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

Mixed borders can give year round interest

Mixed borders can give year round interest

The season is far from over.  At Writtle University College, the seasonal bedding is really at its best this time of year.

Over the last few years we have tried to make it a little more sustainable by using plants that are self-supporting, cover the ground and so block out weed growth that doesn’t require lots of deadheading.  The same can be said for our mixed borders around the campus.

A mixed border may contain trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and bulbs.  Modern gardens tend to be small and may be better suited to a mixed border that can give interest throughout the year.

For me the advantages of a mixed border are many:

  • Labour is expensive and it may be difficult to afford to maintain large areas of herbaceous plants.
  • Herbaceous borders do not provide sufficient all year interest so trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and bulbs are all grown together in a mixed border to provide extra colour and interest.
  • Shrubs are used to give structure.
  • Flowering and fruiting shrubs can provide interest in winter and spring.
  • Shrubs grown for their foliage colour can provide an effective foil or backdrop.
  • Herbaceous plants add to the seasons of interest especially in a small garden, by providing flowers and foliage at times when shrubs may be less interesting.

There are a few disadvantages of a mixed border such as:

  • Mixed borders can be difficult to plan
  • A range of skills is needed as trees and shrubs have to be pruned
  • Mixed borders may suffer from trying to look interesting at all times of the year

So if you want to add a new border this year why not consider a mixed one.  Consider the following:

  • The soil must be fertile, and well drained, with plenty of organic matter and moisture.
  • The area should be free of perennial weeds, pests and diseases.
  • The site must be sunny and open, away from overhanging trees; otherwise the plants become drawn and do not flower well. This is less important for foliage plants.
  • The site should be sheltered so that the wind does not damage plants.

Start planning now and preparing for planting out later this autumn or early spring.  If you’re sprucing up and existing areas these times are ideal for lifting up key plants and dividing them.  This simple technique enables you to keep young plantlets and discard and compost poor growth.

As far as maintenance goes check out my simple steps to success:

Fertilisation – an annual application in spring of a balanced fertiliser such as Growmore @ 100 g/m² or blood, fish and bone @ 70 g/m²

Weeding – regular weeding will be required, particularly in the spring and early summer

Staking – this is best carried out before required.  Materials used range from pea sticks, or lengths of hazel coppice, to bamboo canes and metal linking stakes.  Staking should be as unobtrusive as possible to allow the natural form of the plant to develop and should be 15-30 cm shorter than the ultimate height of the plant

Division – herbaceous plants require regular division to keep them floriferous and healthy.  This is carried out in the autumn or spring

Irrigation – irrigation may be necessary in prolonged dry periods or when plants are establishing.  Ground level irrigation systems such as porous pipes use water efficiently and do not damage flowers and foliage.  As with all irrigation a thorough soaking is preferable to a light sprinkling, in order to encourage plants to develop deep root systems

Dead heading – dead head where possible as this will encourage a longer flowering season

Pests and diseases – Monitor and treat pests and diseases accordingly.  Commonly occurring problems include aphids and powdery mildew.

Use this site for further information

Mulching – an annual application of a layer of leaf mould, well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost helps to reduce weed seed germination and conserves soil moisture and improves soil structure.

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

There are lots of shrubs which are flowering early this year, in some cases very early. With some many plants flowering before they would normally does this affect the way they are pruned? Ken Crowther spoke to Tom Cole from Writtle College for his views on the best times to prune.