Entries from May 2010 ↓

Tamarix – a great looking shrub

When I first moved to this house, the garden was very exposed. There were no hedges or fences around the bounderies and the garden is surrounded by fields and then a river. The first thing I needed to do was plant a hedge. Although I had taken loads of cuttings from shrubs in my old garden, none of them were large enough to plant out, so a trip to a garden centre was called for.

The garden centre I favour were selling groups of 5 shrubs for £4.50 – a bargain, even if they were not all to my choosing. I immediately bought two of them and planted them along the back fence. That was five years ago.

The shrubs have now grown as tall as I am and regularly flower. I prune them for shape and to keep them to a size I want them, although I do not keep them as a neatly pruned hedge. They are in very stony poor soil, but they are still doing very well.

Among the shrubs are two Tamarix. I had never grown these before and would certainly not have chosen them if I had been buying shrubs individually. However, I would have missed out. They really are great. They are a bit of a thug, they grow very thick, long branches very quickly, but I can forgive them that trait since they are so attractive.

You can get Tamarix which are evergreen,but these particular varieties (they were un-named so I cannot tell you what they are) are deciduous. In late spring they start looking deep red which in itself is attractive. However after about three weeks they suddenly burst forth with a cloud of pale pink. Wow! This lasts for a month or so when the leaves appear. They are deep green and are needles rather like pine.

You propogate Tamarix by taking semi-ripe cuttings and at some stage I may well do that and raise a tree as a spot plant. I’m sure it will look god. Tamarix are fully frost hardy (they have to be to survive in the garden here). and require sun and well drained soil. You prune them in spring. I actually do mine when they are in the dark red stage because that co-incides with the time I prune a ribes hedge.

Don’t be put off by the fact that Tamarix grows in exotic places. They are tough as old boots. In mild areas they are very wind resistant and thrive in exposed, coastal conditi0ns. So if you are tempted by one – go for it. It will repay you with pleasure for a long time to come.

Trace Elements in your soil

Trace elements are so called because they are needed in very small quantities.However, these elements are still vital to plant growth and a shortage of any of them will leave your plants looking sickly.

If properly managed , particularly if you garden organically, dificiencies should be very rare as the trace elements are present in manure, compost and other bulky organic matter which you add to your soil every year. You can, however, get problems if the action of trace elements such as iron, boron and magnnhibited by limy or alkaline soil. This shows itself as a yellowing of the leaves of rhododendrum and other acid loving ornamental plant. Raspberries to are particularly susceptible to iron dificiencies which show up as yellowing between the veins of the leaves.

I have already talked out Molybdenum and Boron, so the next trace element is iron. Small quantities of iron are required in the formation of chlorophyl. I have already described the symptons but it is worth saying that iron deificiency is often confused with magnesium deficiency. The treatments for iron deficiency is top apply a dressing of seaweed meal and/or manure.

This leads nicely to magnesium which is necessry for the formation of chlorophyl and protein. Like iron deficiency, it shows as stunting if the younger leaves and yellowing of leaves especially between veins. If rapid action is needed, spray with liquid seaweed then apply seaweed meal or compost.

Zinc and Copper are enzyne activators and deficiency of either will have the same symptoms. Younger leaves in particular will be mottled yellow. If you grow citrus trees they may develop a condition known as “little leaf” which is self explanitory. As for most of the other trace element dificiencies, the treatment is to apply a dressing of seaweed meal;, well rotted manure of compost.

Although Sulphur is a major element, it is often clsassed as a trace element, although in fact it is needed in fairly large quantities. It forms part of the plant’s proteins and is involved in the formation of chlorophyl. As you woiuld expect, deficiency shows itself in stunting and yellowing of leaves. A shortage of sulphur is rare if you garden organically as there is usually enough in the organic matter which you apply to your gatrden regularly. However, if you do notice a sulpher deficiency, apply a very light dusting of calcium sulphate (gypsum) over the surface of the soil.

It is worth stressing that the best treatment for any trace element deficiency is to prevent it happening in the first place. This is normally quite easily achieved by the continued application of bulky organic matter. Where you have experienced deficiencies take the precaution of treating the soil with seaweed meal fertiliser immediately.

Re-sowing sweet corn

Because I was not vigilant enough about frosts, I planted my sweet corn out too early and didn’t cover them when we had a hard frost a week ago and they all died. A bit dis-spiriting but nothing ventured, I sowed another lot of seeds in my greenhouse. They only took three days to germinate and are already large enough to plant out. I shall do so tomorrow or Monday.

Home grown sweet corn is so much better tasting than any you can buy, particularly if you cook it immediatelyou harvest it. Sweet corn is not a vegetable to store. As soon as you harvest it, it begins to transform the sugar in the cob to starch and so you lose the sweetness. In fact, the best way to serve sweetcorn is to boil your water to cook it and then harvest your cobs, bringing them straight into the kitchen and cooking them. That way they don’t even need butter on them. Delicious. However, having said that, sweet corn does freeze very well, either as cobs or as seperate kernals. Just cut the kernals from the cob. The quicker you freeze your sweet corn the better, that way you retain some of the sweetness.

If you do not have a greenhouse, you can still grow sweet corn although it does need protection. You can sow the seed outside in mid spring. You make furrows about 2 ft (60cm) apart and 6-9ins (15-22cm) deep. Sow groups of two or three seeds every 2 ft in the bottom of the furrows and cover with 1in (2.5cm) of soil. Then cover the whole lot with a sheet of polythene. The ridges will support the plastic and stop the emerging plants from touching it. This will protect them from frost. When the seedlings reach the sheeting, then you cut slits in the plastic and carefully help the plants to poke through. When the plants come into flower, then cut away the plastic and dispose of it. This way the plants will be as far advanced as those grown under glass.

You need do very little to the plants once they are in the ground. Keep them as weed free as possible, of course and mulch them with compost, manure or even paper, if possible. When they are flowering, you should give them extra water if it is dry.

You know when the cobs are ready to harvest. The tassels at the top turn brown or black. To harvest, you simply grasp the cob in one hand and pull it downwards. At the same time support the parent plant with your other hand. Simple. Strip of the outer coating of greenery and any tassels which don’t fall off and its ready to cook.

Sweet Corn have very little problem with pests and diseases so even though we think of it as an exotic vegetable, it really is very easy to grow.

Remember, though, it is pollinated by wind so you need to grow it in blocks at least 3 plants by 3 plants square. If you grow in a straight line it is unlikely to bear fruit.  The male flowers are at the top of the plants whilst the female flowers are down the stem. You should get at least2 – 4 cobs from each plant depending upon the variety. Look on the seed packet for more information.

The need for nutrients in your soil

Of the elements required for healthy plant growth, oxygen (45%), carbon (45%) and hydrogen(6%) make up by far the largest amount. The other 4% comprises a large number of other elements, both major and trace . Although they comprise a much smaller percentage, they are nonetheless vital to the health -and in some cases the life – of your plants.

In no particular order the major elecments are: Nitrogen; phosphorus; Potassium; Mangnesium; Calcium and Sulphur. Trace elements include: Iron; Zinc and Copper; Manganesium; Boron and Molybdenum.You will have heard of most of these elements, although Molybdenum may be new. so I will start with that.

Molybenum is instrumental in the production of protein. Deficiency of this element will show up as deformed growth and causes a condition called “whiptail” which affects the brassica (cabbage) family. Whiptail shows up as very thin and strap-like leaves. Not what you want in cabbages. Deficiency is generally due to acid soil conditions. It is relatively easy to cure this problem. Add lime to raise the Ph of acid soi land spray plants with liquid seaweed fertiliser. Apply seaweed meal and/or compost to the soil. Try to prevent this happening by doing a soil test before planting cabbages and applying lime. If you use a crop rotation plan and grow your cabbages where you grew your peas and beans the year before. This wil help, but not necessarily totally cure the problem. You may still need to add lime.

Boron is important to the growing tissue of all parts of your plants. Deficiency is more likely in alkaline soils and can lead to tissue breakdown. This causes brown heart in celery and brassicas such as cauliflower, brocolli and calabrese and causes internal ‘corkiness’ in apples and many root crops. If the deficiencies become apparant in your crops it is too late to save them so you must take steps to prevent the deficiency in the first place. Apply seaweed meal, manure or compost to your soil to ensure your next crop does not suffer from the problem.

There are too many elements to discuss in one blog, so I will leave it there and talk about more another time. I hope this proves useful and informative.

greenfly on roses

Roses have proved to be the nation’s favourite flower in a number of surveys and whilst I wouldn’t necessarily say they are my favourite, I like them well enough and have a number of them in my garden.

There are a number of different types of Roses and their classification can be confusing. First there are species Roses. These are the original roses, the ancestors of all our modern Roses. They tend to be less showy than modern ‘hybrid’ Roses and also to be larger and less easy to control. The other snag is that they tend to only flower for a short time once a year, whereas modern ‘hybrid’ roses have a much longer flowering time..Nonetheless, they have their place and can lok soectacular.

The modern hybrid Rose can be grown as bushes or standard – standard roses are simply bush roses budded onto a long sten to make a small tree. In addition, there are patio roses – deliberately bred to be smaller that usual, so will grow in a pot; rambling roses and climbing roses. The diference between climbing roses and rambling 5roses is that climbring roses have stiff stems and therefor need to be supported whilst rambling roses have more flexible stems and will clamber over supports.   There are also ground cover roses which as the name suggests are roses which will scramble over the ground.

Whichever rose you chose, there are some things which you need to look out for in order to keep them looking their best. The first of these are ‘suckers’ Rose varieties are often grown on grafted rootstock to make them the right size or shape. Occasionally the rotstock will send out a vigorous growth known has a sucker. This has no ornamental merit and, if not disposed of, with take the energy from the plant and eventually the ornamental rose you are trying to grow will die leaving only the sucker, which is usually a much less ornamental species rose. Just dispose of the sucker, scrape away a little soil where the sucker is growing from the rotstock and pull the sucker off. If you can’t pull it off, then cut it as near to the rot as possible. It is easy to spot a sucker, they are light green and covered with thorns, opften much smaller than the variety.

The other thing to watch out for are pests and diseases. Check your Roses reguylarly for signs of pest or disease attacke particularly black spot; greenfly and mildew.

Greenfly is a name for an aphid. There are reportedly great swarms of greenfly heading our way, so you need to be particularly aware of them this year. They suck the sap from the plant causing distortion and particularly attacking the young growing tips.  so you don’t want them. There are a number of preditors which attack greenfly among them ladybirds and hoverflies. They eat the greenfly in large numbers and whilst they will not kill all of them (they like to keep a food source available), they will keep them well under control. To encourage these predators, grow flowers like French Marigolds (Tagates) near your Roses. The other way to rid your plant of greenfly is to rub them between you fingers. They are sticky, so it’s not a particularly pleasant job. If all else fails, spray them with insectorcidal soap.

Mildew thrives in cool, damp conditions. Mulching your plants and hand watering them will keep it at bay. Remove and burn any leaves showing signs of mildew and spray the pplant with copper fungicide.

Chelsea Flower Show

It’s that time of year, when everybody connected with the gardening world is using the CHelsea Flower Show for advertising. However, occasionally among all the hype and dross is a gem and this year’s Thomson and Morgan’s ‘Chelsea Flower Show Celebration‘ is, in my opinion, one such gem.

chelsea promotion

Costing only £9.99, it is, purportedly, worth £57 (and who am I to dispute this.). For this price, you get 15 plants, which I will talk about in a moment, and Gift token from T & M for £10 and an RHS Chealsea Flower Show DVD.

The plants in themselves are quite interesting. First you get 5 Geraniium ‘Skyrocket’ plants. These are a new climbing variety of Geranium which will grow to 6 ft  in a season.  If you buy these seperately they cost £1 each. so they are a good buy. One of the annoying things about buying plug plants is that there is not enough information about them. However, I would assume that, like most geraniums these will be herbacious perennials but will be frost tender.  If you have somewhere sensible to store them, they arre worth transplanting and keeping over winter.

Next are 5 Petunia Surfina, which are described as everybody’s favourite trailing Petunia. Not difficult since these days you can only find Petunia Surfina plants. Gone are the days when you could get Petunia plants for pennies! Having said that, I have grown Petunia Surfina in hanging baskets in the past and they have given a really great display, so if you are interested in hanging baskets, then these are a good investment. They are only annuals, though.

Last, but not least are 5 Fushia  Plants. These are double flowered and include such well known varieties as Southgate, Swingtime and Dark Eyes. Again, these would cost you at least £1 a plant if bought seperately. If you do not know the varieties mentioned, then I should add that they are all very different in colour combinations, ranging from the palest of pinks to almost black.

So you now have approximately £15 worth of plants and then they give you your money back (plus 1p) in the form of a voucher. and on top of that there is the DVD. Can’t be a bad bargain. I for one am definuitely going to be ordering one.

My vegetables have been affected by the frosts!

Whatever happened to global warming?  The pundits have been telling us that we will not be able to grow certain plants because it will be to warm and dry and here we are in the middle of May and the temperature overnight is as cold as you would expect in January.

It really is most annoying not to mention disheartening. I decided last Sunday that we were probably not going to get any more heavy frosts so it would be safe to plant out Climbing Beans, bush beans and Sweet corn. They looked great and I was looking forward to good crops.

I missed the weather forecast on Monday and got up on Tuesfay morning to find that they had all been frosted. My potatoes have suffered as well. Also a pot of Morning Glory. The sunflowers which I planted a fortnight ago are O.K.

The potatoes will probably survive, although they will mature later, and possibly not give as large a crop as they would otherwise have done. However, the beans, sweet corn and Morning Glory will not. I have sown another load of seeds in pots in my greenhouse and will plant out as soon as they are ready. Hopefully by then the frosts will be finished.

It has been so cold that I have been covering the tender plants in my cold greenhouse with horticultural fleece and newspaper. This works very well for a degree or two of frost but if the temperature gets much lower than that, it is unlikely to work. So far the plants under cover have survived well.

In fact, not only have they survived, the Melon and Cucumber seed which I sowed last week actually geminated last night. What sense is there in that!

Ihave planted a couple of hanging basked with Fuchsias, Osteospermum and Geraniums (Pelargoniums, actually). These are frost tender and normally, I would not worry about a slight ground frost, as they are hanging well above ground level, under those conditions, they would be alright. However with outside temperatures at -3 degrees, I have been taking them into the greenhouse and covering them up.

The weather today is stunning, it is really warm and sunny and I have been working on my vegetable patch, planting out cabbages, Brussels sprouts and celeriac. These are all hardy so even if the frosts do continue (and they are forecast for tonight), they should grow normally.

The Chelsea Flower Show

I notice that Royal Horticultural society’s  Chelsea Flower Show is in two weeks time (its on 25th – 30th May). I have always enjoyed this particular flower show – although I must admit, I enjoy them all. Perhaps it is that it is held in the grounds of the Chelsea Pensioners, about 2 miles from where I lived whilst a young child, or perhaps it is the size of it. I don’t know, but I do find it stimulating and inspiring.

My favourite part of the show is the outside gardens. I always like to go round them when it is starting to rain, because then all the other visitors run to the Marquee and it is a lot quieter outside. Although some of the gardens are not necessarily to my taste – I don’t like straight lines in my garden- there is always something which I think is a good idea which I can take back and incorporate in my garden.

The flower marquee always takes my breath away. The sight and smell of all the flowers is mind-blowing. Although it is busy, there is always rom to stop and stare – and talk to stand owners, if you want to. Everybody seems to be in a good moods, perhaps because they go to Chelsea Flower Show to enjoy themselves. Even the stands which are not awarded medals have flowers of such a high quality that I am filled with admiration. I am sure it has been doubly difficult to produce the flowers this year, with the weather being so cold.

Although the flowers and plants in the Marquee and gardens (not to mention hanging baskets and Courtyard gardens) take centre stage – as they should!- there are also a number of stalls selling garden related products and I like to brouse along these just to check whats new and trendy.
There is also a stand manned by RHS staff members which gives advice to people with problems with their gardens or plants. This ranges from identifying plants and varieties (take an apple along and they will tell you what it is), through to identifying insects to trouble shooting on diseased plants. I don’t recommend that you take along diseased plant material, I don’t think it would be very welcome, but a photograph and discription is usually sufficient.

If you are a member of the RHS, this service is available by post to all members throughout the year. Whats more you can get discounted, unusual seeds in season, a monthly newsletter full of interesting articles plus, sometimes offers of discounted entry to RHS gardens.

As I said, Chelsea Flower Show is probably my favourite of all the RHS Flower shows, although they all have their great points.

Garden plant labeller – Brother P-touch

I have tried many ways of  labelling my plants in the past, all without success. Either the labels came away or they got erased. The indelible pencils were O.K. on wooden labels for a while but then they got wet and swelled and the writing was unreadable; on plastic labels,it just rubbed off.

Then, eight years ago, my husband gave me a Brother P-Touch labelling system for Christmas. It’s fantastic. It is a tape which you insert into a small machine. In fact, the tape is made up of three parts. The top part is clear laminate, then there is the part which is printed on and which is sticky backed, then there is a backing which peels off very easily.

The tapes come in loads of colours. I have used white and yellow and both show the printing very easily.My machine says it can take three widths, 6mm; 9mm and 12mm. For ease of reading I have always used 12mm tape, so I can’t comment on the other sizes. The tape is 8m long so it lasts ages.It comes in a cartridge which easily slots into the machine – no feeding tape through guiders or any of that nonsense.

The front of the machine has a keypad which is in alphabetical order and a set of numbers from 1 to 9 and a 0. There are also controls for Capital letters, numbers and of, course an on/off control.  The keys are large enough to easily press without touching other keys.

Apart from those controls, there are only four other controls, all of which you will probably use frequently.The first is a largish ‘function’ key. It allows you to frame you letters; it can be used to print multiple copies of your text without keep hitting the ‘print key’; it will change the style of your letters; it will underline your letters and you can use it  to store text if you want.

The second control is a ‘print’ key -self explanatory. The third is a multi-purpose key; it can be used to delete and also to write two line, one above the other on the tape. The last control is one which you use to delete the whole of your text rather than one letter.

Apart from those controls, there is of course a display which shows 8 characters. You can, however, enter up to 55 characters at a time.

As I said, I was given this machine 8 years ago and one of th first things I did was print out two labels (one in white and one in yellow) and stick them on plastic plant labels. Since then, they have been out in the garden during winters, getting wet, frozen, snowed upon and anything else the weather could throw at them. They have spent summers in the greenhouse where they have been heated as well as watered. In all this time they have shown no deterioration. I’m impressed.

I use the Brother P-touch machine mainly for plant labelling, but it can have many other uses – we also use it for labelling files.

The Power supply for the Brother P-Touch labelling machine is either battery (it uses six AAA batteries which I have only replaced twice in the eight years I have owned it, or there is also an AC adapter which means you can use it plugged into the electricity.

The Brother P-Touch Labelling Machine comes in a really handy case which carries the machine and the Ac Adapter with ease.

I am told that this machine has been updated since I have had it and that there are other, smaller machines on the market but to be quite honest, I love this machine. It is easy to use, cheap to run, the labels are easy to read and long lasting, what more can you ask for!

Cherries – the prettiest of fruit trees

If you have room for only one tree in your garden, then why not make it a fruit tree. You could choose to grow one of the ‘family’ fruit trees. These are trees which have more than one variety of fruit grafted onto them. In fact, they usually (but not always) have three varieties and they are produced for Apple and Pear varieties. You have to prune these family trees carefully, so that one variety does not take over the tree.

However, I would opt for Cherries. This is because they are expensive to buy and, if you choose a self fertile variety, you only need one tree.  In my opinion, they are one of the prettiest of all tree. You get three seasons when they look splendid.

First, in spring you have the flowers. Cherry flowers really are quite spectacular. They are pink and white and flower in late spring so that there is very little risk of the frost killing the embryo fruit and there are plenty of pollinating insects around.

Next comes the fruit, not only does it look lovely , you have the antnicipation of picking and eating it when it is ripe. Leave the fruit on the tree as long as possible, but harvest before the fruit starts to split.

.You may need to protect your fruit from the birds. Traditionally, this was done by throwing nets over the tree – rather ugly and it could also distort the tree. This still works, but why not try handing old CDs on the branches. They willtwist and turn in the wi and, because they are shiny, they will reflect the sunlight and scare the birds.

In autumn, the leaves turn bright red, giving a great display. before the trees become dormant for the winter. Whats more the bark on the trunk is often a rich red during the wi Tree looks great all year round.

Acid Cherries (ccoking cherries) are not as vigorous as sweet (eating cherries) but they can all be very large, so when chosing your variety, make sure you have a dwarfing rootstock. That way you will not have problems with shade and also with harvesting.

There is vary little needed in the way of maintenance for Cherry trees. An annual mulch of well rotted manure or compost is suficient to feed the although if tyou soil has a lot of lime in it, you may have a magnesium deficiency . This can be corrected with a dressing of seaweed meal.

Normally you do not have to prune cherry trees. Just let them grow naturally, they have a great shape. However, if you have any dead, diseased , crossing or overcrowded branches, then cut them out. That’s it!