Posts Tagged ‘gardening advice’

August Gardening Advice

August 1st, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

August Gardening Advice

This is the month when burnt tones of yellow, red and orange set alight your flower borders. On the allotment, crops are being harvested daily as we do our best to deter gluts.

With the kids now on holiday, this is the perfect time for families to pack their suitcases and get away from it all, for a week or two. But while it’s good to take a break, leaving your plants unattended for several days, could have you returning home to withered flowers and thirsty crops. So, it’s important to maintain a regular water regime, and make plans if you are going away. Make use of drip irrigation systems, water butts and water retention gels. Methods that won’t put a strain on your water bills, or be affected by any looming hosepipe ban.

In the flower garden

Holiday

If you’re going away, ensure you make plans to keep your garden from drying out. Ask a neighbour to pop over once every few days to water and check on your garden. If you have pots and containers, group them all together under some shade, to make the job easier. Keep greenhouses ventilated, and if necessary, create shade to prevent certain plants from getting scorched.

Watering

A close up of a wooden water barrel or water butt, great for collecting water to reuse in the gardenWhether there’s a hosepipe ban in your area or not, using water sensibly is a good habit to get into. Make use of water butts, re-use old dish water, and water either early in the morning or at dusk, when the lower temperatures mean less water evaporation and little chance of scorching plant foliage.

Keeping your garden well-weeded also ensures the water goes to the plants that need it.

If you’re planting up containers and hanging baskets, add water retention gel to the soil. If you’re growing tomatoes, create a drip irrigation system.

Deadheading

Deadhead regularly to keep flowers blooming into autumn. Fresh blooms not only look good, but continue to feed bees, butterflies and hoverflies, which are essential to a garden’s wellbeing. Sweet peas will be keen to set seed, so it’s important to deadhead daily. Keep up with the water regime, and add a weekly plant feed.

Perennials

With heavy blooms and ever-growing stems, plants such as dahlias and gladioli will need staking. This extra support will not only prevent damage, but discourage ground pests from attacking low-lying plants.

Lavender

Stop lavender from becoming leggy by cutting into a compact shape, but don’t cut too far back as new flowers can’t grow on old wood. Use the cut flowers around the home. You could create lavender pouches to scent drawers or pillow cases, or use it in your baking.

Wisteria growing on the side of a manor houseWisteria

Ideally, you should prune wisteria twice a year. Once in late winter, and once in August. There’s been a lot of growth during the summer months, so cut these newly-formed long laterals back to the fifth set of leaves on each shoot, and tie-in where necessary. This restricts the growth, creates better ventilation, hardens the remaining summer growth, and encourages new flower buds for next year.

Hedges

Hedges can become unruly in summer, and now that the birds have fledged, it’s time to give them a prune. Whether you’re using shears or a hedge trimmer, think about how you want your hedge to look. Work from the bottom up in a smooth, controlled motion. Prune all sides and finish with the top. Wear protective clothing and use the correct height support if the hedge is high. Once completed, clear away all debris.

Pond

Remove any build-up of algae and weeds, placing it beside the pond overnight. This will give any captured wildlife the opportunity to return to the water. If you have water plants, now is the time to thin them. Clean the pumps and filters of any water features you may have. If you have fish, feed them regularly.

On the veg patch

Feed

You should be feeding your tomatoes weekly now to ensure a healthy, tasty crop, but tomato feed can also be used for cucumbers, aubergines, peppers, chillies and sweetcorn plants.

Fresh potatoes being dug up and harvested from the ground with a shovel

Potatoes

When the leaves on your main crop turn yellow and wither, it’s a sign your spuds are ready to be dug up. If you’re not going to eat them straight away, rest them on the topsoil for a few hours to dry the excess moisture, then place in hessian sacks. Ideally, the sacks should be stored somewhere with ventilation, where it’s cool, dark and pest-free. Check on them regularly to make sure none have spoilt.

Onions and shallots

With foliage bent over and turning yellow, onions and shallots are now ready for lifting. Once lifted, leave them on the surface of the soil for a few hours to dry in the sunshine. Then, shake off the excess soil from the roots, careful not to damage them, and place somewhere warm so they can dry out. After a week, or two, they should be ready for storing somewhere cool, dark and dry. Either tie them together and hang them up, or place them in onion bags. Both storage methods should prevent mould, but check regularly to make sure none have perished.

Beans

Whether it’s runner beans or French beans, the key is to pick them regularly. By doing so, you’re preventing them from setting seed. Ensure they are well watered, and that the base of the plant is well-mulched. Once the plant reaches the top of its staked cane, pinch out the top.

Pests and diseases

Cabbage white caterpillars on a brassica plant. Check your crops regularly, remove any eggs or pests you find and protect your brassicas with netting and collarsHeat, humidity, and occasional rainfall are the perfect conditions to encourage blight. Check both tomato and potato plants regularly. If you see any signs of the fungal infestation, remove plants altogether. If you catch it at an early stage with your potatoes, leave the tubers in the ground, as they may not be affected. Do not place infected plants on the compost heap. Instead, either burn immediately or remove from the site altogether. To reduce blight, encourage a crop rotation system, and try to use blight resistant varieties.

Cabbage White Butterflies will be eyeing up your brassicas to lay their eggs. Check your crops regularly, and remove any eggs or pests you find. Net your crops, use brassica collars when planting out, and introduce nematodes to control caterpillars.

Pick regularly

Courgettes, marrows and cucumbers will continue to produce so long as you pick regularly. Cut away excess foliage to help sunshine reach your crops and to prevent powdery mildew. Mildew can also be prevented by watering at the base of the plant rather than on the leaves.

Fruit

With gooseberries now harvested, it’s the perfect time to prune the plant. You want to create a ‘goblet’ shape to encourage as much ventilation as possible. Remove the inner branches of the plant, and reduce the rest of the plant to about six leaves per branch. This will encourage fresh shoots to grow.

Keep an eye on plum and apple trees that might be weighed down by fruit. If the tree appears to be stressed, support and tie-in where possible. If you’re growing grapes, ensure the growing vines are being tied-in regularly.

Summer raspberry canes should have now fruited. Cut back the fruit canes, and encourage fresh new canes by tying them onto a support.

SowA close up of a hand sowing beetroot seeds into the soil with the seeds on a plate. Sow beetroot in August for a late harvest.

Succession sow salad leaves and spring onions for a continuous crop, and beetroot, kohlrabi and pak choi can also be sown now for a late harvest.

Green manure

As your veg beds start to empty, consider sowing green manure if you’re not growing winter crops. Not only will it improve the quality of the soil, but it will help suppress weeds.

Other jobs

  • Although we’re at the height of summer, now’s the time to order your spring bulbs for autumn planting.
  • In hot spells water compost heaps and turnover.
  • If you’ve run your water butts dry, give them a clean, removing all dirt.
  • Towards the end of the month you may have to start closing greenhouse vents and doors in the evenings, as night-times can become cooler.

7 Simple Strategies to Prevent Garden Pests

July 15th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

 7 Simple Strategies to Prevent Garden Pests

Pests are an all too common challenge, but that doesn’t mean they need to gain the upper hand. In fact in most cases there are ways to prevent your crops from getting infested in the first place.

Read on or watch the video for seven simple, savvy strategies to help you prevent garden pests.

1. Grow Resistant Varieties

Our first strategy is to make life easier for yourself by selecting varieties that are known to have some resistance to common pests. Spend a little time researching seed catalogues for suitable varieties to reduce pest problems later on. Look out for carrot-fly-resistant carrots, for example, or seek out potatoes that shake off eelworm attacks.

2. Confuse PestsGrow vegetables with coloured leaves, like purple varieties of cabbage or kale, to confuse garden pests further

Interplant crops with one another. This confuses passing pests because they will find it harder to home in on their preferred crop. You can interplant different vegetables, or mix up vegetables with herbs or flowers to create a more diverse – and confusing – planting scheme. Obfuscate some more by growing vegetables with coloured leaves, like purple varieties of cabbage or kale, that insects won’t expect.

3. Plant Outside of Peak Times

Another deceptively simple strategy is grow vegetables outside of the peak times for their pests. Take the example of flea beetles, which chew tiny holes in the leaves of brassicas. Their activity peaks in midsummer. So grow vegetables such as Asian greens and mustards in the autumn, when fewer beetles are about. You can also plant before a pest arrives. This works well with fast-growing early peas for example, helping them to dodge the destructive attention of pea moths.

4. Grow Out of the Way

Physically move vegetables out of harm’s way. Grow carrots and cabbage family crops in pots at least 18in (45cm) above ground, well out of the way of low-flying carrot flies and cabbage root flies. Raised pots also reduce problems with slugs and other soil-dwelling pests.

Starting seedlings off under cover in pots is a reliable way to avoid early setbacks from the likes of pigeons and slugs. By the time they’re transplanted your plants will be bigger, sturdier and more capable of withstanding minor attacks.

5. Use Physical Barriers

Make good use of barriers like horticultural fleece to physically separate pests from plantsMake good use of barriers to physically separate pests from plants. Insect mesh, floating row covers or horticultural fleece will stop just about any pest from getting near your hard-won crops. Leave covers to rest on the plants or support them on hoops. Secure them around the edges so pests can’t gain access by just walking in at soil level. Covers are a great solution for caterpillar-prone brassicas and for barring entry to the likes of carrot fly, aphids and squash bugs.

6. Attract Beneficial Bugs

Ladybirds, hoverflies, parasitic wasps, lacewings – just a few of the beneficial bugs that help control pests by either eating them or hatching their young inside them. Tempt more beneficial bugs into your garden by growing lots of the flowers they love like cosmos, sweet alyssum, dill, yarrow and many more besides. Grow them among or immediately next to your vegetables for maximum impact.

7. Keep Plants Healthy

Finally, make sure plants are as healthy as they can be, because strong, healthy plants are less susceptible to pests. Stress-free plants have their own pest defences which more often than not allow them to see off pests without help from us. So grow plants in the right conditions, keep them well fed and water well in dry weather. Don’t forget to feed the soil too with plenty of well-rotted organic matter such as compost, to promote a thriving root system that supports healthy growth above ground.

Those pesky pests keep us on our toes don’t they! But arm yourself with the right strategies and you can keep them well away from your crops. Share your own pest prevention techniques with us – how do you take care of common pests and how successful are you? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Hand Pollinating Squash for Higher Yields and Seed Saving

July 4th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Hand Pollinating Squash for Higher Yields and Seed Saving

Squashes are notoriously prolific, but sometimes they need a bit of help to get started. If your plants are flowering like mad but not producing fruits, it’s time to start hand-pollinating them to speed things along.

Read on or watch the video and we’ll show you how to do it.

Why Hand Pollinate?

Hand pollination is a useful technique when there aren’t many natural pollinators such as bees around – either because it’s cold or rainy, or because crops are growing under cover in a greenhouse or tunnel. Hand pollinating is also a simple and effective way to boost your yields, ensuring good fruit set for a reliable harvest.

All types of squashes can be hand pollinated including pumpkins, melons and courgette.

Male vs Female Squash Flowers

Squashes have separate male and female flowers. Before we hand pollinate we need to know exactly which is which.

Male squash flowers have a straight stem behind the bloom with no swelling. Peer inside the flower and you can see the stamen, which carry the pollen. This is where you’ll take the pollen from to fertilise the female bloom.

Close up of a female courgette flower on the vegetable patchThe female flowers have a very obvious swelling behind them. This is the immature fruit, which will begin growing once it has been pollinated. Peek inside a female flower and you can clearly make out the stigma, which is where the pollen needs to be in order to fertilise the bloom.

When you compare male and female flowers side by side it’s easy to see the differences.

How to Hand Pollinate

A soft-bristled artist’s paintbrush is ideal for pollinating squash blossoms. Use it to tickle pollen from the stamen of a male flower onto the brush. You should be able to see the yellow pollen on the brush end. Once you’ve done this, transfer it onto the stigma of a female flower by gently stroking the brush over it. And that’s it!

If you don’t have a paintbrush, you can simply detach the male flower from the plant then peel back the petals to expose the stamen and its pollen. Now, carefully dab the pollen onto the stigma of an open female flower to pollinate it.

Saving Seed

Hand pollination is also useful when you want to save seeds of your favourite varieties. Squashes readily cross-pollinate with each other, so the only way to guarantee that seeds will produce plants that are the same variety as their parents is to prevent pollination by insects. You can then hand-pollinate to ensure that only pollen from plants of the same variety reaches the female flower.

You don’t need to isolate the whole plant, just one or two female blooms that will carry your seed. Cover the flower with a light, breathable fabric such as muslin. Tie the fabric around the stem at the back so the flower is completely enclosed. Then, when it opens, remove the fabric and hand pollinate. Return the cover once you’re done and keep it in place until the flower drops off and there’s no further risk of cross-pollination. Mark the stem of the developing fruit with a ribbon so you know from which fruits to collect your seeds.

In situations where squashes are reluctant to produce fruits, hand pollination is a very useful techinque to know. How are your squashes getting on this summer? Are they romping away, or in need of a little encouragement? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

July Gardening Advice

July 1st, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

July Gardening Advice

Whether it’s a tasty barbeque, a quiet read under a shady tree or forty winks in your favourite deckchair – now’s the time to be outside enjoying our green spaces. Your months of digging, sowing and planting have paid off. Flowers are blooming and crops are growing.

But before you ease into summer’s lazy days and balmy nights, there’s still jobs to be done if you want your garden to remain at its best for the rest of the season. So, apply the sun cream, don the hat and get out into the garden. Afterall, those long days won’t be here forever.

In the flower garden

Deadheading

With balmy days ahead, and water in short supply, both perennials and bedding plants will be keen to set seed. Therefore, to keep them at their best, ensure you prune regularly. This will encourage new growth, and promote wonderful blooms throughout the rest of summer.

BloomsNutrients in pots, containers and hanging baskets will quickly deplete, so give plants a weekly feed

Now’s the time to introduce a plant feed. Nutrients in pots, containers and hanging baskets will quickly deplete, so give them a weekly feed.

Perennials, such as lupins, penstemons and delphiniums, will have already bloomed. Cut their flowered stems back to the base of the plant, and you could be rewarded with a second flourish later in the season.

Roses

By now, a lot of rose varieties will have spent their first blooms. Deadhead and feed to encourage a second bloom in the coming weeks. For the one-time season bloomers, you may want to refrain from deadheading. Allow their hips to develop, as this will make a welcome attraction in the autumn months.

Bearded Iris

Bearded Irises can now be lifted and divided. When re-planting, ensure the rhizome is sat on the soil, half exposed. The warm sun will quickly help to establish them, and ensure they flower next season. You should cut all foliage down by two thirds to ensure the energy is going into the rhizome and is not wasted.

Watering

Install water butts to save water in JulyWith water at a premium, if you haven’t done so already, install water butts. They come in array of shapes and sizes, so no matter how small the space there’s always an opportunity to save water. At this time of year, crops and plants are crying out for a good drink. However, try to carry out this task either first thing in the morning, or at dusk. With less sun, water evaporation isn’t an issue, keeping your beds and borders hydrated for longer. Also, try to water at the base of plants as water droplets on the foliage could potentially burn your plant, or encourage mildew and other diseases. Also, ensure all pots, containers and hanging baskets are watered regularly, due to rising temperatures they made need watering twice a day.

Lawns

This time of year, your lawn will be seeing a lot of action. If there’s a drought, your lawn will be looking worse for wear. Fear not though, the first rainfall will soon return it to its luscious green state. But, if there’s not a drought, mow the lawn, keeping blades higher, as this will retain moisture. Also, consider giving your grass a regular feed.

Greenhouse

Temperatures in greenhouses this time of year will be high. Introduce shading to your glass roof maybe the solution to preventing young plants from being scorched. Ensure there’s a steady airflow, by keeping all doors and vents open. Water the floor daily, not only to reduce temperature but deter red spider mite.

Pick courgettes regularly and the plant will continue to grow new produce

On the veg patch

Harvesting

Beetroot, chard, salad leaves, courgettes, beans and peas are ready to be harvested. By picking legumes and courgettes regularly, the plant will continue to grow new produce. Letting these crops grow past their best can encourage pests, or send a signal to the plant to stop growing altogether.

Tomatoes

Once your plants have four or five trusses, pinch out the top of the plant. This will send the plant’s energy into the fruit, and not the foliage. Feed regularly, and continue to pinch-out all side shoots. Don’t let plants dry-out, or water irregularly, as this can encourage blossom end rot. Finally, remove any leaves beneath the first truss of tomatoes, as this will help circulation and prevent the build-up of pests and diseases.

Potatoes

Second earlies should now be ready for the dinner plate. If you’re not sure, wait until the plants have flowered, then have a little dig around in the soil to find your spuds. If they’re ready, it won’t take long for you to uncover them.

Dig up what you need, and leave the rest of the tubers to grow on, ensuring your continue to water weekly. Or if you’re hoping to use the potato plot to grow a new crop, dig them all up. Try to do it on a sunny day, and place your freshly dug potatoes on the plot surface for a few hours to dry a little. Store them in hessian sacks and keep in a cool, dark room. Check them every so often to make sure they haven’t spoilt.

If you’re dreaming of eating freshly-grown spuds on Christmas day, now is the time to plant them. If you’re not using potato grow bags, consider large containers. As the cold weather returns and the temperatures drop, you’ll need to move them somewhere where the frost can’t get to them.

Choose a sunny day to pull garlic and onions and lay them out on the topsoil to dryGarlic and onions

Both crops should now be ready to be pulled. Ideally, choose a sunny day, and lay them out on the topsoil to dry. Failing that, dry them in your greenhouse or polytunnel. Once dried, they can be stored and used when you’re ready.

Pests and diseases

Powdery mildew can affect pumpkins, squashes and courgettes. First sign of this on your plants, remove infected leaves. Do not place on your compost heap, as this will encourage the bacteria. Either burn, or remove from site completely.

Weevils, blackfly, greenfly, aphids, slugs and snails will be thriving at this time of year. If chemicals aren’t an option for you, try hosing them off your plants, or spray with soapy water. Another option is to crush a clove or two of garlic and add it to the water in your spritzer bottle, as garlic deters pests. A morning or evening stroll around your plot is the perfect time for picking off slugs and snails.

Winter veg

If you’re hoping for a harvest of winter veg, then you should be thinking about planting out your autumn veg. Vegetables to consider are brassicas, leeks and swede.

Fruit

Hungry birds will make light work of strawberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants or blackberries, so net your fruit.

July is for pruning fruit trees, such as plum and cherryStrawberry plants will be producing runners, so if you want new plants for next year, pin the runners to the soil. Once they establish a root system, cut the runner from the main plant. Alternatively, if you want to maximise this year’s crop, remove the runners to divert the energy to the existing fruit.

This is also the month for pruning fruit trees, such as plum and cherry. The warmer weather reduces the risk of bacteria harming an open wound on a cherry tree, and setting off silver leaf disease. Summer pruning can also be carried out on trained apple and pear trees.

Other jobs

  • If you have a pond with fish, ensure water levels don’t drop. Remove any blanket weed as this can suffocate ponds.
  • Turn your compost bins as the aeration will open air pockets and drain away excess water, speeding up the decomposition process.
  • Check plants daily for the onset of pests. Ensure plants haven’t dried out, and if need be, move to a cooler spot.
  • Taking time to sit and enjoy your plants may also be the ideal opportunity to order autumn flower and seed catalogues.

Growing Lettuce from Sowing to Harvest

June 17th, 2019 | News | 2 Comments

Growing Lettuce from Sowing to Harvest

It’s quick-growing, fuss-free and can be grown just about anywhere. What are we talking about? Lettuce of course! Whether you’re growing it for sweet, firm hearts or for a pick-and-mix of leaves, you won’t want to run short of this dependable staple. If you fancy growing more of it you’re in the right place, because here’s our sowing to harvest guide to lettuce! Read on or watch the video for more.

Types of Lettuce

Lettuce needs little introduction. Grown for its luscious leaves, there’s a cornucopia of both hearting and loose leaf varieties to explore. Lettuces that form dense heads for harvesting whole include creamy butterhead types, upright romaine and cos lettuces and the classic, crunchy iceberg. Loose leaf lettuces can be harvested whole or a few leaves at a time, ‘cut-and-come-again’ style. Choose from the classic salad bowl lettuce, handsome oak leaf types or any number of other colourful leaves that’ll brighten vegetable beds and ornamental borders alike.

Where to Grow Lettuce

Sow lettuce in batches for a continuous harvestGrow lettuce in any well-drained, fertile soil – soil improved over time with plenty of compost is ideal – or grow lettuces in pots or tubs of potting soil. Lettuce prefers a bright, open position with good air circulation to promote strong, disease-free growth.

Lettuce is a cool-season crop, so in hot climates you may get better results growing it in a cooler, shadier spot, especially as the young plants start out. Either way, lettuces don’t take long to reach maturity, which makes them an excellent choice for growing in-between slower-to-establish crops such as corn or leeks.

When to Sow Lettuce

Make the earliest sowings under cover from late winter to grow on in greenhouse or hoop house beds for a super-early harvest. Then from early spring, it’s time to sow for growing outside. You can use our Garden Planner to check exactly what months you can sow in your area. The Planner uses your nearest weather station to ensure the accompanying Plant List is tailored to your location.

Sow in batches, about once a month, for a continuous harvest. The last sowing of the season, made at the end of summer, will be of winter lettuces. These hardy plants will happily sit out the winter, often with little or no protection in milder climates, to give the first outdoor harvests of spring. Or plant winter lettuces under cover for a reliable supply of leaves throughout the winter.

Direct Sowing Lettuce

Sowings may be made directly into prepared soil or into module trays of multipurpose potting soil. To sow direct, remove any weeds then rake the soil level to a fine, crumbly texture. Mark out shallow drills, 8-12 inches or 20 to 30cm apart, using a stringline as a guide if this helps. Then, sow the tiny seeds in clusters – a pinch of seeds every 4in or 10cm. Backfill the seed drills, label with the variety and water.

Thin the seedlings once they’re up to leave the strongest plant at each point. Then a few weeks on, thin again to leave plants  8-12 inches – or 20-30cm – apart.

Sowing into Plug Trays

Young lettuce plants are ready to go into the ground once the roots have filled their plugsAlternatively, sow into module trays of multipurpose potting soil. Fill the trays, firm the potting soil then sow a pinch of about 3-5 seeds into each plug, onto the surface. Cover the seeds with the very finest layer of potting soil, then water the trays by placing them into reservoirs of water so they can soak up moisture from the bottom. Remove the trays once you can see surface is damp. Continue to water whenever the potting soil dries out at the surface. Starting lettuces off in plug trays stops slugs from annihilating seedlings, while giving an arguably neater result at planting time.

The young plants are ready to go into the ground once the roots have filled their plugs. Space them 8-12 inches or 20-30cm apart in both directions. Carefully remove the plants from their plugs then dig a hole for each lettuce plant. Firm it in, and once you’ve finished planting water to settle the soil around the roots.

Caring for Lettuce

Encourage early or late-season lettuces by laying row covers or horticultural fleece over plants to trap valuable warmth. Low polythene hoop houses or tunnels are another excellent way to cheat the seasons.

Water plants in dry weather to ensure robust growth and to prevent your lettuce from bolting, when plants quickly go to seed. Use a sharp hoe to decapitate weeds as they appear, or hoik out the occasional intruder by hand.

Slugs aren’t a major problem when ground is kept weed-free and watering limited to a thorough soaking once or twice a week, but extra measures to keep a check on slugs include beer traps and the removal of shady hiding places like old pots.

How to Harvest Lettuce

Harvest whole heads of lettuce in one go by simply pulling up the plant from the ground. Lift them just before you need them for best taste and the freshest leaves.

Or enjoy your lettuces over a longer period by cutting just a few leaves from each plant at a time. Called cut-and-come-again harvesting, taking leaves like this not only prolongs the cropping period – so individual plants crop for anywhere up to two months – it will also give you many more leaves. Simply cut or twist the leaves from the stem, taking care not to damage it. Leave the central leaves untouched to grow on for the next cut.

With so many leaf shapes and colours, lettuces are a genuine joy to behold! How do you grow yours – in containers, in serried rows, or among other crops? What are your favourite varieties? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.