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When and why to prune

 When and why to prune

Seasonal pruning, maintenance pruning,  hedge trimming, fruit tree pruning, rose pruning, why to prune, when to prune, right time to prune, pruning and climate change,  confused seasons pruning, gardener Bourne End, Marlow, Taplow, Wooburn Green gardener

When and why to prune is a vast subject, and so this article aims to describe the basic principles. There are several reasons to prune, which have differing degrees of importance to the homeowner and gardener alike.

The main reasons for pruning

Pruning is carried out for these reasons.

  • Maintaining the health of the plant
  • Manage the size of the plant
  • To get the best from a plant, for its beauty, or for its yield
  • Necessary horticultural pruning, or aesthetic pruning
  • Safety pruning, removing material that can endanger people

The very worst thing that can be done is not to prune. Many clients refer to letting the plant grow bigger for privacy, but that often produces unruly open plants that offer very little privacy.

Regular management removes dead, damaged and diseased wood, maintains shape and character, airflow and overall size. And if your plant exists primarily to provide something to your garden, i.e., scent, colour or crop, those values can be enhanced.

Sometimes the horticultural requirement is more important, and sometimes the aesthetics and practicality control what needs to be done. Ultimately, the homeowner – and bill payer – decides whether the size and shape is more important than the health of a plant.

When is the right time to prune

Late winter and early spring are often the best times to prune. There are obviously some exceptions, including plants that can be damaged by cold weather, or that flower early in the year.  Winter is the best option as many plants are dormant. The sap is not rising, and plants will not bleed from the wounds. This allows time for wounds to heal before sap starts rising again as plants come into bud.

Winter pruning without leaves makes structural pruning much easier, leaving maintenance pruning as a lighter task when plants are in full leaf.

Climate change has caused some confusion in the seasons, in that what used to be a fairly know timeframe could now have a much larger – or narrower – window. So “late winter” and “early spring” may not be the same from one year to the next. According to the Met Office,  winter doesn’t start until December 21st, making late winter February 21st through March 21st. Casting our minds back over the last few years, other than late frosts, March has been warm. This uncertainty, or vagueness leads us to conclude that it may be better to prune when we know it is coldest, and plants are most dormant, into January and before the end of February – a much shorter window.

Some plants, such as grape and walnut, are particularly vulnerable to bleeding if pruned in mid- to late winter or early spring, as the rising sap spills out from the pruning cut.

Pruning exceptions

Being aware of these subtleties is what makes a gardener. Knowing to prune before the buds start swelling, but not so early in winter that the plant could suffer winter injury.

There are a large number of plants that flower early in the year, which if pruned early would deprive them of their primary purpose. But that may be a worthwhile sacrifice for a year if the the plant needs urgent or radical attention.

A couple of rules of thumb for pruning. If the plant flowers after midsummer, prune in winter. If it flowers before midsummer, prune after flowering. And as Christopher Lloyd said, it’s OK to do it when you think of it, have time to do it and have the tools to hand, than not do it at all.

Pruning is an art form
The results of not pruning or over-pruning

Objectives of pruning?

  • Cut out all dead, damaged and diseased wood.
  • Thin out crowded and dense limbs.
  • Trim watersprouts from limbs on trees.
  • Cut out all crossing or rubbing branches.
  • Remove weak wood and thin growth.
  • Cut back at least 6″ to healthy wood on any dead wood.
  • Remove suckers.

The plant and its condition dictates the pruning requirements. Most deciduous shrubs will benefit from thinning or heading, or both. Removing old growth at the base of the shrub, and new weak or thin stems will give room for air circulation and light. If a plant requires significant reduction, do it in phases allowing growth to resume between. That way we don’t shock a plant, or reduced it to a pile of sticks. It then has chance to recover and regrow from low down. This is  way a plant to scale back safely over a period of one to three years.

Leaving Pruning Altogether

Not pruning is probably the most common pruning mistake. It is not intuitive to cut something that you want to become bigger.

Thinning shrubs allows light and air to better penetrate the shrub. Removing old wood helps keep a shrub young and vibrant. Pruning can improve the health, vigour, and lifespan of your plants.

Putting the garden to bed-or not

Putting the garden to bed – or not   Winter garden, preparation for winter, garden ready for winter, put garden to bed,  gardener Bourne End, Marlow, Taplow, Wooburn Green gardener

Most garden owners are fairly individual about what they want and expect from their gardens. But the one things they seem to come together about is the tradition of “putting the garden to bed”. It’s a tradition that harks back to the days when winters were actually cold. And they may still be in some parts of the country, but where we garden in South Buckinghamshire a proper frost is now a rare thing.

All gardens are not the same

There are pros and cons to the idea. Certainly there are some plants that are a mess and offer little winter structure. There are others that do maintain some order and structure; we used to leave them so they’d look nice when frosted – see earlier point. And there are those that do offer some benefit to wildlife, seed heads or berries for food, or collapsed cover that provides shelter. So the argument for putting the garden to bed is not straightforward.

So while I don’t think that the herbaceous border should be left in its entirety, more can be left than tradition dictates. What this does in effect is spread the task of preparing beds for the spring flush of growth over a longer period.  It also enables better and easier identification when they start growing again.

Vulnerable plants

Those plants most likely to be affected are the annuals, and tender perennials. When it does get cold – last year it was into December – they turn black and a frost of any depth will turn them to mush. Also included should be Cannas, Callas, Dahlias  and Tithonia. But I no linger worry about lifting and storing these away in the shed or garage. Five years ago I was still lifting, but now the tubers thrive in the developed ground, and get a later but stronger start when the ground warms.  Other potential contenders are gladiolus. But where they are left in situ it is worth adding a mulch layer to protect and nutrify.

Putting the garden to bed
Dahlias should be cut back when blackened by frost, and either lifted or left depending on where you are in the UK

Perennials that can be cut back include hemerocallis, crocosmia,, phlox, lysimachia. Amongst those I tend to leave are helianthus, rudbeckia and echinacea.

Points to keep in mind in putting the garden to bed

There is no hard and fast rule I apply in partially putting the garden to bed. I just remove what is contributing little, keep what can make a difference to wildlife, and any relatively strong structure. Mulch where protection is required, but eave the majority of the mulching for when the final clear down is done in January or February, depending on how hard the winter actually was.

Knowing roughly when the last frost is going to be would be useful, but some clever persons has though t of it. You can use this tool to find your location and discover the average date of a last frost. Fantastic!

More important but not on most gardeners list is to add mulch to the borders.  This is more easily done into the late winter or early spring, when you can see where returning perennials are.  And you’ll also any seedlings from last year annuals that can be relocated, or just left to be natural.

  • Clear blackened tender plants, mark location and mulch
  • Cut back anything untidy that does not offer shelter or food
  • Leave plants with seeds or berries that contribute to wildlife
  • Leave anything that maintains structure
  • When it is finally cleared, mulching  the borders will provide a protecting nutrient layer. This will be worked into the soil to improve it throughout the year.

Must-have plants for any garden

My must-have plants for any garden
Gardener Bourne End, garden care Taplow, lawn care Wooburn Green, Hedge triming Cookham, Bourne End Gardener.

I’m often asked about favourite or a must-have plant, but I don’t think there is a singular answer. Many merge together creating the effects I like, and succeed each other in an orchestral fanfare lasting months on end.

But these listed below can form a core that would enable a long featured display from February to December.

Specific varieties are mostly not detailed, that would be part of the colour scheme or them of an individual garden. They could all be a must-have plant.

There are some shrubs for structure, grasses and perennials that will start early in the year, others that will last until Christmas.

And now is the time to consider any new plants for your borders. March and April are best months for planting, and if it gets as hot as last year, May will be too late. Unless you have irrigation installed or area slave to the hosepipe.

My Must-have plants – grasses and shrubs

Cornus, coloured stem dogwoods. Or coloured Willows. These provide basic flowers on fresh leaves, but of managed well offer coloured stems from December to March. They must be maintained annually, else they can grow beyond reach and the task becomes a chore. These are absolute must-have plants.

Phalaris. A vigorous variegated grass that can be divided annually to fill spaces.

Calamagrostis. Super tall grass that forms large clumps, lasts through winter as a frosted statue.

must-have plants
Two striking grass forms together

Miscanthus. Generally softer than above.

Stipa Gigantea. A most imposing grass with open oat flowers.

Black currant. Minimal fuss plant with great rewards. Grows in shade, but better, sweeter fruit is produced in a little more sun.

Essential perennials

Rudbeckia / Echinacea. The basic yellow or purple flowers are tough and will self-seed. They can be temperamental in wet ground. The newer alternative colours are more tender.

must-have plants
Echinacea purpurea, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’

Lupin. A packet of Russel hybrid seeds will see your garden full of flowers for years.

Crocosmia. The fresh dense growth provides a great contrast to most other forms. A few nice flower colours too.

Iris Germanica. Buy from a specialist as bare roots, all the colours you could imagine, various sizes and variegated forms too. The flowers can be shirt lived, but are still must-have plants.

Must-have plants
Bearded Iris provide some of the most intricate flowers in the garden. Short lived in warm periods, but so worthwhile.

Echinops. Spikey blue/purple globes on serrated leaves, can be vigorous.

must-have plants
The spiky foliage and flowers contrast with soft foliage and rounded Achillea

Eryngium. Sea holly, spiky leaves and flowers, great contrast.

Achillea. I love the tall yellow flowered version that look like cauliflower. Other colours are available, but can be more tender.

Must-have plants
Achillea cloth of gold.Tall, log-lasting, contrasting flower and foliage form. A simple must-have plant.

Hemerocallis. Day lillies, a mainstay for any garden. The flowers offer morning and evening therapy, deadheading while checking the rest of the beds. The more you deadhead, the more flowers are produced. So many colours, spreads easily, grows in ditches on freeways in California so is very tough.

must-have plants
An example of some day lily colours.

Verbena Bonariensis. Never be without this plant. I use it with Stipa to form screens through which the garden can be viewed.

Must-have plants
Stipa gigantea and Verbena bonariensis combine beaufifully.

Penstemon. Or this one. It is generally tough when established, many colours that can flower into December. Can be susceptible to drought or waterlogging.

Ground cover must-haves

Ajuga. This is wonderful, all but indestructible ground cover, bronze leaf with blue flowers. Leaf shades, size and flower colour vary slightly.

Heuchera. A wonderful variety of leaf/flower colour combinations mostly for shade or partial sun.

Geranium. The hardy ground cover plant, not tender pelargoniums. They vary by leaf shape and size, and colour, and by flower colour.

Bergenia. A very useful tough ground cover that tolerates shade well. Varying leaf sizes and flower colours.

Perennial plants: Lift, divide, repeat

Perennial plants: Lift, divide, repeat
Now is the time to divide perennials, spring divide perennials

With many plants just revealing themselves after winter hibernation, it seems that last  thing you’d want to do is dig them up. But for many, it will be doing them, and you , a favour. This is my ethos for perennial plants: lift, divide, repeat.

Some require this radical attention to maintain their vigour. Others to curb it. Or at least reduce the impact of it. That could be to stop a plant dominating an area, or to be able to use some of it to make a bigger display with more impact, or to split it and use the same plant to maintain the repetition.

Repeating the same plant in a border or adjacent borders helps to tie the scheme together. The same thing works with plants that are of similar colour and height. Using the same plants occasionally, or the same few plants in a repeating pattern adds cohesion. Otherwise there would a jumbled flow of individual plants, with nothing to bring it together.

Some plants either can be split, or need to be split, every 3-4 years. Some others can be done every two years, and sometimes more frequently than that. If the conditions are just perfect you can double the stock every year. This has happened in my garden with some crocosmias, and geraniums.

Self-seeding plant factory

In addition there are those that self-seed, providing a random imbalance of repeating that is entirely natural. These don’t actually need to be split, but it is inevitable that some will need to be moved. So, in effect, the same rules apply.

The small area of vacant soil at the front of borders is a favourite setting place for foxgloves, verbascums and verbenas. Sometimes they have found the perfect place to grow. But there is only so many 6ft high flowers you want at the front of the border.

Perennial plants: lift, divide, repeat

Other great self-seeders include eryngium, various poppies, cornflowers, nasturtiums and marigolds.

Don’t be afraid to split your border plants now. They’ll forgive you. Remember, for perennial plants:lift, divide, repeat.

 

Dogwood for winter colour

Using Dogwood for winter colour
intense winter colour dogwood coloured stems

Many gardeners “in the know” will now have borders featuring the coloured stems of dogwood. These vary from deep purple to a whiter shade of pale, with reds, oranges, green and yellow. They know the secret of using dogwood for winter colour.

And in the summer these same plants offer strong growth with interesting foliage and  flower.

Established Dogwood plants  are available from garden centres in the spring, but at £12 – £20 each it will be expensive to create the sort of block colour impact that gets them noticed.

The best time to buy is early winter, when rooted stems can be bought for as little as £1 each.  The more popular varieties, such as Midwinter Fire, will cost more. But the price of bare root canes reduces the more you buy.

One of my favourite sources for bareroot and perennials is Buckingham Nurseries.

I have used dogwoods for a few years now, both for the colour and for the winter framework. When they are cut back in the spring, the shorter framework provides support for emerging bulbs and perennials. So they earn their keep more than once.

Where to see dogwood for winter colour

A place that offers an idea of the sort of impact these plants provide is Dorney lake. I go there occasionally to drop my boy off to row or cycle, and always stop to look at the flowing banks of colour. It reminds of opening a large set of coloured pencils for the first time, seeing the colour themes grouped together, transforming from one shade to the next.

Dogwood for winter colour
Dogwood bank from a distance

Dogwood for winter colour
A closer view

Dogwood for winter colour
Willows add the golden hue

I also like the garden at RHS Wisley, where the dogwoods are planted closer to the water, with paths meandering through. From the opposite side of the pond you can see them reflected in the water, amplifying the intensity of the colour.

Dogwood for winter colour
Dogwood beds by the pond

Dogwood for winter colour
Midwinter fire with a Rubus foil

 

Both these places use other plants with similar properties to accentuate the effects. At Dorney a golden stemmed Willow provides intense yellow, while Wisley uses the ghostly Rubus brambles to provide a white foil.

Unless you have a significant garden that is likely to be where the  large colour block concept ends. But you can use dogwood for winter colour in the smallest garden, using just a few plants. But in order to see the intensity of one colour there needs to be another present, rather like a straight man; Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise or Barker and Corbett.

Using just green or just red won’t do because you can’t see quite how green or red it really is. I use other dogwood colours, or other coloured stems, to provide the contrast, but anything that provides a backdrop will do.

How to get that intense stem colour dogwood for winter colour

The best colour shows on the newest stems. And that implies that you have to cut off the old ones – mostly – every year. Do it while the plant is dormant, normally by the end of February. But delaying pruning until later will maximise the colour show. In established plants, wait until the new leaves start to show, then either coppice to a low stump, or pollard for a mid-height effect.

The best time to prune for most of us is when you have time to do it. But to get the best result of strong coloured stems next winter, prune before leaf growth really gets going. Make your stem reduction before the plants energy moves to the leaves, or re-growth is impaired. That leaves a window from Late February to late March, depending on how warm it is.

Dogwood is a plant group that will enhance any garden, one I can’t contemplate being without.

Using dogwood for winter colour workshop

This spring I will show you how to prune your dogwood for winter colour, and what to do with the cut stems afterwards. I use them to create cuttings for more plants, or as cut stems in a tall vase for the hall way or lounge.

Click here for more on the free Dogwood for winter colour garden workshop.

Pruning garden plants

Pruning garden plants
How to prune garden plants, Pruning garden plants, how to prune, gardener Bourne End, Marlow

Many gardeners or would be gardeners are intimidated by the prospect of pruning garden plants. It is perhaps the most mis-understood garden maintenance practice. But if you know what the objective is behind it, it becomes much simpler.

Consider first why you are pruning the plant. Then when is best for the plant, distinct from when is best for you. Sometimes the only time to prune is when you have time to do it.

There are several reasons for pruning

  • Restricting the size of a plant, to avoid overpowering adjacent plants and the landscape.
  • Removing growth that distracts from the shape, balance or symmetry of the plant.
  • To remove diseased, dead, or diseased plant tissue, the Three Ds.
  • Stimulate flowering and/or fruit production of old plants.
  • Create a desired plant form, like a simple hedge or a more complex espalier.
  • Direct growth in a particular form to eliminate or prevent problems. For example, reducing high of roses to prevent winter wind rock.
  • Remove plant parts that obstruct views or visiblity, access, or conflict with structures or utility lines.

Different plants need different pruning

How to prune depends on the plant type. The RHS narrows it down to 13 distinct groups, but you can take a broader and simpler view. Consider first just three categories: broadleaf evergreen, narrowleaf evergreen and deciduous plants. Each type responds differently to pruning, so know the plant type before you begin.

Broadleaf evergreen plants

These have broad, wide, or flat leaves. Shedding of old leaves and the growth of new ones synchronise so that the plant looks like it is never without leaves.  Hence the term “evergreen”. Broadleaf evergreen plants include some of the most popular landscape plants. Examples include hollies, ligustrum (privet), photinia (most often Red Robin), elaeagnus, euonymus, azaleas, pyracantha, nandina (chinese or sacred bamboo), gardenia, pittosporum, osmanthus, buxus, camellia, aucuba, mahonia, fatsia, and magnolia.

Smaller leaved plants like Berberis also come into this category.

Broadleaf evergreens have latent buds along the branches and stems that can become a growing bud. A latent bud remains dormant until stimulated into growth. The presence of these special cells allows fairly drastic pruning of these plants without fear of killing them.

There are also dwarf forms with a compact, dense growth habit. These may need little or no pruning to control size or shape. Tip pruning may be used to encourage a thick, well-shaped plant, but can need rejuvenating after a few years. They can be pruned severely (6 to 12 inches from the ground) with satisfactory results. Do this in early spring, before any new growth begins.

Pruning garden plants

But others are  substantial vigorous growers in need of annual or twice yearly pruning to control them. Tip pruning or trimming each year controls size or shape and is good practice for fast-growing broadleaf evergreen plants.

Narrowleaf evergreen plants, or Conifers

Conifers are mostly shrubs and trees that will not tolerate severe pruning. The narrowleaf evergreens have tiny, scale-like or needle-like leaves. Many produce a fruit-like cone, which gave the name “conifers”.

Examples include junipers, arborvitae, pine, cedar, spruce and teh controversial Leylandii. These evergreen shrubs need occasional foliage shearing in early spring to control size. they are without the latent buds that broadleafs have, meaning that you cannot prune them as severely. In fact if you cut back beyond the last green shoot you can end up with vast brown areas scarring the plant.

Conifers have a “dead zone”, located on the older portions of the branches of the plant. To avoid the “dead zone”, never remove more than one-third of the foliage. If you remove all the scales or needles with a pruning cut, no new growth will occur on the remaining limb, and drastic pruning of narrow-leaved evergreen plants can kill them.

This is why regular attention is essential. When they get too tall or wide little can be done to reduce them, other than complete removal.

Prune your conifers by removing a portion of the new lush growth, sometimes called the”candle”.  Once this growth has matured the buds present on it may not develop and grow. Trimming the tips of new growth, as you do with a hedge trimmer, before it matures can stimulate buds into growth. The effect is to  make the face of the hedge fuller and smoother.

Deciduous plants

Deciduous trees and shrubs have leaves like broadleaf evergreens but shed their leaves in the autumn or winter. They can be pruned hard without fear of killing them, like the broadleaf evergreens. Some common deciduous shrubs include forsythia, spiraea, weigela, lilac, rose, quince, honeysuckle, and hydrangea.

They’ll may need pruning to control the size and shape of the plant. Light to moderate tip pruning encourages thick new growth, resulting in bushy plants. Deciduous plants also may be pruned harder (thinning) or severely (rejuvenation), methods normally used before new growth begins in the spring.

Some different pruning methods

Pruning the tips encourages a thick, well-shaped plant.  That is effectively what happens with regular trimming.

Light tip pruning removes only a few inches of stem tips. This method is used to encourage bushier growth as it starts in the spring.

Thinning encourages broadleaf plants to flower and put on strong growth. This method is performed before the new growth begins.  Older or weaker branches should be cut back to a lateral branch or completely to the ground.

Shearing – hedge trimming – controls the shape and size of all types of shrubs. Shearing calls for clipping the newest foliage, usually just the surface couple of inches of new growth. Actually, shearing is a type of tip pruning that removes minimal foliage. Broadleaf evergreen hedges and screens are often sheared to promote thick, dense foliage.

The largest leaves of some hedging plants are not easy to trim and maintain a tidy finish. the larger the leaf the further away it should be from scrutiny. For hedges that are more closely observed try to use smaller leaved plants.

Rejuvenation is severe pruning used only on broadleaf evergreens and deciduous plants to control overgrown, leggy, and straggly plants. Use this method of pruning garden plants in early spring before the beginning of new growth.  For example, use it for fast growing clump-forming shrubs such as Buddleia and Mahonia. Cut back hard one-third of the oldest limbs  each year.

Espalier is the art of training the plant against a wall. Tall walls are best for this method. Pruning may be necessary several times throughout the year to direct the desired shape and form.

Topiary is the art of shaping plants into ornamental forms by careful pruning or trimming. Pruning is required several times during the year to keep them in perfect definition.

Pruning garden plants
A super example of topiary

Timing

The time of year for pruning garden plants is important. Pruning at the wrong time will stimulate new growth, possibly left exposed to early frosts or freezes. It could also remove flower buds that have formed, reducing next year’s flowers. The following guidelines will help you prune your plants at the proper time. Most pruning is for size control, and should be done in late winter through early spring.

Pruning garden plants should take place after the landscape feature of your plant has passed. For spring flowering plants, prune in late spring as the flowering season is ending; this allows for adequate growth during the summer to produce flower buds for the next year. For fall-flowering plants, such as some of the camellias, use tip pruning or thinning method. Prune as the flowering season is ending. Plants with berries should be left until birds have eaten them.

For plants that produce flowers on one-year-old wood (usually those that bloom after June), such as hydrangeas, glossy abelia, and crape myrtle, cut away only those branches with spent flowers or prune (thinning method) in late winter to promote vigorous spring growth.

Prepare your garden for winter

Prepare your garden for winter
what to do to prepare your garden for winter, gardener Bourne End, Marlow

The first frosts have made their mark, leaving all tender bedding and perennials are black and mushy. Here are a few things that must be done now to prepare your garden for winter.

This list of jobs includes lifting tender plants to protect overwinter and mulching those that will be left in situ. You’ll also need to clear the residue of perennial plants that have now died back for winter. And now is the right time to move and replant dormant shrubs. You can also plant new bare root or root ball plants.

Clearing the detritus means the winter framework is left to be enjoyed. Those nagging jobs would otherwise distract you from the winter beauty.

Deal with leaves now

The worst problem now is the masses of leaves that need collecting from lawns. Those in borders are untidy but won’t do any harm. Those left on the lawn for more than a week will set it back, so get them into leaf bins or onto the compost heap.

The dahlias and cannas have been hit by frost and need to be cleared, as do the calla lillies. I have treated them all largely the same, but this year am leaving some cannas in the ground. These will have an initial mulch of grit or gravel.  Mulches can be topped up when I do a winter compost mulch of the entire bed.  Others will retire to the greenhouse to be kept slightly damp. If the ground looks like it will freeze I might have to remove them all to the greenhouse.

The gravel serves to stop frost penetration but does not keep moisture at the crown, or that is the theory anyway.  It also shows me where they are, so when I dig the beds over to remove weeds I don’t stick my fork into them.

Prepare your garden for winter
Using a gravel mulch to mark location and protect the crown.

I employ a similar tactic when planting bulbs. Just covering the surface where they are planted with gravel helps me to  see where they are. It eventually gets turned into the soil and helps with the overall balance and my drive towards perfect soil; eight years working on it and some to go still.

Some bulbs  will also benefit from having a little grit or gravel underneath to prevent rotting in damp soils. They need just enough to stop water gathering and rotting the basal plate.

Clearing the decks to prepare your garden for winter

Clearing away the detritus of the autumn will also prepare your garden for winter. That way you may enjoy the structure left behind in the post-perennial period.

Mine is buxus shapes – still forming – and multi-coloured stems of dogwood, under-planted with cyclamen, narcissus and primulas.

Removing the decaying growth also enables the first shoots of spring to be seen more clearly, something we’ll be awaiting with anticipation of warming and longer days. Replacing it later with an even mulch of compost brings a neat background where new growth sings out.

The waste collected  of course contributes to the compost heap,  continuing the cycle of material grown from compost and returned to it.

Prepare your garden for winter
Blackened dahlias en- route to the compost heap

I have also cut down my – or more correctly my daughters – banana tree. This will also be left in place with a fleece wrap and wire cage, topped with bubble wrap to prevent water getting at the crown. Now three years old, leaving this plant out is nerve racking. But in the sheltered spot I am hoping it will not just survive but benefit from the southern sun as it rises in spring.

Seed Success in the garden Week 13

Seed Success in the garden Week 13

Seed Success in the garden Week 13
A few weeks ago I shared my seed sowing ideas with friendsI mentioned the tests and comparisons I was making to find the most successful way to sow seeds and grow on seedlings.

These have now to conclusions, and the answers are not what might have been expected.

Test one was on sweet peas. With a historic 50 per cent germination rate I thought there had to be ways to improve production. Thompson and Morgan have a  useful page of suggestions, but some of it seemed just too much hassle.  So I put it to the test.

They included soaking in water, soaking in tea – using the tanins to mimic passing through a birds digestive system. And also chipping the seed, not chipping them, planting them shallower or deeper than suggested.

Seed success with sweet peas
Seed sowing test with sweet peas

Nothing made a real difference, except for the deeper planted seed. They had not been soaked or scored in any way, just planted 4cm deep as opposed to 2cm. They came up faster and notably stronger.

I shall repeat that specific test for confirmation this week.

The other test was on the sowing medium, specific John Innes mix seed compost or a vastly cheaper multi purpose. I use the B&Q Verve compost, and recommend it highly. For most purposes I mix the MP compost with some sharp sand at 4:1

Seed success with multipurpose compost

I sowed 5 different seeds – Digitalis, Achillea Cerise Queen, Achillea Gold Plate, my own super Delphinium strain and some chilli peppers left from an earlier sowing – in lines across trays of compost.They were lightly covered with compost and soaked them from below in a water tray. They were next to each other in a heated propagator.

This produced interesting results in what actually germinated and how they behaved in the weeks following.

In the JI seed compost the Digitalis was up first after about a week, followed by the Delphiniums and a few of the Gold Plate. Nothing was going on with the MP still.

Another few days later and there was growth in all 5 lines of the MP tray, but nothing different in the JI.

A further week passed and all was ell with the MP, but the Digitalis had all died back in the JI tray.  My conclusion was that the composts were drying out at different rates, and the MP retained water longer. The Achillea Gold Plate and Delphiniums were all pricked out into trays and look strong. I have left the MP tray still to watch the slower growing chilli seeds, and to see what happens with the faster growing Digitalis.

Testing different sizes

The final test was in potting on, and what happens when using larger or smaller cells for growing on. I used 24, 54 and 60 cell trays available from the garden centre.

Delphinium seedlings
delphiniums in 60 cells.

Delphinium seedlings
Delphinium in 24, 54 and 60 cell trays

After 3 weeks the 24 cells plants are showing strong growth and ready to pot on further. The 60 and 54 cell plants are not so evidently growing away. They are are susceptible to  some cells being either too wet or too dry.  And it is hard to tell if the seedlings are not growing in the smaller cells, or if they are being restricted by them.

I will take them all apart this week for a definitive answer, even though that may mean sacrificing some of them.

So the conclusion is to use larger cell trays and stick with multipurpose compost, rather than the more expensive John Innes seed  mix.

 

Stipa Gigantea This week in the garden Week 11

Stipa Gigantea This week in the garden Week 11 

Stipa Gigantea This week in the garden week 11
Squaring up to this apparent beast – it having anchored itself in over more than three years – was not something I was looking forward to.

But it had been planted previously for convenience, rather than in the best position for it. It also needed tidying and dividing.

So with tread boards carefully placed to stop me sinking into the turned soil. I step in and start pulling out the long growth at about 12 inches from the ground. It reminds me of Hagrid. After removing a barrow full I can now see the extent of the clump.

The first fork goes in and meets – surprising light resistance. As the Stipa is up against a fence I have only 180 degrees to confront it, so place fork opposite the first lift and gently lever. And up it comes.

The roots are light and shallow, so getting it to split was no problem at all. In fact the outer sections with fresh roots showing look ready to fall off on their own.

To get a better look at I put on top of a wheelie bin. Trimming it back further leaves a neat Stipa “hedgehog”, that will be easier to part. Tough clumps can be split with a spade, but this was easily parted by hand into neat clumps with clear root divisions.

I have a spot in good sun and a lighter soil in mind, where it – or rather them after I have finished – will be seen.

Divide perennial grasses
Stipa Gigantea – trim back growth to from a “hedgehog”

Replanting Stipa Gigantea

The long established Hemerocallis that occupy the site have to be removed. At the same time I can dig in some home-made course garden compost. This and the continual mulching is producing a nicely textured soil compared to the slabs of clay that are otherwise the norm here.

From the one clump I made three, but one subsequently parted naturally and so there were four.

Stipa Gigantea
Replanting divisions of Stipa Gigantea

These two will soon be accompanied by Verbena Bonariensis, hopefully providing a delicate screen to peer through to see the main border.

The following photo shows the same plant 10 days after planting.

Stipa Gigantea
Showing strong growth just 10 days after replanting

 

Have the garden sell your house

Have the garden sell your house

Have the garden sell your house.
Making the garden neater or more appealing can make a great first impression, or help get the asking price you want.

I read an article recently that I had missed first time around. It was the open page of the broadsheet I had on the worktop as I cleaned my boys shoes. It immediately struck a chord. The basic premise was that if you have an appealing or desirable, or even just a tidy garden  then you are more likely to sell your house for the price you want.

The last two house I have sold both had gardens rich in features. These were a significant part of the appeal to the new owners.

But the article I read stopped being interesting when it segregated properties and what should go on in a garden by price, with a dividing line somewhere between £2.5m and £5m. A discussion of lakes and expanse of water featuring on the sale brochure sealed my opinion.

But a well-tended and interesting garden is available to everyone, size is not really that important. Unless you really want a lake. The size dictates what can be done up to a certain size, when ideas become the primary factor. As size increases budget becomes the most significant driver.

Use the curb appeal

Whatever you have or plan to do, keep in mind that you need to maximise the appeal to as many potential buyers as possible. A hard landscaped garden room with outdoor fireplace and cinema wall may have great appeal to same, but you can’t play football with you kid in it.

These are the factors to consider:

  • Neat and tidy, though wild flowers can scupper that
  • Well maintained. It must not appear forgotten
  • Interesting, with a variety of plants and features
  • With appeal for a family as well
  • Minimal maintenance
  • Well planted
  • Pay more attention to the front for “first impressions”
  • Spend a bit on bedding plants to fill any gaps and add colour

Have the garden sell your house
Just tidying the edges will make a diference

The subject of maintenance is very subjective. A cottage garden can be raked over a couple of times a year and work well in spring and summer, but an interested gardener can find something to do every week.

The appeal to a new buyer is the same as that of any visitor, in that they should be finding interest and wanting to look further. Most important is that it looks cared for, and is neat.

Keep it tidy

The easiest way to have the garden sell your house is to trim grass edges, and mow any lawn areas. Neat is not short, so keep the cut higher so no scalping occurs. Then just fork over any exposed soil in the beds, which is infinitely more appealing than compacted soil that has not seen a fork recently. Add pots to areas where you want to draw the eye, away from utility areas.

This same broadsheet article, which I could not find online, suggested covering the beds with bark chippings, as they were good for the soil as well. Of course they are, but they also attract birds hunting insect that hide in it. But birds throw the bark everywhere as they hunt.
So if you need to mulch the beds use a coarse compost rather than bark, or you’ll be picking up bits from paths and lawns every time before someone calls to view.

This article has some quite valid points though.

You can also use time warp to your advantage. Some well taken photos of the garden at its best from previous seasons will provide a better impression than the ones taken before it’s in bloom, or on the grey day the agent comes.