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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
The dahlias and cannas have been hit by frost and need to be cleared, as do thecalla 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gardener Bourne End, cutting high hedges Bourne End Marlow Flackwell Heath
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Watch out for the effect of hot weather on your pond
Effect of hot weather on your pond The recent hot weather has re-enforced my concerns about pond aeration. The hotter it gets the less oxygen there is for your your fish.
And that can start a chain reaction in your pond with disastrous consequences.
In general fish need more than 5 parts per million of dissolved oxygen. At 90 degrees F, 32 degrees C, the maximum that the water can hold is 7 PPM.
So sustained high temperatures will increase the water temperature reducing the oxygen available. It will also increase evaporation, further impacting the fish.
There is therefore little margin for error.
And pond plants may start to grow faster, further competing with the fish.
And even if the fish don’t die of oxygen deprivation, they will become more vulnerable to parasite attack. Or become stressed, the No.1 fish killer. Your fish will be stressed if the temperature is over 90 degrees for any sustained period.
In my experience koi are much more vulnerable to low oxygen levels. Don’t let them succumb to the effects of hot weather on your pond.
Should fish die when you are away, the rotting corpse will contaminate the water further, adding to your problems.
How to safeguard your pond from the effect of hot weather
The water needs to be shaded from the sun. Your pond is where it is, so unless you planned it to have shade you may not be able to quickly introduce any.
Make sure that two thirds of the surface is covered by large leaves like water lillies.
Moving the water pump to produce more water circulation will also help, as will creating a waterfall or fountain.
Reduce the amount of food, and the frequency of feeding. Also try to feed only when the water is cooler, early in the morning or later in the evening. Decomposition of food in warmer water will cause problems with ammonia and oxygen levels.
I have kept an air pump in my pond as an emergency back up for some time. In the event the circulation or aeration from the filter is reduced or stops the air stones provide oxygen to the water.
Ponds are vulnerable when you are away
Your pond is in danger when you go away on holiday. If the power goes off having a pump will make no difference. Unless it’s solar powered. These are available for about £50.
Arguably the most logical solution to have a solar powered pump, which will be powered when it is hot – when it’s needed – and off when it isn’t needed. And it provides a backup in the event of power failure too.
In the US where it is consistently hotter than the UK a common way to keep the pond area cooler is by misting. A fine mist around the pond can lower the temperature by up to 20 degrees F.
You may have invested a lot of time, money and passion in your pond. Planning for the effect of hot weather on your pond, and a contingency in case of power failure makes sense given the relatively low cost.
Probably less than the cost of replacing just one 12 inch koi.