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Gardening Tips Week Ending March 6th 2015.

Hello Folks
The weather is very unsettled as yet, with a few cold nights still about, but it is time to think about seed sowing. If you check the back of your seed packets the growing information is pretty reliable for our part of the country here in the Midlands. It is useful to sow seeds in the plastic trays with 6 cells in for things like Kale, or trays with more cells such as trays with 48 cells if you want more plants for things like Beetroot - otherwise a lot of seed can be wasted. Plants can be planted in the ground straight out of these trays without having to prick them out, which means the seedlings don’t dry out when transplanted. Most Annuals can be sown this month and many of the vegetables as well. Tomato seeds need 6-8 weeks growing time before final planting in Grow Bags in a cold greenhouse. (Outdoor Tomatoes will need sowing a little later on.) Tomatoes and Cucumbers can be grown in the same greenhouse, but the Cucumbers should be grown in a separate tented part, at the far end, away from the door, by draping polythene sheeting down from the roof, because they like it hot and steamy. Incidentally, it is best to grow the all Female varieties of Cucumbers, because otherwise you have to go round every day removing the male flowers to prevent pollination and the cucumbers from going bitter.
Early Potatoes can go in the ground later in the month as well, but don’t forget that they don’t like freshly manured ground, so if you didn’t manure your Potato patch last Autumn it may be better to use a pelleted feed at this time. Horse manure is nearly always best dug in a few months before planting and is very good, but it is very acidic, so don’t over do it. Some plants, such as Rhubarb do love it nice and fresh though as long as you don’t cover them.
If you grow Strawberries now is the time to check them for weeds, remove dead growth, tidy up the rows and excess runners can be taken off and potted up to grow on for next year.

Alan likes to mulch round the garden with home made compost and top up with bark chippings to keep the slugs and snails off - it does help. Garden compost is very good for livening up tired soil and putting goodness back, but where a lot of weeding has been done in the past it is also good for replacing lost soil. All good, old fashioned gardeners will use homemade compost to top up and dress their beds with instead of using expensive, bought compost. All it takes to produce lots of it is a little bit of long term planning and a little effort to turn it occasionally. Lots of things can go into your Compost Heap including all of your weeds, except the tough Perennials such as Nettles and Docks, and all of last year’s dead growth from your Herbaceous plants that you will be clearing up now. Grass cuttings can be added in moderation, if mixed in with other rubbish and even woody shrub prunings can be added if chopped up small. Vegetable and fruit peelings from the Kitchen can also be used, but not cooked food as this will definitely attract rats. By the way, Orange peel can also be used to keep cats from going under bushes and anywhere else you don’t want them. The strong smell of the peel scattered around is supposed to deter them.

Lawns will want cutting as soon as the weather warms up and encourages them to start growing again. However, they can still be “Spring Raked,” to remove any unwanted Moss. Your lawn will look a mess for a week, or two afterwards, but will soon green up again. The “Thatch,” removed from the lawn can go on the compost heap as well, although if it is not quickly covered up the birds will take it for their nests!

I think that’s all for now. Cheerio. Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips Week Ending March 7th 2014.

Hello Folks
Hooray! Everything is drying up at last. The farmers will be glad as they have had a really bad time losing crops and cattle. Lets hope we have a good Summer so that they can make up for the loss of their Winter wheat etc.

The Snowdrops have made a welcome sight, but seem to be over all too soon. If you let them seed and let the seed drop it will germinate and over the years you will build up a nice drift of Snowdrops. All the other bulbs such as Daffodils, Tulips and Irises are coming up as the days go by as well.
Life is returning everywhere in the garden with the buds on many of the bushes and trees starting to swell. Seed sowing can begin in earnest with the Hardy Annuals the first flowers to be sown outside this month. Many vegetable seeds can be sown outside this month as well such as Parsnips, Sprouts, Carrots and some Cabbage. Tomato seeds can go in now - in the greenhouse of course. Garden centres already have young Tomato seedlings for sale, but be wary of cold nights in an unheated greenhouse. Onions sets can also be planted this month and potatoes started to chit in a cold greenhouse.

As the Spring comes round most people think about sowing things for the Autumn harvest and don’t plant anything for Winter harvesting. Alan did particularly well with his vegetables this year as the only vegetables we have had to buy this Winter were Carrots because the rest came from Alan’s allotments. We finished digging up the Parsnips the last week in February and the Onions and Potatoes were good keepers lasting all through the Winter. The Sprouts and Kale went on until the beginning of March when the Sprouts started to “Blow,” and the Kale started to flower and go to seed. We are just starting to cut our Winter harvesting of “Forced,” Chicory in the cold greenhouse, although it is a bit late this year. One thing that has been a failure this year is the Leeks that simply went in too late.

If you grow fruit trees, or bushes they will benefit from a little Potash lightly forked in round them and if you grow fruit that have large stones like Plums, Peaches, Cherries, or Apricots etc and your soil is acid, give them a little lime, garden lime of course. One fruit that must have acid soil though is the Blueberry. Alan has put wood chippings round and in between his strawberry plants. It not only keeps the weeds down and the fruit clean from rain splashes, but it helps to deter the slugs and snails as it prickles their tummies. It is also better to walk on than bare soil when picking the fruit.

Alan is getting better at weeding and has his allotment all weeded and prepared ready for planting and is anxious to start. The garden is looking quite cheerful now as well with Primroses, Snowdrops, Pansies and Helebores all coming into flower. There have been a lot of Helebores otherwise known as Christmas Roses on sale everywhere this year. Our traditional purple one has produced lots of flowers this year and is still in flower at the time of writing at the end of February. For some unknown reason the white ones will not grow in our garden. I have tried in several different places without success. Chrysanthemum cuttings should be doing well by now and will be able to go out at the end of the month. Dahlia tubers can be started into growth in a greenhouse, or a cool conservatory, but cannot go out until the frosts have finished much later on.
Well that’s all for now.
Cheerio. Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips March 8th 2013.

Hi folks
         It is lovely to see all the spring flowering bulbs coming up. I have a bowl of Dwarf Irises on the patio and it made a lovely patch of blue outside the window. As a contrast the yellow of the Winter Jasmine against the fence has also looked very bright and cheery, but it is time to prune the Winter flowering bushes such as Jasmine and the early flowering Viburnum Tynus can also be cut back to shape it up. The flowers can be cut and put in water in vases and last quite a number of days in the house. Other things that can still be pruned if you haven’t already done them are Buddleia, that can be cut right down low as they flower on the new shoots and Fruit bushes such as Black Currants to shape them up. Flowering Currants should be cut back as soon as they have flowered and so can Winter flowering Heathers which should be cut down as low as possible without going into the old wood. Strawberries should have been cut down by now to clear the old leaves from the crown and make room for the new growth.

Early Potatoes should be chitting nicely now and Broad Beans growing in the ground for the Winter planting types or in trays for the later planting. Tomato seed can be sown about now as I usually like the tomatoes no taller then 8 inches by Mid April ready to be planted in a cold greenhouse and I find it takes 6 weeks from sowing. Sow seed later in April for Tomato plants to go outside and Runner Beans should be ready to go outside by the end of May. When sowing vegetable seeds don’t forget that flat seeds like Cucumbers, Melons, Squash, Courgette, etc should be sown on edge and not flat in the soil. If you plant ready grown vegetable plants and bedding plants bought from inside garden centres allow them to cool by standing them outside in a sheltered spot for 2 or 3 days before planting out as their growth will be soft and will not do so well otherwise. 

People often plant fruit trees and never think about feeding them, but fruit trees and fruit bushes will both do better if they have a little Potash sprinkled on the soil round them and fruit with large stones like Peaches, Plum, Apricots, Cherries etc will also do better with a little garden lime as well but do not use builders lime.
On the subject of Apricots and Peaches, we have been covering our trees for a few weeks now with Horticultural Fleece to protect the flowers from the cold nights. Believe it or not, but their pretty flowers started to open in mid February when nearly every night was frosty and some of the days as well! There were certainly no bees about to pollinate them as there usually has been on the occasional sunny day in past years, so I don’t know if we will get any fruit. Alan may have to go round with a little paint brush and pollinate them himself!

I can’t walk round the garden so easily these days, so Alan dug up two large architectural type plants from the garden that we thought would look nice in big tubs on the yard. They were not really in the right place anyway and as they are not growing much at the moment, although they are both evergreens and not deciduous, we decided it was worth taking a chance and moving them now. One was a Chinese Fan Palm, which sounds and looks exotic, but is very tough and the other was a tiny leafed Lonicera Nitidia that Alan has started to clip into a ball shape. The strong winds have rocked them in their tubs quite a lot since planting, but we are hoping that their roots will be able to settle down before they need to draw up a lot of water as the days warm up and they start back into growth.

Well that’s all for now. Cheerio. Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips Week ending March 30th 2012

Hello Folks
                 We are now seed sowing and its all systems go. If you buy compost, to start your seeds off in, it pays to shop around as most garden centres have discounts on it. Usually they do offers on 3 or 4 bags, but if you don’t need that many get a friend, or neighbour, to share with you. That way you can get any number of bags you buy, at a cheaper rate. 

Sweet Peas should be well up and have had the tips pinched out to make them bushy, but they shouldn’t be planted out until about mid April. Tomato plants can go in a cold greenhouse in late April, but will need heat before then on cold nights. Don’t buy Tomato plants that have tall thin stems and pale, floppy leaves as they will never make good plants, they are better with short stems and healthy, green, firm leaves. Parsnips, early Carrots, Beetroot and early Peas can be sown directly in the ground now. It always pays to read the backs of seed packets, because it will tell you when the best time to sow them is and will also tell you how many seeds there are in the packet. There are usually far too many seeds for most people, so as with compost, you could share them with friends, or seal the packet up again and store them in a tin in a cool place. The tin should be stored in somewhere like a shed or garage, but never use a plastic box to store seeds in as mice will chew through it. I did that with some fish, blood and bone fertiliser and it nearly all disappeared! They even chewed through a bag containing permanganate of potash, which, I wouldn’t have thought was very appetising! It is probably best to put any storage containers high up on a shelf where mice and rats cannot reach or jump.

If you had an Orchid given to you do follow any instructions that came with it as they do need only a little water and a very open compost. Most Orchids sold at garden centres are from warmer climates and when they were originally found by plant hunters were growing on trees and classed as Epiphytes, but Orchids can be found growing the World over with many growing in the ground and we do have over 40 native species that grow here in the U.K. Orchids form a type of bulb called a Pseudo-bulb which builds up a store nutrients that they can feed off. Many Orchid flowers have a scent and will last for weeks, but after flowering they are worth saving as with care you can get the plants to flower again next year. Oh, yes, and the other flowers about at the moment that will last for weeks are Cyclamen. I had one in flower for about 4 or 5 weeks in the lounge during the day, but at bedtime I put it in the kitchen for the night as it is cooler. It’s also much lighter first thing in the morning. Cyclamen are best watered from below, so I put a little water in the dish it stood in every night and emptied it if it was not taken up by the morning. When they have finished flowering you can dry the corm off and keep it safe ‘till the Autumn and then gently spray it to bring it back to life.

This year I have decided I am not growing any bedding plants at all from seed as they are too fine for me to see. Instead I am getting a few plugs plants and potting them on this year as I normally do with bedding Begonias and Impatiens.

What unseasonable weather we are having. It may only be late March, but it is such a beautiful morning I am sitting writing this with the patio door open a bit and the sunshine is pouring in.
Well, that’s all for now. Cheerio.
Frances Hartley

Gardening Tips For Week Ending March 2nd 2012.

Hello Folks
The weather is improving, so possibly we will have an early Spring and the garden centres obviously think so, because on our wandering around we have found all the centres are already getting a big range of bedding plants in. They are in modules ready for you to pot on into bigger pots, but take care as they have come from a heated greenhouse and unless you have a warm place with plenty of natural light, you should wait a bit longer before buying tender bedding, or use a cold greenhouse and keep a heater handy. Fuschias, Allysum, Marrigolds and any others labeled “Hardy Annuals,” would be alright now without heat though. If you want to get ahead without heat, have some Horticultural fleece handy and drop it over your plants at night. Many garden centres now have it by their outdoor display stands ready to cover the plants when cold is predicted.

Some garden centres are selling Fuschia “Whips,” for you to grow on and train as ¼ or ½ standards yourself. With a little care they are fairly easy to do and can save you a lot of money, because they are quite expensive to buy fully grown. If they come in 3 ½ inch pots, pot them on into 5 inch and then a bit larger as they grow. To train them all you do is take the growing tip out and all the side shoots down the stem, but leave the leaves on as these will feed the plants. New side shoots will grow at the top of the main stems and these should be allowed to grow a little and then the tips nipped out when they are 3 or 4 inches long, but all the new shoots further down the main stems should be removed altogether. Then allow the shoots at the top of the stem to grow a little again before nipping them as before and continue doing this until you see a nice head forming. Give the plant a liquid feed regularly, about once a month, then sit back and you can look forward to seeing a nice show when you will be able to say I did that!

There are a few Tomato seedlings for sale, but beware as they can easily damp off at such a small size and they need a lot of warmth and light to stop them from going “Leggy.” I like to grow my own from seed and reckon to allow 6 weeks from seed sowing to planting in a cold greenhouse in about mid April when the plants are between 4 and 6 inches tall, but do not handle them by the stem - hold them by the leaves. Please pot them in fresh compost and don’t use the same soil 2 years running to grow them in, whether you grow them in big pots, or in the ground, as that will encourage all sorts of diseases. You should really wash any pots that you re-use as well, because dirty pots can harbour all sorts of “nasties” from diseases to creepy crawlies and slugs eggs. It seems a lot of fuss to go to, but Tomatoes straight off the plants taste so much nicer - especially if one pops into the mouth while picking!

There are also lots of Summer flowering bulbs about now that are ready for planting and both trailing and upright Begonias should be woken up by a gentle spray now as well as Dahlia tubers.
Well that’s all for now.
Cheerio Frances Hartley.

Gardening Tips For Week Ending March 4rth 2011

Hello Folks
                 When I mentioned pruning shrubs last time I forgot to say some variegated shrubs will sometimes produce plain green shoots that should be cut off completely, as if left, they will grow more strongly and take over the plant leaving you with just a plain green bush. Some golden varieties of plants will throw up the odd green shoot as well. The most popular plants that will revert are: - Wiegelia, Golden Privet, Lonicera, Golden Yew, Holly and Cotoneaster. There are others though, so take care and remember to trim them regularly.

It is time to start sowing some vegetable seeds now and a few of the more popular are; - Broad Bean seeds, early Carrot, Garlic cloves and Tomatoes. I usually sow seed for most things although a lot of people like to buy small plants, especially of things like Tomatoes that need a bit of warmth to start them off. When sowing Tomato seeds it’s best to plan, to allow, about 6 weeks from when you will prick them out and pot them, until when you will put them in a cold greenhouse towards the end of April. Potatoes can be put in some shallow compost in seed trays to start the eyes into growth, or “Chit” them as it is called, before planting out later

My son is down for an allotment in our village this year so is getting fruit and vegetables plants prepared by starting them off in pots which will be ready to go straight out in the plot when it is ready to use, hopefully in April. One thing he is growing in deep pots, besides fruit bushes from cuttings, is Jerusalem Artichokes. These will make a change from potatoes and can also be used to make good soup. He is not putting in ordinary potatoes as the top soil may not be deep enough to start with, but will try Pink Fir Apple as they are smaller and more tasty than more traditional varieties.

Angelica grows quite well in our garden and can easily be grown from seed, but is often sold as individual plants. My son collected some seed from last year’s plant back in the Autumn and sowed it in a tray. There are now several dozen small plants, potted and growing that will be ready for the allotment. Angelica can be boiled and used as a vegetable, or the young leaves can be chopped and used cold in a salad. The stems can be also candied and to do this they should be; - thinly peeled, boiled, then cut into strips or shaped, boiled again in sugar water, coloured with food dye if you like, then taken out and left to dry on grease proof paper. They can then be stored in a jar and later used for cake, or biscuit decorations.

When the Tulips and Daffodils have flowered their leaves should be left on the bulbs for at least 6 weeks as the foliage will feed the bulb and build it back up again for flowering next year. I like to give mine a foliar feed using something like liquid Sea Weed at this stage. Rose bushes will also need pruning later this month. Hybrid T’s need to go down, to just above a bud and to no more than 12 inches above the ground, to encourage new stems to form, as the more new stems you get on them the more flowers you will get. Floribunda roses only need a good trim and maybe thinning out a bit. Climbers should be “dead headed” down to just above the next bud and the same goes for standard roses.

Well that’s all for now.
Frances Hartley

Gardening Article Week Ending March 5th 2010

Hello Folks

                        Seed sowing is underway now and the Parsley seed I put into very hot soil came up quickly. I think every seed must have come up, a lot better than I expected. In spite of the weather the Geraniums seem quite good so far in the cold greenhouse and the bulbs in the garden are coming up well, even the dwarf Tulips are coming up to say hello. By the way, if you fancy growing Ranunculus, the bulbs look like dry claws and you must give them a short soak in tepid water before planting claw side pointing downwards. If you only want a few for a tub, they will be on sale, towards May, already growing as plants and usually in flower.

If you don’t want to bother replanting your borders each year with Bedding Plants you might want to plant a few Perennials as they come up each year but die down in the winter. Some you might consider are;- Delphiniums, blue – Hellebores (Christmas roses) purple or white - Lupins – Kniphophia (Red Hot Pokers, red and yellow) – Michaelmass Daisies or Margeurites, White – Coreopsis, yellow about 10 inches high – Achillea, Red or Yellow 24 inches high– Agastache, scented but slightly prickly 20 inches high– Aquilegia, 2-3 feet high– Montbrieter, Orange or Red 18 inches high.

Shrubs such as Buddleia should have been cut back hard by now and all pruning of other shrubs finished. I usually do Roses about the third week in March and Hybrid Teas should be cut very low as more new stems means more flowers because they flower on the new wood. Floribundas have lots of smaller flowers on each stem and need a lighter trim, but with any really old wood cut out.

Tomatoes I usually reckon take about 6 weeks from sowing seed to make nice sturdy plants of about 5 or 6 inches high that are then ready to go into a cold greenhouse in either 9 or 10 inch pots, Grow Bags, or Ring Culture (that is done by standing bottom less pots onto a bed of compost or fresh soil, but don’t use soil that has Tomatoes grown in it before.) Cucumbers are fairly easy and can be grown in the same greenhouse, but they do like more humidity. So, if you can put Cucumbers in one corner and then drop a piece of polythene in front of them, from the floor to the roof, that should do fine. The all Female varieties are the best, otherwise the Male flowers have to be picked off daily to prevent the cucumbers from going bitter.

Well, that’s all for now.
Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips Week Ending 7th March 2009

Hello Folks
Spring seems to have arrived at last with the bulbs coming on fast now. A small Hazel tree, which I grew from a nut some years ago, had a few catkins last year, but looks lovely this year with lots of bright pale yellow catkins hanging all over it.

The garden centres are filling up with lots of young bedding plants for baskets and tubs already pricked out for you in modules. It is still very early and they will soon get leggy if you keep them in the house as they need the light. They are best kept in a greenhouse, but it must be well heated for such delicate little plants. The only plugs I have bought so far are small Geraniums as they are a little bit slower to grow.

Perennials such as Lupins, Fox Gloves, Aquilegias and Penstemmons, etc can be planted out now. If you have Penstemmons and Sedums already in the garden, the old stems from last year can be cut down to reveal the new growth that will grow to produce the coming seasons flowers.

It will soon be time to start general seed sowing, but with many of the bedding plants such as Lobelia, the germinating seedlings are so tiny, it is a lot easier to buy a few plugs. On the other hand there are hundreds of dust like seeds in a packet and one packet would last you for years if the seeds keep germinating each year. I usually think of sowing Tomato seeds 6 weeks before putting the young plants out in a cold greenhouse, (normally in the last week of April,) and Runner Beans, Courgettes and Peppers should be alright by then as well.

I will try a few less popular and unusual vegetables in large tubs again this year. I put 3 Baby Sweet Corn plants to a tub last year and they did quite well, because with the plants being so close to each other it meant they pollinated well to set the corn.

If you are sowing Marrows, Courgettes, Squashes, Cucumbers or any other flat seeds, it is better to put the seeds on edge in the compost as they may rot if they are lying flat. Begonia corms can be started into growth now and they should be placed on damp compost, but do not cover the corm with compost. They shouldn’t be watered as such, but should be sprayed lightly and occasionally with water to start the buds swelling.

Well that’s all for now, good sowing

Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips Week Ending March 1st 2008

Hello Folks

          Just a few words about Orchids. They are Epiphytes which naturally cling to the trees in the wild, so if you have had one as a present, or bought one, do not pot it as an ordinary bulb. They virtually sit on the compost and only dip their roots into it. The compost, which should be very open and only watered when dry, can be bought in reasonably small bags in Garden Centres. You can mix your own if you want by using one third ordinary compost, one third grit, one third shredded bark and a little charcoal.

Garden Centres are getting their plug plants in now and they do vary a bit in price, but they are ideal for potting on to use later in tubs and baskets, etc.

Begonia Corms are now about and best started into growth by standing a few on some compost in a half seed tray. They should be sprayed with water each day to encourage them to shoot. Summer flowering bulbs, Dahlia Tubers, Potatoes, Onion Sets and Shallots can also be bought. It is a bit late for Shallots now though, but they should still have plenty of growing time. Tomato seeds should be sown in the first week of March so that they will be ready to go into a cold greenhouse in April.

Amaryllis Bulbs that were bought in the Winter will have probably flowered by now and be coming to an end. The one I was given for Christmas had ten very large beautiful pink and white flowers on it. Don’t stop watering or feeding the bulbs just yet though, because they will develop healthy leaves that feed the bulb for next year. Wait until the leaves start to loose their colour and then gradually dry the pots off until the leaves are dead all the while keeping the pots in full sun to ripen the bulbs. They won’t flower at the same time next year as they did this year, because those for sale this winter were forced, but they should produce a new bud next year. If Amaryllis Bulbs are properly rested after flowering and then coaxed back into life they usually flower again every year as normal garden bulbs do, but sometimes they miss the first year after they were first bought when they had been forced. I have several that I kept from previous years that are now starting to produce new flower buds.

Good Gardening . That’s all for now, Cheerio,

Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips Weekend March 30th 2007

Hello Folks

                    Spring is here and everywhere is bright with daffodils. If you are growing any in tubs or the garden, it is best to dead head them before they set seed and it is also a good idea to give the foliage a foliar feed or sprinkle some slow release fertilizer round the base of the clump. Do not cut off the leaves nor tie them down as they will feed the bulbs for the next year to make next years flowers. I know it looks untidy, but it is worth putting up with them for 6 weeks, after which a gentle pull should bring the browning leaves easily away from the bulbs.

There is a wide range of herbaceous perennials for sale now to brighten up the borders. They will die down again next Winter after their summer flowering and you may not be able to see the tiny new shoots next Spring when they start shooting, so if you are afraid of pulling them out because you can’t see very well push a short cane with a coloured cane cap on in the ground by them now and you will always know they are there.

I find Penstemons are very good as you can leave the old flowering stems on which will keep green throughout the winter to give a little green foliage in the garden. They can be cut down in the Spring to make room for the new growth which will flower in Summer. There is quite a big range of colours now. Aquilegias are also very pretty and easy to grow as they will readily seed themselves down. The common name for them is “Granny’s Bonnet.”

It is time to check all your tools after the winter when you probably did not use them much in the garden. To make sure I can find my tools easily, when I put them down while I am using them, I have bound the handles with yellow and green striped sticky tape which shows up quite well. This is especially a good idea with small tools like secateurs and trowels.

I have sown my first tomato seeds, which 6 weeks after germination will be ready to go in a cold greenhouse. We are still getting night frosts, so have some horticultural fleece handy, ready to drop over tender plants if they are in a cold greenhouse.

 Bye for now. Frances Hartley.