Category: Garden Maintenance

Coming up roses!

Coming up roses!

rose garden
Mottisfont Rose Garden

That most English of flowers, the rose, is often at its most fragrant and floral at this time of year.  Indeed, local National Trust property, Mottisfont Abbey, extends its opening hours in June especially for visitors to enjoy its fabulous rose garden for longer.  Unfortunately, many home gardeners don’t choose to plant roses as they fear they are ‘difficult’. This reputation is unfounded and, in fact, we think there is a rose for every garden; it’s simply about understanding which rose will suit your plot and how to look after it. 

Many books have been written by horticultural experts about caring for roses and it is a fascinating subject.  However, we offer the following as an introduction or quick guide for anyone who wants to get started.  Our plant experts in our Titchfield Centre are always happy to offer further advice.

Which variety?

Can you tell your hybrid tea from your damask?  What’s the difference between a rambler and climber? Does a grandiflora really have bigger flowers?  No idea?  Well, you’re not alone and all these different terms and varieties seem to be where the rose’s reputation as ‘difficult’ stems from (pun intended!). There are several varieties of rose, which will suit slightly different positions, so let’s look at some of the main ones.

Hybrid Tea Roses

Hybrid teas are the classic ‘rose bed’ rose; often pruned to be statuesque and with luxurious flowers, they can be a showstopper in the garden. Growers regularly breed new varieties, giving us an almost endless choice of colour.  By their nature, hybrid teas are classed as Modern Garden Roses, as opposed to some of the wild or heritage varieties.  This means they can flower more than once a year, often have larger blooms, usually one per stem, and can be great as cut flowers.

Floribunda

Another popular variety of rose is the Floribunda.  Unlike the statuesque hybrid tea, these tend to be ‘shrubbier’ in habit and often have multiple flowers on a stem. As a result, they are often pruned less formally.

Patio roses

We sell a good number of smaller rose varieties, too.  We refer to them as patio roses but they will be fine in small gardens or even large pots, so check when you buy, particularly miniature or miniflora roses. Prune fairly hard between December and March to encourage new growth and flowers later in the spring.

Climbers and ramblersclimbing rose

Climbing or rambling roses aren’t really varieties in their own right but rather descriptions of how they behave.  For example, some floribunda and grandiflora roses will climb or ramble quite happily if you let them! 

But what is the difference between a climber and rambler?  Climbing roses tend to have larger blooms on fairly stiff, not overly vigorous stems; most repeat flower (especially if dead-headed regularly and stems are trained horizontally).  Climbers are great for more formal settings, such as growing against walls or over obelisks and trellis. Ramblers, on the other hand, have a more vigorous habit, producing greater quantities of smaller flowers. They tend not be repeat flowering.  Ramblers often suit less formal positions, like letting them grow into a tree or pergola, or ramble all over a shed.

Climbing roses should be pruned in the winter and tied in to supports if you’re using them at that time.  Rambling roses are better pruned immediately after they have flowered, probably in late summer. However, neither type will be seriously harmed if you need to do a little tidying up at other times of the year too!

shrub roseShrub and ground-cover roses

Once again, these are less varieties of rose and more about their habits. Shrub roses produce flowers in clusters and some varieties can sprawl more than 10 feet in every direction (if you let them). They are particularly hardy to the cold. There are many varieties of shrub roses, perhaps the most notable of which is the David Austin English Rose.

Groundcover or landscape roses are bred to be – perhaps – the best of all worlds: vibrant colour, delicious scent and low maintenance. They can be a great space filler, rarely growing more than three feet tall, and are often continuously flowering through the season.  They can be the perfect ‘beginners’ rose.

 Antique and historic

There are many varieties of rose which can trace their ancestry back hundreds of years in some cases. Old Garden Roses are double-flowered plants which have been around since at least 1867.  Alba Roses date back to around 100AD and will cope with cooler climates. Bourbon Roses were introduced in France in 1817 from crossing two even more historic varieties, Damask and China roses, to combine the velvety petals and heady scent of both. Gallica roses have been used for medicines since around the twelfth century. Centifolia or ‘cabbage’ roses are often used for essential oils.

All of these ancient rose varieties have several characteristics in common.  Firstly, their long ancestry usually means they have evolved to be pretty pest and disease hardy.  They usually only flower once in a year but they can have the strongest fragrances of all the roses.

Wild roses

We couldn’t finish without mentioning wild roses, also known as species or dog roses.  You are unlikely to find them in a garden centre but you may well find them out in the hedgerow.  They are distinguishable by their single, five-petalled flowers and they are almost always pink.

General planting tips

Roses generally do well in a sunny spot, sheltered from strong winds.  They will prefer relatively free draining soil (adding grit before you plant can help) but do like a rich, organic soil (add some well-rotted manure). Hybrid teas particularly don’t do as well when crowded by other plants (think of the classic rose bed!) so give them space and keep on top of the weeding.

Pests and diseases

Generally, keeping your rose (or any plant) healthy will help to deter most pests and diseases; a plant that is not stressed is better able to stand its ground.

One of the more common rose conditions is black spot, which appears as black spots on the leaves. It doesn’t look particularly attractive but generally does little damage to the plant; just be sure not to compost any affected leaves to reduce the risk of it spreading.  Similarly, aphid and greenfly infestations usually aren’t too serious and can often be dealt with by spraying with a solution of soapy water (or encouraging ladybirds).

The RHS has a great guide to dealing with many rose problems here: 

https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/roses/frequently-asked-questions

Five Garden Jobs for June

Five Garden Jobs for June

June is often to be one of our sunniest months here in Hampshire and often with some of the lowest rainfall.  Of course, the longest day falls in June, too; on Tuesday 21st this year (weather depending) we can enjoy around sixteen and a half hours of sunshine before the sunrise and sunset times slowly start to creep in again for another year. All that sunshine means that our gardens really start to get into their stride. June doesn’t tend to be a month for big garden jobs but is more about keeping on top of the little, regular ones, like deadheading and watering.  Here’s our round-up of what to do this month.

Prune
pruning

As a general rule, removing dead flowers from any plant helps to encourage new flowers to form.  A regular potter around your garden in the cool of the evening with your secateurs can be a lovely way to help keep your garden blooming. (The only flowers this does not apply to are any that you hope will turn into a crop, of course!)

As spring flowering shrubs and perennials start to fade, now is a good time to cut them back and thin out older stems; it may even encourage a new flush of foliage.  This applies to species like Philadelphus, Pulmonaria and Choisya.  Now is also a good time to summer prune a Wisteria, reducing the long side shoots, to help encourage flowering next year.

As you prune, think about whether your prunings might make new plants.  Softwood cuttings taken from houseplants, shrubby herbs, Pelargoniums, Hydrangeas and more can all do well at this time of year.  Get them into moist but well-drained compost as quickly as you can and place in a bright spot, out of direct sunlight.

Plant & sow

seedling

If you haven’t already, now is the time you can safely plant out anything you have been bringing on indoors; the temperature here in June rarely falls below 12’C, even at night, so it’s unlikely there will be a frost. Tender exotics like bananas and cannas, to veggies like sweetcorn and courgettes, can now take their place in the garden. Don’t forget to water them in well.

It’s not too late to sow some seeds, either. Now is the time to sow biennials, plants that germinate in the first year and flower in the second. These include such familiar favourites as wallflowers, black-eyed Susans and foxgloves.  You could also sow small pots of herbs for your windowsill now to keep you in fresh leafage for the rest of the year.

Tie in

As plants get growing, they will often need a little extra support until they establish.  For example, sweet pea and clematis will ‘cling and climb’ with their wonderful tendrils but may need tying in when newly planted until they can get a grip.

Tying in the new stems of climbing and rambling roses horizontally will encourage more flowers.  Tying in the new stems of soft, cane fruits (raspberries, blackberries etc) helps prevent potential wind damage and makes the fruit picking easier later on!

Really tall plants, like those cottage-garden favourites delphiniums, hollyhocks and some tall-growing dahlias, would probably benefit from the support of a cane in case they get top-heavy or the wind picks up.  Theory has it, on the other hand, that sunflowers are better left unsupported to encourage their stems to grow more sturdy. Perhaps one to try and make up your own mind?

Feed and water

watering

There is a simple rule of thumb to apply to everything in your garden about when to feed and when to water: if it’s been dry, water but don’t feed; if it’s been wet, it’s safe to feed.  The logic is that the last thing any parched plant needs is fertiliser, it doesn’t have the capacity to process it without water first.

We’d also suggest that – if there has been a particularly prolonged dry spell – prioritise your watering: crops first, pots and containers second, lawns third and flower beds last.  Again, it makes sense that the plants you want to work the hardest (fruit or veg crops) will need water most.  Pots, containers and particularly hanging baskets are more prone to drying out so they come in second.  Lawns can actually survive reasonably well without water: we’ve all seen a brown lawn but has that lawn ever failed to turn green again?  Unless it’s been newly laid, hardly ever; you just have to learn to live with the brown for a while in our changing climate. Finally, unless your flower beds contain plants that you have only just planted, the established ones will have root systems than can find moisture under most circumstances so hold off watering them until it gets really dry.

When watering, use rainwater or recycled household water (grey water) whenever you can. Not only does it save on your water bills, but it’s better for the planet too. (It might also be the excuse you need to switch to more environmentally friendly shampoos and washing-up liquids!). And water early in the morning or later in the evening when you can; the cooler temperatures at those times mean more of the water reaches the plant without evaporating.

Protect
netting

In the winter months, we talk about protecting our plants from the weather; this time of year, it’s more about protecting them from pests!  Thinking about what you’re growing to produce a crop: what protection might they need from anything that could get to those crops before you do?  Soft fruit can be a feast for the birds so think about using netting to protect them; just ensure that what you do use is securely tied and taut so that nothing will get trapped in it. Fleece or solid cloches can be great at protecting vegetables from specific predators such as carrot fly or cabbage white caterpillars.  When you can, always go for a natural or biological solution rather than chemicals, especially on anything you are planning to eat yourself.

One job that fills some gardeners with satisfaction and others with dread is the late-night snail and slug hunt! Particularly on damp evenings, scouting around with a torch can help you keep your local population in check; what you do with them once you’ve found them is entirely up to you (and how squeamish you are!).

Pep up your Pond with Plants!

Pep up your Pond with Plants!

A garden without water is like roast beef without the Yorkshire pudding; it still tastes great but you know that something is missing!  Water as fundamental to our enjoyment of a garden is deep-rooted across human history and culture; just think of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a Moorish palace garden, or the Long Water at Hampton Court as diverse examples.  And, of course, whether you have a mini pond or something approaching a small lake, having any water in your garden is brilliant for attracting wildlife. 

As we start to spend more time in our gardens with the weather improving, now is a great time to take stock of your pond plants.  Here is our quick guide to the types of plants that might complement your pond and where best to place them so they will thrive.

Moisture-loving plants

A plant described as ‘moisture loving’ will enjoy damp ground but it will not do well if it is permanently wet or water-logged.  Like most plants, they are prone to rot if left fully submerged.  Moisture-lovers won’t be suitable for planting in your pond but, if you have a damp but free-draining and perhaps shady area on the bank, they will do better there.  (Great to provide natural cover for any wildlife approaching for a drink!)

Some typical moisture-lovers include astilbe, Astrantia, fritillaria, helenium, lythrum, persicaria and some primula.

Marginal plants

By comparison, a marginal plant will like to keep it’s ‘toes’ wet and it’s foliage in the sun so will enjoy being planted in the shallow edges of your pond.  Do read the planting instructions carefully, however, as the term ‘marginal’ can cover a wide range of conditions: some marginals only like a centimetre or two of water around their roots, and will rot if the plant is fully submerged, while others can stand to be fully submerged for periods (often when they are dormant during the winter and water levels are likely to rise).

We have a range of marginals in stock, from shallow-water beauties like lychnis and lythrums, to those that will tolerate being submerged by a few centimetres, like mazus and some iris varieties.

liliesd

Deep-water plants

A true deep-water plant is one which has evolved to survive with the main plant under water all year round, although almost all grow leaves to shoot above or float on the surface of the water.  The classic example, of course, is the water lily (nymphaea) and many are fairly adaptable to their conditions: the deeper you plant them, the longer their leaf and flower stems will grow to float on the surface. Some water lilies can spread well over a metre wide so, if you only have a small pond but still want to enjoy them, we’d recommend some of the miniature or pygmy varieties.

Bog plants

What defines a bog plant is often less about how much water is around and more about how they will tolerate an acid soil.  In nature, bogs develop from decomposed plant material, causing them to tend to more acidic than other areas (a soil pH of 7 is considered neutral; acid soils can sometimes measure up to pH 3.5). Some varieties of fern and primula will cope in these conditions, but typical bog planting schemes will often include species like sundews and eriophorum (cotton grass).

Depending on the size of your pond, it is likely that you will want a mixture of marginal and deep-water plants, as well as perhaps some moisture-lovers to soften the edges.  Do check how big each can grow so you don’t end up over-crowding the space, although providing plenty of shade for your pond will help stop it getting clogged with algae and pond weed. Talk to our Garden Centre plant experts if you are in any doubt.

If you’d like build your own pond for wildlife, we love this page on RSPB website with instructions on how to build everything from a large pond, a mini-pond and bog garden: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/water-for-wildlife/making-a-pond/

Five Garden Jobs for May

Five Garden Jobs for May

Summer feels like it’s finally on its way!  The risk of overnight frosts has greatly reduced, meaning it’s safe to start planting out more tender specimens, and the sun will be setting after 9pm by the end of the month, meaning we have longer evenings to enjoy our gardens.  To get your garden summer-ready, here’s our round-up of key jobs to do this month.

Do the ‘Chelsea chop’
cone flower

Nicknamed because it coincides with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (this year, back in its late May slot), the ‘Chelsea chop’ means pruning back your herbaceous plants by about a third.  Depending on the plant, this can have some really positive benefits, in particular encouraging new growth (and often, more flowers) whilst also keeping the plant more compact, requiring less support. If you’re not sure when a plant is going to flower, or what effect a Chelsea chop might have, you don’t have to chop the whole plant; many gardeners will prune just the front half of a plant or a few stems, to prolong a flowering season or see how a plant responds.  The kind of plants that do react well to a good Chelsea chop include perennials like echinacea, helenium and phlox.

Of course, always check plants for nests before you start any pruning, as some birds may still be rearing young at this time of year.  If you want to read more about the Chelsea chop, follow this link to the RHS website. https://www.rhs.org.uk/pruning/chelsea-chop

Harden off and plant out
seedling
Now the risk of ground frost is (almost certainly) passed here in Hampshire, it’s safe to start hardening off young plants before planting them outside.  If you’ve started your tomatoes or courgettes indoors or in a greenhouse, for example, they can come outside to a sheltered spot or cold frame to acclimatise.  The same also applies to more tender summer bedding and annuals, like cosmos and nasturtiums.  Just keep an eye on the weather forecast: be prepared to throw fleece over them or whisk them back inside if the overnight temperature is set to dip below 4°C.  Two to three weeks is usually enough to harden off most things but bear in mind that, the greater the temperature difference between inside and out, the longer you might want to give them.

Now is also a good time to plant up pots and hanging baskets for summer colour.  We will be getting plenty of suitable bedding plants into our Titchfield store – like pelargoniums and osteospermums.  We’d recommend leaving the pot or basket in a sheltered spot for a few weeks, so you can keep it well watered while the plants establish before you move it to its final position.

obeliskTie up

The best time to put plant supports in place is before they are needed.  This is partly because you won’t have to fight with so much lush foliage to get the support in the right place but it’s also because the plant will then grow through and over the support, so it will become practically invisible.  Plants that tend to grow particularly tall, which might make them prone to the wind, would welcome a bamboo cane or other single support; phlox or delphiniums are good examples.  Plants that can be very lush or get top-heavy, like peonies or alstroemeria, might prefer being supported in a framework, just so that they don’t flop in strong winds or under the weight of heavy rain.  Climbers – everything from sweet peas to clematis – might like a wigwam or lattice to scramble up and through.

There are no rules for what type of plant needs what type of support, just be led by the plant’s natural habit and your own preference in your garden.  What we would strongly advise, however, is to pop something over the top of any individual canes or spikes – a tennis ball or a small pot would be fine – just so you don’t take an eye out when you’ve forgotten it’s there and bend down to weed around it!

weedingA little light weeding…

Because everything is really growing, now is the time to keep on top of the ‘garden tidying’ jobs, so that no particular job gets out of hand.  (‘Little and often’, as my Mum would say!)  A quick hoe over bare soil every few weeks will take much less time than having to weed out larger unwanted plants later, for example.  Nipping off stray shoots from topiary or shrubs is a faster job as and when you spot them.  Deadhead any spent flowers to encourage more (unless you plan to collect seeds in the autumn).  These little but regular jobs also allow you to keep an eye for any potential pests, like aphids or lily beetles, as you potter around the garden so you can act sooner.

If you have a pond or water feature, with the extra sunlight now, keep an eye on things like pondweed and algae to keep the water clear. Scoop out any unwanted plant life but leave it on the side for a day or two if you can, so that any little critters living in it can crawl back into the water before you compost the plant material. And you might want to think about an extra compost bin at this time of year so you can recycle more of your own green waste.

Feed and water
plant feed
If the past few summers in this part of the world are anything to go by, it’s quite likely that any rain will come in short bursts with some long dry spells in between. If we want to help our gardens not just survive but thrive in these conditions, we need to be mindful of their needs and water or feed them accordingly.

As a rule of thumb, if it’s been dry for a while, water takes priority over food.  Once a plant is hydrated, then it might appreciate some feed or fertiliser.  How much rain there will be can also influence your choice of feed: a liquid feed that you water on may be a better choice than a granular feed which requires rain to dissolve it.

Plant feeds are based around three main ingredients: potassium (or potash), phosphorus and nitrogen (represented by the chemical symbols K, P and N respectively).  Potassium is great for encouraging fruits and flowers, so can benefit everything from your tomatoes to your spent spring bulbs (for good flowering next year).  On the other hand, plants that you want to be green and leafy (your lawn probably being the best example) will prefer a nitrogen-rich feed instead.  Phosphorus is in all plant and animal cells and helps convert sunlight into energy for growth so is useful for any plant during its growing season.

Don’t go overboard with your feeding.  Twice as much food doesn’t mean twice as many fruit or flowers (probably just an exhausted plant!). Follow the dosage instructions on the packet, or on the recipe if you’re making your own feeds.

The long-range weather forecast is suggesting that this summer will be pleasantly warm and mostly dry so let’s hope this is the start of a blossoming gardening season!

Five Garden Jobs for April

Five Garden Jobs for April

April is perhaps the first month when it’s both warm enough and light enough to think about pottering in the garden in the evening.  This means you can more easily keep on top of those little jobs, like dead-heading or topping up your bird feeders, as you go.  And there are certainly plenty of jobs you can be doing in your garden in April; here’s our reminder!

Instant colourpolyanthus

Enjoy some instant colour by planting up things like polyanthus or primulas in pots or at the front of your borders.  They will give added spring verve to your garden and help to fill in that gap between early spring bulbs and later ones, like tulips.

You can also think about planting up hanging baskets and pots with summer bedding plants too now. We’d recommend a mix of plants that will keep you blooming right through the season (as well as providing more variety for insects).  Just make sure you keep them inside or carefully protected until we are well clear of any frosts.

Sow and plant outcoriander

April starts to be warm enough to think about planting some seeds outside, straight into their growing position.  Sunflower seeds, herbs like coriander and parsley, fast-growing crops (like radishes) or even microgreens should all start to geminate now if sown in a sunny spot (or pot) outside.  Just ensure the soil is not too water-logged as this tends to mean the soil temperature is still a little too low for success.

Hopefully the seeds you have sown previously are sprouting well and ready to be potted on.  If your seedlings have been grown indoors so far, think about acclimatising them to their planting position gradually if you can; a spell in an unheated greenhouse or under a cloche will help harden off anything that is ultimately going to be planted outside.

Pest Patrolslug patrol

As the plants wake up, of course, so do the pests that like to eat them so now is the time to think about protecting your tender shoots from their jaws.  Of course, we’d recommend a non-chemical route if you possibly can, in order to protect the other animals (and humans) who use your garden.  Picking off slugs, snails or beetles can be really effective (if you can bring yourself to do it!), while a solution of soapy water works to deter most aphids.  Maintaining good plant hygiene (removing dead or diseased material and ensuring plants get plenty of air) is also a great deterrent to anything that likes to hide in dark corners.

We love this article from Garden Organic about common garden pests and diseases and how to tackle them in the most garden-friendly way: https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/pests-and-diseases

clumpsDevide and conquer

Now is a great time to reinvigorate established clumps of plants by digging them up and dividing them. This works well for hardy perennials, such as asters, daylilies or hostas, as well as hardy herbs, like chives or lemon balm.

Dig up the entire clump as one and lift it out on to a firm surface.  Depending on how large the clump is, you may get several smaller clumps so look for natural division points that will leave you both healthy foliage and strong roots on each smaller clump.  Depending on the nature of the root ball, you may find that two garden forks inserted back-to-back and then wiggled apart will be enough to separate out the clumps.  If not, a sharp garden spade inserted firmly will cut through it.  Although this looks like a serious operation, at this time of year, plants generally respond well to firm treatment and it will spur them into more vigorous growth.

Plant one of the clumps back into the original hole, watering in well, and then you have more plants to pot up or give away as you please!

Indoor gardeninghouseplant

It’s not just the plants in our gardens that will be growing well by now but also anything indoors or in our greenhouses.

Houseplants generally will benefit from more regular watering from now until the autumn. If they have been in the same pot and soil for a while, they will probably also enjoy some additional feeding too.  There are, of course, many plant foods available (and we have a choice in stock at our Titchfield Centre) but there are also some home-made options too.  Things like crushed eggs shells, cooled vegetable cooking water and coffee grounds will all enrich the soil.  We love this blog from Urban Garden Gal for plenty of DIY suggestions:

https://www.urbangardengal.com/natural-fertilizers-houseplants/

Time also to think about ventilation.  On fine days, open windows (including greenhouse vents and doors) to ensure your plants have plenty of fresh air.  If it’s a sunny day, perhaps think about moving your houseplants outside for a few hours too; they’ll love it! Just be careful of scorching.

The Changes We’ve Seen in Gardening

The Changes We’ve Seen in Gardening

1970s gardenAs April 2022 marks Hambrook’s 52nd year in business, it feels appropriate to reflect on how gardening has changed during that time. Our founder, Norman Hambrook, says he thinks gardening today is easier; it’s certainly true that there are many more power tools and sources of advice available now than when he started. Of course, it’s also true that Hambrooks has more hands on the job now, so that might also be what he’s referring to!  Either way, here are our thoughts on how gardening and our gardening habits have changed since we began in 1970.

Smaller plots

Most of us now garden on a smaller plot than the average 1970s garden offered. This is partly because the need for more housing has seen the density of new build houses increase, leaving less room for gardens, but it’s also down to reasons like needing space to park more cars. Being a nation of gardeners and not to be deterred, we have embraced container gardening, with pots, window boxes and hanging baskets satisfying our green-fingered urges instead. So, while it is a shame that our outdoor spaces have generally reduced, there has been a boom in the DIY and gardening trade which seems to suggest that, actually, more of us are gardening than ever before – which is definitely a good thing!

How we use our gardenslighted garden

In the 1970s, unless you were Tom and Barbara Good, gardens were generally only expected to provide space for a Swingball set and a sun lounger. As long as your lawn displayed cricket-pitch stripes and your begonias had been dead-headed, there wasn’t much call for being outside in it.  Fortunately, it seems we have all learnt to love being outdoors (and how good it makes us feel) so we are much more demanding of our gardens today.  Whilst front gardens are often devoted to parking and the bins, our back gardens now offer us outside dining, entertaining and playing spaces that would have made Percy Thrower awe-struck! Another positive change, we think.

The choice of plants has grown

Although we think of the Victorians as being the pioneering plant-hunters and growers, the twentieth century actually saw just as many new introductions and new breeds. Many specialists and enthusiastic amateurs have sought to breed cultivars of plants to bring more pleasure to our gardens: the daffodil that flowers earlier, the iris that flowers for longer and the dahlia that will survive the frosts. Today’s gardener still has to be mindful of the ‘right plant, right place’ mantra but certainly our choice, from seeds to plug plants to larger specimens, is so much wider than it was in the 1970s.  As a result, we seem to have become more adventurous in our planting and our gardens are much more interesting.

Sources of inspiration have multiplied

Believe it or not but ‘Gardeners World’ wasn’t actually the first TV gardening programme, although it seems to be proving the longest standing.  Since 1970, we have been through seven GW presenters (how many can you name?) with Monty Don apparently on track to steal Geoff Hamilton’s record as longest serving.  But, of course, we have so many more places to turn to for gardening advice and inspiration today.  As well as an explosion of TV and radio shows (let’s not forget Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time!), there are so many magazines, books and a plethora of garden centres and specialist shops.  The arrival of the internet means that anyone can put themselves out there as a gardening guru so, while we applaud how easy it is to find information now, we urge caution in making sure it’s a reputable source you’re using!

insect

Understanding wildlife better

One of the most positive changes, we think, is how much better we all understand our natural environment and the wildlife that we share our gardens with.  In the ‘bad’ old days, we would think nothing of applying chemicals on a whim – to kill aphids, to pep’ up your lawn or to fertilise your tomatoes. Science has helped us understand the negative impact of manufactured chemicals (such as neonicotinoids fatally harming our bee populations) as well as the positive impacts of more natural gardening methods, like encouraging ladybirds to eat greenfly. Partly as a result of greater plant choice but also because we understand that wildlife needs a diverse diet and habitat, gardens today are buzzier, greener, chirpier and therefore happier places than they were in 1970.

So, whilst we might feel some nostalgia for the ‘70s, on balance, we’re very glad that we’re gardening today in 2022

Five Garden Jobs for March

Five Garden Jobs for March

March is often the first month that really feels like Spring.  It brings the equinox (20th March, when day and night length are the same), we switch to Summer Time (27th March) and we gain almost two hours of daylight over the month, as sunrise and sunset times extend. So we tend to enter our gardens with renewed enthusiasm, hopeful that the worst of the weather is behind us and eager to see what’s started to grow.  Here’s our round-up of key jobs this month.

Clear-up

compost heap

Well done if you have managed to hold off clearing up your garden until now! You probably can’t see them, but there will be many beneficial insects sheltering amongst the seed heads and foliage that you’ve been good enough to leave them.  It’s generally recommended that you don’t do a big tidy until daytime temperatures are regularly 10’C (50’F) or more, so that all those insects aren’t made homeless in the cold weather.

Clear out and compost old foliage and stems around the garden, ready for the new growth to appear. Don’t forget to remove newly germinated weeds, too, before they get too big.  And, if you can, mulch your newly cleared beds and borders with a generous layer of compost to help retain moisture and suppress further weed growth.

Open upgreenhouse

As the days lengthen, now is the time to think about letting more light into your greenhouse.  If you’ve added extra insulation (like bubble wrap) for the winter, you can remove it now.  It’s also a good time to clean all the windows, inside and out, to maximise the light and get rid of any hidden bugs.  Please don’t use chemical cleaners, though; a solution of hot, soapy water is generally good enough but household ingredients like white vinegar, lemon juice and tea tree oil can give an antibacterial boost.  (We found this great selection of homemade cleaners on the Good Housekeeping website that we think would be worth a try: Good Housekeeping

As well as light, think about letting more air into your greenhouse, potting shed or cold frame too.  Opening doors, windows and vents on sunny days helps prevent a build up of humidity that may encourage moulds and mildews.

Dead headdead head

As your daffodils and other spring bulbs go over, pinch off the spent flower heads but leave the foliage to die back naturally.  It’s the sunlight that the leaves can take in now that will send energy back into the bulb ready for a good showing next year.  Cutting off the stems and leaves might look tidier, but it will almost certainly mean you have poorer displays next spring.

Deadheading any winter or spring bedding plants will help to keep them flowering a little longer, too.  And it’s not too late to prune roses if you haven’t had the chance yet.  (Refer to this handy RHS pruning guide for advice on your particular type of rose: Guide

Sowsow seeds

Although some seeds will germinate earlier, especially indoors, March is really the month when seed sowing begins in earnest.  Indoors, you can start most annual summer plants (like black-eyed Susan or cosmos), salad crops destined for the greenhouse (tomatoes, chillies, aubergines) and even get a head start on crops that will eventually go in your vegetable plot (lettuce, parsley and runner beans, for example).

If you’re keen to start sowing outside, you can help your soil to warm up by placing cloches or glass over it.  Crops like parsnips are slow to germinate and need a long growing season so get them in the ground now. Other hardy veg, like spinach, can be sown outside too, although you might want to cover them with fleece or a cloche until they get established.  If you’re sowing carrots in the ground, you’ll want to protect them too, but more from carrot root fly than the weather!  (The Gardeners’ World tips on avoiding carrot root fly are invaluable, here: Gardeners World

Take cuttings

cuttings

As perennial plants – like lupins and dahlias – start bursting into life again, now can be a good time to take cuttings from them.  Select a healthy young shoot (what we’d call ‘softwood’ because it’s still flexible) that doesn’t look like it will carry a flower head and is between 5-10cms long (2-4 inches).  With a clean and very sharp knife or secateurs, cut the shoot from the main plant, preferably close under a node or leaf joint.  As soon as you can, remove most of the leaves and push the shoot straight into a pot of moist but free-draining compost.  If you can’t plant it immediately, seal the cutting in a plastic bag to prevent it loosing moisture until you can plant it. 

Set the pot somewhere sheltered and keep it moist but not saturated (as your cutting will just rot).  When you can see roots at the bottom of the pot and signs of new growth at the top, you know you’ve been successful and you can pot on your ‘baby’ plant.  Of course, some plants will naturally take longer than others to ‘take’ so don’t give up too soon!

Some gardeners choose to dip the end of their cutting into rooting hormone (auxin) before sticking. Rooting powders also contain fungicides which inhibit basal rot. This can help cuttings take but is never a guarantee.  Picking healthy shoots during their spring growth ‘spurt’ and planting them quickly is the key.

Five Garden Jobs for February

Five Garden Jobs for February

The days are getting noticeably longer now, particularly on sunny days, and the countdown to the first day of Spring ticks on apace! February feels like the start of the gardening year (for me at least) because it’s usually the first month I will sow any seeds. February is also usually the month when I will have a proper sort out and clean of the greenhouse, as we’ll probably get a bright, cold day when it will be nice to be outside.  Of course, remember to keep your birdfeeders and water trays clean and topped up, as it’s still a tough month for our feathered garden helpers!

The days are getting noticeably longer now, particularly on sunny days, and the countdown to the first day of Spring ticks on apace! February feels like the start of the gardening year (for me at least) because it’s usually the first month I will sow any seeds. February is also usually the month when I will have a proper sort out and clean of the greenhouse, as we’ll probably get a bright, cold day when it will be nice to be outside.  Of course, remember to keep your birdfeeders and water trays clean and topped up, as it’s still a tough month for our feathered garden helpers!

Sow Things!

sowing

Time to dig out those seed trays and start sowing in earnest. I leave my sweet peas until this time of year (I tried the ‘Monty method’ of planting in October but they just got too leggy and needed potting on before Christmas!). It’s also time to start thinking about summer bedding (cosmos, lobelia, snapdragons etc), best sown and left in a sunny but frost-free place. Tender salad crops like peppers and tomatoes can also be sown now but will probably need to sit on a sunny windowsill (or heated propagator if you have one) to get them started.  It’s also a good time to start thinking about your summer bulbs; agapanthus, lilies and gloxinias will do well planted in pots but kept indoors until the weather warms up a bit more.  And, if you’re a potato grower, time to start chitting your first earlies by standing them in trays (or empty egg boxes) on a sunny windowsill.

Feed for the Futuremanure

If you can get your hands on (not literally!) some well-rotted manure, now is the time to fork it lightly into your beds and vegetable plot.  Don’t go mad (over-feeding plants can result in lots of fleshy green growth and fewer fruits or flowers), it’s just a gentle boost for your soil.  Your roses will love it! Fruit trees and bushes will probably benefit from a sprinkling of potash feed around their base at this of year, as it promotes fruiting.

This article from the Gardening Channel weighs up the pros and cons of feeding your soil and gives some handy tips on how to tell if your plants need extra fertilizing: https://www.gardeningchannel.com/fertilizer-vs-no-fertilizer/

Devide Clumpsclumps

The easiest way to increase your stock of clump-forming plants is to dig them up and divide them; replant one piece back in the original hole and plant the others around the garden.  At this time of year, snowdrops can be divided in this way, ‘in the green’, still in flower or after they have flowered. Winter aconites can be divided after flowering too.  Now is also a good time to divide grasses and other herbaceous perennials (like peonies, hardy chrysanthemums and Salvias) to make new plants for free.

Pruneprune

February is your last chance to prune most plants before they will start coming into growth again so get to your fruit trees and bushes (if you haven’t already).  The same is also true of ornamental grasses; great to have left them for their structure and seed heads over the winter but now’s the time to cut or pull out the old growth to make room for new shoots.  (See our earlier article on caring for grasses if you need some further advice.

Pruning wisteria now will encourage flowering in the spring; cut it back to three buds from the base of a shoot.  Plants that have flowered over the winter (heathers, mahonia or winter jasmine, for example) will benefit from a trim to tidy them up once the flowers are over.  (With heathers, as with lavender, remember not to cut back into old stem as its unlikely to regrow from there).  And, if you haven’t tidied up climbers like ivy and Virginia creeper already, do that now, before the birds think about nesting in them.

Protect

protect

At time of writing, the long-range forecast for February in our area is unsettled but rainy and with temperatures generally at or above average for the time of year, so it’s not looking likely that we’ll get drops of snow or heavy frosts. However, before we do, check any fleece or insulation you’ve placed around tender plants to make sure it’s still doing its job.  If a cold snap is forecast, think about protecting any early fruit blossoms (particularly stone fruits like peaches) from the weather. Covering strawberry plants with cloches will also help you get an earlier crop.

If we do get a decent snow fall, knock it off the branches of shrubs and conifers to prevent them snapping under the weight. Check if any plants have been loosened by the wind or cold-action and firm them back in to prevent root damage.

Spring is just around the corner now!

Five Garden Jobs for January

Five Garden Jobs for January

A new year has arrived, bringing all the potential excitement (and uncertainty!) that every gardener looks forward to. For some of us, the new gardening year actually started last autumn (when we planted our sweet peas or our biennials) but, for others, the new gardening year won’t really start until we see that first snowdrop bob into bloom (not too far away now, we hope!).  Whichever side of that debate you sit on, here are our top five jobs to be getting on with in your garden this month.

Prune Fruit Trees

tree pruning

A former colleague of ours was adamant that Boxing Day was the best time to prune fruit trees (although we think it was just his excuse to get out of visiting his in-laws!)  In reality, you can prune fruit trees at any time while they are dormant, from leaf-drop (usually around November) to the buds bursting out in early March. January tends to be the time that most people will prune their apple and pear trees. Focus on the three ‘D’s, removing dead, damaged or diseased branches first, then reduce and reshape to a manageable and pleasing size.  It’s helpful to know where your tree grows its fruit (on new or last year’s growth) but this great article from the RHS puts minds at rest for anyone who isn’t sure:

https://www.rhs.org.uk/fruit/apples/winter-pruning

Take Cuttings

cuttings

You might think the weather is too cold to think about taking cuttings, but some plants prefer it when they are dormant.  Now is a good time to take root cuttings of fleshy-rooted perennials (such as oriental poppies, verbascums or acanthus) and of thinner-rooted plants like phlox and Japanese anemones. You can also take hardwood cuttings from deciduous shrubs, such as viburnum, forsythia and willow.

Take your cuttings and pot them on quickly, before they dry out, in free-draining compost. Cover them and water well, from above to make sure they are in good contact with the soil.  Place them somewhere bright but away from extremes of weather and temperature. Depending on the plant, it can take a few weeks for small, new leaves and roots to start forming.

If you’ve never taken root cuttings before, try this simple guide from Gardener’s World magazine:

https://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/how-to-take-root-cuttings/

 

Mend Your Fences

broken fence

With climbers and larger plants now reduced, now is a very good time to be able to see and access fences and other wooden garden structures.  As birds are not nesting yet, it’s also a good time if you need to trim back ivy or Virginia creeper if it’s gone mad over a fence or pergola!

Check to see what’s wobbly or damaged and repair or replace as appropriate. Based on recent years, we can probably expect some further high winds and storms into February and March so work now could save you some emergency repairs in future.

On dry days, now is a good time to apply stains, preservatives or treatments to outdoor wood. Of course, we would urge you to go chemical-free where you can (particularly no petroleum-based or metals-based ingredients) and ensure your garden remains planet-friendly.  However, the reality is that – once they have dried – many modern treatments aren’t likely to be harmful to children, pets or wildlife, so please just choose with care!

 

Feed the Birds

bird houses

As winter really bites, our feathered garden helpers could do with our support.  There are fewer seeds and berries around, and natural sources of water may be frozen, so do think about making your garden a snack-stop.  Bird baths should ideally have their water refreshed daily but certainly as often as you remember to.  On particularly cold days, you may need to melt the ice more than once a day. High energy foods (like those containing suet pieces) are great to help them through, too.  We have a wide range of Tom Chambers food and feeders in store if you want to stock up.  Remember to clean your feeders regularly too, to prevent the spread of diseases affecting garden birds.

Before the nesting season gets underway, now is also a good time to put up bird boxes. The size, position and type of entrance your bird box has will determine what type of bird is likely to call your box home. Ideally, a selection of different boxes in your garden will encourage the widest range of birds.  As you’d expect, there is some great advice from the RSPB here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/nestboxes/

Shopping!

seed

With the evenings still fairly dark, if you didn’t have your head in the gardening catalogues before, now is the time to plan ahead!  Go through your seed packets and sort out which are out-of-date (or empty!) so you know what to order for this year. Seed potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic bulbs will be available to order now for planting in early spring. You may also be able to order bare-root plants now (from fruit bushes to roses and shrubs) to plant any time the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged.

If you are a regular veg’ grower, plan this year’s planting to ensure you grow each type of crop in a different bed to previous years; this ‘crop rotation’ helps to prevent any pests and diseases carrying over from one year to the next.

Five Garden Jobs for December

Five Garden Jobs for December

December always feels like a slightly gloomy month, gardening-wise.  It’s cold and probably wet too. Although (at time of writing) we’ve only just had our first proper frost in this part of the world, real winter weather won’t be far off now.  (It’s no wonder that our ancestors liked to party at this time of year, to stave off those winter blues and hope for the return of the sun!)

But we should take heart from the fact that December is the turning point of the gardening year. From the winter solstice (21st December), the days start lengthening again, and we can look forward to the new growing season.  Here’s our pick of the top jobs to be getting stuck into this month – in case you’re looking for an excuse to get out of the Christmas washing up!

Planting

tree planting

Now is a great time to plant ornamental trees and deciduous shrubs, as long as the ground isn’t frozen solid or completely waterlogged.  Any time between October and April is also good for bare-root roses so you haven’t missed the chance to get them in, too.

Talking of shrubs, why not plant something fragrant in a pot by your front or back door, to give a little scent boost to this grey season?  Daphne odora or Sarcococca would make great choices.  (Click here to read the RHS top ten picks for winter-scented plants https://www.rhs.org.uk/garden-inspiration/seasonal/10-agm-plants-winter-scent )

If you’re a rhubarb fan, now is the time to lift and divide any large clumps.  Replant the sections in soil boosted with some well-rotted manure. You could also select one or two clumps to begin forcing now, for an earlier crop of pale and tasty stems.

Pruning & Tidying

tree pruning

December is generally a good time to prune woody stems.  Remember the mantra ‘diseased, damaged or dead’ and take those stems out first, then you can prune for shape. Try to prune on mild days; frozen wood will shatter when cut, making for an uneven stub that is more prone to disease.

Climbing, hybrid tea and floribunda roses (but not ramblers) can all be pruned any time from now until February.  Overgrown shrubs and hedges can be hard-pruned now, while they’re dormant, and many fruit trees will benefit from a serious trim to improve shape and their crop next year (although do check whether your tree bears fruit on old or new stems before diving in!).  Grapevines (both in the greenhouse or outdoor) can also be pruned now: cut back side branches to a length of just one or two buds to encourage strong growth next year.

When you can, put woody stems through a shredder so they will compost more easily but remember not to compost anything that is diseased.

Protecting

greenhouse covered in snow

If you haven’t already, December is about ‘battening down the hatches’ on your garden in preparation for the worst of the winter weather to come.  Even hardy plants in pots can suffer as temperatures drop, so think about moving them into sheltered spots.  Straw, bracken or fleece packed around the base of tender plants will help protect them, whether they are in the ground or in pots.

If you’ve stored away bulbs or corms ready for the spring, remember to check them occasionally for signs of damp (or mice!).  Bring in watering equipment or water features so that they don’t freeze and split (or drain them thoroughly if they can’t be moved).

If you’ve filled your greenhouse with tender plants, check on your max-min thermometer regularly to make sure your heater is doing its job. If you haven’t yet filled your greenhouse, now is a good time to give it (and your pots and tools) a good clean and disinfect, to stop pests and diseases lingering.

Looking Out for Wildlife

bird feeding

Although there are still some seeds and berries around at the moment, our feathered friends will welcome any food you care to offer them as well, to ensure they have a varied diet.  Hang your bird feeders near your roses to attract birds that will also pick off any overwintering pests.  And remember to put fresh water out regularly too.  It’s easy for bird baths and dishes to fill with dead leaves or to freeze at this time of year, so check them whenever you can. 

 

Looking Ahead

On a winter’s evening, when it really is too dark or too cold to get outside, is there anything more comforting than a nice hot mug of something and the gardening catalogues?  This is a great time to plan ahead for what you want to grow next year. Reflect on what worked (or didn’t work) for you this year and take it from there.  At this time of year, expect to be able to order seeds and summer-flowering bulbs, pre-order some plug plants, and order manure or mushroom compost, to spread over bare soil and give your worms something to work on ready for planting in spring.

Looking ahead to a new gardening year, now is also a great time to consider giving any garden machinery, like your lawn mower, a service.  Whether you are confident doing that yourself or you choose a professional service, you know it will be in good working order for when things start to grow again.

We wish you a very happy Christmas from the team here at Hambrooks and leave you with the corniest Christmas cracker joke we could find:

What is Father Christmas’s favourite garden tool?  A hoe, hoe, hoe! 

(Sorry!)