Flower Garden Care
Flower Garden Care
Managing , like running a business, is a matter of distinguishing between the essential jobs that must be done immediately, and those that can be put in the file marked ‘pending’. With absolutely no consideration for your lifestyle, the lawn is going to continue to grow and the groundsel to release its myriad seeds. If you leave the grass too long before , you will have a sickly-looking yellow mat and if you do not catch the groundsel before it seeds it will have colonized the garden for years to come. On the other hand, you can take your time over some such as .
A spade, of a size and weight that feels right for you, is the first indispensable implement to be bought, plus a garden fork to go with it. Once you have broken a few wooden-handled spades you may decide to invest in one that is solid stainless steel. These are rather expensive and a bit heavier, but they cut like a knife through butter, are easy to keep clean, and give you great confidence if you are doing a heavy job such as digging up a small tree. For many garden jobs, such as preparing planting holes, you need both spade and fork — the spade for making the initial hole, the fork for loosening the soil in the bottom of the hole, and for mixing in the compost or manure. The spade is then used for refilling the hole, and the fork for stirring up the surface and tidying up.
A trowel is an essential tool used for planting and for rootling out large weeds. Choose the best you can afford as cheap trowels are a poor investment — the thin metal part joining the handle to the trowel is inclined to bend at the most inconvenient moments. A stainless steel trowel is well worth the initial expense. A small handfork has many different uses —tweaking out weeds, stirring up the surface of the soil and planting.
A good pair of secateurs will be in use throughout the year for pruning,, cutting back in autumn and gathering flowers for the house. Here again the cheaper kinds are a waste of money, they lose their cutting edge or fall to bits too soon. Choose a pair with brightly-coloured handles, as secateurs have a habit of disappearing into bushes or hiding in compost heaps. You may also need long-handled heavy-duty secateurs or Toppers for cutting thicker branches.
A useful item is a tool rather like a small handfork on the end of a long stick. With this you can grub out weeds without stepping on the flower bed or, if you have left footprints, you can use it to loosen the soil. This implement is especially useful for the disabled, who cannot kneel or bend down easily.
A good watering can is one that is well balanced when full — when you carry it, you should feel that the weight is evenly distributed. You will need a coarse rose for general watering and a fine rose for watering seedlings and. A metal rose is usually more satisfactory than a plastic one. A small, extra watering can is handy for winter use under glass — you will be less inclined to overwater with it.
Other items you will require include a wheelbarrow; a stiff broom for dislodging mud fromand a soft broom for general sweeping; a draw hoe, for scraping away small weeds and drawing out seed drills, or a dutch hoe for scuffling up the soil; shears; saw; sprayer; rake; lawn mower.
Rather than spend valuable time hunting for the trowel, tripping over the rake and scraping dried mud off the spade before starting work, make a habit of putting all your tools back, clean and dry, in the same place each time you use them.
Preparing a flower bed
Before preparing the soil, any serious weeds, such as ground elder,, couch grass and , should first be sprayed with the appropriate weedkiller (several times if necessary). However impatient you are to begin planting, this will save time in the long run. Any trees and shrubs you are discarding should be dug out. If you are doing this yourself you know the job will be done properly, but if you decide that this is heavy work and get somebody else in to do it, keep a close eye on what they are up to: make sure they do not take out the trunk and some of the surface roots, quickly fill in the hole and go home to tea — roots left behind can be a source of honey fungus which will spread to other shrubs and trees. If you have inherited only , chickweed, groundsel, shepherd’s purse and so on, they can be dug in as you go along. Carefully dig out , such as , dandelions, docks and buttercups.
Ideally, you should dig a flower bed in autumn, so that frost can break up the clods of earth you have thrown up. By the spring, these will have broken down to a fine tilth. Take care not to mix any subsoil at the bottom of the trenches in with the topsoil. The subsoil is a different colour from the topsoil which makes it easy to recognize.
How to dig a flower bed
Using the spade, first dig a trench, about 60cm (2ft) wide, and barrow the soil up to the far end of the area you are about to dig. Next, break up the soil with a fork in the bottom of the trench you have just excavated. Then fork in well-rotted manure or compost and spread it about. You then dig another trench alongside, using the excavated soil to fill up the first trench. Continue like this. When you get to the last trench, fill it in with the soil you barrowed up there. This operation is called single-digging.
Planting the Garden
Mid-autumn is a good time for planting hardy, when the soil is still warm. Any plants that you suspect may be tender in your area, as well as silver-leaved plants in general and in particular, are better left till spring. Evergreen shrubs also establish best in spring, when the growing season is starting in earnest and their roots grow rapidly as the soil warms up. Try and choose a time when the soil is neither too wet nor too dry.
If you are planting a newly-dug and prepared bed, add only a light dressing of (either a balanced fertilizer or bonemeal) as you plant. But for planting in an existing flower bed you will need to be more generous. Work whatever would benefit the plant into the bottom of the planting hole: extra grit to lighten heavy soil, plenty of well-rotted compost, manure or to enrich all soils and enable the roots to grow easily through it, plus bonemeal and general fertilizer.
Make certain that the plant’s rootball is thoroughly moist before planting. If the rootball seems dry, give it a good soaking for an hour or two beforehand. Bare-rooted plants can be soaked in a, bucket or a water barrel. Never expose roots to hot sun or drying winds. If the roots are tightly wound around each other, unravel some of them gently.
Always make a planting hole much bigger than the plant’s container. Even for a herbaceous perennial in, say, a 15cm (6in) pot, you should prepare a hole 45cm (1-1/2ft) diameter, 30-45cm (1 – 1-1/2ft) deep.
For planting a tree or large shrub, using a spade, dig a hole 90cm (3ft) or more in diameter. Place the top layer of soil to one side, then break up the next layer of soil with the spade or fork; you may need to use a pickaxe if the subsoil is hard. Work in two to three bucketfuls of bulky organic matter (well-rotted manure or compost). Replace some topsoil and work in bonemeal and general fertilizer.
Always water well after planting, even if it is raining. Keep an eye on newly-planted plants: young trees and shrubs benefit from being mulched immediately after watering. Use two cans of water per plant and cover the moist area with a loose layer of organic material about 10cm (4in) deep — old manure, bark chippings or compost. This prevents evaporation and will rot down and enrich the soil.
Bedding plants do not need soil that is very rich in nutrients since this will only encourage lush growth at the expense of flowers. If the soil is in good condition, it should only be necessary to give a sprinkling of general fertilizer. Use the trowel for planting and water through a fine rose.
As more areas become subject to water restrictions, yet more gardeners have to find out how drought-tolerant a plant is. And it isto put those plants that are going to need extra watering — Astilbe, , Gentiana asclepiadea (willow gentian), for example — in the same area, so that you are not rushing hither and thither with cans of water.
Your plants should be encouraged to be self-sufficient, to reach out their roots far and wide in search of water — a good root system, spread out over a large area, will serve them well in times of drought. If you are going to water plants in the open ground, give them a generous amount, that is, about 20 litres (4 gallons) per square metre, and aim the can at the base of the plant. Too little water (just a sprinkle here and there on the foliage) simply encourages the roots towards the surface of the soil, giving them little support for drier weather.
It is sometimes said that you should not water in strong sunshine, because water droplets act as lenses and may cause foliage to scorch, but if you have a lot of garden to cover you may decide that it is better to scorch the odd leaf rather than see your plants suffer. But there is the problem of fast evaporation if you water in sunshine, so ideally you should water in the evening, making good use of available water and giving plants a chance to recover during the night.
Be especially carefulunder glass. In winter, growth is at a standstill and the plants cannot absorb excess water. If you lash water about, you are also giving an open invitation to (Botrytis), a fungus that thrives on close, . An over-watered plant has a sad, limp look about it, the pot feels too heavy and the soil cold and sodden; your only recourse is to stop watering and hope the roots gradually renew themselves. A guide to winter watering is ‘when in doubt, don’t’.
In summer you should have quite a different attitude: the temperature under glass can rise alarmingly fast when the sun comes out. Even in spring if you go out for the day and forget to open the, you could come home to find trays of young seedlings shrivelled up. Your plants will need a thorough watering every day.
The watering of containers demands particular attention. It is easy to ignore pots in winter, thinking that there has been plenty of rain, and totally forgetting about how drying winds can be. Well-established evergreens, in particular, may have formed an umbrella of foliage over their pots, so rain cannot penetrate to their roots. Once or twice a week during winter, check over your containers and give them a good soaking if necessary. A Camellia in a large tub for example, would need 4 litres (1 gallon) of water per watering. However, do not water in frosty weather. In summer, containers demand an immense amount of water, and may need watering twice a day in very hot weather.