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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.

Replanting a flower bed – Rip it up and start again

Replanting a flower bed – Rip it up and start again relaying flower bed, replanting flower border, dividing perennials, splitting plants

One of the first beds I planted about 6 years ago has looked tired throughout the year. Some of the plants did not really get going, while others seemed swamped. Large daffodils were still going in July, their unruly leaves spilling and spoiling. It just was not working, so it’s time to consider replanting a flower bed.

Replanting a flower bed
Extended dry periods have taken their toll

What I need to do is dig it all up, remove the weeds that were sneaking in, and replant with a fresh layout. Some bargains from the garden centre will help to diversify and extend the season as well.

Earlier this year I removed a large Stipa Gigantea from this bed, splitting it into five. This left a gap that I filled with Lupins and Achillea, mainly because I had lots of them. Some of them have established, but the dry summer took its toll.I will increase the number of Rudbeckia here, making the drift larger.

When replanting a flower bed the first job is to decide what stays and what goes.  Any surplus – in this case most significantly Crocosmia George Davison – are split and potted up. These are useful for passing on to friends or clients in need of a border filler.

Dig it all out, start again

I split and replanted some Iris siberica, Iris germanica and hemerocalis. Stipa tenuissima have been brushed out and replanted closer to the back.

Daffodils are replanted further back, so wilting foliage will be hidden amongst new growth.

There were also a few large Verbascum – mulleins – that grow over six feet tall with towers of yellow flower. The large leaves smother anything growing close by, so I have trimmed back the foliage and hope they can make do.

The space created allowed for some additional Heleniums to go in, something I have been building stocks of slowly, but not fast enough. The garden centre had some reduced from £9 to £3 in the sale, along with some Helianthus and Kniphofia,

Replanting a flower bed
Tidier, and ready to mulch for winter

I had put off this job, in part due to being busy, but also because such projects can be quite daunting. But it actually only took three hours. Achievable in a morning or afternoon with time to spare!

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Hot bed hot colours

Hot bed, hot colours
Creating a tropical garden with hot colours, design cut flower bed

Earlier this year I planted out a secluded south facing bed with a hot and tropical feel, hot bed, hot colours. This tropical feel garden, with hot colours for cut flowers catches the sun all day and would be in view from our main outdoor summer seating area .

This area is currently occupied by lots of Nerines, so flowers for the late summer  were already ahead. A Musa Basjoo Banana (£5 from a nursery at J1 on the M40) was key to the tropical feel. It just oozes tropics. Anchoring the bed at either end are Helianthus Lemon Queen and Romneya, the California Poppy Tree.

Filling in the spaces I used Zinnias grown from seed, Oesteospurmums from cuttings, and lots of bright Dahlias.

The objective of providing cut flowers from this bed would be bolstered by my first attempt at growing Alstromeria, the peruvian lilly. These are included as I read that they stay fresh in a vase for 3 weeks. I bought them mail order, and about half of them grew. Not ideal, but enough growing strongly to make up for losses.

Some Agapanthus I had been given are dotted in, with a view to them establishing to flower in forthcoming years.

So all planted and promises of hot coloured cut flowers all summer.

This bed also happens to be overlooked from my hallway, so is what we see coming downstairs in the morning. And what any visitors see when entering the house.

It started slowly, and I thought the dry summer would wipe out much if it. Not only did it survive, but it has thrived. The area is now our first call for cut flowers. They have been abundant from June and still plentiful going into October.

Hot bed, hot colours, lessons learned

I was caught out by the  late season exuberance, and found many plants were not adequately supported. This meant they leaned forward into the grass path, and left the back of the bed looking open.

Hot bed, hot colours
As the season went on bigger plants leaned in too far. Nerines came out early this year, in the past they’ve not shown until late October.

Some thought into what plants go where, and some discrete canes, should solve that for next year. And some planning to get through the dry weather. I will add further loads of compost. And install a leaky pipe irrigation system there, to make sure the water gets right down below the foliage and into the roots.

And the proof of the pudding? You can see that it is still bringing spectacular colour, especially for a cheap and fast go at a hot bed, hot colours idea. And especially compared to the perennials borders  that lose colour fast from October.

And the great thing is that it will only get better. I love it!

Hot bed, hot colours
Overall it met the brief, hot colours all summer long

Hot bed, hot colours Hot bed, hot colours Hot bed, hot colours

Revitalise a flower bed

Revitalise a flower bed for next year

revitalise a flower bed, Planning new flower beds, reworking a flower bed, redesign flower bed, design a flower bed, revive a mature bed
Not so much planning a flower bed, but I have had a plan to rework and revitalise a flower bed for 9 months now. But I could not recall what was growing in there, and was loath to just dig it out and discard anything. So I waited to see what all seasons provided and find out for sure what grows there.

In that time I have grown some Iris and Sedum that I knew would thrive there, and about 40 Buxus plants to use as a backdrop and border. So the time has been useful and saved me about £60 in new plants.

I also used the project as a cost exercise, timing how long each aspect took.

I had to:-

  • remove existing planting
  • clear any weeds and roots
  • rejuvenate the soil with compost
  • dig it over
  • and plant the new plants

Clearing out existing plants took two hours, involving the lifting of huge blocks of Crocosmia, and an invasive ground cover Campanula. The area is overshadowed by a large Pyracantha, which has both sheltered the ground from rain and deposited a deep mulch of dead leaves, making sure no water penetrated.

Revitalise a flower bed
Overgrown border in need of re thinking

Revitalise a flower bed
A small toad emerges during the disturbance. I do everything I can to encourage these slug and snail eaters.

Dig deep

Then digging it over, deep enough to crack the “pan” that has formed about 8 inches down, and adding 200 litres of compost, 3 wheelbarrows full from the compost heap, took another hour. Digging it in so it was well distributed consumed another hour.

It was then ready for new plants. The Buxus where laid out in two tiers, one that will eventually grow higher than the other. And the other plants dependent on where the sun would strike most in the afternoon.

Planting box in straight lines and evenly spaced is essential. If you have concerms about box blight, a reasonable alternative to Buxus for such framework is euonymus microphyllus, I saw it used in some national trust gardens recently.

My plan calls for a small space in front of them for the Iris and Sedum, Digitalis and Lysimachia firecracker. There was also some Convallaria that was salvaged to add back in.

Finally I added about 10 Echinacea plants that I have grown from seed. Six hours in, revitalising a flower bed is not as easy as it might seem.

Plan now to revitalise a flower bed

Draw up plans to show what is growing, what you want to keep and what will be discarded. Consider when is best for you to do it. Allow for weather and how much compost you can generate from your heap. And also plan to have plants ready to fill the empty space.

If you need a flower bed replanted or revitalised, call us for a quote. Or email us here.

hedge trimming cutting Bourne end

 

Gardener Bourne End, cutting high hedges Bourne End Marlow Flackwell Heath

Cutting high hedges

Cutting high hedges

Cutting high hedges, trimming high hedges, hedge trimming Bourne End, hedge cutting  Bourne End, Marlow, Flackwell heath
A few years ago I had quotes to have my Leylandii hedge cut. It was not overgrown, but rather tall, and long, and the warm weather really gets it growing.

The prices I got then for my 40 meter long, 3.5 metre high hedge were £80 and £95. For each side!

It sounded a little steep so I tested it with a time and motion study.

When I have cut the hedge myself in the past it has taken over 3 hours to cut each side. This was mainly because of the requirement to constantly climb on to an access platform and then down again to move it along. And the fact that I used a comparatively short cutting blade. 70cms would normally be considered long, but when faced with 140 square metres it’s small.

Cutting high hedges
120 square metres of hedge took me a about 3 hours to cut and more time to clear up.

Cutting the top involves a trapeze act with two ladders. So cutting from the ground instead is infinitely safer, as well as faster.

But that is all in the past. Now From the ground up has long reach and extendable hedge cutters and high access equipment.  These commercial cutters with 30mm teeth made light work of the hedge in an hour and a half total. On my current garden rates that would cost less than £60 per side.

Cutting tougher hedges

But Leylandii is not a measure of robustness, so I took on the neighbours Laurel as well. The machines did not flinch. Memories of struggling to place an access platform between shrubs came back, reminding me of hours wasted and scratches all over me.

Cutting high hedges
Conifer hedges should not be cut after the end of August.

So if you’re fed up of cutting high hedges, and the hedge is up to 14 feet tall, we can cut it well and for a good price.

A hedge that is overgrown and requires larger branches cutting out will inevitably take a little longer. This would be renovation more than a cut or trim.

safe trestle
Good equipment overcomes difficult access for high hedges

Hedge trimmings can be taken away, depending on volume and nature. Compostable materials are shredded and taken to our local compost plot,  or put in the green recycling bin. Some residue can be burned, or worst case it will be taken to local authority tip. This is a last resort given the expense.

August and September is the time to cut hedges. Call us for an estimate to cut your hedges now. Or email us here.

 

 

 

Gardener Bourne End, cutting high hedges Bourne End Marlow Flackwell Heath, hedge cutting Cookham, Wooburn Green, Taplow, hedge renovation, hedge trimming, hedge reduction

Collecting leaves

Collecting leaves in autumn

Collecting leaves in autumn, collecting leaves Bourne End, Marlow, Flackwell Heath, leaf collecting Bourne End, remove leaves Bourne End, collect leaves Bourne End
Around this time of year leaves start to fall. First those despatched by trees and shrubs desperate for water, and in just a few short weeks by the majority of the nations trees.

For many gardeners this presents a dilemma. To start collecting leaves “as they fall”, or to wait until they are all down and do it in one go.

Consider then what a carpet of leaves actually does to your lawn. Leaves bind together when wet, especially the larger varieties, making an impenetrable mat that blocks light and air from the grass. That is the two primary sources of life removed. This may cause patches, weakened areas or even kill it off.

Collecting leaves
Another crop of leaves to provide a vital fertility boost to lawns and beds

But grass is tough stuff, it will be back in the spring, right? Maybe, but not for sure. It can take months for grass areas to heal themselves, leaving lawns unsightly and even unusable.

And it’s easy to do something about it.

Fallen leaves are a usable commodity in your garden. Collecting leaves to be part of the regular compost pile, or kept in separate leave bins to create leafmould, will contribute a rich structure and mulching substance for your flower beds over the winter.

Or if you are fortunate enough to have a mulching mower, it will chop it all up and return it to the grass, thereby giving a huge boost to the fertility of the lawn. Otherwise your mower will be able to shred and collect most of the leaves for you to deposit in compost or leafmould bins.

Collecting with a mower or vacuum is easier than raking them up. Leaves that are whole, i.e., not chopped will take a lot longer to break down than the shredded ones.

Collecting leaves action plan

As leaves start to fall collect them regularly, twice a week if possible.

Start a leafmould bin or add them to the compost

As frosts start add them to the flower beds and around trees for the worms to incorporate into the soil.

So far we have not mentioned the other advantages of removing leaves. They are untidy, they blow into the house when its windy, they stick to the dog and cat, they are very slippery on hard surfaces. Trodden in leaves can make a real mess of your carpets too.

So put them to use! Collect them and return their energy to your garden.

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Holiday garden care

Holiday garden care

Holiday garden care
You can be more relaxed about leaving a well established garden while you go on holiday than one recently established.  Or one that has a lot of pots or baskets.

So what can you do to keep your garden living while you go away?

A well-established garden- over three years old – should be able to hold its own. Even in a mid- to high twenties summer week. It may even deal with two weeks. If plants have not established for at least two years they will likely feel the strain of an extended period sans water.

In theory the easy solution is to get someone in- a relative or neighbour – to take care of it for you. But what if you are a very particular gardener, and your friends don’t share the same passion – and ultimately care – that you do?

Then you need your local garden service to come it for you. As long as they are not just grass or hedge cutters and have some horticultural experience, they will know how to provide holiday garden care.

They water yours, you water theirs

An agreement between near neighbours could work well. I am very lucky, in that I have friends that are interested and knowledgeable gardeners. I can trust them.

But I still want to make it relatively simple for them too. You can’t expect someone to spend the same time that you would walking around the plot with a watering can.

I group my vulnerable pots and baskets together, so that there are fewer places to go with hose or can. Grouping pots closer together also maintains a more humid atmosphere for longer.

It’s also much easier to give the pots the required soaking when they are closer together. Remember that it’s better to give one or two good soakings a week than a little every day. 

I hang baskets in towers of two or three, so the water from the top one cascades down to the next ones, saving time and water.

But perhaps with the exception of certain key beds or plantings, it’s not reasonable to have someone chasing around all of your garden unless you’re prepared to pay for holiday garden care. But they do need to have an idea of how much water to use.

From the ground up can take care of your garden while you away. The service is available in the Bourne End – Marlow – Wooburn Green areas.

The upside of a dry week

A dry week or two will show you where plants are vulnerable. Therefore you’ll know where to direct your attention as far as improving the water retention in the soil. You can do this by mulching, or even re-digging the bed with more compost.

Some plants that are suffering in the heat may just be slow to stablish. I have two Astrantias that have taken ages to get going in a west facing bed.

Holiday garden care
Even plants that thrive in well drained or dry conditions like Sedum can suffer.

The two beds that I had dug last October – in the hope of winter frosts breaking down the clay – have many distressed plants.

Tender perennials like Dahlias seem to be OK. And the Lillies and Cannas. But Penstemons planted in spring have suffered, along with Achillea and Buxus.

But the bed planted with a Mediterranean or drought resistant theme has managed well in its first year.

A large top dressing of compost will be applied to these beds this weekend. I will slowly be returning pots and baskets to their places.

Dry weather planning

Consider getting a contingency to the hosepipe too. An extended dry period may result in a hosepipe ban.

Fixed installed irrigation is exempt. Drip and micro irrigation systems, and leaky pipes laid throughout the beds can still be used. You can also have these automated, so they will take care of the garden when you are away.

But back it up with  rainwater collection systems such as water butts. I say “butts”, as one will not last long if there is no rain for a few weeks.

Storing more water will make keeping your garden alive more cost effective.

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Making a compost bin – from the ground up

Making a compost bin –
from the ground up

Making a compost bin – from the ground up.
Making a compost bin must be the first consideration in any garden. It will provide a place to lose all the natural waste generated. And no matter how much it is neglected, that will turn into good useful compost or soil conditioner.

The product of the compost heap is where I start my thinking. I need mulches for beds of perennials, which protects and nourishes as well as conditions the soil. I also need soil conditioner for vegetable beds and for any new flower beds. And I need the finer components to bulk out other composts when potting on seedlings or divided perennials.

So if there was no compost heap, I would be facing a hefty bill from the garden centre.

Home made compost limitations

Compost from the heap is not a complete replacement for purchased compost. You still need that assured standard throughout the year. My personal favourite is B&Q’s own brand Verve, which I tried after reading it was rated number one by Which? magazine. I have not since had cause to try anything else.

But making a compost bin and the implied management of it can put people off. It will take space, and it will take time to “turn”, as we are continually told in the garden media.

But I think there is a way that is relatively simple to manage – including the required “turning”. And it takes a fraction of the time that a standard compost bin might.

I have tried this in the smaller of my two bins, and it really works.

Rather than having a set amount of space and filling it all with garden waste, you have a longer and thinner enclosure. This is two to three metres long, by up to a metre wide, depending on the space available and the amount of material likely to be added. Making a compost bin using easily available wooden pallets is easy. One at the closed end, and two or three along each side secured together with some of that surplus timber that every household seems to have.

Pallets: perfect for making a compost bin

Using the 1.2 metre “europallets” gives a good length but not the height, so are easier to lean over to manage. Pallets used to deliver paper to printers are also OK.

Filling starts at the closed end and after a month is “rolled” into the middle section. Meanwhile any new material is added at the first stage. One month later the process is repeated, with the contents of the middle section rolling to the open end. Then move section one to the middle, leaving an open space at section one to start filling again.

Some points to remember that may not be obvious.

  • Leave the bottom open to allow worms and insects in.
  • If under a canopy or in shade, leave the top open, but if in full sun or exposed form some sort of cover, something like carpet. there are times to cover, and times not to. This extract from Gardenweb sums up the conflict.
    If the weather forecast is calling for 25 millimetres (or more) of rain and your pile already had adequate moisture, throwing a piece of plastic over it for the weather event will do little, if any, harm and will likely save some grief in the long run.If the pile had adequate moisture to begin with, throwing a tarp over it will not add more moisture and make the pile too wet, this is not logical.
    In extremely dry or windy weather, throwing a tarp over it may conserve what moisture it had.
    If the pile is made up of very dry leaves, covering the pile with a tarp for a few days seems to help those leaves absorb the moisture, through the high humidity.  But a tarp thrown over a pile isn’t a ziploc bag, so water may be needed.
    There are numerous reasons why one might want to cover a pile, as there are numerous reasons why one might not want to cover a pile.
  • When adding to the compost pile try to mix the addition by the composition, some nitrogen based, some carbon based etc.
    The “what to compost” section at eartheasy.com has a great table explaining the various components.

Making a compost bin
Like this, but longer, open one end, closed at the other

Keep it balanced for good compost

That may then imply that some materials wait for a while before being added, either next to the compost bin, or if there is just too much put it in your green garden waste recycling bin.

To the obvious question “do I use this myself?” The answer is no.  I inherited compost heaps in a particular place, and had no need or desire to move them. But I did clean them up and make a two bin arrangement that takes just an hour or so each month to turn. I move new usable compost into tonne bags, rolling the next section forward and filling up from an adjacent bin. But I enjoy the workout!

Making a compost bin will be part of a garden workshop later in the year, as will what to do with all those leaves in autumn.