What a thrill it is to see all my baby plants suddenly realising the fun of life and shooting up out of their pots and trays! Oh yes, that does mean that they all need moving into bigger spaces …the work is piling up…..
This week, we’ll also be tidying up winter jasmine, propagating thyme, potting on tender cuttings, starting a compost heap, sorting out the lawn edges – eek, better get on with it….
Create your own compost heap
This is the year that you definitely WILL create a compost heap, if you haven’t got one already. The price of all such materials is likely to rise, and the supply chain and the debate about peat-free composts mean that there has never been a better time to have your own supply, no matter how small your garden.
Ignore the scary mumbo-jumbo about compost-making – like practically everything in horticulture, start with a couple of simple basics, and then learn as you go along about what works best:
Where? Identify a shady out-of-the-way corner in your outdoor space.
In what? There is a massive range of compost bins out there of every size and shape, if you don’t feel up to making your own. If you are creating a heap on the ground, you want a patch which will drain away excess water well.
Ingredients: fruit and veg peelings (I don’t put citrus in, though); coffee filters: tea bags; crushed egg-shells; plant-prunings (not the really woody ones though); grass cuttings (not great wodges of these which go smelly and soggy, I find); ripped-up egg boxes, paper and cardboard; autumn leaves (again not great masses together – I usually store these in a separate area to make leaf-mould).
Don’t put in: dairy or meat products, perennial weeds (ground elder, dandelion, thistles etc. though I sometimes fudge on this a little if they don’t have seedheads, basically because I’m a bit lazy!); cat litter or dog poo.
Keep your compost heap damp but not soaking. If it feels very wet, add more paper and cardboard, if it feels very dry, add more of the green stuff. I water my heap if it gets dry, and turn it over with a fork every so often to keep everything mixed and aerated, which helps the rotting-down process. You want as many worms in there as you can! Some folk swear by adding a Compost Activator which can hugely speed up the whole operation, but I have never bothered (never been in that much of a hurry, I suppose).
If you have the space, having 2 or even 3 composting areas next to each other is very helpful, because you can turn one heap over into the next little bay, and won’t be adding new material to one that is already at its final stage at the bottom.
Once your raw ingredients have turned into a dark crumbly sweet-smelling ‘soil’, your compost is ready to use on beds and borders, to improve your soil quality, as a mulch, to use in potting mixtures etc. etc. Predicting how long this will take is nigh-on impossible (mine is usually about a year from start to finish) – you just need to keep checking. But oh! The satisfaction of assisting in the miracle of making compost, and then benefitting from it!
Cuttings – a continuation
Oooh, I am addicted to making plants for free! And there is so much material about at the moment for taking soft-wood cuttings of shrubs, perennials, tender plants, bedding plants, so on and so on. In earlier blog, I explained the basic technique for doing this – link is at the end. Now I shall be moving some of my cuttings on to their own spaces, before the rooted ones become entangled with each other and difficult to separate without damage to their roots.
It’s a fairly straightforward process, involving a bit of tipping out, teasing out and settling in. I have made a short video on how to do this, which might be helpful. Click the link to that at the end. Use exactly the same technique for potting on bought-in plug plants etc.
- If you enjoyed the brightness of winter jasmine in your garden earlier, they may be looking rather untidy and straggly and in need of a good tidying-up. Now is the time to do that task.
Take off all the brown stems right down to the base. Then tie in the new green stems to their supports so that they will carry their flowers in as upright position as possible next year.
Heucheras should be looking pretty fine and dandy right now, like the one In our feature pic– if yours are not despite being in nice moist soil and a semi-shaded area, check that their roots haven’t been eaten away by the very tiresome vine weevil grubs – they LOVE heucheras!
There are treatments available, including non-chemical ones which use nematodes instead. Or you could just go out at night with a torch and try and catch some of the adult blighters, but this might be a bit more hit-and-miss! Also, Laura has reminded me that if you re-pot vine-weevil-infested heucheras and primulas into fresh compost, you may well be rewarded with the growth of new roots; and robins love feasting on white grubs amongst the old discarded compost!
- The grass is growing like nobody’s business at the moment, and if it’s all a little tricky to keep on top of it, just pay attention to the edges. A really neat and trimmed edge to a lawn can cover a multitude of sins in the lawn itself. I don’t actually have any grass in my small garden, but clean, swept paths can also do the job of giving the impression that I am in charge.
- I have just spent a very happy ten minutes making paper pots for my seedlings to move into when I prick them out of the seed trays. No plastic involved and the newspaper is totally biodegradable so you can plant the ‘pot’ out with the plant inside it, with no root-disturbance at all. Perfect recycling, and truly child’s play to use the Burgon & Ball pot-making kit in our shop. In fact, get the children and grandchildren to make them for you!
- Lastly, make yourself get up early one morning in April and listen to the birds welcoming the new day in their Dawn Chorus. There aren’t many sounds more uplifting, I don’t think. I did exactly that about 10 days ago in my cottage garden in Normandy and video’d it – I stupidly did it in portrait not landscape, but you get the idea, and the birdsong is fab.
My short walk through the garden listening to the Dawn Chorus is here.
This is the blog where I explain how to take softwood cuttings.
Here is the little video I made about moving your rooted cuttings on.
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