Posts Tagged ‘gardening advice’

How to Prepare Your Garden Against Frost

November 5th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

Temperatures have noticeably dropped over the past few weeks. The garden has gotten close to freezing on a number of occasions, so it’s safe to say the first frosts of winter will be with us any minute. Preparing the garden for the colder months ahead is a wise move to keep overwintering plants and your hard-working soil happy.

Read on or watch the video to discover simple, cost-effective ways to do just that.

Mulch Bare Soil

Leaving soil exposed risks depleting the beneficial life contained within it. Keep the likes of worms, bugs and fungi happy by laying organic matter over the surface before it gets too cold. A layer of  material such as well-rotted compost or manure, spread 1-2in (3-5cm) deep is thick enough to keep soil life fed while nourishing the soil itself, yet thin enough to enable hard frosts to penetrate the soil below, thereby helping to control overwintering pests.

Row Covers at the Ready

Keep row covers or horticultural fleece at the ready.

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Store it somewhere dry, ideally neatly rolled up and off the ground out of the way of vermin such as mice.

Dirty polythene covers should be washed down then dried so they’re ready to deploy.

When frost threatens, or if you simply want to extend your cropping period, the row covers can quickly be put into position, held down at the sides with stones, bricks or staples.

Homemade Protection

Don’t forget the many homemade options for cold weather protection. Clear plastic bottles, cut in half, are great for slipping over individual small plants, either outside or as an added layer of warmth inside the greenhouse.

Cold frames can be costly but it’s very easy to make your own. For example, one can be made by securing a rigid piece of polycarbonate onto a simple wooden frame, with hinges at the back to allow for the lid to be opened and closed – very simple, but very effective.

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Temporary Hoop Houses

Row covers may also be secured onto homemade hoops, making a handy hoop house. A way of achieving this is by using lengths of PVC water pipe secured onto lengths of rebar hammered into the ground and connected at the top by a central ridge of piping. It’s an effective way to keep winter hardy salads and vegetables safe from harsh weather.

 

Protecting Root Crops

Many root crops such as carrots and beetroot can be left in the ground until they’re needed. Some, like parsnips, actively improve with frost, becoming more tender and sweeter.

Lay a mulch of compost, straw, dried leaves or leaf mould about 6 inches (15cm) thick to help keep frosts at bay, but if the ground is likely to freeze solid for weeks on end, dig up your root crops to store them somewhere cool, dry and frost-free.

Protect Containers

In winter the biggest threat to containerised plants like herbs is wet. Persistently wet potting soil can freeze, turning lethal in cold weather. Make sure excess moisture can drain away by lifting up containers onto pot feet. You can use elegant purpose-sold pot feet, or just improvise with stones, for example.

Delicate containers can also crack if potting soil freezes solid and expands. You can stop this happening by wrapping pots up in bubble wrap, burlap or hessian, or look for pots sold as frost-resistant. Sensitive plants and pots can also be moved somewhere more sheltered – against the house for instance, or into a greenhouse.

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Warmer Greenhouse

Inside a greenhouse it makes more sense to protect individual plants rather than trying to heat up the entire structure. Wrap frost-sensitive plants up in row covers or fleece, or section off an area of the greenhouse and heat this smaller space instead.

Old polystyrene fish boxes are great for insulating smaller plants like winter salad leaves against the worst of the cold. Most already include drainage slots at the corners, so you can fill them with potting soil and plant directly – or just drop trays and pots into the boxes for a snug fit. Cover with fabric or plastic overnight for extra temporary protection on extra-cold nights.

Know Your Frost Date

Knowing when to expect your first frost is important for planning your frost protection. The GrowVeg Garden Planner uses your precise location to anticipate the date when this is likely to occur, so you’re pre-warned and can take action to winter-proof your plot. Check the calender to find your expected first frost date, but don’t forget to keep an eye on the weather forecast too.

Help your plants stay warmer or use the frosts to your advantage. Either way, being prepared will help you to successfully work with winter.

If you have any tips or tricks for getting your garden winter-ready, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

November Gardening Advice

November 1st, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

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The smell of wood smoke, the crackle of bonfires and the colourful explosion of fireworks means we’re into November. So, get out the woollies, wrap up warm and embrace autumn. Collect conkers, kick-up fallen leaves, light fires and enjoy hearty soups made from your homegrown vegetables.

Although gardens and allotments are starting to wind down, there are still plenty of jobs that need doing which will keep you warm on a chilly day.

But if you don’t fancy venturing out into the dropping temperatures, then kick back and get cosy. This is a good time to take stock, think back to this year’s successes and failures, and consider what you want to grow next year. Draw up lists, make plans, and think ahead.

 

In the flower garden

 

TULIP BULBS

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Temperatures are on the decline, the ground is starting to feel the chill, and with little threat of tulip fire infection, now is a good time to plant your tulip bulbs. Avoid bulbs that show signs of decay, mould or damage, and plant three times to the depth of the bulb. If you’re planting into a heavy soil, add grit for drainage, as bulbs sat in water w

ill rot. You may want to cover the area with netting or wiring, to prevent mice and squirrels digging them up.

Think ahead to the spring months and the look you’re hoping to achieve. Are you wanting great swathes of tulips, or something in the way of companion planting? Plan and plant.

ROSES

Why not add fresh colour to next spring’s garden by planting roses. Bare root varieties are easier on the pocket than potted plants, and now’s the ideal time for planting. Ensure they are well-watered and thoroughly mulched to prevent frost from damaging the roots.

HEDGES

As we enter the dormant season, this is the ideal time to plant hedgerows and conifers. Before planting, ensure you incorporate plenty of organic matter into the soil. With clay soil, you may also want to add grit for drainage. Winter is a season of storms and high winds, so depending on the hedge, once planted it may need a support, and tying in, just until it establishes itself. Water in well, and mulch.

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LAWN

Now’s the time to put away the lawn mower and reach for the rake. At this time of year, leaves will be constantly falling, creating debris on the lawn. By keeping your lawn free of leaves, you’re preventing pests taking shelter, and there’s no chance of damaging your lawn with the ‘browning off’ effect. Finally, if you wake to frosts, try to keep off the lawn, as you could potentially damage it.

 

MAINTENANCE

This is the time to retreat to your sheds and carry out maintenance work. From secateurs to shears, your tools could do with cleaning and sharpening after a season of use. Ensure all lawn mowers have been cleaned, checked, and drain off any fuel. It’s also an ideal time to clean and store pots and seed trays. Try to reduce waste and use less plastic by avoiding buying new pots, and using what you’ve got. Or, you could make your own pots. There are kits available for making biodegradable plant pots that will add a personal touch to your plant growing next season.

If you’re leaving stone or terracotta pots outside over winter, make sure they’re standing on clay feet to raise them off the ground, otherwise a ground frost can damage them and cause them to crack. Being raised also helps drain off excess water.

Pots can be expensive, so protect them as best you can by grouping them all together in the sunniest part of the garden. You could also try wrapping them in bubble wrap.

 

WILDLIFE

If you haven’t done so yet, fill your bird feeders. Ensure they’ve been thoroughly cleaned with warm soapy water, and rinsed.

Put out fresh water for the birds, but try to ensure it doesn’t ice over.

You can also consider building insect hotels. Leave small piles of wood in corners of your garden to allow wildlife somewhere to rest over winter.

On the veg patch

 

BROAD BEANS AND PEAS

If you’re hoping for an early crop next year, then now’s the time to sow. Ensure the ground is enriched with plenty of organic matter. With seeds planted, water in well and cover over with either a cloche or horticultural fleece. Not only will the seeds benefit from the extra warmth, but they’ll be protected from birds and vermin.

Certain crops benefit from a good frost, turning their starches into sugars. Vegetables such as parsnips, swede, and Brussels sprouts will be tastier after a cold spell. If you are lifting these crops on a cold day, make sure you do it with a fork, carefully prising them from the hardened soil.

SPRING CABBAGE

If you’ve sown cabbage seed weeks ago, then they should be healthy young plants by now. With five to six sets of leaves, they’ll be ready to be planted out. Ensure the bed has been well cultivated with plenty of organic matter dug in. Whatever the season, brassicas are hungry plants, so will need all the feeding they can get.

Charlotte potatoes in tyre planters

Plant your plants deep, to just below the first set of leaves, to prevent damage from ‘wind rock’. Water in well and mulch. You may also want to protect your plants with horticultural fleece or cloches.

CHRISTMAS POTATOES

If you’re growing spuds for the big day, then check them regularly. If they’re in grow bags or sacks, try to keep them somewhere, bright, warm and protected. As the stems gather height, ensure you earth them up. Not only will this encourage further tubers, but it will protect them from the chill. Finally, with dampness in the air and fluctuating temperatures, keep an eye out for blight.

GLUE BANDS

Pests will be looking for somewhere to rest up over the next few months, laying eggs and eating tender shoots which can have a devastating effect on fruit trees. Try wrapping glue bands around the trunk base of your apple, pear, cherry and plum trees to stop pests, such as winter moth caterpillars, climbing the trees to lay their eggs.

Other Jobs

Disconnect garden hoses and protect garden taps as frozen water can burst pipes.

Regularly check stored fruit, onions, squashes and potatoes for rot. Disregard any that have been spoilt.

With gardens dying back, you get a real sense of the blueprint of your garden. So, if you’re thinking of doing structural work, such as laying a new path or building a fence, this is a good time to do it.

If you are planning to have a bonfire to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, then check the wood pile first for any wildlife taking shelter.

If you have any advice of your own for looking after the garden in November, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

October Gardening Advice

October 1st, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

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The clocks go back later this month, as we wave goodbye to what has been a scorching summer. Now’s the time to enjoy the autumnal colours. From vibrant leaves, to ripe pumpkins, these are precious moments to savour.

And as the wildlife begins storing supplies to sustain them through the colder months, we should do the same. Keep harvesting, and if you can’t eat it, store it. You’ll appreciate it on a cold day when homemade soup is calling.

In the flower garden

BEDDING PLANTS

It’s fair to say that summer bedding plants have had their moment in the sun. However, we can still enjoy colour in our gardens, so think about polyanthus, pansies and primroses.

HARDY ANNUALS

If you’re looking ahead to next spring, then now’s the time to sow hardy annuals. Cosmos, marigolds or cornflowers can either be sown directly into the soil or into seed trays with sieved seed compost.

Place in water-filled tubs, and let the trays soak the water up, as watering overhead will disrupt the soil, and spoil the seed. Place carefully in a warmed greenhouse, and keep an eye on them throughout winter. You can also sow sweet peas in pots, and let them grow on in the greenhouse.

TENDER PLANTS

It’s been a great summer for sun-loving plants. But as the nights draw in, and temperatures begin to drop, this is the time to bring in your tender plants and give them some winter protection. Cannas are not made for colder weather, so find a spot in your greenhouse or shed, where it’s light and frost-free.

Cut away dead flowers or leaves to help prevent rot. For further protection, you may want to consider wrapping them in fleece. Over the colder months, check plants regularly.

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BULBS

Finally, you can think about planting your tulip, daffodil and allium bulbs. Whether they’re going into pots, containers or the ground, the golden rule is plant them to the depth of three times their height. Ensure the soil is well drained, as sitting in water over winter will increase their chances of rotting, so consider adding grit for drainage.

There is so much you can do with bulbs, whether planting in clumps, individually or among other varieties. If you’re planting in pots, you may want to think about using the ‘lasagne’ method. This is when you take different flower types and layer them one above the other. For example, first to flower would be snowdrops, so they would sit at the top of your ‘lasagne’. The next layer would be crocuses, and so on, until finally, tulips. It’s a great way to get the most from one pot or container, giving you continuous colour throughout the spring.

LIFTING BULBS

If you haven’t done so yet, then now’s the time to lift both dahlia and gladioli bulbs. Once lifted, foliage should be cut back to several cms above the tuber, turned upside down and left to drain for a few days. Once dried, these can be placed somewhere cool, dark and frost free.

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FALLEN LEAVES

As the leaves begin to fall, it’s important you keep on top of them and rake them clear from your lawn. Any build-up can harbour pests, stop light getting to your lawn, and create a ‘browning off’ effect. It’s especially important to keep paths and patios leaf-free as with a layer of frost, it can be easy to slip and hurt yourself.

If you’re not placing them on a compost heap, think about creating a wired pen. Leaves make for a great leaf mould, so by leaving them to rot down for six to twelve months, you’ll have free leaf mould which is great for mulching plants. If space is an issue, use bin liners which can be tucked away in small spaces. Make sure you create several small holes in the bags, however, or your leaves will quickly become a bag of badly-smelling slush.

PERENNIALS

By now, they may be looking shabby, but these plants can still offer benefits for winter wildlife. If you’re not going to leave them for the winter, cut the plants back to the base. If they’re summer flowering perennials, this is the time to divide and re-plant, to increase next year’s summer blooms. For protection against dropping temperatures, ensure you mulch around the plant. Don’t cover them over, or touch the stems, as this will encourage rot.

On the veg patch

FRUIT

This will be the final opportunity to harvest the last of your tree fruit, such as apples and pears. What isn’t going to be used straight away, can be stored. Ideally use slatted shelves or boxes, and place the fruit carefully on them. Check that each fruit is not bruised or damaged, and try not to let it rest on another fruit. Place in a frost-free, dark, but well-ventilated cool room, such as a larder or cellar. Check regularly, and remove any fruit that has spoilt.

Now’s the time to lift and divide rhubarb crowns. Using a sharp spade, divide the crown, ensuring each section contains at least one growing point. Re-plant in well drained, fertile soil, ensuring each crown is well spaced.

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GARLIC

Garlic needs a good cold period to help develop its cloves, so now’s the time to plant it. Don’t be tempted to use bulbs from a supermarket as they may harbour disease. Instead, buy them from a garden centre or online supplier.

In well-drained, fertile soil, place the individual cloves at 20cm apart, in rows 30cms apart. The cloves tips should be all you see of the garlic. You may want to cover over with either a fleece or netting, just to stop birds from pulling them up.

HERBS

Herbs, such as basil, parsley and coriander are not frost hardy. Therefore, pot them up and bring inside. Placing on a well-lit windowsill, should keep them happy over winter.

GREENHOUSE

If you’re hoping to use your greenhouse over the colder months, but an electric heater is not an option, then consider insulating it with bubble wrap. It’s a cheaper option which won’t reduce the light entering your structure. As the days get colder, make sure doors and vents are kept closed and any damaged panels are quickly repaired.

SOIL

If you’re leaving vegetable beds empty over winter, turn the soil. This will not only get air into the soil, but will expose hiding pests. You can also add a thick layer of well-rotted manure, or compost. Over winter, the worms and weather will help break it down, and integrate it into your bed.

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Other Jobs

If you’ve had houseplants outside, now’s the time to bring them back inside. Ideally, let them slowly acclimatise to the indoor heat, otherwise, the shock may damage them.

With boilers and central heating starting to kick in, keep house plants away from direct heat sources. Place them in a draught free area which is cool but with good light.

As this is the month of Halloween, it’s time to carve your pumpkins! This is a great opportunity to get children involved with the allotment or growing patch. Not only will they have seen the pumpkin grow from seed, but they’ll get to harvest and enjoy it. Make sure you don’t waste the flesh though; pumpkins make tasty autumn soups and risottos!

 

How to Save Seeds from Beans, Peppers, Onions and More

August 28th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

You’ve sown it, grown it and harvested it. But how can you take your vegetable growing one step further?

Easy: by saving your own seed from this year’s crops to sow next season.

When you come to think about it, saving seed is the ultimate in self-sufficiency; it’ll save you money and closes the loop on your growing but, above all, it’s delightfully satisfying.

Read on or watch the video to find out how to save those seeds.

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What to save

Some vegetables are easier to save seed from than others. Especially suitable candidates include peas and beans, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce, which can all be saved at the same time they are harvested or very soon afterwards.

Some biennial crops, such as onions, shallots, leeks, carrots, beetroot and chard are also worth saving, though you’ll need to overwinter a few plants from one season to flower and set seed the next.

What not to save

Avoid saving seeds from the cabbage family. These plants readily cross-pollinate with other members of the same family, so you’re unlikely to get what you hoped for.

The same goes for F1 hybrid which, because they are created from two separate parent varieties, simply won’t come true to type. For this reason, only ever save the seeds of traditional, open-pollinated varieties. F1 hybrids should include ‘F1’ in the variety name on the seed packet.

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Saving bean and pea seeds

Peas and beans are the easiest of the lot. As the end of the season approaches leave some pods to dry out on the plants. You’ll be able to see and feel the beans swelling within their pods. They’re ready to pick and collect when the pods themselves turn leathery or crisp to the touch.

You can get a lot of seeds from just a few plants, which makes saving these seeds very worthwhile indeed. Shell the pods to reveal the beans or peas inside, then discard any very small, misshapen or damaged seeds. Save only the best clean seeds. Spread them out onto newspaper to dry out on a warm windowsill for 7-10 days.

Fava beans, or broad beans, can cross-pollinate with other varieties, so only save seeds from these beans if you are growing just one variety.

Saving lettuce seeds

Lettuces produce literally thousands of seeds on each seed head. You may find you need to stake the plants as they stretch out to flower.

Once the plant displays its fluffy seed heads, pull it out of the ground and hang it upside down indoors to dry. After a few weeks like this the seed heads can be rubbed between the palms of your hands to coax the seeds free.

As with any vegetable, it’s important to choose the very best plants to collect seed from. This way you will actively select for those plants that perform the strongest and are best suited to the conditions in your garden.

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Saving pepper and tomato seeds

The seeds of tomatoes and peppers are ready when the fruits themselves are good for eating.

Wait until sweet peppers and chillies show their mature colour, then simply scrape away the seeds from the pith. Spread the seeds out on paper to dry out for a week or more before storing.

Before drying and storing tomato seeds, the pulp around them must first be removed. This isn’t difficult, but there is a specific process to do this correctly. See more on our blog for tips on how to do this.

Saving onion and leek seeds

Onions, leeks and shallots set seed in their second year. These plants cross-pollinate, so you’ll need to overwinter more than one plant of the same variety to flower the following season. The flowers are beautiful though, and provide welcome food for local bees and other pollinators.

The seed heads are ready once they have dried out and can be flaked off into a bag for cleaning and sorting. But if you need the space, you can hurry things along by cutting the heads a little earlier. First, check the seeds are ready by opening up a seed pod to observe the seeds inside. If the seeds are black, then you’re good to go.

Leave the seed heads to dry out in a warm, well-ventilated place, such as a greenhouse. Once they’ve turned a straw colour, simply rub the seed heads between your fingers to release the seeds.

How to store saved seeds

Dry seeds can be cleaned before storing by carefully blowing away any remaining chaff, or separating out the seeds through a series of screens or sieves.

Seeds should be stored in paper envelopes labelled with the variety and date.

Store them somewhere cool, dry and dark until you’re ready to sow in spring.

If you have any top tips for saving seeds, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Getting Rid of Weeds

August 22nd, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

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Weeds are a bane to gardeners. The combination of persistence and resistance makes them so frustrating.

Weeds can employ some pretty underhand tactics to get the better of us – breaking off bits of root that then regrow, throwing up seedheads that blow all around the garden, or sending their roots deep underground to evade capture.

To outwit weeds you’ll need to wage a concerted campaign on several fronts, but it can be done – and without resorting to weedkillers.

Read on or watch the video for tips and tricks on how to win the war on weeds.

The Enemy

There are two types of weeds: annual weeds and perennial weeds.

Annual weeds complete their life cycle – sprouting, flowering and setting seed – in one season. They’re easier to control, but spread quickly by seed.

Perennial weeds continue growing for a number of years but have far-reaching roots, making them harder to control.

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Fight Back

Starting with a weedy garden can be intimidating and demoralising.

Begin your campaign to gain back control by cutting or mowing weeds to the ground, then cover with a light-excluding membrane or mulch to deprive the weeds beneath of life-sustaining sunlight. Black polythene is very effective for this.

Alternatively, you can use pieces of cardboard. Remove any staples or tape, then position the cardboard so there is a wide overlap between each piece to make it harder for weeds to push through. Weigh the cardboard down to stop it blowing away. You will probably need to replace the cardboard as it rots down.

Perennial weeds with deep or spreading roots including bindweed, ground elder and nettles can take a year or more to die off but all those weeds will eventually rot down, helping to feed the soil for the plants that follow.

Remain Vigilant

With the ground cleared, it’s important to act quickly to remove any resurfacing weeds.

Carefully dig out the resurgents with a trowel or fork, taking care to remove all of the roots. Fragments of perennial weeds can easily re-root and spread, so dispose of the root away from your compost heap.

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Sink Them

Another option is to submerge roots in a bucket of water for at least a month, until they turn into a sloppy ‘goo’ which can then be poured over your compost.

Zero Tolerance

Tackle recently germinated weeds in existing beds by disturbing the surface of the ground as soon as they appear. Use a sharp hoe to skim the surface and dislodge the seedlings.

Do this in the morning if possible, and on a windy or sunny day, so that the exposed seedlings quickly wither. Regularly sharpen your hoe so that the blade slices through the weeds like a knife.

Act fast – a little effort now will save you considerable trouble later on! Revisit growing areas once a week to remove young seedlings before they’ve had a chance to establish.

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Quell the Uprising

The adage ‘one year’s seeding makes seven years weeding’ is very true!

Prolific weeds such as dandelion quickly spread if they’re allowed to produce seeds, so always aim to remove weeds before they get a chance to flower and set seed.

Keep on Top of ’Em

Organic mulches like compost and leafmould help to suppress weeds while feeding the soil for the crops you’re growing. Lay them around existing crops to give them an advantage over the yet-to-emerge weeds beneath. Mulching like this also means you can adopt a no-till method of gardening. By sowing and planting into this top layer of compost there’ll be no need to disturb the soil below, so the weed seeds within it will never reach the surface to germinate.

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Ground Resistance

Resistance is far from futile!

Consider covering bare soil with a cover crop or green manure to crowd out weeds and add valuable organic material. Fast growers like mustards may be sown as late as Autumn to cover the soil surface in a matter of weeks. Weeds won’t get a look in! Then, just before the new growing season, dig them in or pull them out to reveal clear soil ready for planting.

Intensive cropping using leafy vegetables to stop light from reaching the ground is another efficient way to clean the soil of weeds. Potatoes, for example, have masses of lush foliage that are great at excluding light.

Every gardener should aim to keep soil covered as much as possible, whether through efficient use of space with multiple crops grown side by side, or with generous layers of organic mulch or a temporary cover crop to nourish and protect the soil.

Peace Treaty

Peace at last! Once your garden is clear of weeds, you’ll want to keep it that way.

Check new plants for lurking weeds like creeping buttercup, and check that any bought-in manure or compost is well rotted and free of weed seeds too.

Keep compost heaps and potting mixes covered to prevent blown in seeds from settling, and maintain clean tools and boots to minimise the spread of weeds.

If you have any tips or tricks for doing battle with a weedy, jungle-like garden, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.