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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.

A complete lawn care package

A complete lawn care packagecomplete lawn service, lawn care, lawn mowing, lawn treatment programme,  lawn care programme, lawn treatment plan, moss treatment, lawn feed and weed, kill lawn weeds, best lawn cutting practice, how often to cut grass, gardener Bourne End, Marlow, Taplow, Wooburn Green gardener, grass cutting

Over the years we have learned many do’s and don’t’s relating to lawn care.  And since 2017 we’ve tried to make ours better, to bring our clients a complete lawn care package. A totally coherent integrated lawn care service – From the ground up.

Now we can offer a completely connected lawn programme, you can finally say goodbye to disjointed and conflicting lawn services

Whether you require one time grass cutting or a regular complete lawn care package, we have the solution.

We offer a full professional lawn care programme throughout the year. Including mechanical management with mowing, scarification and aeration, and back this up with additional nutrient feeds and weed and moss control.

Lawn care is individual to your garden, and not fixed to the calendar. And it’s also weather and temperature dependent. But we’ll only cut or treat your lawn when local conditions allow. We don’t treat or cut just when it suits us.

But overall, lawn care is broadly grouped into four seasons.

Activity season by season

Winter  – December to March. This is usually the quiet time for lawns. With an occasional mow or treatment of Ferrous Sulphate for turf conditioning or moss control (only if conditions allow). But lawns will start growing earlier if the ground temperatures rise. This happened in the years prior to 2021.

Spring – March to May. Grass growth will usually be under way by now. The first light mowing will be done, becoming more regular throughout the period. And any remaining moss can be treated, by  using liquid lawn treatment and/or scarifying and raking . Conditions are usually better for turf repairs and over seeding around this time. And regular spring fertilising and weed control can start.

Aeration improves lawns
Aeration will usually start in this period, concluding with over seeding, often described as the single best course of action for a better lawn.

Summer – June to August. Regular mowing is important, and your lawn may require a weekly or fortnightly cut, depending on temperature and moisture levels; we’ll try to optimise for the benefit of your lawn and your budget. Summer fertilising and weed control continue as the weather allows.

Autumn – September to November. Lawn growth rates increase due to temperatures moderating. And so regular mowing remains important. The wet and warm period is ideal for scarifying and over seeding. Preparations for the winter begin. These include autumn lawn feed treatment keeping your grass healthier over the colder winter months. It is important to keep fallen leaves cleared up and off lawn through to the new year.

More lush lawns after aerating
After the summer months wear and tear aeration maybe necessary, and is a hugely beneficial treatment.

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.

Lawn mowing best practice

Lawn mowing best practice mowing lawn short, correct lawn mowing height, how long to mow grass, how often to mow grass, lawn mowing frequency, best lawn cutting practice, how often to cut grass, gardener Bourne End, Marlow, Taplow, Wooburn Green gardener

Over the years we have learned many do’s and don’t’s relating to lawn mowing best practise.  This gives us a good understanding of how best to keep a lawn healthy, and how to keep client costs as low as possible.

In an ideal world these points should always be applied, but unfortunately life and the weather get in the way.

Most important to lawn mowing best practice is keeping the lawn alive and healthy. Here are the basic facts.

Height of cut

Most contentious if the  height of the cut. Many people want to have a lawn that is very short, like a cricket pitch or tennis court. Of course they mostly don’t have the resources to undertake it.  Cutting turf too low is the most common mistake.  The idea is is to improve the lawn’s appearance, but the result is often the opposite.

After maintaining a lawn too low  for a couple of years, there will be more weeds, more disease, and generally poorer lawn quality.

Lawn mowing best practice
Cutting too low will cause damage.

This is caused partly by removal of too much leaf tissue and subsequent physiological effects on the plant. Mowing cuts newly emerged, highly photosynthetic leaf blades. This means older, less photosynthetically active blades must carry the burden of carbohydrate synthesis for the plant. As a result, the plant weakens and root growth slows as the plant-produced carbohydrates are shunted to produce new leaves. Grass in this weakened state is slow to recover from insect damage and disease, and weeds fill in the space.

Proper mowing height is critical to lawn health because it:

  • Allows for proper food production
  • Reduces stress
  • Inhibits weed growth
  • Reduces irrigation requirements.

In addition removing more leaf material and maintaining a lower canopy, the microclimate is changed. More light reaches into the canopy, increasing turf and upper-soil temperature. Consequently, temperature of lower-cut turf is generally higher than that of higher-cut turf. High temperatures speed up metabolism and can deplete carbohydrate reserves that the lawn needs for growth. In addition, high temperature can interact with pesticides and cause phytotoxicity.

Lawn height against lawn function

Mowing height should be based on the lawn’s main function, with consideration to the lawn quality and weediness. The height of the lawn cut will also affect the time between cuts, and hence the cost.

If a lawn is generally healthy it can be cut shorter on some occasions without major stress. So the plan should be to keep it generally longer, reducing the height occasionally. If the lawn has got longer, because it couldn’t be cut due to bad weather  for example, it may be reduced by several cuts, but still left longer than the usual final height.

Mowing frequency

Mowing frequency is based on the growth rate of the grass, not on a set time schedule. Getting this perfect is easier said than done, as the every lawn grows at it own rate. But it is the lawn mowing best practice.

Mowing frequency varies based on the lawn quality and use. A golf course typically mows its golf greens on a daily basis, while you only may need to mow a roadside several times a year. For most moderately to intensively cultured lawns, the best advice is to remove no more than one-third of the turf height at any one mowing. If you remove more than one-third, you may create an imbalance between aerial shoots and roots, thus retarding growth. Plus, too-frequent mowing can cause less rooting, reduced rhizome growth, increased shoot density, decreased shoot growth, decreased carbohydrate reserves and increased plant succulence. But, that has to be measured against cost, and availability.

So mowing frequency changes as grass starts to grow faster in April and May, slowing or even stopping in July and August, resuming in September through November; more frequently during part of the season and a reduced schedule during other months. Weather conditions, irrigation and fertilisation also affect growth rate.

Clippings

Clippings are one of the contentious elements of lawn mowing. They do occasionally benefit the lawn, but it won’t look as neat. Collecting clippings also takes longer and therefore costs more. Taking clippings away costs even more,  so best practice is to add to a clients compost pile. We try to explain and encourage  customers about composting and its benefits.

Some of the many benefits of leaving the clippings on the lawn include the return of vital nitrogen, providing up to 25% of the fertilising requirement . Removing clipping removes about 100 to 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre every year.

Leaving clippings on the lawn reduces mowing time by up to 50%. The larger the lawn, and further to the compost pile, the more saving potential there is.

The benefits of mulching mowers

Side- or rear-discharge mowers throw clippings back onto the lawn, but a mulching mower is the best option. These specially designed units cut clippings into smaller and smaller pieces so they will easily fall back to the soil, rather than sitting on top of the newly mown lawn.  These sophisticated machines create adequate suction to stand the grass, cut it, hold it long enough to chop it into tiny pieces and then evenly blow it into the turf without clumping. The subtle design of the individual cutting chambers and the blades inside the deck housing play a critical role in this process.

So when cutting your lawn we consider these factors.

  • Type of grass
  • Height of cut
  • Mowing frequency
  • Area use
  • Total area to be mowed
  • Obstacles present
  • Safety of operator and bystanders
  • Skill required for operation and maintenance
  • Skill level of operators and maintenance personnel
  • Economics
  • Equipment versatility.

We have chosen equipment to provide the best performance and cost for clients, and the wide range of lawn conditions we encounter. And while all clients are most important, lawn cutting tasks usually take priority because the task only gets harder if it is delayed. Cold, frost and wet weather delay cutting, but wet and warm weather is difficult as you can almost watch the grass growing.

Mowing safety

Our lawn mowing best practice allows consideration to client and operator safety when using lawn mowing equipment.  We are aware of hazards on lawns, proximity of people and property.

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.

Low rain lawn care

Low rain lawn care

A simple plan for low rain lawn care, cutting grass in dry weather, top tips for lawns in summer, keeping grass green in drought.

Deja vu. June 2017 saw dry weather and brown lawns. Even after the longest wettest winter for a while, in May 2018 some grass is already starting to turn brown.  Here are some pointers for low rain lawn care.

Lawns that have been managed carefully will be thriving still.  A plan that increases the strength of the grass is paying dividends now, with green swathes still dominating as a result.  But it’s not too late to adopt a plan that will save time, money and will keep your grass greener and healthier.

If you haven’t planned for it, what can be done now?  Here’s a simple guide.

  1. Keep the grass longer.
  2. When cutting, use a mulching deck, or leave the grass clippings on the lawn.
  3. Leave more vulnerable areas completely

Low rain lawn care
A mulching deck cuts the clipping smaller, and returns them to the soil. This allows them to break down and feed the lawn.

How to keep it green

And a low rain lawn care plan to keep it greener starts very simply too.

  1. Keep the grass longer. Think of “making it even” rather than cutting the lawn.  And if moss is present, raise the cutting height to leave it 20mm clear. Cutting too short is the main reason for moss and weed dominance in most lawns.
  2. Make sure your mower blades are kept sharp.
  3. Cut in small slices. If the lawn is longer, rather than try to cut it down in one pass, take two or even three passes, reducing the height slowly. These smaller cuttings will break down more easily, and feed and replenish the grass, rather than rot. Apply the rule of only cutting one third of the grass blade.

Mulching, or leaving fine clippings on the lawn, saves time in removing them to the compost or bin, and also returns valuable nitrogen to the soil. This could reduce the feeding requirement by 25 per cent. Given that most lawns don’t get fed at all, its a huge improvement.

The evidence is clear. To do less work when the weather is dry and hot, cut the lawn higher, leave the clippings, which will help keep your lawn green.

Look after lawns in drought

Scalping weakens the grass, leaving t vulnerable to weeds and heat. Cut the grass long!

Stopping Lily Beetle

Stopping Lily Beetle

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At this time of the season, whenever that is in the year, two particular subjects dominate my garden. One is day lillies and the need for constant dead heading. The other is lily beetle. The two jobs can be connected, but don’t offer the same enjoyment.

Dead heading the Hemerocallis rewards  you with more flowers. It’s also a chance to be in the border again. In the morning this is with a good cup of tea in hand, but in the evening it may well be a crisp white or rose.

Whilst surveying the decaying day lily blooms I keep an eye out for the little red monsters that can shred your lillies in a moment. Red lily beetle don’t touch day lillies, just the true lily family,  LiliumCardiocrinum and Fritillaria.

Stopping lily beetle
Red lily beetle are black underneath, so when they fall to the ground are very hard to see.

Since discovering that these apparently delicate plants were quite hardy I’ve planted many more, and with  them comes the invading red bugs. the result is worth the effort though.

What happens if you don’t stop red lily beetle?

These pests are attracted to the smell of the lillies. When they find them they quickly reproduce and leave hundreds of offspring that will eat the leaves and stem.  This may actually stop the plant flowing. So keeping them off is justified.

Stopping lily beetle
They have to be worth protecting from red lily beetle!

I employ two strategies in stopping lily beetle. One is to stop them finding the plant to start with, and second to kill them if they do find it. To mask the scent of the plant I use blended garlic filtered into a spray bottle. I mix in some washing up liquid to make it foam and stick to the leaves for longer. You must continue  to apply it fairly regularly though.

To make it use a couple of cloves crushed or finely chopped, leave to diffuse in boiling water for five minutes, then filter ( the pulp will block the sprayer) into a spray bottle. Add washing up liquid, then top up with water. Keep te pulp in a sealed jar to use next time, you’ll get four or five uses from one pulp.

And when I spot the red devils I use two hands to pick them off. One hand is beneath them, as they have a habit of just letting go of the leaf and falling to the ground where they’re hard to spot. The other can pick them off. Dispose of them with a foot on a hard surface.

The garlic spray needs to get to as much of the leaf surface as possible, including underneath. Here you may see the nasty clutches of eggs laid in excrement.  Remove these as well to prevent rapid re-infection.

I am always looking for other ways to enhance my protection of the lily plants with something sprayable and sticky, and equally pungent so the bugs can’t find the host.

How to stop lily beetle, red lily beetle, what’s eating my lillies, kill lily beetle, eradicate lily beetle, stopping lily beetle, red lily beetle,lily beetle garlic spray, lily beetle UK. Local gardener in Bourne End, Flackwell Heath gardener, Taplow gardener.

 

Improving clay soil

Improving clay soil

Making clay soil workable, improving clay soil, breaking down heavy clay, how to improve clay soil, garden jobs for winter,

 

The wet and cold of winter are likely to provide some of the best clues to your soil type. If your lawn or flower beds have pools of water, the lawn squelches beneath your feet as if walking on a sponge, you’re probably experiencing the symptoms of underlying clay. There are ways of improving clay soil.

Improving clay soil

Clay is often spoken of in hushed terms, with sympathy expressed for those unfortunate enough to suffer it. But other than a having to apply a different plan to keep it workable, those with clay might be grateful. Some of the most celebrated gardens are on clay, like Great Dixter.

Making clay soil workable

There is no shortcut to improving clay soil. It will take work, and some money, and it may take time. Key to making it as simple as possible to use the weather to your advantage. So step one should be to use winter weather to break down clay soil for you. This applies regardless of soil type really, why work the soil when winter does it for you? Dig the beds over and let cold, frost and rain break it up. But that assumes you’ve had that opportunity.

Next would be to use gypsum to help break the structure of the clay. It won’t work on its own, but in conjunction with some bulk organic matter it will be worthwhile. Gypsum causes the clay to clump together, or flocculate, and can improve damp lawns just by sprinkling it over the grass. It is a fine powder, so use carefully and with precautions to prevent ingestion.

Organic matter is the overall best solution, both breaking up the clay by separating it and providing moisture retaining matter for the months when clay dries out. Well rotted manure or composted bark are the best for this, but are twice the price of mushroom compost. As the third choice for organic additions, it is still viable, and given the cost benefit probably elevates itself to No 1.

Whatever you choose to add, it will involve barrowing it to the site, spreading it over the work area, and then digging it in. Spread the organic material a few inches deep across the affected area, before digging in to the underlying clay based soil. Slicing up and turning the clay first allows  the compost to be combined more easily.

Further applications of manure, bark or garden compost will continue the improvement process.

Don’t make it worse

In working your soil don’t make it worse by treading on it. Lawns especially should avoided. If access is essential try to use planks or boards to spread the load and avoid compacting the soil further. Or wait until the soil is to some degree dryer.

You could further improve a heavy clay soil by effectively diluting the clay. This involves adding particles that are larger, therefore taking up some of the space, separating the clay. This involves large volumes of sand or grit. The volumes involved make this method suitable only for smaller spaces, and the increasing overall volume of soil lends it neatly to making raised beds. Raised beds are naturally better drained. But they often infer a more formal layout.

The cost implications are a minimum of £5 per square metre. Getting it “perfect” might cost around £15, plus any labour required to facilitate it.

 

What to grow

In most cases gardeners have a plan of what they want to grow rather than what the conditions dictate. Improving the soil in this way helps that goal be achieved. Some plants actually thrive in the naturally damp and then dry conditions provided by clay.

Because clay soils can be hard to turn, and difficult to work on, keeping weeds out becomes a priority. Bergenias and Ajuga are both valuable easy care plants that provide more that one seasons interest in addition to their weeds suppressing duties.

Improving clay soil
Ajuga provides dense ground cover and all year interest, more than justifying its place in the flower bed, especially on clay soils

But changing the structure with composted material can allow that same range of plants, and another much wider range. Best of all is that it will not take as long to manage once its done.

Gardens with an underlaying clay soil will remain colder and wetter until later in the year. So whatever you decide to plant, planting is correspondingly later.

Gardener in Bourne End, Flackwell Heath gardener, Taplow gardener

 

Prevent snow damage in your garden

Prevent snow damage in your garden

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Pretty as the snow may be, there are situations where it can cause damage in your garden that will take some time to rectify. If you know what to expect, you can reasonably prevent snow damage in your garden, or at least the worst of it.

Firstly, the weight of snow build up can bend and distort the shape of your ornamental shrubs. While the damage is not permanent it can take a lot of preparatory work and months of growing to restore the preferred form.  It is very frustrating to have mis-shapen plants after the prolonged work getting the shapes right.

Damage can be more extreme

In extreme cases the weight of snow can cause branches to snap, a much more permanent type of damage .  In this case prune out the damaged area before growth resumes in the spring.

prevent snow damage in your garden
The weight of snow can cause branches to break

That snow lying on top of some plants can actually kill off the growth. This will leave large brown patches of dead leaves that will take up to a year to be replaced. Bay, especially if formed into a globe, ball or lollipop where snow can sit on top, are particularly vulnerable.

To prevent snow damage in your garden you can use a broom or rake to shake off the snow. If the snow has settled and then frozen it will be harder to remove. If it has become ice then its best to leave it until the weather warms up.

This of course assumes that the snow is an occasional visitor.  If you get snow on a regular basis then a more pro-active approach is needed. This may involve gathering or binding shrubs together with tape, or covering with fleece. Even then it may pay to shake the snow off before it builds up.

 

Simple rose pruning rules

Simple rose pruning rules

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There are seemingly many rules to consider when pruning roses, so daunting that most people choose not to bother for fear of causing more harm than good.

But some simple rose pruning rules applied at the right time will easily enhance your roses regardless of what they are.

Simple rose pruning rules

Consider first, does the rose flower just once? If so prune in late summer after flowering is completed.

The objective is – as with all pruning – to keep the plants free of dead, diseased and damaged wood (the three D’s). Crossing or rubbing branches and spindly growth should also be removed.

Avoid any excessive build-up of the older, less productive wood that can crowd out the centre of the plant. Opening up the plant to form a goblet shape is the plan.

Simple rose pruning rules

Remove older branches from the centre if necessary. If they become leggy and bare at the base, remove one or two stems back near the ground to encourage new growth from the base.

If on the other hand, you don’t know if the plant flowers just once,  prune your roses in February to March. Use the simple rose pruning rules below, as described by the RHS.

Prune in late winter before dormancy breaks

The idea here is to make the cuts before the plant breaks dormancy in the spring.

  • Cuts should be no more than 5mm (¼ in) above a bud and should slope away from it, so that water does not collect on the bud. This applies to all cuts, whether removing dead wood, deadheading or annual pruning.
  • Cut to an outward-facing bud to encourage an open-centred shape. With roses of spreading habit, prune some stems to inward-facing buds to encourage more upright growth.
  • If a dormant bud is not visible, just cut to an appropriate height
    Make your cuts clean and neat using clean and sharp secateurs. For thicker stems use loppers or a pruning saw.
  • Prune and dieback to healthy wood. Cut out dead and diseased stems and spindly and crossing stems. Aim for well-spaced stems that allow free air flow.
  • On established roses, cut out poorly flowering old wood. Saw away old stubs that have failed to produce new shoots
  • With the exception of climbing roses and shrub roses, prune all newly planted roses hard to encourage vigorous shoots.
  • Trace suckers back to the roots from which they grow and pull them, rather than cut them, away.

So there it is, simple rose pruning rules that we can all follow to keep your roses easily maintained, and enhanced.

From the ground up can show you how to prune your roses and other shrubs.

And if you need any extra guidance, search the RHS website for rose pruning, where everything is explained very clearly.

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