Guest Posts, How To, Infographics, Planting, Plants

The wildness of nature is somewhat illusory: while the chaotic spread of uncultivated plant and animal life may seem random, there is a non-human logic beneath it all that is beautiful to behold when considered afresh. The roots, the flowers and leaves of the plants in our gardens and beyond communicate and work with each other with a form of unthinking intelligence that, when over-considered, can feel like an alien presence in our very neighbourhoods. But we too are part of this cycle: we eat the plants that the insects pollinate, we breathe the air that the trees generate, and in turn we cultivate and protect our neighbours, the plants!

While all this is perfectly natural, we have lost touch somewhat with our inherent instinct on how to do this. Chemical fertilizers and insecticides have interrupted our gardens’ natural sense of self-preservation and mutual care. But learning how to cast these artificial elements aside and work with nature’s inherent logic is good for the soul and good for the environment.

For example, some plants act as natural insect-repellents, protecting their neighbours from hungry pests; conversely, other plants will attract the bugs that your garden needs if it is to thrive. It makes far more sense to work this way than to employ the industrial techniques that big agriculture uses to maximize profits.

Still other plants are of the ‘big sister’ variety, offering shelter or necessary nutrition to their fellow blooms. And some will even pay back directly to you in thanks for growing them side by side: certain vegetables and herbs can actually flavour each other while still in the earth, and other plants will conceal each other’s less savoury scents.

To start embracing your garden’s cross-species affinity, take a look at this new infographic containing some suggestions on plants that thrive well together.

 

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.

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.

Charlie, Grow Your Own, How To, Plants

As the autumn approaches, and summer’s rays (or rain in this summer’s case) start to fade, thoughts can turn to the harvest. Whether you’re an urban harvester seeking out the best picked fruit in your local market or even supermarket aisle, driving down to a local orchard for a spot of apple picking, or gathering in your very own harvest from apple trees in your garden, look no further than Primrose’s guide to apple harvesting to help you get only ripe, unspoilt fruit in your larder.

A Pick Your Own Orchard

One of the perplexing things about apple harvesting is the dazzling variety of types of apple available to harvest, and the different seasons in which the apples can be harvested. One of the most popular supermarket varieties, for example, the Gala apple, is harvestable from May to September. Whereas one of the most common non-commercial apples, Cox’s Orange Pippin is generally harvestable from around mid-September. Producers tend to favour the Gala over the Cox because the latter does not tend to keep well after harvesting – but it is still grown commercially to brew cider.

So it is important to consider, before your visit to a pick-your-own orchard, whether you are after apples to eat, apples to cook or apples to make a refreshing cider, and whether it is important that the apples keep for a long period. What you are going to use the apples for will influence the quality of apples you need.

Tips for visiting orchards:

  • Plan your visit! There is a great site at http://www.pickyourownfarms.org.uk/ that showcases where the pick your own sites are in the UK near you.
  • Be clear on the varieties the orchard in question contains, and plan your visit when the variety you want is in season.
  • When it comes to picking, you will know the fruit is ripe when the starches are beginning to turn to sugar. However, it is probably not advisable to do a taste test on each apple you want to pick!
  • The colour of a ripe apple changes depending on the variety, so your best bet at a pick your own orchard is to ask the farmer which trees are ripe. He will be able to tell you what characteristics to look for in each variety and should have a record of how many weeks it was since the tree flowered.
  • Watch out for bruised apples. Even if you just want to press the fruit to make cider, bruises often indicate rot and despite the famous saying, one rotten apple really can spoil the whole batch!
  • Don’t shake the tree! This can cause other apples to fall which may then spoil. Instead, pick the apples in a twisting motion to free them from the branches. This should be done gently, leaving the stem intact.
  • Place the fruit in the basket or container, do not throw them as this can cause them to bruise. A bruised apple rots easily, as it is the hard skin that ensures its longevity.


Harvesting apples at home.

If you’re lucky enough to have an apple tree in your back garden, harvesting can be done at home. If you don’t, why not? Primrose have a wide variety of apple trees available now for purchase for delivery in November, to ensure they are bedded down nicely in your garden in time for the spring.

Harvesting apples at home can be easier, as while not good etiquette at a pick your own orchard, shaking the tree is permissible on your own property. A good tactic is to place a sheet under the tree and then shake the tree onto the sheet, this will ensure only the ripe apples fall from the tree. However, many of the other apple picking tips above still apply.

Follow this advice and you’re sure to have a bumper crop of apples this autumn. Don’t forget to check out our guides to apple storage and cider making for advice on what to do with your apples once you’ve harvested them.

 

CharlieCharlie works in the Primrose marketing team, mainly in online marketing.

When not writing for the Primrose Blog, Charlie likes nothing more than a good book and a cool cider.

To see the rest of Charlie’s posts, click here.

 

 

Share!