Tom is going to be lifting up a border and replanting

Tom is going to be lifting up a border and replanting

We are having some topsy-turvy weather of late. It’s cold one minute and heading for warmth the next, no wonder our plants are shooting and or flowering a little early… and as a result ever so slightly confused. They’ll be fine in the long run so no real worries at this stage. I would take care if we do have a significant frost as any new lush sappy shoots will be scorched. Prepare for this by using horticultural fleece … it really does work. And whatever you do don’t be tempted to put soft sappy plants outside if we are going to have an impending cold snap. Put them in your coolest place and be careful not to over water.

This aside it’s a great time to have a real clear up of any odd leaf piles and as I couldn’t do this last autumn, I’m going to be lifting up a border and replanting. The plants are mainly perennials that will tend to die down during winter and re-shoot in spring … so this is a perfect time. The remainder of the plants will be left alone and pruned at appropriate times throughout the year.

Have a plan if you’re going to lift up perennials. In most cases it may be as simple as lifting up with a fork, splitting and dividing, discarding old and diseased sections followed by replanting sections in the same place. For me, this gives me the opportunity to take all the perennials out and have a redesign of the area. What has worked well? Less well? Do I want to totally change and introduce new forms; although this could be costly!

It may be possible to split and divide perennials

It may be possible to split and divide perennials

It also gives me an opportunity to dig over the ground and incorporate some much needed well rotted organic matter. Digging doesn’t need to be at depth. If the soil is very friable and crumbly it is adequate to lay a good layer of compost on the soil surface – 10cm (4”) and then turn it in methodically over the entire area. If the ground has been more compacted it would be prudent to turn the soil over incorporating compost to the depth of a spade tine. Either way, it requires this to be done uniformly over the area; I’d even add horticultural grit or coarse sand if drainage needs to be improved.

Once the site has been prepared and the plants have been split and divided, this is an ideal time to place them where you think they would be best suited. Remember to note what the overall height was and the typical spread. Think about whether you want to create a border to be viewed more from the side. In this case it may be wise to think about graduated heights; tall at the back with shorter plants to the front. Personally, I like to jazz it up slightly by playing around with the depth of the border. Sometimes plants such as Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) are great for planting at the front and through to the middle of the border. Plant some of your grasses nearer to the front to give some density to the bed and create pockets of interest. Check out this link to an online design training session it could be perfect to kick start you into action: http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/htbg2/virtual_garden/

Once planted water plants in to achieve good soil contact.  If you are doing this now, wait until March to apply feed. There are lots of brands on the market such as Fish, Blood and Bone, Vitax Q4, Growmore. A good application rate is around 50g/ m² (1.8 ounces/ yd²).  Follow this with a good thick layer of well rotted organic matter such as garden compost, mushroom compost or leaf mould at around 10cm (4”). This will assist in moisture retention and suppression of weeds. In time it will also contribute to soil fertility.

This is an exciting time of the year.  Pop to your local garden centre or nursery for new plant forms and cultivars and ask them – they’re all very knowledgeable about their subject, and who knows you could have a completely different border this year.

Good luck and happy gardening!

For any gardening tips why not contact Tom Cole, Senior Horticultural Lecturer, Writtle College, Chelmsford, CM1 3RR by post (including a SAE) or by email at tom.cole@writtle.ac.uk


Students winter pruning

RHS Level 3 Certificate in Practical Horticulture students prune shrub rose

The last few weeks have really been trying for us gardeners, and have certainly caused us at Writtle University College to amend our timetables to accommodate the weather. Nonetheless, we’ve had all our classes on the grounds able to still undertake a number of jobs.

Only last week my RHS Level 3 Certificate in Practical Horticultural students managed to get a good number of shrub roses pruned and take the opportunity to start learning to identify conifers… a challenging plant identification test for the best of us!

With the shrub roses, which tend to flower on previous season’s wood, my group proved a dab hand at pruning them.

 

In order to get them all set for the new growing season they should be pruned in the following way:

1. Remove dead, diseased and damaged growth.
2. Remove last year’s flowering wood either to the ground, or to where there is a strong well spaced vegetative shoot by cutting to an outside facing bud.
3. Cutting to outward facing buds encourages greater airflow and as a result reduced diseases such as blackspot, rust and or mildew.
4. When pruning, take your time to stand back and look at the overall shape. Try to develop a goblet or vase form and always consider neighbouring plants.
5. Prunings can be recycled by chipping and shredding if free of disease… if not pop into your municipal waste or incinerate.

As it was still frosty in parts on the campus mulching will occur in March once feeding has taken place. Use a strong potash rich feed for roses, such as Top Rose, to enhance flowering and good all round growth. Lightly incorporate the feed and then add a generous mulch of well rotted organic matter. We’ll be using compost produced at the college and adding it around plants to a depth of 10cm (4″).

Winter in the garden

There are loads of jobs to do in the garden even if it is cold

A task that we’ve delayed due to the frosty conditions is lifting and dividing perennials. It looks like later this week or at least by early February we should be able to get on with this important and necessary job. Perennials need lifting up totally every 3-5 years as they die out in the centre and or spread out and take over beds. This technique also enables for the invigoration of the soil and the potential to redesign. It also gives you a huge number of spare plants for friends and family.

Lastly, if the weather remains cold don’t forget that there are loads of other jobs to do.  Check out these:

1. Keep paths and drives free of leaf litter; this reduces slippage for those walking over them and also removes debris that can be composted.
2. Continue to prune climber/ rambler roses plus bush and shrub types.
3. Clean down greenhouse structures including benches, pots and canes. I use a disinfectant to surface sterilise all areas.
4. Don’t forget those house plants; reduce watering and move to where the light is best to ensure good even growth. For orchids use a drip feeder – all good garden centres will stick them.

Happy gardening… and take the time to visit a local garden near you. Ever so slightly biased, but I do love to visit RHS Garden Hyde Hall over in Rettendon. Give them a call to check out any events/ activities on 0845 265 8071

For any gardening tips why not contact Tom Cole, Senior Horticultural Lecturer, Writtle College, Chelmsford, CM1 3RR by post (including a SAE) or by email at tom.cole@writtle.ac.uk


Tom plans to compost his tomato plants

Tom plans to compost his tomato plants

Autumn is well and truly here and there are loads of jobs to do in the garden over the next coming weeks. This will involve you getting fitter than ever before with all that leaf clearing and digging!

Before you pop out and put beds to rest or tease out any thatch on your lawn, give a thought for those tender salad vegetables such as tomatoes and chilli peppers. I’m just about to harvest and clear away the cordon toms this weekend. They’ve been super this year even though at times watering and feeding has been a challenge… remember all that hot weather and as a result constant watering and weekly feeding regimes? I decided to go away for the weekend, and even though I thought I’d covered all possibilities, I hadn’t envisaged heady temperature and humidity issues during late August and early September. The result was ‘blossom end rot’, a disorder due to erratic watering leading to poor uptake of calcium. This is an essential element for the plant as it helps build cell walls. A lack of it can cause a very distinctive browning to the end of the fruit which can impact on tomatoes and pepper quality. Nonetheless, a super year with bumper crops.

Pepper can be kept through the winter as they are tender perennials

Pepper can be kept through the winter as they are tender perennials

Next, the tomato plants will now be composted; however, the peppers will be kept as they are tender perennials. I treat them like I would treat Pelargoniums cvs, fuchsia and Heliotrope arborescens (cherry pie flower) by bringing them into a cool greenhouse and letting them dry gradually reducing watering to a minimum. Next spring they’ll all be potted on and cut back hard around March. This will invigorate the plant and also provide much needed shoots which could be used as cuttings to further increase stock. None will go back out until mid to late May.   Once I’ve cleared plants I’m ready to provide some much needed maintenance to the patio area by cleaning and tidying up the remaining tubs. All debris is composted, tubs top dressed with fresh compost appropriate to plant need. I also take the opportunity to add spring colour in the form of bulbs and corms such as dwarf Narcissus ‘Minnow’ and crocus. Your local garden centre will have loads on offer to tempt you!

Finally, any perennials that are looking tired should be cut back and spent tops composted. Leave grasses and any interesting perennials with decorative seed heads for the birds to enjoy over the winter months; these down mid to late February next year.

Happy gardening… and take the time to visit a local garden near you. Ever so slightly biased, but I do love to visit RHS Garden Hyde Hall over in Rettendon. Give them a call to check out any events/ activities on 0845 265 8071

For any gardening tips why not contact Tom Cole, Senior Horticultural Lecturer, Writtle College, Chelmsford, CM1 3RR by post (including a SAE) or by email at tom.cole@writtle.ac.uk


Your garden is a demanding beast which stops for no one

Your garden is a demanding beast which stops for no one

I hope that all are well rested and have enjoyed this summer and have had a chance to get away and relax?  However, as you all know the garden is a demanding beast and I’m afraid won’t stop for anyone!  This summer has seen some rather hot and balmy days and also the odd thunder storm, playing havoc with watering duties.  Only just the other day I was watering tubs and containers in the rain!  It just wasn’t enough to rely on mother nature; I had to boost the supplies.  That aside, other than watering and liquid feeding on a regular basis, there are just a few other jobs that shouldn’t be left too long.

This is the perfect time to look through the myriad of seed and bulb catalogues streaming through the post for colour ideas this autumn and importantly early next year.  Don’t just look out for decorative interest, which is important, but sometimes so is disease resistance especially for any edibles.  With perennials I’m also looking for those plants that are self-supporting  –  I just don’t want to deal with link stakes or canes everywhere.

One of the things I love to do is grow on lilies in pots and secrete them in the bed and borders as a form of successional bedding.  They’re ideal for giving height, instant colour and scent by the bucket load, however, once blooms have faded, they need to be removed and popped at the back of the garden to die down naturally; don’t forget to water though and feed to enrich the bulb for next years display.

Grow lilies in pots and put them into beds and borders

Grow lilies in pots and put them into beds and borders

Unfortunately you now have gaps…what’s to do?  Why not plant up slightly taller pots with perennials such as Rudbeckia, Echinacea and or varieties of grasses.  All of these flower well, but also improve with age…don’t we all!

Rudbeckia and Echinacea have fab flowers, but have even better autumn and winter colour with their superb deep black seed heads – very striking.  Grasses, on the other hand, produce flowers that are almost everlasting plus have foliage that colours well as it ages (they don’t need to be cut down until February next year). Doing this will extend the season of interest and keep your garden a talking point with friends and family.

Start to collect seed from plants.  Recently I collected spent flower stalks of Aquilegia vulgaris (columbine).  Harvest them carefully, because as soon as you touch the stems the seed falls.  Cut flower stems down to the base of plant or to an outward facing leaf and turn carefully into a large paper bag… and let nature take its own course.  Once seed has dropped sieve to separate any coatings etc from the seed.  Once complete seed can be stored in a clean envelope, labelled and dated, and stored in a frost free dry place.  Believe it or not I use the fridge, as long as its around 5°C (41°F), as this will ensure that viability is retained for as long as possible.  Use as and when required.  Aquilegia can be sown fresh in seed trays and left in cold frames or kept away from over exposed areas.  Sometimes they germinate early, if so keep them moist, NOT saturated, and allow them to grow on for at least ½ year.  This will enable a more stocky plant to develop.  Pot up and grow on for another ½ year before setting out into the ground.  Failing this you can also sow in February.  Plants will be ready to be move on early/ late summer.

Check out this RHS link to collecting, storing and sowing a range of seed https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=675

I can’t believe it another year has gone by and we have started another academic year at Writtle University College – notice the name change?

Check out the college web site for a full update www.writtle.ac.uk

If you’re looking to update your knowledge and skills or wishing to pursue a career  in horticulture give the team a call on 01245 424200.  Alternatively, come and chat with us anytime.  Check out this link for further details http://writtle.ac.uk/Information-Events

Good luck and happy gardening!

For any gardening tips why not contact Tom Cole, Senior Horticultural Lecturer, Writtle College, Chelmsford, CM1 3RR by post (including a SAE) or by email at tom.cole@writtle.ac.uk


It is best to water first thing in the morning and later in the day

It is best to water first thing in the morning and later in the day

Goodness, as I write this, it’s hot out there!  Having watered already earlier today…I’m at it again, especially with my tomatoes, peppers and fruit bushes. Best to water first thing and again at the end of the day, hopefully standing pots on saucers or trays to try and keep as much water around the base of the pot. I usually water at the end of the day as this is great for reducing evaporation.  However, if a plant looks like it’s wilting and suffering from drought in the day, then water it immediately.

Using the right amount of water is the most important aspect of a plant’s survival in dry conditions. Bear in mind that it is not just hot weather that can cause soil to dry out, windy weather can also have a detrimental effect.  Try to avoid watering plant leaves in direct sunlight because they can become scorched, particularly when they have hairy foliage. Why not, if you haven’t already, install a water butt in the garden to conserve water.

For those of you enjoying yourselves away from home it’s worth investing in an automatic watering system with a timer, adjust it to take hot and dry weather into account. I’d also move container plants into the shade if you are going away on holiday and no one is watering your plants; your plants will thank you for it.

If you’ve got trees and shrubs that have been planted in the last couple of years on lawns or in areas of rough grass have a circle of clear earth around them – this must be kept clear or grass will prevent essential moisture getting through. Mulching with bark or compost will help.

Elsewhere in the garden consider cutting back early flowering plants such as foxgloves, snapdragons, lupins and penstemons as they go over, cut back just those sections of the flower spike that have faded, taking care to leave any secondary laterals that may be growing. You may get a second flush of flowers. Others worth doing this to are those lovely, fragrant catmints, hardy geraniums and any hellebore that escaped an early prune. With hellebores, as you cut back flower spikes, take a look at the base of the plant for seedlings. Don’t lift them now; come back in the autumn and pop them on into 9cm pots using a soil based compost such as John Innes Potting Compost No. 2. Grow them on by the back of the house, in a cold frame or unheard greenhouse and planting out next spring.

Lastly, be safe in the sun

It’s not only plants that can start to flag in dry weather, if you are working in the garden in hot conditions, it is important to take the following precautions:

  • wear suntan lotion or sun block and top up often
  • work in the shade if possible, out of direct sunlight
  • wear a hat or headscarf…they’re all the rage at the moment
  • take regular breaks and have frequent non-alcoholic drinks

Good luck and happy gardening!

For any gardening tips why not contact Tom Cole, Senior Horticultural Lecturer, Writtle College, Chelmsford, CM1 3RR by post (including a SAE) or by email at tom.cole@writtle.ac.uk