GARDEN TIPS - 21/09/18

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A lot of successful gardening is to do with forward planning. We get lots of people coming in to see us around April/May, for example, when cherry and apple blossom is out in all its glory, asking for fruit trees to put in their gardens at that time. Trouble is, they really should have been planted some time between September and December the previous year, to give them a chance to settle in and get their energy up ready to produce blossom, and ultimately fruit, that following year.

The same applies to many areas of gardening. This week, we’re going got focus on just two: fruit and spring bulbs.

Spring Bulbs

Spring bulbs are fantastic for adding colour to spring borders and containers/pots and bloom at a time of year when many plants are still dormant or at least not yet showing much colour. They use reserves of energy stored up from the previous season to pop up and be pollinated before there is any competition.

Snowdrops, Narcissi and crocuses are some of the earliest flowering plants in the garden, brightening up the place in late winter/early Spring. Hyacinths and Daffodils follow shortly after, with early and late blooming Tulips and then Alliums coming through in April, May and June. If you try a technique called, rather unimaginatively, “bulb layering” (or somewhat more imaginatively the “bulb lasagne technique”), you’ll reap the rewards come next year, enjoying changes of colour and style of flowers from a single container or the same areas of your garden borders for up to four months.

Where to plant

Most hardy bulbs, including tulips and daffodils, prefer a warm, sunny site with good drainage because they originally come from areas with dry summer climates. Our own bulbs are grown in the UK (Lincolnshire), so are healthier and hardier than some of the Dutch bulbs available in all the chain stores and supermarkets at the moment (#jussayin).

Improve light or sandy soils with garden compost and heavy soils with compost and little grit. Bulb Fibre is also available, which, when mixed with loam-based soil (John Innes #2, for example), is the ideal medium to grow bulbs in pots/containers.

How to make “Bulb Lasagne”

Planting in borders

Dig out a hole the size you want to plant the bulbs in, then put about 5cm of fresh soil/compost/growing medium (let’s call it ‘soil’!) in the bottom, lay in the (usually larger) latest flowering bulbs in the ground (see the diagram below), cover them with about 3-5cm of soil, then lay the next earliest on top (the shoots of the lower layer bulbs just bend round anything they hit sitting over their heads and keep on growing in their quest to get to the light), then more soil, then the next earliest, and so on until you’ve planted the earliest bulbs nearest the surface (at a depth of around 5cm). Getting the ‘lasagne’ reference?

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Aim to plant as many of each type of bulb as you can. Planting en masse makes a really impressive display.

So, for example, if you have a hole of about 45cm wide, you could plant about 4-5 Alliums, 3-5 Daffodils, 5-7 Tulips and about 20 or so small bulbs (Crocuses, for example).

If the ground is moist or the bulbs are autumn-planted, watering is not critical. Otherwise water straight after planting.

Planting in containers

The same ‘lasagne’ principle applies to containers (to give you an idea, take a look at the photo below). Put some gravel or broken pots in the bottom of the container to help with drainage, then some soil (I’d suggest a mix of three parts John Innes #2 to one part bulb fibre) - you need to allow root space of around 10-15cm below the lowest layer of bulbs; and then layer the bulbs and soil using the same lasagne method, with bulbs on each layer being around one bulb width apart from each other. Water the container once after planting, and then regularly when shoots start coming up.

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Feeding

You don’t need to do this, but to promote the best possible display of flowers, feed them every seven to ten days with a high-potassium fertiliser - a liquid tomato feed will do it - as soon as shoots start to appear. This will also “supercharge” the bulbs for when they come back into flower the following year.

Ongoing Maintenance

Once bulbs are in place, this is the ultimate in no-dig gardening (it’s impossible to incorporate soil-improving organic matter without causing damage to the bulbs). Instead the trick is to top dress. Do this in late January every year, by scattering some fresh compost onto the ground above them. To top dress pots, tease out the top few centimetres of potting compost and replace it with fresh stuff.

The main thing is to just have fun with it. Get the kids involved. Let them choose what goes where and what colours to use. You may well find that between you, you create something Jackson Pollack might have come up with, had he been a gardener!

We have a fantastic range of early mid and late flowering bulbs now in stock, both in packs and as “Pick ’n’ Mix”. Come in to see us, grab a bag and get choosing!

FRUIT

Now is a great time to be getting container-grown fruit trees and plants in your gardens and containers. Some suppliers have bare rootstock trees (i.e. not grown in a pot - dug out of the ground for distribution) available later in the year (November to January), but we think it’s a good idea to get your planting done that bit earlier, so you can focus on other things nearer to Christmas.

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Raspberry canes will be available from 12th October, but in the mean time, we’ve ordered what we think is a good selection of reliable, easy to maintain fruit trees and plants that will do well in typical gardens in the local area.

APPLES

Size

Apples are usually grafted onto different rootstocks, so that they grow to different maximum sizes. There are a number of types available, each with its own ‘code’. We’ve stuck to the three we think best suited to most local gardens. There’s no point having a tree that becomes so unmanageable that you need to balance precariously on a ladder to reach the fruit!

M26: A dwarfing, bushy apple tree. Ideal for small gardens and containers. Maximum height: around 2.4m (8 feet).  Works ell in average soils - including grassed orchards. Buy now

MM106: A semi-dwarfing, bush-type tree. The most widely used rootstock. Does well in poor soil. Maximum height: around 3m (12 feet). Ideal for the slightly larger local garden. Buy now

Starline: ‘Columnar’ trees - also known as ‘Urban Fruit Trees’. Self-fertile. Heavy cropping. Space-saving trees that grow up in a single column, not out, like most trees do. Ideal for small gardens or for pots/containers. Great for screening, on balconies and can be planted in borders with other plants right up to their base (they don’t create shade like most other trees). Keep them staked to support the weight of fruit.

Pruning baffles most gardeners. Starlines are way easier to look after. In summer, sprouting side shoots need to be pruned back to two or three buds to maintain the columnar habit (shape) and develop more fruiting spurs. That’s it. It’s as straightforward as that.

If you’re growing them in a pot, you need a large deep container and loam-based growing medium (John Innes #2 or 3). Ideally you’ll need to feed them once or twice a year with a balanced slow-release fertiliser. Rose food is ideal because it has plenty of potash for fruit formation (nerd fact alert: apples are from the same broad plant family as roses anyway (Rosaceae)). Buy now

Pollenation

This can all get a bit dull unless you’re really into it, so we’ll keep it as straight forward as possible.

Different varieties of apple trees’ blossom opens at different times of the year, so they’re divided into four pollination ‘groups’ (amazingly enough, numbered 1-4). In order to ensure that one tree gets pollenated by another, so it can then produce fruit/more fruit than it would otherwise have done, two trees within around 30m of each other need to have their blossom open at the same time, for the bees to work their magic. Some varieties are self-fertile (can produce fruit without pollination) but even those will usually benefit from a little bee action.

Whichever size you choose, we’ve selected all of our apples this year to be either self-fertile, or able to be pollinated by each other. All are great spring nectar sources for bees and pollinating insects.

Figs

Figs thrive in any soil with good drainage. Restricting their root growth encourages better fruiting, so either dig out a planting pit (see below) or grow them in containers on the patio, or buried into the ground. Make a planting pit by digging a hole and lining it on all sides with vertical paving slabs. Add a layer of rubble, gravel or broken bricks in the base of the hole - around 10cm thick. Fill with free draining soil (dig in some grit if your soil is quite dense/heavy - and mixing in some John Innes #3 is always a good idea).

Ideally, plant them about 20cm away from the base of a sunny south or south-west facing wall or fence, but we’ve seen figs do well in almost every part of the garden. Restricting their roots really is the best single thing you can do.

In spring, apply a general-purpose granular feed. Once the figs start to appear, apply liquid tomato fertiliser every 2-3 weeks during the growing season, until they start to ripen and keep them well watered during summer. Buy now

Quince

Happy in most soils, but particularly like those that stay relatively moist throughout the summer. Perfect for some of the clay-based gardens we have around this part of the world. Also happy in large, containers filled with soil-based compost. They do need a pretty big pot right from the get-go, so use at least a 45-60cm one. They need a long growing season to ripen well, so only plant these if you have a nice sunny spot near the house for them (even a well insulated house will emanate some level of heat out to plants on close proximity during the colder months). South or south-west facing walls are ideal. Buy now

Plums

A really reliable fruit, that’ll usually give you a good harvest of delicious plump fruit for eating straight from the tree or for making into jams, pies and crumbles. They’re fine with clay-based soil, as long is doesn’t get waterlogged in winter. Plant in a sheltered, sunny spot for best results. Once fruit has set, they may need thinning a bit to ease congestion and weight in the canopy, as well as to boost fruit size. Snip out some of the fruit (painful though that may be!) to give the remainder the best chance to develop as fully as possible. This will also reduce the ultimate weight on the branches, which will minimise the risk of them snapping (plums really can produce that much fruit). s with most fruit, keep them watered regularly while fruits are developing. Buy now

Peaches

Peaches, of course,  are originally from warmer climes, so need well drained soil to do well. They are usually best grown in a free-draining container in a sunny spot near the shelter of the house,  a fence or wall.

Peaches flower really early in the year, when there aren’t usually many pollinating insects around. They will usually still produce some fruit, but to encourage more fruit, you can pollinate them yourself, by hand. Using a small, soft artists’ brush, stroke the inside of each open blossom gently, transferring pollen between them. Buy now

Pears

Will grow in any well-drained, fairly moisture retentive soil in a sheltered, sunny spot. Ad in lots of We see lots of pear trees locally, so are confident that you will get a good crop. We’ve even seen trees completely ignored from year to year by their owner, yet still continuing to produce an abundance of fruit. For the heaviest crops, some varieties are best grown with another variety of pear, so they can pollinate one another. If you only have room for one tree, then you should make sure that a neighbour has one that can act as a suitable pollinator. Buy now

Other Fruit

Kiwi Fruits

Kiwi fruits do best in a sheltered sunny position, although they can be grown in the open in this part of the world. They grow best in a fertile, well-drained soil, so add in lots of John Innes #3 to the ground when you plant them. They are vigorous, deciduous climbing plants. ‘Jenny’ is the only hardy, self-fertile variety available. Water really well to keep them moist during the growing season. This might need to be done as often as two or three times a week in hot dry weather, like we’ve had this year. Buy now

Rhubarb

Completely hardy. Grows in any garden soil. Dead easy to look after. Likes a sunny spot, but otherwise, these are pretty bullet proof. Plant the crown with the growing point at, or just below, the soil surface. Buy now

Blueberries

Blueberries like acidic conditions (same as azaleas, rhododendrons and the like). The best way to grow these, to be certain that your soil is acidic (unless you’ve tested it or have other acid-loving plants thriving in your garden) is in a container.

Put some drainage pebbles in the bottom of the container and then use ericaceous compost (this is critical). Keep the compost or soil moist, but not soaking wet. Don’t let them dry out. Water with rainwater, not tap water, so a water butt is ideal. Tap water will reduce the acidity of the soil, so if there’s a drought and you need to use tap water, add some sulphur chips to the soil to bring the acidity level back down. Feed every month with ericaceous liquid feed to keep them in the best condition. Apparently they’re superfood, so they’re definitely worth the extra effort! Buy now

Blackcurrants

Really easy to grow and look after. Will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. They prefer full sun, but will put up with light shade. Dig in some well rotted manure before planting. Dig a hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball, then tease and spread the roots out when planting. Deep planting encourages young, vigorous shoots to develop from the base, so plant them about 15cm deeper into the ground than they were below the soil surface in the pot you bought them in. Firm in well before watering. Top dress around the plant every year with manure and water regularly during the fruiting season (imagine how much water there is in one berry!). Buy now

Raspberries

Well be looking at these in detail in a couple of weeks, when our supplier in Sussex tells us they are ready to go. They are pretty easy to grow and look after, but there are a couple of things to do that’ll keep your canes happy and your crops plentiful.

Have a fantastic weekend.

The Lancasters Team