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


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


Over watering plants is a waste of time and money

Over watering plants is a waste of time and money

Plants have different water requirements which vary with their stage of growth.

Factors affecting water requirements:

• Size of plant • Speed of plant growth
• Stage in life cycle • Weather conditions
• Type of root system • Position in garden
• Size of leaves • Type of soil

Plants obtain the water they need from the growing medium, through their root systems or from the air. Many specialised plants such as those growing in tropical conditions have aerial roots or specialised leaves which absorb water from the surrounding air, storing it for use at a later date.

When plants are grown commercially or in amenity situations they often require more water than can be supplied by natural means. In such situations water has to be supplied by artificially to ensure good quality plants.

Before watering it is important to assess whether a plant requires irrigation to avoid wasting water and flushing plant pots of nutrients. Indicators include wilting, light coloured compost, a gap between the compost and the pot where the compost has shrunk as it has dried, and the pot being lightweight.

Water to the point of run off and stop, allow water to soak in and re-water if necessary. Large plants need enough water to allow soil to become wet to a depth of 15cm. A thorough soaking which percolates deep into the soil will encourage plant roots to grow deeper making them more drought tolerant. Irrigating little and often does more harm than good.

Equipment for watering plants
The type of equipment used for watering plants will depend on the number of plants requiring watering, the regularity of watering and cost of equipment.

Dipping plants
Used for watering individual dry container plants. Dip pot completely and leave until bubbles stop rising, remove and leave to drain.

Watering cans
Used for watering individual plants in the soil or container plants such as seed trays and pot plants. When watering plants in the soil the rose may be removed, however, you should make sure soil is not washed away from the root system.

Use a rose when watering seedlings, turning holes upwards for a gentler sprinkle. Stop once run off occurs and wait until water soaks in before continuing.

Hoses
Hoses come in a wide range of sizes from 1.4 cm – 2.5 cm bores, with most nurseries using 2 cm hosepipes. They may be made of rubber or plastic, the most robust have a nylon braiding. Lay flat hoses are frequently used to irrigate growing areas. Hoses are used widely in amenity and commercial situations for watering plants; they can be used with sprinklers, roses or spray lances. Hoses can be permanently attached to taps using jubilee clips or be removable by using geyco or screw couplings.

To avoid scorching foliage never use sprinklers in hot sun

To avoid scorching foliage never use sprinklers in hot sun

Sprinklers
Used to water large areas such as lawns. May be static, having to be moved periodically to a new area, or rotating when the head moves round, or from side to side. These cover wide areas but may still need to be moved if large areas are to be watered. The disadvantages of sprinkler systems are evaporation and overlapping spray patterns, leading to over watering within the overlapped areas.

Seep hose/porous pipe
Used for watering borders, beds, and within nursery areas for watering container plants. Seep hoses consist of a polythene tube with a sewn seam along its length, which allows water to slowly trickle out. This system is liable to blocking by calcium deposits, but causes less damage to soil media than many other systems.

Porous pipe is made from recycled rubber and allows water to slowly drip out onto the bed or border.

Both of these systems deliver water at soil level which avoids excessive evaporation. They may be covered with mulch or left on the top of the soil.

Oscillating spray lines
Consists of long metal or plastic pipes that clip to each other with a series of holes along their length. Usually mounted on stands, water pressure causes them to rotate back and forth. As with sprinklers, it is important to plan out carefully the position of spray lines in relation to each other, and therefore avoid overlapping spray patterns.

Safety
The following points should be observed to avoid damage to plants and soil, and accidents to members of the public.

• Never use sprinklers in hot sun, to avoid scorching foliage
• Do not over water plants – it wastes time and money and can cause disease problems
• Do not underwater – it causes checks in growth and poor quality plants
• Do not use watering cans that have contained chemicals
• Never water near electrical equipment, remember electricity kills
• Avoid leaving hoses and other irrigation equipment laying across walkways
• Outside taps should have an anti flowback device (to avoid contamination of water supply)

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


Gardens across the UK are a blaze of colour with plants and vegetables growing in gardens, pots and tubs. The secret to having a colourful display is feeding. Baby Bio’s Anita Dent thinks many gardeners don’t feed their plants because they don’t know which one to use.