When the days are short and the weather is dull it’s lovely to have some Spring bulbs in the house, blooming and filling the air with their sweet scent to remind us that the warmer weather is really just around the corner. If you’d like some hyacinths in your hallway or daffodils on your dining table for Christmas then now is the time to think about exactly what you’d like to have and how you will display them.
Once you have decided on what flowers you’d like, think about the containers to put them in. Baskets, of all sizes, lined with thick plastic to make them waterproof are the most obvious but any container given a similar treatment would look equally beautiful.
You will need to buy ‘prepared’ bulbs for Christmas flowering – bulbs that have been specially treated to speed up their growth. I’d recommend using commercially prepared bulb fibre for potting, especially for containers where there are no drainage holes. (If you want to use regular potting compost make sure that it is open textured and free draining).
Put some well soaked bulb fibre (or potting compost) into your pot or container, leaving enough space to allow the bulbs to be placed inside with the tips just below the rim of the container. The bulbs can be placed close together but should not be touching. Cover with bulb fibre and water well. The container should then be placed in a cool spot such as a shed, or in a shady corner of the garden. Darkness is not essential but a cool temperature is. Do not put in a black plastic sack as this only encourages mould.
After 10-12 weeks young green shoots should start to appear (these will be paler if the pot has been kept in the dark). When the shoots have reached about 5cm (2 ins) in height, bring the pot into a cool room and they should flower in time for Christmas. Spring flowering bulbs at Christmas, planted in pretty containers, make a lovely gift.
Caution: The bulbs of Daffodil, Hyacinth and Narcissus are poisonous so please practise basic care by washing your hands when you have handled them.
If you want to go organic and steer clear of chemical fertilisers in the garden then there are a few natural alternatives. Common nettles make a good, if smelly alternative to commercially prepared chemical versions (another good reason to leave a patch of your garden to run wild).
For obvious reasons, wear some rubber or gardening gloves to harvest, tear and scrunch up enough nettle stems and leaves to loosely fill a watertight container such as a bucket. Then weight them down, say with an old plate. Fill the container with enough water to cover the crushed greenery and then leave to rot down. (This is a bit smelly so you may want to place this somewhere away from the house)!
The brew should be ready to use in 3 to 4 weeks and needs to be diluted for use – usually in a ratio of roughly 1 part nettle liquid to 10 parts water (the resulting diluted liquid should look the colour of tea). You can keep topping up your supply bucket with nettles and water as the season progresses. Once your flowers have finished flowering and you no longer have use for the homemade fertiliser, just tip what remains onto the compost heap.
Another alternative is coffee grinds. Sprinkle them around plants before you water or before rain and the grinds will slowly release nitrogen into the soil.
Crushed eggshells are a well-known old-fashioned fertiliser and work particularly well scattered around roses because of their calcium carbonate content. (An added bonus is that their sharp edges also help to deter slugs).
If you’re lucky enough to live by the seashore then some of the best fertiliser is freely available in the form of seaweed. You can either treat it in the same way as the nettles above and make a ‘tea’ out of it (which again needs to be diluted for use) or, if it is winter time, dig the seaweed directly into plant borders to feed and condition the soil.
Lastly, but by no means least, consider making either a compost heap or set up a worm composting bin. In my experience worm bins don’t smell (I kept mine in the garage) and given time they produce wonderful, fine compost and the ‘run-off’ is a good liquid fertiliser for the garden (use diluted as above).
I’ve already covered planting to deter aphids and encouraging toads into the garden to munch away slugs, snails and other garden pests. Everything in nature is in fine balance and in just the same way that certain bugs are determined to eat their way through our efforts in the garden, so Mother Nature has given us other insects that are the natural enemies of the garden marauders and are therefore our friends. There are many garden friendly insects but the two most recognisable are the pretty green lacewing (Chrysoperla rufilabris …seen above), and everybody’s favourite – the ladybird, the adult and/or larval forms of which will eat aphids practically by the lorry load.
To encourage garden friendly insects to your patch of green, first and foremost you must stop using chemical sprays (but then I’m sure you probably guessed that already).
Secondly, if you can leave a sunny patch of your garden to grow wild, then please do. In fact the ladybird’s favourite plant for nesting in is the humble nettle so where you see nettles starting to grow, please leave them – you will be helping to increase the ladybird population. Bear in mind that it is sometimes the larvae of garden friendly insects that are the biggest help to us and this is certainly the case with the ladybird, although you may, up until now have assumed that this little chap is just another pest. He isn’t. He’s a veritable aphid hoover!
Third, you can give garden friendly bugs a home in which to live. There are attractive commercially made bug condominiums available to buy but making your own is also incredibly simple. I made mine (pictured at the end of this post) by cutting pieces of hollow bamboo to a uniform length using secateurs – I’d say, cut the lengths to about 10 inches long. (Bamboo is often used as plant supports and so can be easily purchased from garden nurseries). Cut both ends off a large/2 litre plastic drinks bottle and tightly stuff the cut lengths of bamboo into the resulting plastic tube. Tie string or twist wire around both ends of the newly made ‘bottle condominium’ so that you are able to hang it in a horizontal position. Place it somewhere warm, preferably near the main problem area in the garden. Pretty soon insects will find it and start to settle in your bug condo. By the way, many insects hibernate over the winter months so it may be helpful to put your bug shelter somewhere like a garden shed over the coldest months to help protect it from frost.
Finally, make a compost heap, the simple presence of which will help to encourage insect life into your garden … not to mention providing you with fabulous compost.
If your garden is under serious attack right now, (or you are of a very impatient temperament!) friendly bug ‘attractants’ can be bought on-line.
If your garden is being swallowed up by slimy slugs this Summer help is at hand from the common toad (bufo bufo). Contrary to popular belief, the common toad is a major friend in the garden, munching his way through not only slugs but several other garden pests such as beetles, earwigs and larvae.
To encourage Mr Toad to move in, a water feature in the garden is ideal but failing that, if there are already toads nearby just making a simple shallow watering hole will probably do the trick. You could partly bury an old shallow dish somewhere shady or use one of the trays that you would normally put under pot plants, place a few rocks in there for him to clamber on and fill the tray with water. Make sure you keep this watering hole topped up during hot weather. He’ll also need somewhere to live. Toads like damp, dark places that they can dig down in so old, broken terracotta pots placed on the soil would do the trick . They actually need remarkably little space to keep them happy, as I’ve recently found out. We’ve just removed a wonky old patio and found several toads hiding under the broken paving slabs – I’m happy to report that all toads have now been removed to a place of safety. It should also go without saying that to encourage any wildlife to your garden you should stop using chemical sprays.
Here are a few toadie facts that you may not know:
- The common toad can live up to 40 years.
- They are mainly nocturnal creatures.
- They live for most of the year in damp areas such as deciduous woodland and it is only during the breeding season that they seek out lakes, ponds, ditches and slow-moving water.
- Common toads are solitary creatures.
- They hibernate in late October.
- Only male toads croak.
Get over any squeamishness you may have about frogs and toads in general, welcome their presence in your garden and pretty soon you’ll be happy to be sharing your space with them because of the great job they do in protecting your plants from hungry pests.
More tips specifically on controlling aphids/greenfly can be found on my page here. For general gardening tips and advice please go to my House/General index.
That’s it, we’re at the weekend and the forecast is good, all the way to Monday (and beyond). I’m going to take full advantage of it and potter around doing gardening tasks, which will have the knock-on effect of making our older cats very happy indeed. They love it when we’re outside anyway but with the introduction of the ‘newbies’ have spent more time outside, in the garage and in the utility room, rather than run the gauntlet of Kittendom in the main house. Gardening outside means they get us all to themselves.
What will make them even happier is that my husband is filling in the gaps on our pergola with netting. It makes for a handy temporary ‘cage’ outside our living room, meaning that we can finally fling open the doors again to allow air into the house and give the kittens a safe taste of the outside, without of course being able to run away. It also gives the olds a chance to saunter nonchalantly around on the outside of the netting, flaunting the glorious freedom that they are able to enjoy!
What about you, got any plans for the weekend?
I don’t really know why I decided to split my WordPress writing into two different pages but I did. So there – it’s done. This does mean, however, that when I spend time writing a piece for one site, I don’t really have the time to do the same for the other. Can I just tell you therefore that I’ve just posted a wonderful (!) article on adding Summer colour and scent to your garden by using Summer bedding plants over at Gentle Voice. Please visit and immerse yourself in my usual pearls of wisdom. 😉