!
Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com and you’ll find some great gardening items: Nemaslug, green controls for leatherjackets, chafer grubs, ants and greenfly, plus garden plant supports, raised bed kits, Easy-Tunnels, gardening tools, Grower Frames, signed books and more! Or why not book Pippa for a gardening talk?
Colourful containers are a welcome sight in any garden, and pots, planters and troughs can transform a dull back yard or a gloomy terrace or patio. But rather than just using containers from the garden centre, why not make some wackier, more unusual planters? With a little bit of imagination and ingenuity, it is amazing what you can achieve.
Plastic flower pots, especially the larger ones, make a useful and practical home for all sorts of flowers, but they’re not exactly pretty. Use them, by all means, but transform that boring plastic by wrapping it in hessian. Available in a range of colours from classic pale brown to reds, greens and blues, it’s weather tolerant and tough but looks great.
Plastic pots can also be made more exciting with a bit of planting around the sides. Before you fill the pot with compost, cut holes just over an inch in diameter at regular intervals around the sides of the pot. There you have it: you’ve created a planter with great side-planting holes, perfect for small bedding plants, allowing you make a tower of flower power. Just fill with compost to the base of the lowermost holes, add plants through the holes, add more compost to the next layer of holes and continue upwards, finishing off with plenty of colour on the top.
Acrylic paints are a great way to colour a boring or discoloured container, and they’re quick drying too. Go for a single colour to match in with existing garden features, or even the colour of your front door or window frames. Alternatively, create a pattern of wild, fantastic colours and make your own planted-up art gallery.
Get creative with some mosaic tiles from your local craft or hobby store. Covering a container may take a while, but it’ll be a lot of fun and if time is short you could always just make a mosaic rim. Use rich colours to make a Moroccan style pot. When winter comes, its best to bring a mosaic pot into a frost-free spot to ensure it weathers the worst of the weather in style, or if you can get hold of the grouting adhesive used for swimming pools that should make it more weather resistant.
The bigger the tyre, the bigger the planter – from wheelbarrow to tractor, there’s lots of potential. Make a deeper planter by stacking two or more tyres on top of each other, fill with compost and get planting. For a really striking effect, plant trailing flowers such as trailing geraniums around the edges so that they cascade over the sides.
Try planting up an aged wheelbarrow: it’s great for a larger display or even for permanent planting, and as long as the wheel still goes around you can even move the display around to brighten up different areas of your garden! If there are no holes in the pan of the barrow, make sure you place a layer of gravel or stones in the base so that the compost does not become waterlogged.
Turn a punctured wellington boot or one that’s simply too small into a stylish planter. Fill the foot and ankle area with gravel or grit for drainage and to make the wellie more stable and less likely to fall over, add compost and plant up the top. You can also use acrylic paints to jazz up a boring pair of wellies, but make sure the paint is totally dry before you start planting.
Don’t bin your old gardening, walking or work boots as they have planting potential too, and because they tend to have heavier soles and are lower to the ground they can even make useful planters in a less-sheltered place. Plant up with bright bedding, or for a long-term display use a few house-leeks or sempervivums – their fleshy rosettes of leaves in shades of green and purple look great!
An old kitchen or bathroom sink can be put to good use, but don’t forget to pull the plug out before you add the compost or else you’ll end up with no drainage and the plants will quickly become waterlogged and die – but then again, if you leave the plug in place and add some sealant to ensure that it is firmly in place, you could always make a miniature water garden.
For a serious show-stopper, I’ve even seen a loo cistern packed full of trailing plants including blue and white lobelia and trailing silvery foliage plants. The mass of blue, white and silver made a great waterfall of colour from an otherwise boring water closet.
Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com and you’ll find some great gardening items: Nemaslug, green controls for leatherjackets, chafer grubs, ants and greenfly, plus garden plant supports, raised bed kits, Easy-Tunnels, gardening tools, Grower Frames, signed books and more. You can even book Pippa for a gardening talk!
They’re bold, they’re brash, they’re larger than life and they’re gorgeous! Yes, sunflowers are one of the most stunning and impressive flowers you could have in your garden – and one of the easiest to grow too. If you get your skates on you can sow them this month and achieve a fantastic flowery display in just a few months’ time. So which ones should you choose and how do you go about getting the best crop of flowers?
There are some fantastically fast-growing and potentially very tall varieties such as ‘Russian Giant’ and ‘Titan’. The latter is exceptionally tall, reaching a potential height of up to 360cm or 12ft and having heads of anything up to 60cm (2ft) in diameter!
If space is limited, or you simply prefer you flowers lower to the ground, there are some delightful miniature or dwarf varieties available. The F1 variety ‘Little Dorrit’ grows to about 60cm (2ft) and has rich yellow flowers with very dark centres, and looks great as a border edging. Another favourite is ‘Little Leo’ at just 45cm (18in), which makes lots of impact with golden yellow heads on multi-branching stems.
Forget the idea that sunflowers are yellow and ring the changes – nowadays there are many other colours readily available. One of the richest shades I know is ‘Black Magic’, which has maroon flowers and is multi-branching, reaching a height of about 180cm (6ft).
Grow yourself a few for cutting too, and you’ll have a vase or more full of flowers that would cost a fortune in the shops. Many varieties are suitable, including the orangey-brown ‘Velvet Queen’, ‘Black Velvet’ and the bi-coloured ‘Magic Roundabout’ (great for those who suffer from hay fever as this variety is pollen-free).
If you want some in containers, that is also possible: ‘Pacino Colada’ is a compact variety growing to just 40cm (16in) and has 10cm (4in) wide golden-yellow flowers, making a wonderful plant for a colourful container on a sunny patio, sheltered balcony or in the flower beds.
I’ve still got a fascination with tall sunflowers, and I’ve never met a child who doesn’t enjoy a sunflower competition. The really sturdy and tall varieties like ‘Russian Giant’ and ‘Giant Single’ are perfect for smaller gardeners, and as they reach heights of about 180cm (6ft) will soon dwarf them!
Sunflowers make a cheap and cheerful addition to a garden boundary, adding splashes of colour to even the most dreary fence line or helping to mask the ugly appearance of a garage or decrepit garden shed. They’re a lot faster growing than Leylandii but these colourful beauties won’t get out of hand.
The seeds of sunflowers can be sown right now – in fact you should get a good crop of blooms if you sow them anytime between March and May, depending on the weather and where you live. You can sow them straight into the soil or into pots of compost. I like to use RootTrainers as these encourage really well-developed and deep roots to develop, and make it easy to plant out the sunflowers with minimum root disturbance; see www.pippagreenwood.com/products/grow-great-crops for more information.
As their name suggests, sunflowers love, indeed need, plenty of sunshine to thrive and put on their best possible show of blooms. The great thing is that although many are pretty tall, each plant does not actually take up much space at ground level.
Slugs and snails love sunflowers and can literally eat them to the ground, especially if the weather is damp. I always grow sunflowers in small individual pots and then plant them out when they’re a few inches tall. It may sound like I’m pampering them, but it means they’re bigger and tougher and better able to resist attack. As an added precaution, put a ring of slug-deterring material around the base of each one – crushed shells, crushed eggshells, coco-shell or pine needles for instance.
If you’re growing sunflowers on anything other than a protected site, it may be necessary to give the taller varieties a bit of extra support in the form of a sturdy bamboo cane or slim stake, just in case the wind blows too strongly!
Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com and you’ll find some great gardening things: ‘Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood’ (where you receive your chosen garden-ready vegetable plants in May accompanied by weekly advice and tips from Pippa) plus RootTrainers, Nemaslug, bio-controls, gardening tools, raised bed kits, Grower Frames, signed books and more!
Overhaul your lawn
It has rained so much in recent months and the ground has become so wet that there have been times when I’ve thought that my garden might be about to turn into a paddy-field! The flower and vegetable beds are starting to pick up remarkably well, but it is the lawn that seems to have taken the most obvious battering. Over-wet conditions can cause roots to die off and will reduce the oxygen in the soil. Worse still, any areas of the lawn that you’ve had to walk on, albeit infrequently, or over which you’ve had to move a wheelbarrow or other fairly weighty bit of equipment, will have become compacted or squashed. It may not be obvious but the air spaces that should be plentiful in the soil will have been dramatically reduced, and the heavier your soil is, the worse the problem is likely to be. So if you want your grass to be as green as it should be and ready for the summer use it’s likely to get, it’s time to get to work now.
Check over your lawn mower and see to anything that needs sorting. If it’s too much to take on yourself, take it to a reputable outlet for a service as soon as possible – you’ll need it even more in a few weeks’ time! Once it is working well again, you’ll be surprised at how much quicker and easier each mowing session becomes.
In most areas of the country grass will have started to grow quite a bit faster recently and so may need cutting. Make sure that you don’t set the blades too low for the first few cuts, as this will weaken the growth and make it more likely that weeds will start to invade.
You can relieve some of the soil compaction to allow air down to the roots, making for better growth and healthier grass. Do this after you’ve mown the lawn. If only small areas are compacted, use a garden fork and drive it into the lawn every 4-6 inches or so, trying to get the tines of the fork to a depth of 4-6 inches as well. Once the tines are in the soil, gently ease the handle of the fork back and forth to enlarge each hole. You now have some drainage holes.
If you mix up some sieved garden soil or loam with horticultural sand (about one part soil/loam to nine parts sand) you can brush this mixture across the lawn and into the holes you’ve made. The result is a drainage system over those compacted areas.
If the soil in the garden is quite heavy or contains a lot of clay, the chances are that these last few months will have done a lot of damage and the whole lawn will benefit from aerating. For an enduring and even more useful effect, buy, borrow or hire a ‘hollow-time aerator’, either as a hand operated one, a machine or a mower attachment. This will actually cut cylinders of soil out of your lawn, and when filled with the ‘top-dressing’ mix above will result in much longer-lasting drainage channels.
Moss might look good and green right now, but it tends to look miserable later in the year as it dries out and becomes brown. So apply some moss killer and then rake it all out after the time specified on the pack. It will make your lawn look worse initially, but allows more air to the roots of the grass plants and gives them more space to grow and spread too.
Lawns that have suffered from serious waterlogging will really benefit from a suitable feeding regime. Poor growth and over-wet conditions will have put these plants under a lot of stress. Whether you choose a granular or liquid feed, make sure that it is a spring lawn food, as this will be formulated specially to give the balance of nutrients lawns need now. If you do use a granular feed, ensure that you water it in unless it rains shortly after you’ve applied it.
Walking on a very wet lawn soon wears it out and kills off grasses. Get these bare or bald areas sorted now and by the time the summer comes it won’t look like a patchwork. Roughen up the bare or thin areas using a rake and then sprinkle a suitable seed mix on to match in with the existing grasses. If you’ve not got many patches to sow, you can buy small patch repair packs to keep the cost down.
Once all the work is done, and it may well take several hours in total (depending on the size of the lawn and exactly how damaged and waterlogged it was), try your best to keep off it for a few weeks to allow it to bask in all that pampering and take advantage of all the TLC and grow away really well.
Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com and you’ll find some great gardening things: ‘Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood’ (where you receive your chosen garden-ready vegetable plants in May accompanied by weekly advice and tips from Pippa) plus Nemaslug, bio-controls, gardening tools, raised bed kits, Grower Frames, signed books and more!
Get Your Soil into Shape
Plants and gardens need a lot of different things if they are to look their best, but one of the most fundamental needs of all is soil. And the better the soil, the better the plants will perform, and the bigger the flowers and the heavier the crops. So getting your soil into good condition and keeping it well looked after is key to great gardening. At this time of year there is still time to shape up your soil before the gardening season really begins in earnest.
Frosty weather can be really useful. It may wreak havoc with some of your plants, but if you garden on a heavy clay soil it can save you a lot of work. If you roughly dig or fork over an empty bed or part of your vegetable plot, the large lumps of clay soil will be acted on by the frosts and will break down somewhat, making them more manageable in the process.
Most soils can become badly compacted if you walk or stand on them when they are very wet – you literally squash the air spaces out, especially if the soil is clay or even slightly heavy loam. Try to avoid walking on the soil during or just after heavy rain, but if you really can’t avoid doing so use a few boards or planks as walkways to spread the load and so reduce damage to any one area.
Forking a soil, as opposed to digging it with a spade, is generally best on a heavy soil as it is less likely to cause compaction. But whether you fork or dig, the soil surface usually ends up pretty lumpy. So grab a fork and re-fork the soil again, whacking the larger lumps to break them up further. A final raking will help to produce even smaller lumps on the surface and so get closer to that ‘fine tilth’ often described in gardening books.
Adding bulky organic matter such as leaf mould, well-rotted manure or garden compost will help to feed the soil in a natural way, and also to improve its texture so that it holds just the right amount of moisture for as long as possible. There is still time to fork this in now, to improve the soil in time for this year’s new plantings and vegetables. You can create a great, free source of organic matter for your soil yourself and you’ll save a lot of time and money as well as being very ‘green’! Make a compost heap or bin, and don’t let the autumn leaves go to waste – instead turn them into leaf mould, a wonderful soil conditioner to improve the soil’s texture.
Incorporating some horticultural grade grit or gravel will also help to improve the texture and performance of a heavy clay soil. It is important that you avoid builders’ gravel or grit, as this often contains salts or other materials which can seriously damage, or even kill, garden plants.
If your soil contains excessive quantities of small stones, or perhaps larger lumps of flint, you really should try to get to grips with it before you start to create the garden. Doing this before planting is SO much easier than attempting it once the flowers or vegetables are in place! Some stones are good, but even a lightly stony soil can make growing decent crops of root vegetables, such as carrots or parsnips, virtually impossible – they may taste delicious but they’ll often be forked or otherwise deformed. If clearing the soil sufficiently really is not practicable, then you’re probably best off investing in some raised beds so that you can fill them full of a stone-free soil.
Manure can seriously transform a soil, adding both texture and food for the plants to grow healthily. Make sure that you bring in good quality manure, with as few additives as possible – not too many wood shavings for instance, as these can form a high percentage of stable manure and make it far less useful. If possible, view the manure in situ; the last thing you want to do is bring in manure which is riddled with weeds, especially the really troublesome ones like nettles, docks and couch grass. In recent years there have been problems with manure contaminated by the weedkiller used to control weeds in pastureland, which can devastate plants, often killing them. Try to source manure from someone local who you know, and can trust to tell you what chemicals have been used. Manure needs to be well-rotted before being used in the garden – ideally it should have sat in a heap for about two years.
Green manures are a great way to feed your soil and improve its condition at the same time. They will also help to suppress weeds and protect the soil from erosion in a windswept spot. They work especially well on parts of the garden where you do not have plants growing year round – as when you use a green manure, you sow seed, allow the plants to grow and then incorporate them into the soil, where they rot down and release all sorts of useful materials. Check out what is available by looking in the seed catalogues and get sowing later this year – there are lots to choose from, including red clover, mustard, field beans, phaecelia and field lupins.
Yes, there’s potentially a fair bit of work involved, but you don’t have to do everything suggested and anything you do will make a huge difference!
Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com and you’ll find some great gardening things: ‘Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood’ (where you receive your chosen garden-ready vegetable plants in the spring accompanied by weekly advice and tips from Pippa) plus Nemaslug, bio-controls, gardening tools, raised bed kits, Grower Frames, signed books and more!
Time to Get Pruning
At this time of year the weather is often perfect for pruning and cutting back woody plants, and there’s a good chance that there are many pruning jobs that have built up over the last year and could benefit from your attention now – so take advantage of the fact that deciduous trees, shrubs, hedges and climbers are now devoid of leaves and get stuck in.
Here’s how to make sure your pruning will really benefit your plants:
- If you have a relatively small expanse of hedge or are looking to roughly reshape a shrub, a good, sharp pair of shears should do the job. Make sure they are well-oiled so that the blades move smoothly and then angle the blades to make a level trimmed surface. When you are cutting along the top of a hedge you may want to use a guide line so that you make a neat and level surface – a taut string will do. For large hedges consider using a powered hedge cutter or hedge trimmer, but make sure you are happy with the weight of the machine and can use it safely!
- When the pruning of shrubs and trees includes the removal of stems at various heights and of varying thicknesses, it is worth using some ‘loppers’. These are available in various handle lengths, while some even have telescopic handles so that you can reach up higher without having to use a ladder or platform. They are much better at cutting through relatively thick stems than shears or secateurs and yet also allow for accurate positioning of the cut. If you are having to cut back branches above your head it is worth wearing some protective headgear, as well as goggles to protect your eyes from falling debris.
- Everybody with even just a single shrub in their garden needs a pair of secateurs and the better the quality, the better the job you can do. Secateurs can be used for the most precise pruning of smaller woody stems. Provided they are good and sharp, you can make a perfectly clean and accurate cut. Always cut to an outward-facing bud (so that the new growth produced from that bud grows outwards). Secateurs are good for removing dead and dying stems as well as for formative pruning (where you are helping to ensure the plant grows in the direction you want it to), and for pruning to encourage flowering. If you are pruning out dead and dying material, bin it or burn it in case it carries infection.
- When it comes to pruning out or tidying up larger branches on trees and shrubs then a proper pruning saw is what you need. If you choose one with one or (better still) two lines of teeth you can produce a very accurate and clean cut with relatively little effort. If you have fruit trees to prune then this is the perfect tool for the job. Use a sawing action for best results and again, if cutting above your head, wear protective headgear and goggles to protect your eyes. Make the pruning cut a few millimetres from the main stem to which the branch you are removing is joined. A cut like this will heal over much more quickly and the wound will be smaller and less prone to fungal rotting.
- Before you get carried away, check the best pruning time for the plants you have in mind. Most hedges and many shrubs can be cut back now, but if you are after a good display of flowers make sure that you prune at the correct time or else you may end up pruning out the plant’s potential.
- Some trees – mainly those in the Prunus family such as cherries, plums, apricots, damsons, peaches and nectarines – are very prone to a potentially fatal fungal infection known as ‘silver leaf’. This is less likely to cause problems if these trees are pruned in the summer months, so don’t prune them now unless there is no alternative and you are sure you are prepared to take the risk.
- Always make sure that pruning tools are really sharp. If they are in the slightest bit blunt then the job will not only take a lot more effort from you, but may also end up with the plant being damaged, as the cut made will be jagged or stems may be crushed.
- Create sloping cuts whenever you can so that rain and moisture runs off and does not accumulate (wetness encourages wood rotting), and cut close to but not on top of a bud as this will allow new growth without dieback. When you are using shears or large-scale trimmers you cannot do this, so always use secateurs, loppers or a saw.
- Stand back from time to time when you are pruning and see what the overall appearance of the plant is like, and just where you are best off removing the next bit – if you are close up it is harder to see how your pruning is affecting the overall shape of the plant.
Happy New Year! Now that 2018 is here, what are you going to resolve to do (or not do!) in the year ahead? I could write a book about what I need to do in the garden, but like those non-garden resolutions, I’ve long since realised that it is best to stick to things you’ve got at least some chance of achieving! So I’ll probably not say I’ll re-turf the lawn or create the much wished for wildlife-friendly pond…I’ve been planning both of these for years with no sign of progress!
I’m sure that there is virtually no need to buy another plastic plant pot…and I’m sure that landfill sites would breathe a sigh of relief if we could all stick to this resolution: save all the pots you get when you buy new plants, and any plug-style trays that house bedding plants. Rinse them out and let them dry off, and next time you need a pot there will already be one there, free of charge as well as saving you a trip to the local garden centre. Pots stored away from sunlight will last much longer as they will be protected from the harmful rays of the sun which make many types of plastic disintegrate.
Cover it up!
Make a resolution to dry off and cover up garden furniture once the summer is over. Left out there throughout the worst of the weather, pretty well all furniture will take a serious battering – from rain, cold, ice and, in some cases, even fungi! Shop around for furniture covers that won’t break the bank or, better still, store the furniture in a shed or garage if you have one. Stored properly, it will last much longer and you’ll save yourself a fortune.
Grow your own
This needn’t mean total self-sufficiency for twelve months of the year, but aim to grow more of your own fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. It might mean buying yourself a couple of tomato plants for the first time, or creating a small herb planter, or it could be larger scale and more complex plans if you’re already big on grow-your-own…but increase what you do! Don’t forget that if you’d like UK-grown vegetable plants accompanied by my weekly advice and tips emails, you will find a great choice of some of my favourite varieties at www.pippagreenwood.com/grow-your-own.
It is easy to put things that should be composted in the waste bin, but once you get in the swing of it composting will soon become second nature. Make it easier to compost kitchen waste by putting a container in the kitchen for vegetable peelings, apple cores and so forth. Empty it regularly and there won’t be problems with smells. The amount of extra compost you’ll generate will be well worthwhile. Many local councils offer a really good deal on basic plastic composters.
Use that space!
If you have a cold frame, porch, conservatory or greenhouse, put it to use! Far too many of these potentially great gardening structures are left abandoned for much of the year, perhaps just being graced with a handful of tomatoes for the summer months. Any sort of protected growing area has the ability to increase what you can grow and when you can grow it. So raise your own summer flowers in it, force some bulbs in it in the winter or make off-season sowings of salad crops…make it work, but whatever you do, don’t use it as the family rubbish dump!
Make use of any organic matter that is bulky – mulch with it. Whether it is well-rotted manure, garden compost, leaf mould, or the used compost from a seasonal bedding display or growing bag, make it into mulch! Applied a couple of inches or more deep over the soil surface, a mulch like this will improve the soil’s ability to conserve moisture (saving you both watering time and water) and may also help to keep weeds at bay. A win-win situation.
Pause before you buy
When you’re looking through the seed, plant and bulb catalogues, browsing online or wandering around a garden centre, pause before you buy. I know I’m not alone in having eyes that are much bigger than my plot! It is very easy to order more seeds than you’ll ever be able to sow and plants that you’ll never be able to squeeze into your garden.
Make sure you recycle your Christmas tree. Real trees can be recycled at locations up and down the country – many garden centres and councils offer the service. The trees will be shredded and added to other green materials to make a great soil conditioner and planting mix.
I asked some of my well-known gardening friends on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time for their New Years’ Resolutions:
Eric Robson, our Chairman on the show: ‘I’ve joked about it lots in the past but I’m definitely – and I mean definitely – going to found the Ground Elder Appreciation Society. Great ground cover plant, wonderful as an alternative to spinach and the variegated version should have an Award of Garden Merit. ’
Bunny Guinness, garden designer and Chelsea gold medallist: ‘To reap all I sow. My pigs have had rather too good a diet this year – copious quince, grapes, apples and even peaches! It is quite difficult to find time to eat or store it all, but at least they were extremely appreciative reciprocates!’
Anne Swithinbank, panellist: ‘My resolution is to tackle some serious decluttering. In the gardening department, this means sorting a horrid muddle of fleece, netting, twine, hand tools, gloves, propagator lids and flower pots filling my sheds. I’m sure I can throw half of it away, then give everything its special place. It’s silly to waste precious time looking for these things, when it would be better spent sowing, weeding and planting.’
Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com and you’ll find some great gardening things: ‘Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood’ (where you receive your chosen garden-ready vegetable plants in the spring accompanied by weekly advice and tips from Pippa) plus gardening tools, raised bed kits, Grower Frames, signed books and more!