Tag Archives: Mulch

Spring makes it all worthwhile

Spring makes it all worthwhile
Spring is coming, plants emerging in spring, first flush of spring

The dark winter days when daylight time was limited are over. The days when the list of jobs to do in rain or frost was never ending. Digging compost heaps, spreading it as mulch, cutting back gently decaying growth at various stages so as to maintain the elements of interest. On each occasion cursing as awkward winter boots and coats were donned. Spring makes it all worthwhile.

Spring makes it all worthwhile
Contrast of shade and texture provide intrigue. The dogwoods make their last stand before cutting back to the stool.

And there is not even much yet in the way of flowers, no extravagance, just the simpler and more subtle presentations of daffodils, snowdrops, primula, crocus, cyclamen and hellebores.

Spring makes it all worthwhile
Hellebores and cyclamen fanfare euphorbia and dogwoods in this shady area

The first flushes of exuberance are just about to start with kaufmannia tulips about to open.

But the real joy is in the myriad shades of green that are contrasting with the soil and with their emerging adjacent neighbours. Add to that the variety of forms and shapes and patterns. Spring makes it all worthwhile.

The simple peach red flowers of the quince, the deep bronze shoots of roses. And the self-sown plants just revealing their implausible choice of location; you can’t move them and undo what might be the most brilliant positioning you never thought of.

Spring makes it all worthwhile
The varying shades of quince flowers in shade or light. Flowers now, and then bronze etched leaves, and already looking forward to quince jelly for xmas.

Fronds of ferns just forming, and the relief that some of these delicate specimens have survived another year. That applies to pretty much every perennial showing itself, you welcome them like old friends, warn them of the monsters lurking nearby waiting to consume their fresh growth, and of the imminent cold snap trying to catch the unwary.

 

Gardening in winter

Gardening in winter
jobs to do in winter, winter tasks in the garden, winter gardening jobs

When I started From the ground up in early 2016 many detractors suggested that I’d have nothing to do across the winter. They could not have been more wrong. Gardening in winter is not only plentiful, but essential.

Many jobs can be done in winter, allowing more time for essentials in the spring.

Two key winters gardening jobs are pruning back trees, hedges and shrubs, and planting bulbs.

Bulb tradition

We traditionally think of planting bulbs in September, maybe October. God forbid you forget, you can get away with November. But the cold months are different now to the traditional view; winter does not really kick in until December. And even then, the ground is often warm still, and perfectly OK for planting bulbs.

This coincides with bulbs suppliers reducing their prices,   meaning that you can get twice as many bulbs for your money.

There is still that concern that you might not get exactly what you want, so if there is a “must have” selection, order then early and pay the price. Places where any “late red tulip”, or a generic small stemmed daff will do can often be filled cheaply. Just wait for prices to come down. Tulips are able to be planted out later than Daffodills, which can always started in pots under cover. These are ready to be planted out in February – or sink the pot – where there is a gap.

if you are planting 10 tulips or crocus then this will matter little. If you are creating a garden for impact, or developing themes year on year then saving time and money really makes a difference.

For a few years I have coveted Allium Globemaster, with 20cm globes on robust 1m stems. But at £3 to £5 each form many suppliers I could not justify the cost of creating an impact. In the sale this year 10 bulbs cost just £11, a reasonable cost for adding this element into my plan.

Gardening in winter
Allium Globemaster make a big impact

But the real gardening in winter is in tree, shrub and hedge care.

Gardening guides suggest that many shrubs require pruning in early spring. Again this is subjective, depending on where you are in the country. And how you define spring.

But lots of trees need attention while the sap is not rising, including Apples. And many shrubs are preferably pruned while dormant. Rejuvenation pruning, where hard pruning back is required after a period of overgrowth or neglect, is best done between November and March. That fits with the majority of definitions of “before spring”.

Examples include Berberis, coloured stem Dogwood, Spiraea, Deutzia
Fuchsia, Corylus, Leycesteria, Philadelphus, Cotinus and Salix.

The only plants that cannot be pruned hard are conifers.  These are mostly unable to regrow from old wood.

Deciduous hedges should also be pared back now. This is the ideal time to cut back those hedges that have become ever wider.  Prune back to a stouter more rigid frame, so the bush can present a softer more manageable face. This will need trimming as new growth gets to two – three buds.  And it should be cut to form an upward slant from a slightly wider base. This slanting or “batter” enables light to reach the bottom, allowing more even growth.

Doing this gardening in winter should leave more time for the spring essentials, like clearing ornamental grasses, and dead heading day lillies; things that cannot be done at any other time.

Renovation care

Restorative or maintenance pruning in winter is done at the expense of future flowering of the shrub, so you could lose some of this year’s flowering.  With large shrubs or hedges do it gradually, allowing the chance for recovery. Shrubs should be reduced in stages over two years, and hedges one side at a time, and the height at another time to the sides.

A good feed and mulch will help the plants recover.

Attending to the hedge sides separately means that it still maintains some integrity. When the side cut back in winter has recovered fully, the other side can then be reduced. This may be the following autumn. Otherwise wait until the gaps have filled in.

I have an overgrown elaeagnus that has a few leaves on the very outside of a large empty space. I don’t like it as a hedging plant; it not dense enough. So I am going to cut the outside face back hard.

Gardening in Winter
Overgrown Elaeagnus  before cutting back

Hopefully it will become dense enough to work as a hedge for both privacy and security. If not I will replace it completely.

 

Gardening in Winter
And after 30cm has been removed

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.

 

 

Making a compost bin – from the ground up

Making a compost bin –
from the ground up

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

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

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

Home made compost limitations

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

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

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

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

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

Pallets: perfect for making a compost bin

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

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

Some points to remember that may not be obvious.

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

Keep it balanced for good compost

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

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

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