Bulbs are amongst the easiest and most rewarding garden plants to grow. Get them in the ground or in pots now so you can enjoy a cheerful parade of flowers going through from January to late spring.
Most bulbs can be planted now – Snowdrops, Daffodils, Hyacinths, Crocuses, Fritillaries, Iris, Muscari, Anemones, Scillas, Lillies, Alliums and Crocosmias, – but leave tulips until November. Hardy bulbs can be left undisturbed in the ground and will multiply over time. Only plant non-frost-hardy types if you can face the bother of lifting and storing them, or you’re happy to risk some losses.
The main rule with bulbs is to think big and plant for impact – if you think you need 20, plant 40! And in pots squeeze as many as you can get in without them touching. Plant in groups rather than in straight rows, and if planting a small number of bulbs choose an odd number for a more natural look. You’re unlikely to spend much time sitting out in the garden in February, so make sure you site them where you can see them from your window.
Try planting drifts in the border, or under deciduous trees for a carpet of colour in spring before the trees comes into leaf. Bulbs grown in the lawn will have to be mown around until 6 weeks after flowering. Bulbs in large containers can be planted in layers for a succession of blooms – Snowdrops in January give way to Daffodils and Tulips in March and April, followed by purple Alliums in May.
It’s important to bury them deeply enough – if you aim for three times their own depth you won’t go far wrong. Too shallow and they’re more likely to get eaten by pests. Too deep and they may not reach the surface. A bulb-planting tool and a good garden kneeler are worth their weight in gold if you have lots to plant.
The autumn clear-up generates a lot of useful waste that can be recycled into a free, home-grown, supply of organic compost you can use as mulch or as soil-conditioner in spring, with the added benefit that it reduces the amount you need to put in the recycling bins.
Annual weeds, mowings, fallen leaves, old bedding plants, tomato plants, thatch, moss raked out of the lawn, tea leaves, vegetable trimmings, dead flowers, hedge trimmings and damp shredded newspaper are all ideal for composting. Add to these moisture and beneficial bacteria from manures, water weeds from your pond, garden soil or a proprietary compost starter, and let the composting begin!
A plastic bin is ideal for the smaller garden. The bin will trap the heat inside and the contents will ‘cook’ efficiently. Stand the bin directly on the soil so worms can get in. Build materials up in layers, sprinkle each layer with earth and firm down. When the bin is full, finish with a covering of soil. It’s important to put in substantial amounts at a time, if necessary accumulating material in plastic sacks until you have enough. Have a second bin you can use whilst the first is rotting down.
If you have a larger garden with a lot of compostable waste you may prefer to make compost heaps. The drawback of traditional heaps is that only the centre ‘cooks’ properly; the outside layer acting as insulation (the uncomposted layer can be used to start a second heap once the first is usable). A heap can be built all at once (the ingredients mixed together first and watered, then piled up and covered with a tarpaulin or old carpet), or in layers over time.
Both methods should result in usable compost after 6 months in winter or 3 months in summer.
Looking after your hedges, bushes and shrubs can often be an overlooked task in the garden. It is easy for these to spread rapidly and if neglected can result in an untidy looking garden even if your well-manicured lawn looks great! However, if you’ve ever tried cutting a hedge manually with shears, you’ll know what hard work it can be and it’s hard to get a neat looking finish to the hedge this way. This might be all you need for a small hedge of course but if you have several hedges to cut then a powered hedgetrimmer makes the task a lot easier. Choosing the right hedgetrimmer depends on a number of things:
What type of hedge do you have – thin branches or thick branches?
What height are your hedges?
Consider where your hedges are. A corded hedge trimmer may not be an option if too far from a power source
How formal/informal do you want your hedges to be?
Who will be the person using the hedgetrimmer – need to consider the weight they can carry, ease of use, comfort etc.
Hedgetrimmers are available as electric, petrol and cordless battery powered.
As these require a mains connection and are limited by the length of cable they are best suited to a smaller garden. If bushes and shrubs are relatively small this may be all that is needed to keep them neat. Electric hedgetrimmers tend to be cheaper and more lightweight (no fuel to carry or battery). They are also better for the environment and quieter than the petrol alternative. Another benefit is that they are cheaper to run as there are no regular servicing costs. However, you will need to consider the type of bushes you need to trim – thicker, woodier branches might require more power. The Cobra LRH40E 39cm 15in Electric Long Reach Hedgetrimmer is a lightweight and powerful hedgetrimmer with a 10m cable and priced under £100.
Petrol hedge trimmers can be a better choice for cutting large hedges and especially one’s with tougher cutting requirements. Being unrestricted in their use and with much more power available these tend to be the choice in larger gardens and/or for professional hedge maintenance. However, they are more expensive, tend to be heavier, are noisier and will require servicing. If you are considering a petrol hedgetrimmer, we recommend the Mitox Premium Petrol Hedgetrimmer 750DX / 23cc / 75cm– this is a premium quality hedge trimmer, powerful, lightweight, affordable and offering great value at only £229.
More people are turning to cordless these days for their garden tools and hedge trimmers are no exception. Lithium-ion batteries offer all the power of petrol and yet are convenient, quieter and cleaner for the environment. They are ideally suited to most domestic hedge maintenance tasks, providing the manoeuvrability around the garden and many have excellent cutting performance. The only thing to consider will be the battery runtime of the machine.
The EGO Power+ HT1500E Cordless Hedgetrimmer offers a well-balanced design for more comfortable operation. A two-speed selector lets you choose the right speed for every task and the large cutting capacity means you can get to work on larger hedges with thicker branches and stems.
If you have higher hedges then a long-reach, extendable hedge trimmer is a good option and depending on height you should be able to reach the top from standing safely on the ground. Different lengths can be obtained by adjusting the long shaft and the blade on the end can be rotated to cut the hedge at different angles. Long Reach Hedgetrimmers are available in electric, petrol or cordless models. Many of the petrol and cordless models can be bought as a multi-tool – often being sold with a main power head with different extensions such as chainsaw, brushcutter and pruner.
Generally, the average domestic user will need a double-sided hedgetrimmer. These are easier to use as the blade tends to be shorter and allows the user more manoeuvrability when trimming bushes and shrubs. Single sided hedgetrimmers have longer blades and tend to be used mainly for commercial applications. They are better suited to cutting long extensive lines of hedgerows on large estates and park land.
For advice on choosing a hedgetrimmer, please call Nigel or Sam on 01380 828867.
Leaving the garden to get by without you when you go away doesn’t have to be too much of a problem with a bit of forward planning, and some last-minute effort.
Phone a Friend
The ideal solution is a trusted garden-loving friend to tend the garden whilst you’re away. Unfortunately, few of us have such a paragon, and if we find a helper it’s more likely to be a time-pressed neighbour. Resist the temptation to write pages of notes and make everything as simple as possible for them.
Leave full watering cans by the tap or the hose connected
Group pots together so that your helper doesn’t have to go and find them
Make it clear what definitely needs watering and what it would be good to water if they have time
Tell them to help themselves to the harvest (as well as being good manners this encourages continuous fruiting)
Don’t expect too much – no one is going to love your garden as much as you do
Always bring a present home
Return the favour!
Whether you have someone who can pop in or not, there is much you can do to prepare for your time away by getting your weeding, mowing and hedge-clipping up to date before you go.
Pots are prone to drying out, so if possible place them where they will be in shade for most of the day. Place them in saucers to catch the water and thoroughly soak before covering the surface with mulch or sink the bottom few centimetres of the pots into damp garden soil.
Consider investing in an automatic watering system– there are many on the market. A simple home-made system can be made by standing several containers around a raised bucket of water, so the water level is higher than the top of the pots, then give each pot a ‘wick’ – a wet dishcloth or similar with one end tucked firmly inside the pot and the other end secured in the bottom of the bucket. Soak the pots before you go.
Water globes are widely available, or you can make your own – fill a bottle and immediately plunge the neck into already-damp soil, screwing it well in. The soil will gradually draw the moisture down.
The thirstiest containers are hanging baskets, and these tricks also work for them. Take the basket down and dig a depression in the soil in a shady border that you can sink the basket in.
In the vegetable garden, water everything deeply as late as possible, then spread the soil with clippings, compost or other mulch to keep the soil beneath damp for as long as possible. You can give vegetables some shade using netting or cloth. Pick anything ripe, and if you’re away for long remove young beans, peas and courgettes as if these mature on the vine the plants will stop fruiting.
Greenhouse crops should be given a very thorough last-minute soaking and the doors and ventilators left open. You could also apply an extra coat of shading paint to keep temperatures down.
Lastly, as with valuables inside the home, make sure garden machinery and other valuables are locked away and out of sight.
It’s no wonder that slugs and snails can be the scourge of the vegetable patch in summer because we want to grow what they want to eat. They love broad-leaved plants that are sweet-tasting and fast growing, so plants at risk include lettuces, peas and beans, potatoes and other tubers and in the flower garden dahlias, delphiniums, hostas, and sweet peas.
Prevention always being better than cure, it’s good to encourage wildlife that does the pest control for you such as birds, frogs, hedgehogs, slowworms and ground beetles. We all want to reduce our dependence on pesticides these days and there are many ‘home remedies’ that we can try to discourage these greedy gastropods.
Mulch barriers. Encircling seedlings and young plants with grit or eggshells, or moisture-absorbent materials such as wool can discourage snails and slugs on the soil surface. Coffee grounds may also help.
Slugs and snails do not like to cross copper (this works best with plants in pots).
filled with beer or bait. Sink a jar part-way into the ground (not all the way as beetles can fall in) and partially fill with beer.
Removing by hand.
Venture out at night with your torch and pick them off by hand.
For slugs that live under the soil you can either try regular cultivation to bring them and their eggs up to the surface where they can be eaten by predators, or biological controls – nematodes (microscopic parasitic worms) that are watered into the soil where they seek out slugs to infect.
Ferric phosphate pellets are certified as organic and are less toxic to wildlife than Methaldehyde pellets.
Researchers at the Royal Horticultural Society are going to scientifically test traditional remedies such as these to see if they are based on science or myth. The results will be available in the autumn.
A multi-tool can prove a good investment in your garden and for possibly an initial higher outlay, can prove cost saving in the longer term. It is worth considering the different tasks in hand in your garden and the respective garden tools you need such as hedge trimmer, strimmer, trimmer, chainsaw and think about a tool that comprises a main power body with all the necessary attachments.
Space efficient – Clearly for storage purposes housing one tool and its attachments takes up less space than having to store several other garden tools. Also consider this if you need to transport your tools anywhere. Freeing up space allows storage of other items in your shed or car boot.
Cost efficient – With just one engine to run and maintain the multi-tool can save money on fuel and servicing as you don’t have other machines to consider.
Key points to consider when purchasing a multi-tool
Power source – Petrol, Electric or Cordless? The decision on this will come down to budget, preference and the tasks you want the tool and attachments to cover:
Petrol multi-tools have the advantage of more power and also the ability to refuel and continue using. They will of course be noisier to use than electric or cordless.
Electric multi-tools may well be an option for smaller gardens and where noise considerations may be more appropriate. A good option if you don’t wish to store fuel and also better for the environment.
Cordless multi-tools have steadily increased in popularity as the advances in technology offer machines which rival the power of petrol. Many cordless machines now come with the latest lithium-ion battery power giving convenience, ease of use, power and versatility to your gardening tools.
Weight – Consider who might be using the multi-tool the most, for how long and for what purpose. Petrol powered multi-tools will be heavier but will offer the most power. The lighter in weight options for petrol powered multi-tools, the higher the cost. So literally weigh up your weight vs cost options!
The EGO range of cordless lithium-ion multi-tools come fully recommended by us at More Than Mowers. They may be slightly more expensive but in our opinion worth the investment as they offer quality cutting blades and superior batteries that don’t overheat.
The pleasure of picking your own juicy berries from your garden on a sunny summer’s day is hard to beat, especially when you think about how expensive they are to buy, and how easy they are to grow at home.
And you don’t need masses of space to grow them. There are a many compact cultivars suitable for small spaces and patio containers – and with the added benefit of no prickly thorns.
With all soft fruit it’s a good idea to plant different varieties to ensure a succession of fruit. All fruit in pots requires regular watering, and feeding is crucial. Incorporate a slow-release fertiliser and feed with an appropriate fertiliser throughout the season to maximise yields.
Birds enjoy berries just as much as people do, so protect the plants, getting the netting in place before the first fruits ripen.
Strawberries are ideally suited to containers and you can try growing them in window boxes and hanging baskets using a good multipurpose compost. Try ‘Flamenco’, an everbearer (or perpetual), which will crop steadily from late May until well into the autumn. Strawberry mats, collars or straw around the plants will cushion the fruit and keep the berries clean. If slugs and snails are a problem, try beer traps and crushed eggshells around the plants.
Little Red Princess is a Compact thornless raspberry which is perfect to grow in pots for a succession of berries from June to October. Some gardeners find autumn varieties easier to grow, being less susceptible to pests and with an easier pruning regime – canes are simply all cut down to ground level after harvesting.
Blueberries are the classic superfruit, packed with vitamins and minerals. Better yields are achieved when more than one variety is grown. Plant in ericaceous compost, water with rainwater and use an appropriate ericaceous food containing sequestered iron. Foliage turns attractive shades of fiery red in autumn, and some are evergreen or semi-evergreen. ‘Pink Sapphire’ is the first ever pink fruit providing year-ground colour and interest as well as deliciously sweet fruit.
‘Little Black Prince’ is a thornless blackberry suitable for a large pot. Train plants up a trellis or wigwam. ‘Black cascade’ is a compact hanging-basket plant, with arching trailing stems which will produce more than one crop a season, producing 2-3 lb of fruit per basket.
Encouraging wildlife into your garden doesn’t have to be complicated. There are simple steps you can take to create a mini-wildlife sanctuary which will help to protect a whole host of creatures from bees to hedgehogs and make a real difference to their survival. Here are six ways to entice pollinators and pest-eaters into the garden this summer, and help them to help you.
Choose plants with wildlife in mind. Select flowers, shrubs and trees that will provide food and shelter in every month of the year. Hellebores and apple blossom in Spring, honeysuckles, foxgloves, campanulas, lavender, campanulas, rosemary and thyme in Summer, dahlias in autumn and berry-bearing plants such as hawthorn and cotoneaster in Winter.
Create living boundaries. Plant hedges rather than building walls and fences to provide shelter for birds and other wildlife. Benefits to the gardener include absorbing road noise and reducing pollution, and they look much more attractive!
Make room for meadow plants. Lawns and wildflowers create a rich habitat. Consider leaving parts of your lawn uncut – long grass is great for small animals like grasshoppers and beetles and provides cover for small mammals to forage.
Make space for water. Ponds (without fish) are a magnet for wildlife and can provide a habitat for frogs, toads, newts and dragonflies. Design them with a shallow slope along one edge so that birds, hedgehogs and other creatures can drink and get in and out safely. If you don’t have space for a pond a bird bath or pebble fountain provides drinking water.
Grow climbing plants. Bare walls and fences can provide a vertical habitat for birds, insects and mammal, whilst adding privacy to your garden and hiding ugly features.
Make compost. The compost heap provides a source of free soil conditioner and mulch, whilst providing year-round food for insects and shelter for hedgehogs and grass snakes. It also reduces the number of trips to the tip!
It’s the time of year when you may consider preparing the soil for general planting, sowing seed beds or preparing an area for growing vegetables. You will want to prepare the soil so that it is as fertile as possible to give roots the best chance to grow and spread and absorb all the nutrients and water they require to produce healthy plants.
If you are looking for a machine to help you prepare the soil, both a Tiller and Cultivator will do the same thing in that they dig up and turn over the soil. However, choosing which one you need really depends on the job in hand as there are differences between them.
Really the choice comes down to the size of plot that you are looking to dig and the purpose.
Tillers tend to be more powerful with more digging power than cultivators – they are better suited therefore to larger areas, with generally wider working widths than cultivators and bigger, heavier duty tines to turn over the soil at greater depth. If you want to dig up new ground they are a better option than a cultivator as they can dig deeper and tackle roots.
Areas up to 140 sq metres
Front-tine tillers have tines which help propel the machine forward and dig deep into the soil. These might be a suitable choice of machine for a small to medium sized garden of up to 140 sq metres. Perfect for weeding and general preparation of the soil and mixing in compost.
Areas over 140 sq metres
Rear-tine tillers tend to be a better option for larger planting areas. With forward rotating tines they are good for turning soil in existing beds, for weeding and helping in the addition of compost. If you want to break up new ground then consider a Rear-tine tiller with counter rotating tines as these turn in the opposite direction to the wheels. This gives the tiller the strength and torque it needs to dig deep into the soil.
Cultivators are generally smaller than tillers and are best used for maintaining existing beds, for facilitating weeding and mixing in compost. Cultivators tend to be easier to handle and move around. They are ideal for weeding between rows in vegetable plots as they can have a tilling width of 12 inches.
Spring is feeding time and it’s worth going around the borders with a bucket of fertiliser now, so plants start the season topped up with the nutrients they need.
In most cases there’s no need to buy separate fertilisers for different plants – an economy-sized bag of general purpose fertiliser will do. Sprinkle a light dressing on soil around your shrubs, evergreens, roses, climbers and perennials and lightly fork it in (preferably before you mulch). Treat areas where you plan to grow bedding plants in the same way.
The multitude of fertilisers available can be confusing, but are basically split into two types – inorganic and organic. Inorganic fertilisers are synthetic, and are usually more concentrated and faster acting. Organic fertilisers are derived from plant or animal sources and are usually slower acting. Fish Blood & Bone, Bone meal, Seaweed, Hoof & Horn, Poultry Manure Pellets and Liquid Comfrey or Nettle feeds are all examples of organic fertilisers.
Lawns need a good feed to set them up for the summer as a healthy lawn helps to fight off weeds and moss. Wait until early May if you live in a cold area or it’s a late spring with bad weather (you don’t want all that lush new growth clobbered by freezing weather). Products that combine a fertiliser with a weed or moss treatment are time-saving, and choose one with slow-release nutrients for long lasting effect. Lawn products can be applied by hand or with a spreader.
Plants that do need a specialist feed are acid-lovers such as rhododendrons, camellias, pieris and azaleas, unless they’re being grown in acid soil. In the fruit garden, blueberries also fall into this category. Signs of nutrient deficiency are leaf-yellowing and discolouration.
As a general rule, the faster growing the plant the more they will benefit from fertilisers, so it’s important to feed your fruit and vegetables regularly. Plants in containers also need regular feeding as they rely solely on what you give them.