Tag Archive: tips


seed sowingWell, how’s the weather been with you? In the last week or two the sun has shone for some of the time, but it’s been cold again in Norfolk!

The weather might seem pretty settled; but it’s April, so things can be wet and windy…. If, like me, you might still be a bit behind with one or two things, my first tip won’t be a surprise!

1. Backtrack

Take a look at my last list of tips and see if any still need to be done, as the warmer weather might encourage you to get outside…

As the weather warms divide overgrown waterlillies and maybe add some to your pond

As the weather warms divide overgrown waterlillies and maybe add some new plants to your pond

2. Pond life

April is normally the month to lift and divide waterlilies, replanting divided plants in aquatic compost topped with washed gravel in a planting basket.  It’s also time to plant up some new aquatic plants in your pond, from friends and neighbours, if not the local nursery. Providing a variety of plants will provide food and shelter for many of your pond ‘critters’ in the next few months. Make sure you have enough oxygenating plants to prevent algae developing. While you’re there, and if you didn’t do it last month, check your pond pumps and filters.

Aphids on beans

Aphids on beans

3. Pest watch

Stay vigilant for aphids – green-fly, black-fly – as they will  start to multiply as the weather begins to warm up. Check all your plants regularly, especially roses, and squash any clusters of them with your fingers, or spray with a solution of crushed garlic and water to remove them organically. The first lily beetles may start to appear – pick off the bright red beetles and squash them. Keep (or start) patrolling for slugs and snails and pick these off and ‘dispose’ of them as you wish. Alternatively use a beer trap or pellets that do not contain Metaldehyde.

If you're a keen cook and you have the space, you may want to create a special herb garden like this- or if not just find a sunny spot for a few fragrant favourites!

If you’re a keen cook and you have the space, you may want to create a special herb garden like this- or if not just find a sunny spot for a few fragrant favourites!

4. Heaven scent

Why not sow a range of herbs as the weather starts to warm up? These could include sage, parsley, thyme, fennel and rosemary, which will all add scent to the garden as well as being useful for cooking. Sow the assorted herb seeds in a prepared seed bed in shallow drills at least 30cm apart. You can plant seedlings up into containers or beds – either way they like a well-prepared soil with plenty of organic matter, such as homemade compost. Herbs will tolerate most conditions, as long as they have plenty of regular sun, so be careful where you put your herb plot – mine is too shady!

5. Nature’s gift

Check for emerging self-seeded plants and transplant or pot these ‘freebies’ up before weeding and mulching your borders.

6. Stay in trim

Lavender and other silver-leaved plants will benefit from a tidy up if you haven’t already shorn them of the top few centimetres of growth (but avoid cutting into thicker, older stems unless you want to renovate over-grown specimens – I’ve did this to my rather large rosemary bush last year and its come back fighting!). Start trimming box hedges and topiaries, or wait another three to four weeks in colder areas. Prune early flowering shrubs like Forsythia, Ribes etc. once they’ve finished flowering. Deadhead daffodils as soon as the flowers fade, so they don’t waste their energy producing seeds. Apply a general feed to them like Blood, Fish and Bone.

Red Cabbage seedlings on one of my 'seedy cills'

Red Cabbage seedlings on one of my ‘seedy cills’

7. Transfer window

Prick out and pot on seedlings before they become leggy and overcrowded. See my post on ‘7 tips for successful seedlings’.

8. Under cover

Ventilate greenhouses and cold frames in good weather to prevent a build-up of pests and diseases. Start giving houseplants more water. Protect fruit blossom and young plants from late frosts with horticultural fleece.

Easter time is the traditional planting time for early potatoes in the UK, though I've already got my 'first earlies' in.

Easter time is the traditional planting time for early potatoes in the UK, though I’ve already got my ‘first earlies’ in.

9. Spud you like

Good Friday is the traditional day for potato planting (ideally in ground that is well-manured and weed free)! As Easter was early this year and the weather has been on the cold side, I’m going to put my first and second earlies in over the next week or two.

10. Sow ‘n’ grow

These can all be sown outside, if the weather and soil has warmed up:

  • hardy annuals (e.g. Calendula and Nasturtium), in shallow drills or patches

  • new lawns (and also repair bald patches and damaged edges) – if this wasn’t done last month

  • veg, like runner, broad and French beans, beetroot, carrots, cabbages, salad onions, spinach, herbs and Brussels sprouts.

Vegetables like courgette, marrows, tomato and sweetcorn can be started off indoors.

Old School Gardener

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Winter Jasmine looking good

Winter Jasmine looking good

I wish all my blog followers and casual readers a very Happy 2018!!

It’s been a year of ‘ticking over’ in Old School Garden, as a long trip to Australia to be at the birth of our grand daughter fell right in the middle of the growing season… and voluntary activity elsewhere meant my attention was not on the Ground Elder amongst other things on the home patch!

Still, various important projects are underway, most notably the restructuring and renovation of the Kitchen Garden, where I hope by the Spring to have built a new shed, and installed trellis, rose swags and other features….watch this space.

I’ve said before, you might think that January is a month when there’s not much to do in the garden; well there are some useful things you can get stuck into. So here are my top ten tips (with a ‘grow your own food’ angle and with thanks to various websites):

Chitting potatoes- probably only worth doing for first or second earlies. Place tubers with blunter ends upwards (the ones with most ‘eyes’) and place in trays in a cool but well- lit place towards the end of the month.

chitting pots

1. The answer is in the soil.

Remove all plant debris, to reduce the spread of disease and pests. If you need to, continue preparing ground and digging beds ready for next season, but only if the ground is still workable (don’t dig if the soils is wet or heavily frosted).

2. Don’t let the rot set in.

Check your stored fruit and vegetables carefully, for rot will pass easily one to another. Empty sacks of potatoes, checking them for rot and any slugs that might have been over-wintering unnoticed. Your nose is a good indicator, often you will smell rot even if it is not immediately apparent to the eye! Also check strung onions- rot usually starts from the underside of the onion.

 3. Enjoy your winter veg.

Continue harvesting Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbages, celeriac, celery, chard, endive, kale, leeks, parsnips, turnips, winter lettuce, winter spinach, turnips. As you harvest brassicas, dig up the stems and turn the ground over. Because the compost heap will be cold and slow at this time of year, you can always bury these in the bottom of a trench along with some kitchen waste to prepare for the runner beans later in the year.

Red cabbage- lovely sliced and steamed with apple and onion in a little water, wine vinegar and sugar…

Red cabbage- lovely sliced and steamed with apple and onion in a little water, wine vinegar and sugar...

 4. Get ahead of the game.

Continue to sow winter salad leaves indoors/ under glass/ cloches- make your stir fries and salads more interesting with easy-to-grow sprouting seeds. If not already done and the weather is mild, plant garlic, onion sets and sow broad beans (e.g. Aquadulce ‘Claudia’) for early crops. Order or buy seed potatoes and start chitting (sprout) seed potatoes. Herbs are easy to grow on your windowsill and provide fresh greens all year round.

5. Not mushroom?

It’s surprisingly easy to grow your own mushrooms – try growing a mushroom log in your garden or alternatively grow some indoors using mushroom kits.

Mushroom-Logs

Mushroom logs can make you a fun guy…! 

6. Rhubarb, Rhubarb.

Consider dividing well established plants, and at the first signs of growth, cover to exclude light if you want ‘forced’ rhubarb over the next couple of months (growing the variety ‘Timperley Early’ may mean you get rhubarb in February anyway).

 7. The hardest cut.

Continue pruning out dead or diseased shoots on apple and pear trees, prune newly planted cane fruit, vines and established bush fruit if not already done. Continue planting new fruit trees and bushes if the soil conditions allow. If the ground is too waterlogged or frozen, keep bare rooted plants in a frost free cool place ensuring the roots don’t dry out.

8. Clean up.

If not already done, make sure your greenhouse is thoroughly cleaned inside and out and that any seed trays and pots you plan to use are also cleaned and inspected for pests- e.g. slugs and snails.

9. Fail to plan and you plan to fail.

Plan out what you are going to grow in the coming season and order seed catalogues.

pback1_1380165c 10. Put your back into it.

If you must dig, look after your back- remember to warm up and limber up before you do anything strenuous and try to bend your knees to ensure your legs take the strain – and not your back!

Old School Gardener

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wheelbarrow jpgI’ve been guilty of these, have you?

1. Taking on too much

2. Too optimistic about the weather

3. Misunderstanding soil

4. Forgetting to fertilize

5. Not giving plants enough space

6. Accidentally inviting bad company

For more details and some sound advice see the full article by Barbara Pleasant here

Old School Gardener

The glorious Passion Flower

The glorious Passion Flower

Today’s question concern climbers that won’t flower, specifically Passion flowers and Wisteria. Jimmy Jones of Brighton asks:

‘I’ve a problem with two of my climbers. I have a Passion Flower growing over my front door which grows very vigourously, but produces no flowers or fruit. Likewise I bought a Wisteria a good few years ago and it did not grow for a long time. I fed it and recently it has begun to grow, but still has not flowered. Can you help please?’

The Passion Flower (Passiflora) needs one thing above all else- sunshine. So a south facing wall is really the only place where it will succeed in most parts of the U.K.- it must be open to the sun all day. If your location is right the other issue might be an over rich soil- this can produce a mass of foliage and stems at the expense of flowers, so if you’ve been feeding it perhaps lay off for a while and then make sure you use a feed rich in potassium (e.g.dilute tomato feed), which will encourage flowering.

As for the Wisteria, this is one of those plants that takes a fair while to come into flower. to make the wait even more agonising, it often grows very little in its first year or two. Help to induce flowering by shortening any unwanted long stems in July or August, cutting them back to about 30 cms or to 5 or 6 buds, and prune again in January, shortening all side shoots back to two or three buds, so concentrating the plant’s energy into a limited number of flowering buds. Again, an occasional feed with diluted tomato feed (or another feed rich in potassium) can also coax flowers from reluctant plants.

My own experience from transplanting a Wisteria seedling to my arbour in my Kitchen Garden, is that it’s taken a good five years for it to flower in any profusion, but I think the mild winter and warmish spring have also played a part- below are some pictures of how it looks today. I’m gradually training it over the top and sides of the arbour. You might also find  this article about using climbers in the garden useful.

Coincidentally my younger daughter (who lives in a basement apartment in the outskirts of Lisbon,Portugal), has just bought a Wisteria to go alongside a very successful Trachelospermum jasminoides she and her husband planted about 3 years ago (I’m told the fragrance just now is wonderful). I’ve suggested they train it along wires fixed to the walls of their patio garden and as it’s in a container to give it a fortnightly feed of tomato food to encourage flowering. Fingers crossed!

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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seedlingsIt’s that time of year to get some seeds sown and new growth underway- but how do you ensure your new babies stand the best chance of survival? Here are some ideas for your ‘transfer window’- turning your newly born into successful seedlings…

1. Right pricking out time

For seeds sown in trays or small modules, once the seeds have germinated and you can see growth above the soil, keep a close eye on their leaves. Once the first ‘true’ leaves have formed (these will look more like the final leaf of the plant and follow on from the ‘seed leaves’ that are simpler in shape, like those in the picture above) it’s time to prick out these little seedlings and transplant them, usually into pots or larger modules. If you leave the plants longer they risk becoming spindly and overcrowded as they fight for what little nutrients are left in the seed compost.

2. Right tool

You need some sort of thin implement to tease out the seedlings – I find a chop stick or wooden BBQ skewer is useful. Or use a dibber or pencil – but these might be a bit too thick for some smaller seedlings. Gently prise the individual plants out of the compost so that they bring their roots and possibly a little compost with them.

3. Right handling

Gently take hold of the leaves of the seedling to help it on its way – don’t hold it by the delicate stem as crushing this will deprive the plant of its main channel for water and nutrients. Place your plant into a hole big enough to take the roots comfortably, settle the plant slightly deeper than it was in the original seed tray/module.

 

watering-vegetable-seedlings
Watering in the transplants

4. Right Pot

Use clean pots and in general a smallish pot (3″ diameter) or modular tray is probably OK for this stage. A guide is that the pot should be about twice as wide as the roots of the plants you’re dealing with. If you want to avoid several potting on stages and you have the room, then go for a bigger size pot/modular tray. Make sure that you clearly label the plants and possibly keep a note of when you transplanted them.

5. Right compost mix

The compost mix you use for potting up needs to have the nutrients the plant is looking for and the right consistency to allow drainage and air around the developing  roots. You can opt for a particular mix for the plants you’re growing but for most I find a general purpose peat free compost (e.g. ‘New Horizon’) is nice and ‘open’. But it can be improved by sieving (to remove bigger bits of organic material), and adding some horticultural grit or ‘perlite’ in the ratio of 1 part grit to 3 parts compost. Or you can make up your own mix.  If you keep your transplants in the same pot for a few weeks you might need to apply some liquid fertiliser to make up for the nutrients that are gradually depleted from the compost.

tall plastic greenhouse
A portable greenhouse like this one can be used to grow on seedlings

6. Right environment

Different plants will have different environmental requirements, but in general they need to be thoroughly watered in to their new pots/modules and moved into a light, cooler place than they were in for germination – but avoiding drafts and direct sunlight. For the first few days, the plants might benefit from covering with plastic to lessen the ‘transplant shock’ they experience. Make sure you keep the plants watered so that the compost is just moist – avoid over watering as this can lead to diseases.  Gently brushing the tops of your transplants with your hand or a wooden stick will help control their height and increase stockiness. Ideal transplants are as wide as they are high. Gradually acclimatise the plants to outside conditions – a cold frame or greenhouse after being in the house, for example. Then give them a couple of hours in the outside each day (as long as it’s not too cold or windy) before they are fully ‘hardened off’.

7. Right potting – on time

Keep an eye on your new fledglings and occasionally look underneath the pots – when you see roots  emerging from the bottom it’s probably time to ‘pot them on’ into larger pots. This is broadly the same procedure as for ‘potting up’ and may mean that some plants are transplanted two or three times before they are finally placed in the garden. ‘Keep them moving’ and don’t allow them to become pot bound.

Further information:

Capel Manor College video on pricking out

Garden of Eaden video etc.

Old School Gardener

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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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moth on leafA new report charting the numbers of moths in Britain over forty years makes grim reading. Climate change and habitat loss are driving some to extinction – especially in southern Britain.

Moths are perhaps not as popular as butterflies. But they are an important ‘indicator’ of how our native ecology is faring, a significant pollinator and source of food for birds, bats etc. Whilst many are subtly coloured, others are as eye-catching as their cousins.

The Butterfly Conservation report  says that two-thirds of common and widespread larger species of moth (macro-moths) declined in the last 40 years, most seriously in southern Britain. The report suggests that the decline in habitats through development and agricultural practices are the factors behind the decline in the south, whereas it sees climate change (a gradual warming) as a key factor in the broadly neutral results in the north – declines in some species have been matched by increases in others.

And climate change is also the explanation behind the growth in new species in the country. More than 100 species have been recorded for the first time in Britain this century and 27 species have colonised Britain from the year 2000 onwards. However, the report says that three species have become extinct in the last 10 years and three more are at serious risk of extinction, having already declined by more than 90% in the last forty years.

What can gardeners do to create the right habitats for moths? The Royal Horticultural Society makes several suggestions about planting.

  • Night-flowering, nectar-rich plants, such as Nicotiana (Tobacco plant) and Evening Primrose (Oenothera) have evolved to feed night flying insects – and the wonderful evening scent of some is a bonus for any garden
  • Day flying moths can be served by plants such as Sea Lavender, Buddlejas, Red Valerian and Lychnis
  • It’s also important to provide food for caterpillars with plants such as Clarkia and Fuchsia. leaving a ‘wilder’ area of the garden with longer grasses, thistles and knapweeds will benefit smaller moths. Many native trees, hedges and ornamental plants also provide food sources fo moth caterpillars.
Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar

Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar

Kate Bradbury suggests:

‘Avoid using pesticides to give their caterpillars free rein on your plants (which will mostly only be nibbled a bit – so don’t worry).’

The website Mothscount says we also need to tolerate some untidiness in our gardens:

‘Moths and their caterpillars need fallen leaves, old stems and other plant debris to help them hide from predators, and especially to provide suitable places to spend the winter. It’s very helpful to delay cutting back old plants until the spring, rather than doing it in the autumn, and just generally be less tidy. If you want your garden to look tidy in the summer, try leaving some old plant material behind the back of borders or in other places out of sight…..’

All green form of the Red - Green Carpet Moth'

All green form of the Red – Green Carpet Moth

Further information:

Back Garden moth.org

Winners and losers in latest butterfly survey – 7 tips for gardeners

Old School Gardener

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The Small Tortoiseshell- under threat

The Small Tortoiseshell- under threat

The latest ‘Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey’ reveals that some butterfly species- notably the Meadow Brown- seem to have benefitted from last year’s wet summer, whereas others- such as the Common Blue and Small Tortoiseshell– were around 50% down on the previous year.

The Small Tortoiseshell was once prolific in Britain’s gardens, but it seems to have been one of the big losers in 2012. Last year’s weather  is only partly to blame, as wider agricultural policies and practices are a key driver behind a longer term decline in butterfly species and numbers and parasitic flies may also be part of the story. Around three quarters of the 59 native British species are now in decline.

So what can gardeners do to arrest this trend?

1. Think about providing year- round sources of food for emerging and mature butterflies. Examples of plants which feed butterfly caterpillars are: Dill, Antirrhinum, Columbine, Berberis, Marigold, Ceanothus, Cercis, Cornus, Foxglove, Wallflower, Ivy, Hop, Holly, Jasmine, Honesty, Ragged Robin, Crab Apple, Oregano, Cowslip, Rudbeckia, Thyme, Nasturtium, Verbascum and Pansy.

Species which are food sources for mature butterflies are: Achillea, Anthemis tinctoria, Bergamot, Buddleja, Columbine, Coreopsis lanceolata, Red Valerian, Ceanothus, Marigold, Echinacea, Globe Thistle, Knautia, Lavender, Tobacco plant and Hop.

2. Try to plant butterfly-attracting plants in groups– butterflies prefer to visit stands of brightly coloured flowers.

3. If you have room, choose a quiet but sunny area of lawn where the grass can be left to grow long – some butterflies such as the Meadow Brown prefer to lay eggs in long grass.

4. Allow a small patch of nettles (Urtica dioica) to grow unfettered– these will provide food for some of the more common butterflies such as Red Admiral, Painted Lady and Milbert’s Tortoiseshell.

5. If you have fruit trees, don’t be too tidy about windfalls– leave some rotting fruit as a source of food for some butterflies.

6. Try to provide a shallow, muddy puddle in a sunny spot– many butterflies love to drink from these and they also provide essential minerals and salts.

7. Avoid using chemical sprays to deal with insect pests and weeds– many will harm beneficial insects and butterflies as well as the pests.

Groups of butterfly- friendly plants such as Bergamot are better than single specimens

Groups of butterfly- friendly plants such as Bergamot are better than single specimens

Sources and further information:

Guardian online

Butterfly Conservation

UK butterflies

‘Wildlife Friendly Plants’- Rosemary Cresser

Quizzicals- two more cryptic clues to plant, fruit or veg names:

  • Our monarch continues to work hard
  • Nasty spot causing urination problems

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