We have introduced a regular slot at our monthly meetings for members to give some topical tips. These will be shown on this page for members to refer to.
- Jakoti hand shears. One of the most useful tools we’ve come across. They have a longer blade than secateurs, can be used with one hand easily and cut more in one go than conventional shears. They are also self sharpening. Available online for £30-£35.
Tenby Daffodils (from Julian) Do we all know what they look like? And do we all grow them? They’re actually a species daffodil native to this part of the world, so not surprisingly grow very well here. They’re probably one of the most vigorous forms we grow, and reliably some of the earliest to flower – usually in time for St David’s day. This year we have masses of flowers from them. But my first tip taken from moving snowdrops in the green, is if you’ve got a vigorous form like Tenby, try moving them in the green – maybe 5 or 6 weeks after flowering. So long as you do it in damp/wet conditions, and then water them well in any dry conditions, they’ll survive and it’s much easier to get them where you want, between other bulbs and plants than buying in more dry bulbs in the autumn. They’ll probably sulk for a couple of years. But then be fine. Anyone who hasn’t got any, but would like some – more money for club funds, folks, come and have a word afterwards, and I (Julian) can probably lose 30 or 40. (So maybe 4 lots of 10?)
Cinnamon for gardeners. Elena found the following information and shared it with us:Whenever I think of cinnamon, I immediately think of sweet treats around Christmas time. But cinnamon really is an incredibly healthy spice that has more uses than just adding flavour to your favourite desserts and drinks. Yep, some of the best chilis and grilled meat spice rubs that I’ve ever had contain cinnamon. And did you know that cinnamon is good for your heart health, your brain functions, and blood sugar regulation? Amazing stuff!Maybe you already knew all that but here’s one that very few people know about: you can use cinnamon for gardening. “Huh? How can you possibly use cinnamon for gardening!?” Yes, I know it sounds completely crazy, but you really can use cinnamon to very legitimately help you with growing certain plants.Have you ever heard of damping off disease? Perhaps you’ve never heard of it, but you may have seen it before… it’s a soil-borne fungus that looks like cotton and it grows on the stems of your seedlings. Infected plants might still germinate, however it’s only a matter of days before they become mushy, limp at the base, and die. Nasty stuff. But this is where cinnamon comes in…As it turns out, cinnamon has anti-fungal properties so it’s a great solution to keeping your plants free of damping off disease. Just sprinkle the cinnamon on the soil (don’t worry if you get some on the leaves) and the wonderful spice will get to work protecting your babies.
Scilla bithynica. The Turkish Squill (from Julian) A bit like a smaller bluebell, but with flowers all round the stem, and a great nectar flower. Like bluebells it does well in moist shade, say under trees or shrubs and with us seems to produce lots of seed, though this will take a few years to grow to flowering size. Slugs and rabbits don’t seem to like it, and the great thing is the colour of the blue, and that it flowers for quite a bit longer than bluebells, and about 6 weeks earlier, so gives an extended season. Well worth a try, and we got them from locally based John Shipton, who seems to be one of the few suppliers of this bulb (currently 5 bulbs for £9.50 + shipping. Click here for his website)
The topical tips for April were from Anne and Julian.
Anne showed us her bulb planting trowel which is much narrower and more pointed than a conventional one. She says it is the only sort she now uses and not just for bulb planting but weeding and many other things too. When buying one remember to check the weld as this can be a weak point.
Julian’s tips: firstly, our preferred method now for weed control on our quite extensive paths and yard. Having previously tried Pathclear, steaming, hot air (from an electric paint stripper – not Julian’s mouth) and a flame thrower. We use an 8 litre watering can with a fine rose, 750 grams of table salt and a small amount of liquid washing machine detergent (say half a cap full). Dissolve with stirring and using water as hot as you have, and then water the paths. Ideally do this at the beginning of a dry spell. It needs repeating maybe 6 or 7 times a year, and occasionally you may need to do a little hand weeding as well, but it’s better than anything else we’ve ever used, with surprisingly little collateral damage. We usually begin as soon as the first seedling leaves appear, in very early spring or late winter, and repeat as necessary. One watering can full will treat between 10 and 12 sq yds. Of course this being the UK he couldn’t possibly advise that any of you do this. We’re just telling you what we do!
Secondly, a plug for specialist nurseries. 2 examples. We now grow a lot of daffodils, particularly late flowering ones, many of which we get from Ron and Adrian Scamp in Cornwall. (www.qualitydaffodils.com). They have a huge selection, a great physical and online catalogue and these 2 later flowering favourites which are about halfway through their flowering time now (mid April). The one, rather appropriate for Carmarthenshire being called “Merlin”,
and the others are called “Oryx”.
ll Scamp’s daffs are grown in Cornwall and most seem to cope very well in our conditions. Most people order daffs in the autumn, but some of his good varieties sell out even by now, so have a look soon if you’re interested.
Richard Bramley, who most of us know, has recently built up an amazing collection, in flower now in one of his polytunnels at Farmyard Nurseries Llandysul, of Primula sieboldii. I’d urge anyone who likes the look of them to go and visit Farmyard whilst they’re still in flower.
(From Yvonne) If any plants have suffered from the late frosts, don’t panic! Leave them alone, and then, when the new growth has come through, you can prune the dead ends off.
(and from Jan) Cut off damaged areas, feed the plants, in Jan’s case all the vines in the polytunnels, and remember that it will be the end of May before we can safely say no more frost!, so cover over with fleece if cold nights threaten again. All Jan’s survived and new shoots are appearing
Chelsea Chop (from Yvonne) – It’s nearly time for the Chelsea chop for herbaceous perennials to prolong their flowering. Reduce about a third of the stems, and they will flower later. This can be done with Sedum spectabile, Phlox, Veronicastrum, among the many.
(Also fromYvonne) – When your Geraniums have flowered, cut all the growth off, and they will have a second flush of flowers later in the summer.
Growing Phalaeonopsis, or moth orchids (from Julian)
- Firstly anyone who has bonfires – save the small charcoal left over at the end, rinse well and think of using it for repotting. It doesn’t degrade like bark or moss. When we had proper holidays…decades ago!! we once saw orchid farms in Thailand growing them in just charcoal in a half coconut!
- Secondly the roots photosynthesise, so use an old clear yoghurt pot or such like to let light through, drill a few holes into it, and keep it in a larger outer pot.
- Thirdly I now keep a supermarket basil plant next to the orchids. When it wilts, it’s a reminder to water the orchids. And I’ve now kept this Basil going for over a year.
- Fourthly I water them with weak feed (in rain water), 3 out of 4 waterings, then one with just rainwater, and do it over a bowl and a cup, soaking the pot half a dozen times, and including running (ie manually pouring) water down the aerial roots, but being careful to keep all the water off the leaves.
- An additional suggestions from Elena was to add broken crocks to the charcoal to give weight to the pot.
Aphids on Roses (from Donna) If you have aphids on roses, try gently wiping them off with a used, damp teabag. You won’t get squashed greenfly all over your hands and it might be that the trace of tannin left behind deters further infestations. There’s no science behind it, I just find it works…..until it rains!
Reminder to Water (from Julian)
I’m sure we all remember this, but don’t forget recently planted out plants which may have been grown in compost, not soil based pots often need watering quite a lot in this sort of weather, – it’s easy to forget about them with everything else that might need water right now.
Thinning Apple Tree Fruits (from Julian)
Anyone with apple trees, now’s a great time to thin fruits. There’s meant to be a “June drop”, which naturally thins fruit out, but if you a have a few apple trees, they’ll likely have flowered at different times and so have fruit of different sizes right now. So it’s worth thinning out clusters of fruit about now to leave just one every few inches. I used to think this was a bit brutal, but it really does produce bigger apples, and also you can pick out any deformed apples and particularly any with the tell-tale frass of the codling moth caterpillar. If you get rid of these now, it will mean healthier fruit to harvest and less damage next year.
Caterpillars and Brassicas
Anyone growing brassicas will have their own way of dealing with caterpillars. My preferred way is to try to squish the eggs. It’s worth knowing that the eggs will hatch within 3 to 7 days of being laid, and will only get laid on dry days, when the butterflies can fly. So you need to check leaves quite regularly. The Large White’s eggs are laid in big rafts, underneath leaves, the Small and Green-veined White eggs are laid singly, usually on the underside of leaves. If you miss the eggs, look out for tiny holes appearing on the leaves from the caterpillars, and squish the tiny caterpillars. The Large White’s caterpillars are easy to find, but the Small/Green veined whites are harder to spot, because they usually are green and rest along the veins of the leaf, but often bore into the heart of the plant to feed. There are usually 2 or 3 generations of adults per year, so you can’t really relax your guard until late September.
Germinating Late Sown Seeds
Another tip from the excellent Hitchmough book (Sowing Beauty), is the percentage germination rates of different seeds, with once or twice weekly watering. For many plants this is less than 10%. This is really enlightening if anyone’s trying to get late sown seed to germinate well in dry conditions….like say fennel….you may need to water it very frequently especially in the evening, so that the seed stays damp for a long period…water in the morning on a hot day, and the surface compost and seed may well dry out in just a few hours, and once the germination process has been initiated by moisture, there’s then a chance that the seed will fail, before it ever gets a decent root formed.
If you are keen to have more Autumn flowers in your garden why not plant Cyclamen hederifolium beneath any Hellebores you have? They begin to flower late August, and like the same conditions. So as soon as you see flowers appearing, you can gradually cut the leaves off the Hellebores – it helps reduce Hellebore leaf diseases, and you then let light into the lovely Cyclamen flowers, and marbled evergreen leaves throughout the winter without tatty Hellebore leaves. The Cyclamen leaves naturally begin to fade away as the new Hellebore leaves emerge in spring.
It’s also a good last chance to save any seeds from annuals or perennials to have a go and create your own strain of plants that like our conditions. You can always find good ideas about germinating particular species on line. For example Julian has just saved some Stachys, Sidalcea and Thalictrum seed this week.
How to Make “Willow Water” – from Brenda
- Collect young first-year twigs and stems of any of willow (Salix spp.) species, these have green or yellow bark. Don’t use the older growth that has brown or gray bark.
- Remove all the leaves, these are not used. Don’t waste good green material though, compost the leaves or throw them in the garden as mulch.
- Take the twigs and cut them up into short pieces around 1″ (2.5cm) long.
- The next step is to add the water. there are several techniques to extract the natural plant rooting hormones:
- a) Place the chopped willow twigs in a container and cover with boiling water, just like making tea, and allow the “tea” to stand overnight.
- b) Place the chopped willow twigs in a container and cover with tap water (unheated), and let it soak for several days.
- When finished, separate the liquid from the twigs by carefully pouring out the liquid, or pouring it through a strainer or sieve. The liquid is now ready to use for rooting cuttings. You can keep the liquid for up to two months if you put it in a jar with a tight fitting lid and keep the liquid in the refrigerator. Remember to label the jar so you remember what it is, and write down the date you brewed it up, and to aid the memory, write down the date that it should be used by, which is two months from the date it was made!
- To use, just pour some willow water into a small jar, and place the cuttings in there like flowers in a vase, and leave them there to soak overnight for several hours so that they take up the plant rooting hormone. Then prepare them as you would when propagating any other cuttings.
- The second way to use willow water is to use it to water the propagating medium in which you have placed cuttings. Watering your cuttings twice with willow water should be enough to help them root.
Wait until they are ready before picking them. The timing is much more important than the method one uses to dry them.
Fresh, recently opened blooms, rarely dry well in the open air. Hydrangeas do best when allowed to partially dry on the plant before picking them. Depending on when your plant blooms, you should start checking on the flowers mid-way through the bloom time. The color will be fading but they will still hold most of their shape, and they will start to take on a papery feel.
The ideal time to cut hydrangea blossoms for drying is toward the end of the season, August through October, when the larger petals, which are really sepals, are starting to fade or change color and the tiny flowers on top of the colorful sepals are just beginning to open. Experiment with harvesting to see what works best for you.
Place the freshly cut flowers in a vase with fresh water. Move the vase to a cool spot, out of direct sunlight. Don’t add more water as the water in the vase evaporates. This allows the hydrangeas to dry naturally, rather than simply dry out. Once the water is totally evaporated, they should feel dry to the touch and be ready to use.
Still a good time to take hard wood cuttings of shrubs, etc. Maybe 8 or 9 inches long. Push them into the ground, and a year later you’ll have a nice young plant. These are Hydrangea panniculata cuttings taken in this way last year.
Leaves for Compost
Maybe a bit late for this year, but bear in mind for next year. Collect leaves up with a lawn mower, which chops them up a bit. Use a highish setting and you can run it over gravel to collect leaves on paths and drives. If you then empty them onto the lawn or some hardstanding and run over them again, it chops them really small, making a smaller volume which rots down quicker. Either put them directly onto your compost heap if you don’t want them for leaf mould, or store them separately in Big Bags. Within a year or so you’ll probably have useable leaf mould, which you can spread thinly around the shoots of emerging spring bulbs like snowdrops. If gentlemen can then “water” them with as Bob Flowerdew says, recycled beer, cider or tea, the process will be even speedier! The same method can be used for other tough leaves such as hellebores.