Bulbs, Composting, Gardening, How To, Planting, Victoria Giang

The cold winter weather is fast approaching. For gardening enthusiasts, this means that it will soon be time to put your hoses and tools away until the growing season returns next spring. However, your gardening tasks aren’t quite done for the year yet, as you still need to ensure that your beds and plants are prepared to handle the freezing temperatures. Preparing your garden in the autumn also helps to ensure healthy, more vigorous growth next year. With this in mind, we’ll now take a look at four simple steps to ensure your garden is ready for winter.

pruning shears

1. Shield Perennials and Bulbs from the Cold

Annual plants can simply be pulled up and tossed in the compost pile when they die. However, any perennials and bulb plants may need a bit of extra protection to keep them alive through the winter.

Before the first frost arrives, it is best to start cutting back on how much you water any perennials to help harden them up and better prepare them for winter. Once the plants have finished for the year, it is also a good idea to trim back the stems so that they’re only about 6 to 8 inches high. Doing so will help to shield the plants from the cold and also allow them to grow more vigorously when the warm weather arrives.

Any bulb plants that flower in the early spring can usually be left in the ground throughout the winter. However, any bulbs that flower in the summer should be dug up and stored inside to prevent them from being damaged by the cold. This includes freesias, elephant’s ears, cannas, calla lilies and other later-blooming flowers.

After gently digging the bulbs up, shake off any excess dirt and then allow the bulbs to dry in the sun for approximately a week. Finally, store them in a cardboard box surrounded by plenty of peat, sawdust or newspaper so that none of the bulbs are touching.

bulbs

2. Consider Some Last-Minute Planting

Autumn is the ideal time to plant any early-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodil, iris, etc. In fact, the only way to ensure that your bulb flowers will bloom in the spring is to plant them in the early autumn before the ground freezes. Most early-flowering bulbs need to freeze during the winter in order to grow in the autumn. This means they need to either be in the ground or stored in a freezer.

Many varieties of perennials also work well when planted in the winter due to the drier ground and lower temperatures. If you’re growing a vegetable garden, planting onions and garlic during the autumn allows them to be harvested several months earlier the following year.

adding compost

3. Compost Garden and Flower Beds

Adding compost during the autumn helps to provide additional nutrients to your plants the next spring. Composting during the autumn allows the nutrients more time to break down and infiltrate deeper into the soil, which in turn provides better growing conditions the following season. Generally speaking, you should spread a thin layer of compost over the top of the soil, and then work the compost deeper into the ground sometime around or just after the first freeze.

mulch

4. Use Mulch to Protect Your Top Soil

Another good idea is to spread a layer of mulch or dead leaves before the first freeze. Adding a layer of mulch on top of your beds helps to protect any plants left in the ground from the freezing temperatures. In addition, the mulch will also help to prevent rain, snow and ice from washing away your top soil or leeching out its nutrients. However, the layer of mulch shouldn’t be much more than three to four inches thick as otherwise it could choke out your plants and make it harder for them to bloom in the spring.

If you are lucky enough to live in a fairly warm climate with milder winters, you probably won’t have to do much to prepare your garden. However, if you live in a place where it frequently freezes or where there is a lot of winter precipitation, it is essential that you take the proper steps to your garden. Winter can wreak havoc on your garden if you’re not careful, so it’s important that you do what you can to protect it.

Victoria GiangVictoria is a home working mom and the author of How Daily, a blog that shares her taste and experience on food, recipes, home & garden projects. These are ranging widely from quick cleaning of household appliance to planting and caring for garden favorites.

Gardening, Grow Your Own, How To, Jorge, Planting, Plants

Growing your own goji berries is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint, save money and provide a source of nutrients for your family. High in vitamin C, B2, A, iron, selenium and the antioxidant polysaccharides, they constitute a welcome addition to a balanced diet and are great as part of a smoothie, or served with oats. Growing goji berries is relatively easy as it is well adapted to the UK’s climate as with other himalayan species.

Growing goji berries from seed is not recommended as seeds are prone to rot and seedlings require warm conditions for 12 months, which is both impractical and costly. Hence, we recommend two year old plants that are winter hardy and ready to fruit. It you do wish to grow from seed, rot can be prevented through an irrigation system ensuring moist soil. Goji berries work well in containers and normal advice applies.  

Soil and Sun Requirements

Goji berries are from the solanaceae family and possess a similar nutrient requirements to tomatoes. Hence, as nitrogen hungry plants we recommend applying fertiliser at the start of the growing season. However, as they are sensitive to salinity, we recommend avoiding inorganic fertiliser, which contains soluble salts. Compost also contains salts, so should be a small proportion of the potting mix (20%). Goji berries require full sun, but also benefit from shelter. They work well as hedges and possess delicate white and purple flowers, so function well as an ornamental.

Planting

Mature plants can reach 3m high and 1.5m wide. Hence, we recommend they be spread at 1m apart. As with all potted plants, it is important to keep the soil ball intact and ensure it is planted at the same depth as it is in the container. (Using a spirit level or ruler can help you keep it is level.) This will ensure the roots are within range of the nutrient rich top soils, but not exposed as to lead to air pruning. We recommend you dig a hole bigger than the circumference of the container and fill it with a mix of fertiliser, compost and garden soil, which is superior in structure and nutrients to garden soil. Be sure not to pack the soil too tight or compress the soil as this will reduce retard root growth. Once this is complete be sure to water thoroughly.

Next, you are to remove all nearby plant life and mulch. By doing this you are reducing competition, allowing the growth of a healthy root system, and improving the soil’s structure, which gives the plant access to air and water. Mulch should not come into contact with the shrub’s main stem as to ensure it does not come diseased, and be level with a depth of 2 and 3-4 inches for fine and coarse materials respectively. Mulch can be replenished annually, depending on the material, and the area it covers should be increased as the shrub’s roots expand.

Pruning

The most important function of pruning is to remove old, dead and damaged stems to make room for new stems. (Flowers and berries are borne on stems grown in the spring and autumn of the year before.) By pruning stems you encourage the production of more laterals, leading to higher yields. Pruning has the additional advantage of increasing sunlight penetration and improving foliage drying, which is especially important with goji plants susceptible to verticillium wilt. Hence, it is also important to water at the base of the plant. We recommend watering thoroughly, every so often, rather than little and often, as this will encourage the formation of deep roots, which helps the plant endure dry periods. Pruning should take place in the spring, just as the plant starts to grow.

Harvesting

Goji berries produce the biggest yields in their fourth year, while at two you can expect a kilo of fruit. To harvest, wait till the fruit is deep red and fully ripe (usually midsummer), and then shake them onto a blanket. Handling can make them turn black. To dry goji berries, leave them on a sheet of baking paper in a cool, dry spot out of direct sunlight.

If you are interested in growing your own goji berries, Primrose offers two year old goji berry plants from just £4.99.

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.

Composting, How To, Jorge, Planters, Planting

The amount of compost needed for a planter depends both on planter size, its material and the plant you wish to grow. Compost is important as it will improve your soil’s structure, increasing its available water capacity (AWC), which is especially important for planters. Calculating a planter’s volume (measure in litres) is relatively easy, but it is first important to work out the compost/garden soil ratio required for a particular plant.

Compost/Garden Soil Ratio

Now why do I want to mix compost with garden soil? Firstly, garden soil is incredibly complex with numerous soil organisms that help boost your plant’s health. These organisms will help improve the structure of your soil and break down organic matter into mineral nutrients, available for uptake by plants. However, there is the possibility of inducing pests and diseases, so we recommend avoiding soils that you have previously planted. Secondly, garden soil will help improve drainage, ensuring your planter does not become waterlogged. Lastly, using garden soil will save you money and lower your environmental footprint.

While compost does add nutrients to the potting mix, its major advantage is improving the water-holding capacity of the soil, which occurs through two mechanisms. Firstly, compost contains carbon, as well as other nutrients, that provide food for soil organisms. These organisms function to increase a soil’s porosity – the percentage of soil that is pore space or voids. Secondly, compost improves soil structure by gluing tiny particles of rock (sand, silt, or clay) together into peds (aggregates), which is the basis of all good soils. These peds have adequate pores to allow entry of air and water, both which are essential to plant health. The increased porosity has its origin in the fact compost is significantly lighter than conventional soils.

An ideal soil has a porosity of about 50%, equally divided between micro and macropores, which provides a good mix of drainage and retention. When it rains both macro and micropores become filled with water. Larger pores are the first to drain with light sandy soils taking about a day and heavy clay soils about three. Micropores remain filled and are unaffected by gravitational flow, the water held by electrostatic attraction. The smaller the pore, the more tightly the water is held. Macropores drain too quickly to be of much use to plants, providing little water, but allowing flows of oxygen to plants’ roots. Micropores retain water, available for use by plants. Hence, macro and micropores complement each other, allowing air and water to reach plants’ roots.

Picture credit: MesserWoland licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Fascinatingly, small pores act to draw groundwater up through the soil, providing a source of water in the absence of rain. This phenomenon occurs due to the forces of cohesion (propensity of water molecules to stay together) and adhesion (propensity of water molecules to stick to other surfaces). When the force of adhesion is greater than that of cohesion the water rises, with the water near the edge of pore curving upwards. Capillary action can be easily demonstrated by dipping a paper towel in water and watching water climb the towel.

Soil textures – clay, sand, silt and loam – each have different drainage profiles, originating from the size of the particles. Clay particles are the smallest, sand the largest and silt in between. The larger the average particle, the faster the soil drains. Loam is comprised of about 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay and is considered the best texture, having the optimal balance of micro and macropores. Clay lacks larger pores, providing poor aeration and drainage, and possesses minute micropores too small for plants to utilise, reducing the soil’s available water capacity. Sand, on the other hand, drains too quickly, predominantly composed of large pores.

Compost increases the number of micro and macropores in the soil, greatly improving a soil’s available water capacity, and should be added to all soil textures including loam. B. D. Hudson’s 1994 paper demonstrated that for every texture as organic matter was increased by 1-3%, the available water capacity doubled. A 2000 study by A. Maynard found that the amount of water in a plow layer (8 inches) increased from 1.3 to 1.9 inches in soil amended with compost, providing a two week supply of water for vegetables, significantly reducing water stress.

An increase in the available water capacity is especially beneficial for potted plants that receive significantly less rainfall due to their container’s small surface area. We recommend the potting mix contain 20-50% compost with higher blends if your soil is clay, your plant thirsty, or the planter’s material porous as with terracotta. Compost will not provide all the nutrients needed, so we recommend the application of organic fertiliser. Mulching is also useful and will help improve water retention and soil structure.

Calculating Volume

A 1 litre cube. Picture credit: H McKenna licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

Volume is the sum of 3 measurements (length, width and depth) multiplied together and is expressed in cubic units (cm³, m³). Cubic units correspond directly to litres with 1 litre equal to 1000cm³.

Most planter retailers will give you the dimensions of a planter in cms that can be used to calculate volume. In not, you can use a tape measure. Compost is sold either in litres (l) or cubic meters (m³).

Note: most planter dimensions provided online will be the outer rather than inner dimensions, so you’ll need less compost, depending on the thickness of its sides.

Note 2: planters come in a huge range of shapes. Hypothetically you can calculate the volume of any shape (done by dividing shapes into smaller ones), but we recommend you simply approximate the shape.

Once you have calculated your planter’s litres, simply times it by 0.2-0.5, depending on how much compost you wish to add, to arrive at the quantity you need to buy.

Cubes and Rectangles

Calculating volume for cubes and rectangles is very easy. Simply multiple width, depth and height and then divide by 1000.

Hence, a 100cm³ planter would have a volume of 1000 litres. (100 x 100 x 100 / 1000.) A 140 x 30 x 30 rectangle would have a volume of 126 litres. (140 x 30 x 30 / 1000.)

Cylinders

Calculating the volume of a cylinder requires multiplying height by radius squared by pi which is written as V =πr²h. You then need to divide by a 1000 to get volume in litres. Hence a planter with 30cm diameter and 30cm in height would have a volume of 21 litres. (3.142 x 15² x 30 / 1000.)

Bowls

To calculate the volume of a bowl, you have to calculate the volume of a sphere and divide by 2. Calculating the volume of a sphere requires multiplying 4 divided by 3 times pi times radius cubed, which is written as 4/3πr³. You then need to divide by a 1000 to get volume in litres. Hence a bowl with a 15cm radius would have a volume of 7 litres. (((4/3 x 3.142 x 15³) / 1000) / 2.)

If you would like to know more about soil science please read our guide: Everything you need to know about soil.

If you are interested in pots, Primrose has the biggest range online with over 2000 planters. We also sell compost starting at £5.99.

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.

Gardening, Jorge, Planting, Trees

Before we continue, it should be stated that while bare root and containerised trees each have their own advantages and disadvantages, they will not significantly affect a tree’s health, so you can be happy knowing your tree will one day achieve its potential. Rather, it is your own preferences regarding price and time of planting that will make an option worthwhile.

What’s the difference?

Containerised trees are supplied in containers, while bare root trees are supplied without soil with their roots carefully wrapped in plastic. Trees can only be extracted from soil when they are dormant; dormancy occurs from late-Autumn to early-Spring when the tree sheds its leaves. Depriving a tree of nutrients during Spring and Summer is highly detrimental to its health as the tree will try to grow, but be unable.

So this is where the first difference is. Bare roots can be supplied only when the tree is dormant, while containerised can be supplied and planted anytime during the year. (Although, it is worthwhile to first research the time of year a particular species best establishes itself. And, in general, it is not recommended to plant trees in summer when they grow at their fastest rate as without established roots, it may fail to establish.)

As bare roots are supplied without soil, they are lighter and cheaper to transport, which makes them significantly cheaper (30-50%) than potted varieties. Hence, bare roots can be great value for money.

Next, as bare roots grow in the ground, their roots spread out in a natural fashion, which allows them to establish themselves effectively, giving them adequate access to soil from which they acquire their nutrients. Sometimes a containerised plant’s roots have inadequate room to grow, resulting in spiralisation, whereby their roots grow in spiral at the bottom of the pot, which puts it in a poor position come planting. Although, this usually only occurs in garden centres, rather than nurseries that will upgrade a tree’s pot as it ages.

It has been argued that containerised trees are better at establishing themselves when planted as they are supplied with nutrients throughout the transplanting process. Bare roots, on the other hand, often lose a chunk of their roots when transplanted, which can lead to water stress. However, this argument doesn’t really hold up, because the tree’s roots are wrapped with compost or hydrogel. Furthermore they are usually supplied as one or two year old trees, which ensures the roots are adequate for the above-ground matter. Altogether, providing the tree is well wrapped and planted promptly, it will be fine. If you can’t plant immediately, it is recommend to leave the tree in water, possibly with the addition of liquid fertiliser.

Planting trees is not recommended in Summer, nor when the ground is frozen, so containerised can’t be planted anytime and it is recommended to buy bare roots when they are first available in November.

This leads to another advantage of containerised trees: they do not have to be planted immediately. This can be useful if you wish to gift a tree. And as containerised can be purchased whenever, you can purchase a deciduous in summer when it looks best. Furthermore, containerised are pruned so will have a nice shape on arrival. Bare roots on the other hand aren’t, which on-the-flipside can be useful if you wish to train a tree, as in the case of many fruits. Lastly, there are many options of containerised trees. One can purchase, for example, a 9 year old ornamental in 55L pot that can provide an immediate uplift to a garden.

Overall, all trees will flourish, providing they are looked after. Bare roots are cheaper and can be trained into a fan, espalier or cordon, but they are only available as one or two year old trees and can only be planted in the Winter. Containerised trees can be planted whenever, look better on arrival and come in a range of sizes, but they are more expensive and can be harder to train.

Have you decided on a bare root or containerised tree? If so, Primrose has a huge range of fruit and ornamental trees, both bare root and containerised, so please have a browse.

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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