This months tip is more about the impending drought and what you can do, i.e. how to collect water and what to do with it. If hose pipes are banned, you will be surprised how much water you can collect around the house with buckets and bottles. If your gas boiler is downstairs, a bucket in the shower can collect all that water that runs away whilst you are waiting for the hot water to come through. Plastic bottles and a funnel by the sink can collect your cooking water which you normally pour away. Just think about where you are wasting water and collect it. Now how to use it. Give water only water to distressed perennial plants, but how to know in advance if a plant is becoming distressed? Firstly feel the lower leaves and then the upper leaves. If the lower leaves are ‘juicy’ and the upper leaves are ‘crackly’, that is the warning sign. Use a bottle and just give the plant one bottle-full. (A watering can wastes water, in that you can not accurately control the amount.) If the plant is already distressed and the leaves have flopped, only check it in the early morning. If it has recovered, do nothing, but put it on the watch list, as some plants deprive the leaves to save the stems. If it is still flopped in the early morning give it some water in the morning and again in the evening. At the same time cut off any new growth to reduce the size. The objective is to save the stem, because if that shrivels, the plant dies. These are desperate measures, but it is important to try and keep any expensive or favourite perennials alive. As for bedding plants, just give the odd drop of water to geraniums to maintain some colour. The rest need to fend for themselves and some will come back when it rains
This month’s tip is about preparing for a dry spell. It is all very well to say ‘use water wisely’ with no explanation of what that means. When we are thinking about our gardens, we all know we should not waste water, so we need a plan. Our flowers and vegetables will die if they don’t get water. We can save water in a number of ways. The obvious one is that if your water butt overflows, get a bigger one, or drain it into a second one. You will also be surprised by how much tap water you can save if you strain cooking water into a bucket, rather than pouring it down the sink. In the meantime until there is a water shortage, get into the habit of ‘use water economically’. Too late for this year, but do a bit of research into which plants are water hungry and which are drought tolerant. Annuals which self seed will need less water from you, otherwise they wouldn’t grow. In the second photo, which is a relatively dry bed, the orange poppies on the left and the foxgloves have never been watered – and yet they survive from year to year. Kent roses are very good survivors, because they have long tap roots. The first photo shows a small patio bed which survives entirely on water from the patio draining into the shingle in the foreground, before keeping the soil moist. The plants are semi-drought tolerant. One useful tip is to cover the ground in thick compost or rotted manure when the ground is very wet. A good tip for vegetables is to put a lot of water in the hole when planting on. After that, let the roots chase the water down and then don’t water them. Finally, also be mindful that young shrubs require water to establish. Give them directed water as needed – that is being wise!
Many of you will be wondering what has happened to your grass, which has not stopped growing. The answer is the ground temperature. Due to the very mild weather the ground temperature has not dropped, until this present spell of colder weather. Grass will continue to grow at temperatures above about 8 degrees C. The dilemma is that lawns are now too wet to mow. Well, you have until early March to find a dry spell. If you can’t get a cut in before then, the grass will grow rapidly from the top and flop over. With all this rain, you may find that the nutrients have been washed out of your daffodils. This may cause some to be blind. You have 2 options, a generous feed for the green leaves when they develop and leave them until next year, or cut off the green leaves and take a long skewer and mash the offending bulbs in the ground. This avoids disturbing the rest of the clump. This has been an extraordinary season. I’ve just picked these roses from a sheltered spot.
This year many of us are noting unusual flowering times and there are many theories as to why this is happening. The most likely cause is that the plant cycle includes a function related to temperature. This is not a single temperature but temperature trend over a period of time. For example from a colder temperature warming up over a period of, say, one or two weeks. We have experienced a number of these temperature cycles over late summer and early autumn and this could be what is triggering some of the unusual shows we have seen lately. Whatever the reason, plants are demonstrating to us that we still do not know everything there is to know about plant behaviour. The important thing to remember is that pruning should go ahead at the right time of year, even if we have to sacrifice a few flower heads. If you are like me, cheat a bit on the pruning and enjoy the flowers first. The picture shows a spring flowering viburnum already in flower – just enjoy the spectacle and give the plant an extra feed now.
Now is the time to talk about pruning stone fruit trees. This has been a difficult year with many trees ‘bolting’ and producing long shoots. On stone fruit trees post-fruiting is the time to address this problem , so that the cuts can dry and seal before winter. This should only be done on a dry day to give the lesions the best chance to seal quickly. The rule of thumb is to always prune whilst the leaves are still on the branches. It is important to look up a pruning guide for your species, because some flower next year on the tips of this year’s growth. In years like this, it may be necessary to lose some of next year’s fruit to maintain the shape of the tree, especially if it has been planted to have ornamental value. There is a school of thought that you should prune in early summer to maintain the shape – but how do you know how much it is going to grow? The photo shows an apricot which has more than doubled in size this year. I intend to cut off only the lead shoots, the side shoots above the path and the suckers in the front. This is less than the recommended pruning, but why look a gift horse in the mouth!
This month as the grass cutting season tails off, here is some important information about petrol and the storage of lawn mowers over the winter.
From 1st September the government is changing the composition of unleaded petrol known as E10 which will now contain more additives to reduce the environmental impact. Older cars and most lawnmowers will be unable to use the new E10 which damages the components of affected engines fitted with carburettors rather than fuel injection. The recommendation is to use E5 petrol which in future will only be found in Super Unleaded fuel, costing approximately 10p litre more than E10. Lawn mower manufacturers are offering an alternative, which is to use a special additive to new the E10. The Hayter product is called ‘Hayter Fuel Stabiliser Premium Treatment 355ml 111-9366’ This costs about 80p to be added to 5 litres ( about 16 shots from 335ml for about £12). I would imagine this works for all makes of lawn mower and I intend to use it on all my Briggs & Stratton engines. If I had Honda engines I would use it on them, but you may need to check if Honda have their own equivalent. Beware of all other fuel additives which do not specifically say they are protection against corrosion &c. of E10. You can check the Hayter product on the internet to see exactly what it does.
In short, unless your lawnmower is modified to do 140mph on your lawn, it may be better to avoid Super Unleaded anyway.
If t’ rain stops fallin’ an’ t’ wind stops blowin’,
do na’ touch thee lawn ’til t’ grass is growin’
Note: t’ is pronounced Tee against the teeth – fortissimo
Don’t worry if the recent northerly winds have retarded the growth of your bedding plants. They will spring into life as the evenings warm up and the cold rain disappears. This has been the coldest May for 362 years, but we are creatures of habit and have bought our plants and and put them in the garden as usual. Proof of the pudding is this ‘Tale of 2 Dahlias’. In the photo the one on the left was inadvertently left in the greenhouse, but the one on the right was outside with the bedding plants. We all knew the evenings were going to be cold – we were just gardening optimists. Talking of mistakes, do not cut your lawns short in early June. The sun is at its highest and can damage the roots if there is no partial shade from the grass itself. This old Northern ditty says it all:
This month’s tip is about hedges. By definition a hedgerow is a hedge of more than 20m in length, or one that adjoins another to make a combined length of 20 m. So, below 20 m no need to worry, but many properties in the village probably, technically, are bounded by hedgerows rather than hedges. Why does this matter,well according to DEFRA 2020 rules to protect nesting birds, hedgerows may not be cut between 1st March and 1st September. One imagines there is a certain amount of give and take here for essential trimming for pavements and gateways. Nevertheless it is important in May to protect nests and fledgling birds and to be especially careful.
Finally, what a pity all our Magnolia trees have had their magnificent floral displays devastated by the continuing frosty nights.