Composting, Garden Design, Garden Edging, Gardening, How To, Insects, Liam, Make over, Planting, Trees

In this step-by-step guide we’ll not only show you how to mulch but explain the different kinds and what will work best for your plants and garden. Mulches are a thin layer of organic or inorganic material placed over a bed or the soil surrounding plants. The more attractive ones may grab your attention and look like a great addition to formal landscaping, but the practical uses are vast. 

Mulches are used primarily to improve the soil around plants, reduce weeds, increase fertility, help the retention of moisture and during winter can protect the roots of the plant from damaging frosts. Using the right mulch for your plants can help eliminate the need for chemical pesticides and fertilisers which is fantastic for your garden’s biodiversity. This all contributes to a healthy, great looking garden you can be proud of.

Now that Autumn is approaching it is the perfect time to start planning!

The Types:

You can roughly separate the different types of mulch into two categories; organic and inorganic.

Organic mulches are best for improving the fertility and overall structure of the soil. Over time the mulch will degrade and replenish the soils nutrients including nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Organic material also promotes biodiversity and encourages insects such as worms and spiders which will actually keep pests at bay while further enriching the quality of your soil.

For this reason an organic mulch is fantastic for plants try to establish themselves or are just generally hungry. Roses for example love a good organic mulch of well-rotted manure. More on this to follow.

Inorganic mulches are used to protect the soil around the plant and can also have an aesthetic edge to them. The benefits include locking in water to the soil, keeping weeds at bay and unlike some organic mulches it won’t wash away which is brilliant if you are planting on a slope.

Bark and Wood-Chippings

Here is a mulch which is attractive but also helps improve your soil’s nutrients and structure as it rots down. It also allows water to flow through it without binding throughout the year and really is a fantastic for pretty much all plants and circumstances. The only issue with it is that it is difficult to move or work around and so is best for around trees where you won’t be doing any more planting. Bark and wood-chippings will last you through the year and maybe even two depending on the grade, see how far it has broken down and replace if necessary.

Wood Chippings Mulch

Leaf-Mould

Leaf-mould is arguably the most nutritious and nature-friendly mulch you can apply. Pretty much every plant loves it and what’s more it can be completely free! It may not look like the most attractive mulch but apply in Autumn and by spring it will have blended in with and really enriched your soil. The only major drawback is that leaves do take some while to decompose and if you plan to DIY this is something you plan for a year in advance.

Collect as many leaves as possible in black bags and cut some small holes to let the air in. Ensure the leaves are thoroughly wet as leaves break down through fungi. Come next Autumn you’ll have some of the finest and richest mulch money can buy… not that you have to spend a penny! Of course, leaf mould is available to purchase in fairly substantial bulks.

Compost

There are two main reasons why compost can make a great mulch: 1) It is packed full of nutrients ready to leach down into the soil and 2) It is something you can make yourself free of charge. Additionally it helps with keeping the soil moist and fending off weeds. One thing to look out for however is that no weeds have made their way into the compost as these will simply sprout up from the compost and steal your plants nutrients.

Manure

As I’ve briefly mentioned before, when it comes to roses and other phosphate hungry plants nothing compares to some well-rotted manure. Like a compost that has gone through a far more strenuous decomposition process it is packed full of nutrients and its dense texture protects the roots and keeps the water locked in. It is also a really great mulch for trees and shrubs although to prevent waterlogging it may be worth mixing with some sand to allow for greater drainage.

Manure – As is Comes From a Stable or Farm

Gravel, Slate and Stone Chippings

There really isn’t a great difference here between them as you will want roughly the same thickness of layers. Stone mulches are fantastic for drainage and keep the soil underneath moist. It is also brilliant for retaining heat and so should be used for plants that are used to very hot conditions and can be worked into a Mediterranean themed garden well. Overall many stone mulches look fantastic and can maintain a pristine look for formal garden structures. They do not however add any nutrients to the soil and can become too hot during summer for more tender plants and young trees.

Rainbow Foras Tumbles Coloured Pebbles

When to Mulch

The best time to apply a mulch is in Autumn, as you come into bare-root season, and spring. You will need to apply the mulch when the ground is relatively warm and moist, avoid periods when it is frozen or waterlogged. When the ground is good to dig and plant, it will be good to mulch which is very handy!

How to Mulch

  • Before you apply your mulch first you have to prepare the soil. Clear the ground of any weeds and give it a watering if the soil appears too dry.
  • If you are reapplying a mulch now is a good time to break up any old layers which may have matted to allow better water penetration.
  • Then cover the ground in a layer of mulch roughly 2 inches thick. Avoid mulching right up to the stems of plants and trees as this can cause them to become soft and rot.
  • Level out with a rake to an even finish. This is imperative, some people mulch little mounds, especially around trees. This will cause the bottom of the trunk to grow soft and rot while also drawing water away from the roots.
  • If you noticed that your mulch has matted over the year and become a hard layer, simply break  and fluff up a bit.

You can apply a fertiliser on top of the mulch through the year if you wish. Follow these rules and you should be all set!

Liam at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Jorge, Plants, Trees

In sharp contrast to the frosty mornings and cold evenings, fiery hues and bright coloured fruit can liven up your Autumn. Cultivars of crabapple and rowan can produce pink, yellow and red fruit, which are perfect for wildlife, while maples and beech can create gorgeous palettes of red, orange and yellow. Now without further ado, here are six trees with fantastic autumn colour.

Maple Trees

An essential part of Autumn iconography, the red maple (Acer rubrum) can be found throughout the UK’s public parks. Introduced all the way back in 1656, the tree will produce a profusion of red, orange and yellow, before turning a vivid red. Highly versatile, the tree can be found growing in a wide range of conditions in its native North America and is suitable for urban settings as it is tolerant of pollution.

Unlike its larger cousin, the japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is suitable for all gardens and can be grown in containers. Indigenous to East Asia, the tree can be found growing at heights up to 1100m, hence its other name the mountain maple. Come Autumn, the tree’s dissected leaves will turn a deep red. The palmatum has many quirky cultivars including ‘Butterfly’ with its cream-tinged green leaves that turn pink; ‘Atropurpureum’ with scarlet red Autumn foliage; and ‘Sango-kaku’ with its gorgeous coral coloured bark and stunning foliage.

Beech Trees

Picture Credit: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Another typical Autumnal tree, the common beech (Fagus sylvatica) is a large, majestic tree with great spectrum of colours. Reaching up to 50 metres in the wild, although commonly 30, it was once believed that the tree is native to southern England, but not the North where it is sometimes removed. Researchers now believe the tree was first introduced to Southern England by Neolithic humans who sought its nuts for food, making it a non-native species. Trees in the North, on the other hand, were introduced by Vikings in the first millennium. Thankfully, most trees sold are limited in height by their rootstock, and are thus suitable for most gardens.

The Sweet Gum

Picture Credit: Famartin licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Similar to maple and beech, the sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua ) is notable for its conflagration of colour with its sharp five-pointed leaves turning red, yellow and purple. First introduced to Europe in 1681 by John Banister, one of the first university trained botanist, the species is also notable for deeply ridged bark, known as alligator bark in America.

Crabapples

Severely underrated, the humble crabapple will produce attractive foliage and bright and colourful fruits, which can last well into winter. The species is hardy, versatile and great for wildlife, being native to the UK. The tree will produce beautiful blossom come Spring and serves as a great pollinator for apples. Notable cultivars include ‘Butterball’, ‘John-Downie’, ‘Evereste’ and ‘Red Sentinel’ with yellow, scarlet-orange, red and yellow-orange fruit respectively. Special is ‘Butterball’ that can produce six different colours throughout the year.

Rowan Trees

Similar to the crabapple, rowans produce fantastic coloured berries that can last well into winter, providing an essential source of sustenance for birds. Hardy and versatile the species is suitable for most soils, and with many different sized cultivars, there is a tree for every garden.The most famous is the native Sorbus aucuparia with red berries and slender leaves, which turn yellow in Autumn. Simply stunning, however, are the cultivars ‘Pink Pagoda’ and ‘Joseph Rock’. The former produces gorgeous pink berries, which are a favourite for birds, while the latter looks amazing with its deep red pinnate leaves contrasted with bright yellow berries.


Cherry Trees

Commonly thought as a tree for Spring, many cherries are ideal ornamentals for Autumn hues. One of the best has to be the ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ that will flower intermittently from November to April with clusters of small semi-double rosy-pink blossom. Other varieties such as ‘Fragrant Cloud’, ‘Sargent’s Cherry’ and ‘Umineko’ will produce fiery displays, with the Sargents among the first trees to colour up. ‘Fragrant Cloud’ is especially beautiful with its upright form. Worthy of note is the ‘Tibetan Cherry’ with its smart coppery-brown bark that will look beautiful regardless of season.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Garden Design, Gardening, Liam, Plants, Trees, Wildlife

Cherry trees are one of the nation’s, if not the world’s, favourite species of ornamental tree. However, there is another tree which flowers heavy, remains small but also gives the added appeal of bright and colourful fruit; the humble crabapple. Often overlooked by gardeners a crabapple tree is fully hardy and well suited to the UK climate with a fantastic spring bloom. With smaller growth than most cherry trees they are perfect for a more modern, compact garden. The benefits and aesthetic achieved with a crabapple tree can be a refreshing surprise.

In many ways the crabapple serves a national duty. Native to these shores they tolerate the worst of the British weather and can be grown in almost any soil type as long as it is well-drained. Nearly all are recognised wildlife benefactors and so are fantastic for up-keeping our national biodiversity. There really should be a crab-apple for every home!

Crab-Apple Blossom
Beautiful Crab-Apple Blossom

Most crabapple varieties produce a bloom heavy enough to rival that of any cherry tree and can come in a variety of different tones. You may get light white or deep pink, sweetly scented flowers. Flowering in Spring they are one of the first to add colour to the garden. This is an essential helping hand to pollinating insects coming out of winter. All of this keeps the rest of your garden healthy and looking great!

What a crabapple gives you over an ornamental cherry tree however is the colourful, jewel-like fruit which can hang on well into winter and even through to the new year depending on variety. The tree therefore gives you a rich and varying pallet of tones potentially for over half a year! The deeper roots of a Crabapple also make them a safer bet to maintaining a healthy lawn than a cherry blossom.

But that’s not all, the fruit serves more functions than those purely aesthetic. Despite the fact that nearly all varieties are far too sour to eat in their natural state crabapples serve a host of culinary functions. Rich in pectin crab apples are used for making fantastic jams and jellies which can be served on bread, scones or used to compliment various meats. And if you won’t eat the fruit, birds and small mammals certainly will in those tough winter months.

If you already own apple trees then you’ve just been given another huge reason to love the crabapple. Crabapples can cross pollinate nearly all other varieties of apple as long as they both have a similar flowering period. It is for this reason that crabapples are often dotted around apple orchards to offer variety and pollinate the edible cultivars enriching their flavour.

Bird Enjoying Crabapples During Winter

So there you have it; if you have an ornamental cherry (or two) in the garden, or if you are just looking for something a bit different then look no further than the crabapple. Hardy, beautiful and versatile they continue to serve us well and are becoming increasingly important as our gardens become smaller and our native species come under increasing attack.

Liam at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Jorge, Plants, Trees

Cherry trees are an important, multifaceted part of Japanese culture with its blossom (sakura) featuring on everything from political and military insignia to popular designs and coinage. Despite this, cherry tree blossom is fleeting with the flowers’ lifespan usually lasting only a week. It is this exact quality that explains the trees’ enduring appeal  – the symbolic representation of the transient nature of life, and beauty itself, which is celebrated with the popular custom of hanami, in which Japanese picnic under the bloom.

Over the centuries, the sakura’s meaning has evolved, but also become tightly interwoven with Japan’s cultural fabric. Not merely because of its beauty, but because political groups have sought to use the symbol for their own ends. Originally, the cherry blossom was connected to Japanese folk religions due to its phenology  – that is its capacity to flower during the changing of the seasons. Agricultural communities came to believe that the falling petals transformed into the deity of rice paddies. It was in this period that trees began to be transplanted into towns.

712 AD gives us the first written reference of cherry blossom. The Empress Gemmei, fearful of neighbouring Tang Dynasty’s power, sought to compile an account of Japan’s unique development and distinctiveness from its neighbours. This compilation, Kojiki, raised the status of the cherry blossom (in contrast to China’s plum blossoms), beginning the custom of hanami in which nobles and commoner alike celebrated under the blossom.

The Heian period (794-1185) saw the spread of new sects of Buddhism throughout the Japanese landmass and witnessed the development of the concept mono no aware. The term is culturally significant and helps explain Japan’s love for the cherry tree blossom. It refers to an awareness and acceptance of impermanence as a reality of life. This is perhaps best demonstrated through this segment of Japanese television. Throughout the centuries, representations of sakura also proved highly popular in Japanese art as demonstrated in the art-deco masterpiece celebrating speed and modernity below.  

The 12th century saw the rise of the samurai, whose power was consolidated with the establishment of a feudal system under the shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo. Much like lords in Europe, samurai were provided with estates in return for military service and were motivated by their own code of chivalry, known as bushido. Part of the bushido’s code was an identification with cherry blossom as it fell at the moment of its greatest beauty, symbolising an ideal death. The samurai decorated their equipment with emblems of cherry blossom.

The Meiji restoration of 1868 saw the end of the shogunate and the establishment of the Empire of Japan. It began a process of centralisation, which reclaimed governing authority from the shoguns and samurai. Newly established, the Japanese Imperial Army took over the defense of the state, resulting in samurai losing their social status and privileges. Keen to reconfigure the Bushido code, Japanese were deemed of noble character, able to face death without fear and willing to die like beautiful falling cherry petals for the Emperor. In 1969, the Emperor set up the Yasukuni Shrine as a memorial devoted to fallen soldiers. It is lined with cherry blossoms, supposedly to console soldier’s souls.

Photo credit: Wiiii. Licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0.

From the beginning of the Meiji period and until the end of WW2, the Japanese government sought to use cherry blossom symbolism as a means to bind the country together. After witnessing the occupation and division of neighbouring states, including the once mighty China, the state felt it necessary to create a strong, shared national identity to prevent against fracture. This establishment of the national essence of Japan is known as kokutai.

In 1910, the city of Tokyo sent 2,000 trees to the U.S. as a gift to President William Howard Taft, who had previously spent time in the Far East. These died on the way, but were replaced with a second batch that were planted along the Potomac and grounds of the White House in 1912. These trees proved popular and celebrations would eventually evolve into the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Interestingly, cuttings from these trees would be sent back to Japan to restore the original collection, which were badly damaged in WW2.

In WW2, the Empire again sought to utilise the Bushido code to inspire their troops. They revived the medieval proverb “hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi” that means as the cherry blossom is the first among flowers, so the warrior was first among men. In 1944, the Empire resorted to kamikaze operations in an effort to save Japan from defeat. Tokkotai, or kamikaze planes, were painted with cherry blossoms and pilots affixed branches to their uniforms.

Photo credit: Error. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

In March 2011, a tsunami struck Japan, devastating its coastal communities. The aftermath was documented in the Oscar-nominated “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” that includes a Japanese man’s reflections on the strength of the cherry tree to live on in spite of the devastation. The tree constituted an inspiration to continue living as if “the plants are hanging in there, so us humans better do it too”.

Today, cherry blossom helps mark the beginning of the financial and academic year in Japan, although the date of flowering is dependent on temperature. In recent decades, cherry blossom has flowered increasingly early – a fact put down to global warming. The blossoms are big business for Japan with the cherry blossom season attracting thousands of tourists. The countdown is televised with the Cherry Blossom Forecast documenting the advance of the blooms from south to north. Retailers cash in by offering a assortments of cherry blossom goods including many culinary delights such as sakura pepsi, crisps and tea.

And of course, there is hanami that is still widely celebrated throughout Japan. The custom takes two forms: one that involves partying (sakura parties) and the other that involves a more traditional observance of the blossoms (umeni). Like Christmas, hamani celebrations often involve special dishes and drinking of alcohol. Hanami at night is known as yozakura and many public places will hang up lanterns to facilitate such events.

Photo credit: Japanexperterna.se. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. 

So to summarise, cherry blossom are a huge part of Japanese culture representing the bravery of soldiers, the philosophical notion of mono no aware, peace and friendship with other countries, celebration and Japan itself.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

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