Tag Archive: fertiliser


New border? February is a good time to cut out new areas ,like this one at Old school Garden, created last year

New border? February is a good time to cut out new areas, like this one at Old School Garden, created in 2012

Winter? What winter? I know that plenty of places have suffered from storms, floods and snow, but in Norfolk, apart from a few windy spells, the last few months have been pretty tame – as last year!  It might not be safe to assume that the worst of the winter is behind us, but Spring is just round the corner so here are my 10 top tips for action in the February garden.

1. Where the wild things are…

It’s the last chance to put up bird nesting boxes this month – tits will soon be looking for a new home. Keep putting bird food out to encourage these ‘gardener’s friends’ into your plot. Click here for bird boxes and feeders to buy.

Bird boxes in all shapes and sizes…

2. Breathe deep…..

To help avoid fungal diseases make sure you let some fresh air into your greenhouse or conservatory on mild days.

3. The green green grass of home….

Look at your lawn and if the weather is dry and frost free look for areas that are a bit soggy or damp – use a border fork to pierce it around every 15cms or so to allow ventilation and improve drainage. If you’ve a moss problem, start using ferrous sulphate to kill it off.

4. Fruit shoots…

If you haven’t already done so plant new bare-root raspberry canes (cut the stems down to about 25cms after planting) and also cut down autumn-fruiting varieties to ground level.

February is a good time to dig over your borders- but maybe not quite as deeply as this...

February is a good time to dig over your borders- but maybe not quite as deeply as this…

5. Get Cultivating…..

Keep digging over beds and borders and incorporate organic matter (compost, manure etc.) as you go to help improve its fertility. Forking over the ground will help to open it up so that air can get in and expose pests for hungry birds.

6. On the border…

The recent storms or cold may have battered your borders, or perhaps you’re thinking of adapting them to wetter weather? Now’s the time to review – do you need to reposition or replace some shrubs to improve the structure of the garden in winter or do some shrubs need to be replaced with more hardy/wet – tolerant varieties? Think about the way your borders look at different times of the year – is there ‘all season’ interest? Maybe you fancy creating a new border? – if so plan and mark the edges with pegs and lines (straight edges) or a trickle of sand/hose pipe for more organic shapes.

Pruning shrubs grown for their winter stem colour such as Dogwoods

Pruning shrubs grown for their winter stem colour such as Dogwoods

7. Cutting crew…

An important month for pruning and tidying:

  • Late summer and autumn flowering clematis should be cut down to about 30cms above a bud.

  • Improve the shape of evergreen shrubs and hedges where necessary

  • (If you haven’t already) cut all shoots coming from the permanent branches of Wisteria to 2-3 buds of the previous season’s growth (encourages the development of more flowering spurs).

  • Deciduous shrubs grown for their coloured leaves or winter stems– prune down to a couple of buds on each stem (or if you want a larger bush leave a few stems a bit longer).

  • Roses– cut out all dead, diseased, dying or crossing stems. Hybrid tea roses should be cut back to about 20cms to an outward facing bud and Floribundas (flowers in clusters) down to 25- 30cms. Shrub roses don’t need much trimming, perhaps remove 1 in 3 older stems at ground level to encourage new growth.

  • Tidy up the leaves of Hellebores which will be/are coming into flower –remove the old leaves (improves the flower display and reduces the chance of disease)

  • If you have Pansies or Primroses keep deadheading the spent flowers.

8. Gimme gimme…

Feed all your pruned plants with a suitable fertiliser and mulch with manure or compost. Remove the top layer of soil in containers and replace with fresh compost containing a slow release fertiliser once the weather is milder. Likewise remove or incorporate any remaining mulch around fruit trees and shrubs and feed them with an organic fertiliser (e.g. fish, blood and bone) around their roots. Then replace with a fresh mulch of organic material to help feed them slowly and keep the weeds down.

repair/install netting around fruit bushes

Repair/install netting around fruit bushes

9. Protect and survive…

Use garden fleece or cloches around some strawberry plants to encourage an early crop. Repair or replace netting over fruit bushes such as blackcurrants and gooseberries to protect them from birds (some of which like to eat fresh fruit buds). Have a look for ‘frost heave’– where cold conditions have pushed the base of a plant above ground- carefully replace the plant and firm around the base. If you have Hostas it might be worth applying a liquid slug killer to them (repeated at 2 fortnightly intervals) to give them a good chance of avoiding damage later.

10. Get growing…

Sowing seeds in trays or modules can really get underway this month

Sowing seeds in trays or modules can really get underway this month

Early vegetable and salad crops can be sown in seed trays or modules and placed in a greenhouse or inside on a windowsill in bright and airy conditions (but not in direct sunshine)- keep turning the trays to ensure even, upright growth and prick the seddlings out once the first true leaves have formed. Broad beans, early carrots and parsnips can be sown outside under cloches.

Old School Gardener

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raspberriesSummer fruiting raspberries are just about coming to the end here at Old School Garden, but Lee Mason of Whetstone has had a disappointing harvest:

‘I planted some ‘Malling Promise’ raspberry canes back in February. They’ve grown pretty well, but the harvest has been disappointing and the new growth looks to be weak. Would a fertiliser feed help?’

Malling Promise canes (and any other summer fruiting raspberries for that matter), planted in February would have benefitted from cutting down in their first season to 100 mm (4 inches) high canes back in March to encourage strong new root development, as well as new canes for fruiting in the following season. In short, Lee, you’ve ‘got a bit ahead of yourself’!  I suggest that you cut down all growth next March. You will lose a season’s cropping, but the sacrifice will be worth it in the long run. Giving the canes a good mulch of organic matter or a general fertiliser like fish, blood and bone should also help, if applied next spring.

Raspberry flavour

Have you been disappointed with the flavour of your raspberries? Sulphate of potash is a good fertiliser to use  to enhance raspberry flavour, but only if the raspberry variety you grow has some natural flavour of it’s own. Varieties like Malling Admiral have little natural flavour, whereas Malling Jewel or Malling Promise are better.

Shrivelled fruit

Are your raspberries shrivelled up? This might be because you’ve been a little too enthusiastic in digging around the canes! Avoid digging over the ground near the roots, as raspberries are surface rooters and don’t like any cultivation anywhere near the canes. This breaks the roots- which can spread out quite a way- and as a result the plants will be unable to cope with the extra stress at fruiting time. If you restrict your cultivation to the use of a Dutch hoe and follow this up with a good deep mulch of organic matter in the spring this will do wonders for the quality of your fruit.

Cut down the canes of autumn fruiting raspberries in early March
Cut down the canes of autumn fruiting raspberries in early March

Pruning Autumn (and Summer) raspberries

The first autumn raspberries are starting to appear here at Old School Garden (earlier than normal probably due to the mild winter and spring). It looks like we’ll have a good harvest. With these, the fruit comes on canes produced in the current season, so after fruiting (which can last into October) the old canes need to be cut back, but when is the best time to do this? Well not immediately after harvesting, apart from damaged or broken canes. It’s best to leave the rest until the following spring (early March), when all the remaining canes can be cut down almost to ground level. This ensures that some protection for the newly emerging canes is provided over winter. In July weak growth can be removed so that only the strongest canes are left for fruiting.

With summer fruiting varieties it’s best to cut down the canes that have fruited immediately after harvesting has finished and to select the strongest new canes and tie these into wire supports to protect them over winter. In spring the tops can be cut back by about 6 inches or alternatively these can be looped over and tied into the top wires.

Old School Gardener

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DIY Liquid Comfrey Maker

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Click on the title for the full article – via Permaculture Magazine

Old School Gardener

Keep the bird bath topped up in hot weather

Keep the bird bath topped up in hot weather

Well, yesterday was St. Swithin’s day and folk lore decrees that the weather on that day sets the pattern for the next 40, so we can ‘look forward’ to days in the mid to upper 20’s Celsius (and warm nights too):

‘St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.’

dost = does
thou = you
nae mair = no more.

And the forecasters seem to be saying this hot weather is likely to continue for the next couple  of weeks at least. So how can we care for the fragile eco systems that are our gardens? It’s all about moisture- using it wisely, keeping it in place in the plants and making sure wildlife has enough to survive. Here are 7 tips that might help:

1. Apply a mulch around plants that are most sensitive to water loss – grass clippings are ideal as they are light reflective (though you might well not have many that are usable in a heat wave- see tip 5 below). Straw is another option.

grass_mulching_tomatoes tiny farm blog

Grass mulching tomatoes from  tiny farm blog

2. Water your garden early morning or late evening (ideally from your own saved rainfall or ‘grey water’ forom the house) – morning is best as the plants need most of their water during the day time when they are growing. Leave a bucket or watering can full of water inside the greenhouse to help keep up humidity and so reduce the rate at which plants lose water through transpiration.

3. Get creative about shading your tenderest plants and crops – use shade netting, cloth, or fleece and maybe even think about using picnic awnings, table parasols and even tent poles with bedsheets!

movable awning

Movable awnings can bea useful shade for tender plants

4. If you need to plant out seedlings try to plant them alongside taller neighbours to help provide some protection, or even better hold off transplanting until the weather is more suitable – you can better care for seedlings in a container if you remember to water and shade them (and pot them into bigger pots if need be).

5. If you haven’t already stopped mowing your lawn then do so and leave at least 5 – 8cms of growth to help conserve moisture.

6. Avoid adding fertiliser to your ground as plants don’t need it in the heat as their growth rate slows.

7. Look after the wildlife – top up ponds, bird baths and drinking bowls for hedgehogs etc. and put out some food for these critters too, as it will be harder for them to find natural food like worms which bury themselves deeper into the ground.

Here’s hoping you and your garden survive the heat – how long before we Brits are hankering after a ‘traditonal’ Summer!

Old School Gardener

lawn - credit RHS

I thought I’d offer to (try to) answer any gardening queries you have as a regular blog feature on Old School Garden. In the comments on my recent review of the blog, several people mentioned the value of the gardening tips I include in some of my posts, so I thought I’d try out something a bit more focused and regular – a sort of ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ (or GQT for the initiated!).

I was prompted to do this by a book I came across the other day, whilst rummaging in my local charity shop (a great place to pick up gardening books, I find). Though about 20 years old it still seems to ‘pack a punch’ so I’m going to use it to kick off the GQT series! It’s called ‘1000 Handy Gardening Hints’ and covers a wide range of topics, so hopefully it should be useful to someone out there in blogland!

topdressThe first question, as you can see, concerns lawns and ‘top dressing’. Here’s my take on what the ‘Handy Hints’ book says, plus a few thoughts of my own:

Top dressing usually means applying a fertiliser, particularly a nitrogenous one, to the surface of soil bearing a crop, usually in concentrations of about 18 grams per square metre. In lawn management top-dressing means the application of suitable ‘bulky material’ to the surface of the lawn at the rate of 1 – 3.5 kg per square metre. The material should  ideally be a made up or ready-made compost (of 6 parts medium grade, lime free sand to 1 part granulated peat or other organic material and 3 parts topsoil). This should be well worked into the lawn by means of a drag brush or ‘lute’ to make the surface smooth.

I remember my Dad (who was the Green Warden at our local Lawn Bowls Club around 50 years ago)  spiking the grass surface before hand to provide some holes into which the top-dressing could be brushed (I also remember helping him to do this as an enthusiastic youngster!). Whilst this fed the grass it also helped to improve aeration and drainage. Top dressing can also help to even out dips in the surface. If you want to get the ‘Bowling Green ‘ effect, now is the ideal time to be applying top-dressing to your lawn!

Here’s a video that you might find helpful.

And you can find out how to make your lawn care more sustainable at Wild About Gardens

So that’s the first session of ‘GQT’ – what did you think?

I’ll try out a regular weekly session, so if you have any questions you’d liked answered then email me and I’ll do my best to feature your question and hopefully provide an answer!

My email address: nbold@btinternet.com, and put ‘GQT question’ in the subject line, please.

Old School Gardener

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