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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.

Everyone needs a compost heap

Everyone needs a compost heap

Everyone needs a compost heap
What if I told you there was a cheap and easy way to significantly reduce the amount of work to do in your garden?

Well, there is. It does require an investment in time to start with, but pays in the long term. So if you are a long game player, this can give you time to enjoy your garden rather than be a slave to it.

Gardening here in the Thames Valley in even a modest garden will generate vast amounts of waste vegetative material. You could put in your fortnightly green bin collection, or put the majority of to work to – quite inexpensively – improving your own soil. What everyone needs is a compost heap.

Time – or money – invested in the soil will bring returns through healthy, vigorous and longer lived plants. It does not have to cost anything. A few pallets will cost little, certainly not as much as a purpose made plastic “dalek” compost bin, and will be easier to use.  I prefer to use a little time rather than spend money on compost. Its good exercise too, so no need to buy a gym membership!

The requirements for making a good compost heap

First an incentive. Eventually you’ll be able to forget about having to dig over beds to remove weeds and condition the soil; let nature do it for you. Creating compost is serving your garden a high energy meal, and the various insects that enjoy it will do all the hard work for you.

A compost heap is not going to look pretty, so find somewhere discrete to keep it, even if that means building a screen to hide it. And all it has to do is contain the materials and hold them together so the beneficial bacteria that break down the plant matter can heat up and work effectively. No need to buy anything expensive mail order.

compost heap
Home composting is about recycling, and saving money. No need to buy something to look pretty.

Key to success is allowing air and water into the compost heap. You could regularly turn the compost, allowing oxygen in and the materials to be mixed, but that can be hard work. Your container needs to retain heat and moisture, so the contents can degrade faster. So locating it in direct sunlight can help, though is not essential; mine are all in shaded areas and work fine, if a little more slowly.

A balanced mixture of materials – soft grass and thicker woodier materials – will make it work better and faster. Adding cardboard or paper to separate layers will also help. Having a large amount of grass without other items to let air in will result in a nasty smelly unusable mess. A low-maintenance heap has brown and green plant matter, plus some moisture to keep the good bacteria going. If you have a hedge mow the clippings, and also any fallen leaves, as they contribute to the brown matter. And any not cooked kitchen waste is equally welcome.

Remember to only add materials in combination to keep a good moisture balance and create air pockets.

Compost care.  You’ll have seen on TV programmes how the gardeners have 4 or more cages which empty into each other and hence turn the compost. Back in reality we have no time or space or interest in that. But you can create your heap so that tumbling, turning or rolling it is easier. My article on the perfect compost bin is an example.

Add material regularly to keep feeding the bacteria, and keep the pile covered to retain heat. Turn the heap as it rots down, best about once a fortnight, but at least every 4-6 weeks. Or just add the waste well mixed. Or build an easy to manage heap, as I have experimented with .And keep it damp; dry compost won’t rot down.

You want to create something that looks and smells a little like potting compost you’d buy. Most important is that the right balance of mixed materials allows for air and water penetration. The better that mixture is, the less requirement there is to turn the heap.

The golden rules of compost heap

Make the heap as big as you can manage, in terms of managing but also in terms of what it will produce. Compost will need a certain amount of mass before it can get going, so don’t skimp.

  • Keep the heap moist. It should feel damp to the touch, like a wrung out cloth..
  • Always combine different materials, even if its just grass and cardboard with a few kitchen scraps.
  • Don’t put in the invasive and difficult weeds or their seeds, they are better in the regular waste collection.
  • The science is simple, and natural. Add materials that will rot when exposed to air and water, mix occasionally and out comes the elixir that makes your garden grow.

In my garden in Bourne End I have a soil that is heavy with clay. It retains moisture, and so many things rot over winter. In the summer it’s impenetrable, like rock. The gradual addition of compost has made the soil a crumbly easy to work texture that allows plants to expand their roots and flourish. Water drains away freely, but enough is retained. It has solved gardening paradox No 1 for me: well drained moisture retentive. I used to get frustrated about how one could find this utopia, but the compost heap has supplied it. And there are other benefits, in addition to the £300 or more that I don’t have to spend on the same volume of bought in compost to put on my beds.

compost heap
Some old pallets for a few pounds each will do just as well, and let you make a heap as you want it.

Benefits of adding compost to your beds

Soil structure is improved, retaining moisture in sandy soils and allowing drainage in sticky or clay soils. Having an open structure prevents the surface from sealing or crusting. Water can penetrate, where a crusted surface just sees water drain off and away from the plants.

An open soil will not compact so easily, which is better for the plants to get roots into, and insects to carry on their livelihoods, working the compost into the soil for you. Depending on what you put into the compost, it can neutralise your soil PH, making it more suitable for more plants.

And it saves you having to buy material to make your garden grow. Just spread it on twice a year and let nature do it for you. The more you do it, the better the garden is for it, and the easier it becomes to work it. And the garden will also generate more materials to go into the compost heap.

And the circle is complete. So if you want to start one autumn may be the perfect time. You’ll have lots of waste to cut down and no room left in the green bin. Its easier and quicker than taking it to the dump, and it’ll save you a packet next year. After a couple of years you’ll have less hard digging to do, and less plants to throw away that have died through too much or not enough water. Win, win, win.

June when borders are without flower Week 23

June when borders are without flower

June when borders are without flower
Mind the June gap. I have only become aware of this supposed null period in the borders in the last few years, but I have to ask “what gap?”

June gap refers to a period, usually June when borders are without flower.  It is the time after spring bulbs have gone, and before the herbaceous border kicks in. This is, in theory, boring for plantsmen and gardeners, and critical for bee keepers. Bees without flowers to feed on can be a catastrophe.

But in my Thames Valley plot I have to ask “what gap?” I am not without flower in any of my  borders with any aspect. In fact, I can already barely keep up with dead heading day lillies. It is a great chance to spend 10 mins morning and evening with a cup of tea (or glass of something cool later) taking in what is actually going on.

I have found one or two plants not maturing as they should, and hence being fenced in by their more vigorous neighbours. And a couple of gaps where there should have been something by now; that is where my pots of Dahlias will come into their own, as gap pluggers.

Non-stop flowering

Roses are starting to flower freely, there are foxgloves everywhere. Geranium Wargrave Pink is so prolific that I have had to make the first cut backs.

Not a “Chelsea chop”, but more a back to earth and start again.

There are late contributions from bulbs in the form of Camassia leichtlinii Alba, a happy mistake of packing as I am sure I ordered blue. The cream white flowers that progress up the stem ave reached halfway, whereas the blue form were finished in early May.

And the Alliums are in various stages of growth; Purple Sensation out and some nearly done, and Christophii just emerging.

June when borders are without flower
The East border with plenty of flower for bee and gardener

Plants to fill the June gap

Otherwise perennials have taken over with Digitalis, Verbascum, Geranium, Iris Siberica, Antirrhinum, Lupin and Papaver leading the way.

June when borders are without flower
Delphinium and Lychnis ready to join Iris and Geranium in flower

Here is a list of other plants that can help fill the gap.

 

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.

 

Chillis This week in the garden Week 9

Chillis This week in the garden Week 98

Chillis This week in the garden week 9

In particular, Rocoto. Sometimes also sold as Alberto’s Locoto. 

I first encountered this chilli pepper last year, and bought it only because the fruit was not standard chilli shape. In addition, it will also grow outside on a warm patio, and it can be overwintered, in the same way as a fuschia for example.

Overwintering gives the plant a head start, producing fruit faster and more of them.

The leaves are unlike the other chillis I grow as well. In fact they look more like a tomato, or deadly nightshade. They are large and hairy, and the flowers are small and purple.

The fruits are shaped like small bell peppers rather than the traditional and expected witches fingers or cones. They turn green to red as the mature, gradually bringing the branches down with their weight.

chillis this week in the garden
The unusual shaped Rocoto chilli

Rocoto chillis are easy to grow

This year the seed sown was from last years fruit, taken just before Christmas when my daughter used a couple to make chilli chocolate for her friends. I sowed the first of them barely dried out on New years Day. There was 100% germination in heated propagators through the mild January and occasionally frosty February.

Chillis this week in the garden
Rotoco chilli seedlings sown on January 22nd

Last week I moved the first ones on into individual pots. I want to pot these on quickly as they grow to maximise the outdoor season they will get in one of my suntraps.

Chillis this week in the garden
Rocoto chillis potted on in week 8

The original seeds were from Realseeds, a most helpful and friendly lot with loads of interesting seeds to choose from.  The website of the Chileman shows many varieties called Rocoto, with different colours of fruit and degrees of heat.

Mine are very much on the hotter end of tolerable.

And earlier this week I sowed 3 other varieties, some for the greenhouse but another that should grow outdoors. they should be ready to move on by mid-April.

Mulching This week in the garden Week 8

Mulching This week in the garden Week 8

Mulching This week in the garden week 8
After a dry period, maybe the longest since early in the year, I have been able to take care of some more tidying and mulching. 

That has involved taking back the old stems and withered foliage that had been attractive with a little winter frost. Now the frost has gone it just looks plain untidy without it.

Mulching borders
Borders with a little mulch to protect against any sharp frost

But it did provide some protection to crowns and emerging shoots when the occasional frost did arrive. Now that untidy protection has gone, a good mulch of home brewed compost is needed to protect for a few weeks. This will be worked into the ground by bugs and worms.

For me mulching is not about weed suppression; I hope the plant density will do most of that for me. It’s about providing a spring nutrition boost, and long-term soil improvement.

In the 3 years since my annual compost production was sufficient, the improvement in flower borders and raised beds has been fantastic. But the underlying silty clay needs to be constantly managed. So a good load each spring and prior to any  new planting keeps it in check.

Home grown compost for mulching

The volume required makes having your own compost supply essential. My 8 square meters plus leaf mould bins just about copes with the demand. To buy that in would cost a fortune. getting manure from a local farm delivered starts at about £50. The garden economics I use makes that £45 too much.

The material cleared from the flower borders has formed a new woody layer in the compost heap. Just as well as I have only about 1 cubic meter of compost ready. I have mown the grass once since New Years Day, but there is not enough real growth in it to provide the soft material needed for the next layer. A layer of partially rotted leaves will do instead for now.

Next week is pruning week, with roses, dogwoods and a small tree to attend to. What does not get used for cuttings will be shredded for yet another layer in the compost bin.