Entries from April 2010 ↓

Scarifying your lawn

If you want a really good looking lawn which is green and lush looking, then you need to look after it.

One of the most common reasons for your lawn not looking in top condition is that it is choked up with ‘thatch’. Put simply, this means that grass clipping and other bits of organic matter have built up among the grass and is cutting off the air supply.  Even if you have a good lawn mower with a grass collecting box, this will still happen over time and it will need cleaning or ‘scarifying’ every spring.

You can do this by raking it hard with a leaf rake – hard work and very time consuming, although it is satisfying when it is done. Don’t be worried by the fact that the lawn will then lock a mess. Within a week or two it will recover and start to look as you wish.

The easier way to scarify your lawn is to use a special machine. This can be an independent machine made just for this purpose or it can be an addition which fits onto your powered lawn mower. These do a better job in a fraction of the time and with a great deal less effort.

You can try to hire a machine from your local tool hire shop, but chances are very high that it will not be available when you want it and when it is available, it will be wet. The cost of the hire and the petrol to collect and deliver it makes it one of those machines which it well worth buying.

GardenCentre.co.uk sell a range of these machines at very reasonable prices. You can choose between machines which fit in front of your lawn mower or those which you pull along at the back of your lawn mower. However, if you really don’t want to be bothered with fitting the machine, they have independent scarifier machines which are really very effective.

There are a number of models of varying size and power so that you can choose the one which suits your particular size lawn.

Scarifying your lawn really does make a huge difference in the look of your grass. It will transform it from a tired patch of grass to a lush green, healthy lawn in a relatively short time. The job only needs doing once a yrear,but the difference it makes is remarkable.

fitting your water butt

Traditionally water butts are sited next to the down pipe from your roof guttering. This is so that the pipe from the down pipe to your water butt is as small as possible. Of course you don’t have to do this, you could just add a much longer pipe – but it is most convenient to site it in the traditional way.

Having placed your water butt, you need to divert the rain water from the down pipe into the butt. You could just feed the down pipe into the water with a down pipe collector.This works quite well. However, if you do this, there is a reasonably high chance that you will get debris from the roof into your butt and you need to make provision for any overflow from your butt. In fact, you can buy kits to perform just this job.

The other way to divert your water (and in my opinion much better way) is to use a rain water collection and filter system.

rainwater filter
gutter mate

This is a very useful bit of kit which allows you to conveniently collect rain water into your water butt whilst at the same time collecting any debris from the guttering. You do not need to fit any strainers to  the top of the downpipe so no need to continually climb up lafders to clear them. Once the assembly has been fitted (an easy job) the valve is easily adjusted to collect filtered rainwater whilst the filter basket that collects any debris such as fine sand, leaves, moss etc, can be visually inspected without dismantling. It is easily cleaned out when needed taking only half a minute.

If you want to collect rainwater in more than one water butt, there are also water butt linking kits available.

Water Butt Linking Kit

These are basically strong flexible pipes made for this job and come in lengths of 1.5m. They are easily fitted and can increase the amount of water you save.

Having got the rain water into your butt, you now need to get it out. Most water butts come with taps fitted, but they do not make it easy to use a hose pipe attached to them as the are usually too close to the ground. I have foiund that the simplest way to get your water from the water butt it to use a submersible water butt pump.

water butt pump

This means that your water then has some force behind it and is useful with hosepipes. You can even use it with grass sprinklers.

Warming your soil for faster growing plants

With the weather remaining decidedly chilly this spring, cloches are coming to their own. Putting a plastic cloche over your soil in early spring warms your soil and allows you to sow seeds earlier than you would otherwise be able to.K eeping a cloche over plants after they have germinated will make them grow faster and, if you use a cloche in the autumn, you can extend your growing season.

There are basically two ways of making cloches, the first is to use hoops and cover them. You can make your hoops a la Geoff  Hamilton but these often look very scruffy and do not last long. The alternative is to buy cloches, either on their own or as part of a kit including the covering.

Harrod Horticulture sell a number of  hoops of various sizes – small ones which have a width of 36 inches (92 cm) and a height of 25 inches (63cm). Medium hops with a width of 42 inches (108cm) and a height of 41 inches (108cm) and large ones which are 52 inches (133cm) wide and 40 inches (102cm) high. The tall ones are very useful as you can then get under them without the bother of moving them. Once you have your hoops, you cover them with clear polythene. This allows sunlight through to warm the ground but protects the ground from wind and frosts. Thus the soil warms faster than it would otherwise do.

The other advantage of building cloches this way is that once the need for soil warming is over, you can cover the hoops with mesh or net and use them as protection from birds and other pests. You can buy steel ground anchors to secure the mesh or net to the ground which saves a lot of hassle in digging it in.

The alternative to hoops and plastic is to buy ready made cloches. These tend to be more expensice initially but they are much more rugged than hoops and will give good service for a number of  years. They also look much more attractive. You can even get bamboo bell cloches for individual plants – a godsend for saving those early showing plants which would otherwise be cut down or severely damaged by frost.

Growing Strawberries

The season for buying English grown strawberries is very short -if you can find them at all. They are often short of flavour, probably because they have been grown under cover and forced to produce fruits rather unnaturally.Any other strawberries are expensive and pretty tasteless – and think of the air miles involved in their transportation.

For all those reasons, it is worth growing a few strawberry plants yourself. Threy are easy to grow and, once established will produce new plants to replenish old stock very freely. There were strawberry plants in my garden when I moved into this house. They grew like weeds – and were equally difucult to get rid of. They produced small fruits and not many of them, so I decided to replace them.

If you do not have room in your garden for strawberries (or don’t want to be bothered with protecting them from the soil, then why not grow them in a planter by the back door (if it is in the sun).  Strawberry planters have greatly improved in looks in the past few years and are no longer  ugly and utilitarian. The problem with the old type planters was getting water to the bottom plants, now with a central watering tube you get water to all your plants

Harrod Horticulture sell three different types of Strawberry Planters.

terracotta strawberry planter

The first is a terracotta strawbery planter made from frost proof Yorkshire clay. I think it is attractive enough to be an ornament on your patio, even if you do not plant it with strawberries. It is 18 inches (46cm high and has a diameter of 13 inches (33cm) so it does not take up to much room.

The third is a very useful and inexpensive planter. In effect it is a bag with pre-cut holes, enough to take 8 strawberry plants. It has handles for ease of movement and is made of polythylene so will last more then one season.

You can buy strawberry plants from almost any plant retailer. However, you should try to buy a named variety from a reputable sales outlet so that you know exactly what to expect. Thompson and Morgan sell strawberry plants as well as seed to grow your own.

Strawberries contain high levels of vitamin C but they also have high sugar levels, they are one of the few fruits not recommended for duiabetes sufferers. That said, a fresh strawberry just picked from the plant and warm from sunshine really is delicious.

Choosing a Water Butt for your Garden

As gardeners, we have a duty to conserve our natural resources and thereby protect our environment. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to collect rainwater in water butts and use it for watering the garden. In fact, I use rainwater to water my greenhouse as well. It really is very easy and doesn’t need a huge investment or to look ugly.

Rainwater butts (or barrels) come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.Which one you choose depends upon your taste and how large your roof and garden are. Fitting them couldn’t be easier.

First the types of butts and positioning of them. Harcostar are one of the most reliable and well known of the makers of Rainwater Butts. They guarantee their butts for five years so should anything go wrong (and that is highly unlikely) you know you are covered.

As I have already said, the type of butt depends upon your taste. They sell ex-distillery oak barrels complete with brass verdigris tap.

Oak Barrel Water Butt

It holds 50 gallons of water which is enough for many needs. However should you need a greater capacity, you could always link into another barrel.  They also sell three different taps to go with the barrel,a traditional looking tap, one with a snail as a handle and one with a frog as a handle. This could give your barrel a funky look if you so desire.

Less expensive, but mimicking the oak distery barrel look is a heavy duty polythene oak effect barrel.

Imitation Oak Water Butt

It comes complete with child safety lid and cut out section for inlet pipe. This one hold 52 gallons of water.

If you like the traditional green barrels, there is plenty of choice, depending upon the place you want to put it and the shape you want. Harcostar make a Giant tank and rainwater trap which holds 150 gallons of rainwater.

Giant Rainwater Tank

For a tank this size it is remarkably unobtrusive. Unlike most of the barrels, this one is rectangular in shape and has two positions for the tap, at ground level and above ground.

In fact I have two rainwater butts. I have a traditional green barrel by my back door which collects water from one roof. It is very useful as it has a flat top which I can use to put parcels on whilst opening the dor. My cats also sit on it waiting to be let in.  I also have a much larger water butt by the side of the house which I use to water my greenhouse. This is done by having a pump in it fitted to a hose which is then fed into the greenhouse. This can then be connected to your greenhouse watering system or like mine, just used with a spray on the end. Although, I do use it with a drip system when I go away on holiday. How useful is that!

Collecting rainwater to use on your garden is useful in a number of ways. You get pure water without the added chemicals mixed into tap water. It’s free, and with most houses now on water meters, this is always useful and you can feel good that you are doing your bit towards saving the environment but not using treated water.

greenhouse ventilation

If you have a greenhouse, you will know how hot it become in the summer and how important it is to open (and close) windows to allow airflow. It is not always convenient to do this, particularly if you are out during the day. That it where automatic ventilation comes into its own.

Automatic Ventilation simply means that your windows will open and close themselves. Often this is installed when your greenhouse is built but, if it isn’t it can be quite difficult to find the necessary accessories to perform this job.

Bayliss manufacture a number of greenhouse autovents designed to fit into almost any window.

Greenhouse Vent

They are quick and easy to fit and rely upon the energy created by the warmth of the sun to open. They open by degrees as the sun gets hotter and close by degrees as it gets cooler. Takes the guesswork out of opening and closing vents. Whats more they come with illustrated fixing instructions to make matters easier and a 2 year manufacturers guarantee for peace of mind.

If you do not feel that you have enough vents in your greenhouse, there is now a greenhouse window louvre kit on the market which will allow venilation in your greenhouse.

Greenhouse Louvre Window

You simply take out an existing 24 inch (61cm) pane and use the fittings supplied to install the new window. You can then open and close the vents manually or you can install an automatic opener to save you the bother.

Mounding up Potatoes

The seed potatoes which I planted in my garden are now showing well and it is now time for me to mound them up for the first time. This simply means that I shall take soil from between the rows and put it on top of the green growth from the potatoes to completely cover them.

Mounding potatoes in this way does two things, it protects the young growth from frosts. Potatoes will recover if they are frosted but it takes time and they will crop later. The other thing which it achieves is to give more room for the new roots with their resultant potatoes to grow and also to protect the potatoes from the sunlight when they have formed. You do not want your potatoes in sunlight – it turns them green and that it slightly poisinous.

The peas which I sowed in three inch pots in the greenhouse are now ready for planting. I would have lilked to have done this on Good Friday but the weather had been so cold that they were not ready. However, I shall now plant them in rows  about a foot apart and I will put the contents of the pots next to each other. That way the pea plants will be about two inches apart.

Peas do need support otherwise they get very messy. You can do this in a number of ways. Traditionally, you used twiggy bits of wood which you have pruned from hedges and such, but as most of us do not have large enough gardens to support this sort of growth, there are other methods. You can use a larger piece of wood each end of the row and string ‘pea and bean netting’ between them. This netting is specially made to provide the support needed. The support should be four feet high, although not all pea varieties actually grow to that height. Check your seed packet and provuide the height needed.

Peas are one of the plants that really appreciate not having weeds growing around them. They give much better crops if they are kept clean and even if you cannot weed all your garden, it is worth trying to keep weeds at bay in your peas.  Like all vegetables, peas taste better if they are eaten as soon as they are picked. The sooner you eat them, the more sweet they are.

Sowing Hardy Annuals

Now the weather is warming up and the days are getting longer, it is time to sow hardy annuals in situ. Hardy Annuals are flowers which you sow the seeds and they flower in the same season, then die. The hardy just means that they withstand some frosts, and that you can sow them outdoors before the frosts are totally over. This compares to half hardy annuals which are frost tender and need to be sown and grown on indoors protected from the frost and not planted out until all frosts are over.

Anyway, if you have a space which will be improved by a bright diplay of flowers, then Hardy Annuals could well be the answer. They are easy to grow, inexpensive and make a great display.

Start by digging all the weeds out of the ground. The cleaner the ground to start with, the better your plants will grow and look and the less work you will need to do later. When you have dug the plot, then rake it to a fine tilth. This simply means that the soil should be smooth and crumbly. If your soil has too much clay and small stones to do this -cheat. Rake it as smooth as you can, then add a thin layer of crumbly soil or compost. You do need to have dug the soil over though, plants will not grow in rock hard soil.

Next sow your seeds. The packet will tell you how deep they need to go. Sow them in rows, they will not look to formal once they have grown and you will be able to tell which is the seed you have sown and what is weed. The rows do not have to be straight, they can be any pattern you want, as long as you can recognise them.

You will probably need to thin the plants out a bit once they have grown. By this I mean that they will probably grow to close to each other so you will need to pull some of the small plants out. You can try to be very careful about this and transplant them but to be perfectly honest, this doesn’t usually work. You are  better off trying to sow your seeds as thinly as possible.

Some people mix fine seed with sand to help this. Others put it on their palm, the bend your hand until there is a crease across it and gently tap out the seed from the crease. Ther are also a number of gargets which are designed to help do this.I find that picking up a pinch of seed between my finger and thumb works as well as any other method.

Once you have sown your seed, make sure they are kept damp. If you have trouble with birds or any other animals, it is as well to cover them with horticultural fleece. This will protect them not just from birds, buy also to some extend they will keep them a little warmer. The plants will grow well under it. Just remove it when the seeds have germinated.

You can get a great diplay very easily and with little work from sowing hardy annuals in situ. Indeed, some of the seeds need to be planted in situ – most of the Poppy family come into this catagory,although some of the recently improved varieties do not mind being moved. The choice of plants is up to you, just sow, sit back and enjoy!

Taking Cuttings from Dahlias

One of my dahlia tubers has started growing very well so it is time to start taking cuttings.

dahlia Cuttings 1

It is very easy to take cuttings from Dahlias and very satisfying. Each cutting will grow into a plant and will flower this year. It will then produce a tuber and will grow again next year. Indeed, if you really want to, you can take cuttings from each new tuber next year.

Anyway, When the shoots are about 2 inches (5cm) long, take one firmly between your thumb and finger, being careful not to squash the stem, then pull it away from the tuber.

Dahlia Cuttings 2

It will come away with a small ‘heel’. That means a small piece of plant at the end.

Dahlia Cuttings 3

Then if there are more then two leaves on your cutting, cut away the lowest growing leaves until there are only two leaves (and the growing tip).

Dahlia Cuttings 4

Be carful not to damage the stem.Some people would then dip the cutting into Hormone Rooting Powder, but I find that Dahlia Cuttings strike so easily (that means they grow), that it is not really necessary.

Make a hole into a pot of compost and pop your cutting into it.

Dahlia Cuttings 5

Firm it down and water it.

Dahlia Cuttings 6

Keep the cutting moist and in three or so weeks you will notice that it is starting to grow.

Dahlia Cuttings 7

I took 9 cuttings from that one tuber, and there will be many more to come.

When they are large enough not to get lost in your flower bed, plant them out. It really is that easy. What’s more in a week or so, there will be enough shoots to take more cuttings. One year I took a hundred cuttings from one tuber. When you have got enough plants, then you can plant your original tuber out and it will flower as well.

Of course, you can plant your cuttings straight into your flower bed should you wish, but they tend not to do so well that way, as it is a buit cold for them and they tend to get smothered.

Grass Cutters

If you have not already done so, and I haven’t, it is time to think about cutting your grass. Whether, like me, you just grow patches of grass or whether you have a very neat lawn of which you are justifiably proud, once you start cutting your grass, then it needs doing regularly.

Most people find mowing the lawn a chore, although a few find it quite therapeutic. Whichever catagory you fall into, a good mower will make a gtreat deal of difference not only to the enjoyment of the task but also the way the grass looks when it has been cut.

There are a number of different types of mower out there and choosing the right one to get the finish you want can be a bit confusing. Lets start with the power. Basically, there are two ways to power your mower – petrol and electric. There are good and bad things attached to each.

The snag to the petrol driven mower is that you are carrying around your fuel with you and therefore they tend to be heavier to push. They can also be more difficult to start, although nowadays some petrol driven mowers have push button starting. That said, if you have a lot of grass you will need a petrol driven mower. They are more rugged and cope with larger jobs more easily.

Electric powered lawn mowers tend to be quieter to use. They are lighter to push and easy to start. However, you have to be very careful not to cut the lead which gives you your power feed.

There are two different types of mower, the cylinder mower and the rotary mower. The difference is in the way the blades are mounted and run.

The cylinder mower will generally give you a better finish than a rotary mower. It will usually have a roller attached to it and also a box for collecting the grass which has been cut. This is the mower to use if you want a lawn with stripes. Buy one with as many blades on the cylinder as possible and always keep those blade sharp.

Rotary Mowers come into their own if you have areas of tall grass. You can use them on close cut lawns, (many do!) but they will not give such a professional finish to ithe lawn. Hover mowers are a form of rotary mowers.