Tag Archives: Gardening

Spring flowers at Christmas

Grape hyacinthsWhen 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).

Pink HyacinthPut 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.

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Natural fertilisers

Bugs1If 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). 

Rubber GlovesFor 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 Watering cannettle 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.

Flower and beesCrushed 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 Butterflycomposting 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).

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Potting / re-potting plants

The basics

Clay pots, I think, look prettier, weather down nicely and are easier to keep well watered because of their porous nature.

‘Crocks’ tend to be bits of old, broken pots.  A single layer of crocks placed in the bottom of a pot before planting aids drainage, an important part of maintaining healthy plants.

Potting compost – a sterile mix of peat, vermiculite, perlite and soil conditioners that provide plants with nutrients, adequate drainage and aeration.  (Local natural soil could be used but ideally should be heat sterilised at 200F for at least 30 minutes in order to stop the spread of any harmful bacteria).

Plant food / fertiliser – plants in the closed environment of a pot occasionally need extra nutrients to aid growth.  How regularly they are used and the strength of solution depends upon the plant and time of year.  Plants follow a cycle of growth and rest so feeding them all year long is unnecessary.

The crown of the plant – The crown of the plant is where the stem meets the roots.  Most plants are planted so that the crown is at soil level.  Burying the crown below soil level can lead to the stem rotting and the plant dying.

HOW TO RE-POT

Get a pot that is one size larger than the container your plant is currently in (sizes are measured as the diameter of the pot’s upper rim).

Put a layer of crocks in the bottom of your new pot, then a layer of potting compost – remember, the aim is to keep the crown of your re-potted plant at soil level.

Take the plant you want to re-pot.  Slot your fingers, palm side down around the stem of your plant and turn it upside down, so that it is now sitting on the palm of your hand.  Gently tap the bottom of the up-turned pot and the plant should now easily slide out.

Put it in its new container and fill in the empty sides with potting compost.  Press down gently and continue to fill until the soil level is at the same level as the plant’s crown.

Water well.

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‘Pot bound’

How can you tell when a plant has out-grown its container and is ‘pot bound’?

The tell-tale signs:

That you’re having to water it much more often

If you have a look under the pot and can see roots, chances are it needs a bigger pot.

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