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.

Flowers, Gardening, Grow Your Own, How To, Insects, Liam, Pest Advice, Planting, Plants

Apples are the nation’s favourite fruit; we grow it more than any other kind. Unlike many other fruits the apple is at home here. Yet despite this, for those who grow apples there is always risk of having a disappointing year.

Weather plays its part and so there may be anguish across different parts of the country but even a fellow gardener down the road may be having some trouble which tells us there are things we can do to ensure a bumper crop of delicious and ripe apples.

Symptoms

The typical signs of a poor harvest may be that you only have a few, or even no apples at all.

Sometimes an apple tree can fall into a biennial harvest cycle, which means it only produces fruit every two or more years. This is typically because the tree has exhausted itself the year prior or isn’t receiving all the essentials.

Equally having a large amount of apples, but all of them being very small and poorly developed defines a thin crop. Surprisingly then, having too many apples as well as too few are signs of a failing tree. These symptoms lead to some different and some similar remedies.

Weather

Before I mention the different issues we do have some control over, it is worth mentioning the one critical factor over which we have less power; the weather.

  • Periods of extended heat and the resulting drought can be particularly catastrophic for young apple trees trying to establish themselves. With underdeveloped leaves and roots they are far more susceptible to losing water and being damaged by hot temperatures.
  • Drought aside, periods of long extended rain throughout the summer will prevent pollinating insects coming out which can be devastating. In 2012 Britain faced the worst apple harvest for several decades with orchards losing up to 70% of their entire expected crop for this very reason.
  • Frost, however, is potentially the most damaging force against fruit everywhere. With the ability to destroy blossoms and fruitlets it can severely diminish a tree’s ability to bear fruit. If the country experiences warm weather in the early spring, instigating blossom, followed by a late and harsh frost a tree may struggle to bear any fruit at all. This is something British wine growers are struggling with this year.
Apples Lost to a Late Frost

To help improve your chance of seeing fruit it is important to make sure your tree is well watered, especially if it has been planted within the last 2 years. You can also use a horticultural fleece if there are late extended cold periods. Importantly it is a good idea to have a range of trees which blossom at different times of year to maximise your chances of pollination. See the ‘Pollination’ section for more details.

Thinning

The Problem

The main cause of an abundance of small, poorly developed apples and biennial harvest cycles is a tree which has exhausted itself in trying to produce a bulk load of apples.

Naturally the tree wants to make as many seeds as possible but this process requires incredible amounts of nitrogen. So if you want an annual supply of fully developed and ripe apples it may be necessary to thin your tree early in the fruiting period.

The tree may try to do this naturally in what is known as the ‘June Drop’ but it doesn’t hurt to give mother nature a helping hand. It may be traumatising to waste so many fruitlets but when it comes to human consumption quality certainly beats quantity.

The Solution

  • First of all rid the tree of any diseased, rotting or malformed fruitlets.
  • After this simply remove the remaining apples until you are left with one apple per 4-6in for dessert (eating) varieties and one apple per 6-9in for cooking varieties.
  • When choosing between apples it is always better to rid those on the underside of branches which may not receive as much light or air.

Pollination

The Problem

Pollination is usually the critical factor in how well your tree fruits. If your tree lacks a pollinating partner or the beneficial pollinating insects, cross pollination may not occur, resulting in a poor crop.

The Solution

  • An apple tree typically needs a pollinating partner within a proximity of around 50ft. This partner must also be an apple tree but of a different variety; very few apple trees are self-pollinating.
  • Apple trees are categorised in pollination groups (1-6) based on when they come into bloom (1 being the earliest in the year). An apple tree such as ‘Red Devil’s Dessert’ (group 3) may pollinate a ‘Gala’ (group 4) however a tree such as ‘Bountiful’ (group 2) may have finished flowering before ‘Lord Derby’ (group 5) comes into bloom.
  • In more rural settings, ensure your apple tree has the right pollinating partners nearby if you are to expect fruit. Ensure there are two different varieties with similar pollination groups. You can even plant a Crab-Apple tree, which makes a fantastic ornamental tree, to act as a pollination partner.
  • Some apple trees such as ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ are triploid trees meaning they require two different pollinating partners.
  • Make your garden attractive to pollinating insects. Lavender, Chamomile and Daffodils are all great plants for getting these welcome visitors into the garden early on in the year while also deterring the pests. See our guide to companion plants for fruit trees for fantastic tips on how to bring beneficial pollinators into your garden!

Pests and Disease

Apple ruined from Brown Rot
An Apple Lost to Brown Rot

The Problem

Unsurprisingly apples are a prime target for a whole host of pests and diseases. These biological annoyances can be the scourge of otherwise perfect fruit, causing ruin, rot and fruit drop. In particular apples suffer from ‘apple scab’, ‘codling moth’, ‘brown rot’ and ‘apple maggot’, among others.

The Solution for Disease

  • Maintaining sound horticultural practices is the best line of defence against pests and disease. Pruning, weeding and keeping your garden clean of fallen leaves and rotting fruit is a simple but effective way of eliminating all those places which harbour apple-destroying life. Equally cutting the grass around your tree and applying a mulch will further help protect it.
  • Most diseases such as Apple Scab and Brown rot are fungal and infect fruit through rotting material which may have been contaminated from last year. Burn infected leaves and fruit or bury at least 1ft under ground to prevent the spread of spores.
  • Regularly check your fruit for any sign of infection or any wounds. Be vigilant when pruning and always sterilise your pruning equipment when dealing with a diseased tree.
  • As the tree is budding in spring, certain fungicide sprays are available such as a copper based solution. This should be sprayed as the leaves emerge and then again 14 days later; this is, however, mainly preventative.

The Solution for Pests

  • For insects such as Apple Maggot and Codling Moth again you want to destroy any potential hiding spots and prune out any areas of congestion. Hiding spots may include plastic tree guards and so a metal mesh guard is recommended instead.
  • Nontoxic horticultural oils are a good way to kill dormant insects and their eggs which should be applied on the tree during spring. Sticky and pheromone traps can be used and should typically be set in early May before the insects mate.
Apple ruined by Codling Moth
A Codling Moth Caterpillar
  • There are several all-purpose bug sprays but these can deter the more beneficial pollinating insects and should only be used when there is a clear infestation.
  • Certain plants, such as chives provide a strong deterrent to pests including deer and rabbits as well as insects yet is attractive to many beneficial pollinating insects. Additionally dill, fennel and nasturtium all provide an organic solution to protect your fruit trees against pests. Again see our Companion Planting post for further details.

Hopefully I have helped to explain why your tree may be fruiting below par and you’ve found a remedy for this frustration.

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.

Cats, George, How To, Pest Advice, Pest Control

homemade cat repellents

Neighbourhood cats strolling into your garden and fouling on the lawn can soon become an unmanageable problem. If you’re at your wits’ end then it’s time to get creative to keep the kitties away. Our homemade cat repellents are simple to make and are usually very cheap too.

1. Homemade cat deterrent spray

Mix together lemon juice, rosemary and white vinegar – three things cats detest. Put the liquid in a spray bottle so it’s easy to use around the garden. Simply spray near where the cats spend time – on planters, the patio, or even inside.

2. Lemon or orange peel

Cats hate citrus scents, so take your leftover orange and lemon peel and scatter it where you’d like to deter the offending felines. Just be sure to replace the peels once they get old and lose their smell.

lemon peel

3. Sandpaper

Cats have sensitive paws and will avoid treading on uncomfortable surfaces. Placing a few bits of sandpaper around your flowerbeds should keep cats from clambering around where they are not welcome.

4. Essential oils

There are a few scented oils that are known for repelling cats – peppermint, lemon, orange, lavender and citronella. Mix one part oil to three parts water for the perfect deterrent liquid. Pop it in a spray bottle for easy use.

essential oils

5. Cat deterrent plants

If you want to keep your garden looking clean and natural then try planting some cat deterrent flowers – our list includes rosemary, lavender and the scaredy cat plant.

6. Dried herbs

Buy some of the herbs cats find most offensive, like rosemary and lavender, and scatter dried bunches around the areas you’d like them to leave. This works great inside too.

dried herbs

Tips for naturally repelling cats

  • All cats are different and will react better to different deterrents, so try experimenting with all these ideas.
  • A cat’s sense of smell is 40 times more effective than a human’s, which is why these scented options work so well.
  • If you’re using one of the spray methods, make sure to reapply after each rainfall has washed the previous effort away.

naturally repelling cats

We hope you find these homemade cat repellents successful. They’re all natural and non-toxic, so completely humane and won’t harm the animals. If you’re still having trouble with invasive cats then you could try boosting your efforts with our ultrasonic repellers. These are also humane and come with a money-back guarantee!

George at PrimroseGeorge works in the Primrose marketing team. As a lover of all things filmic, he also gets involved with our TV ads and web videos.

George’s idea of the perfect time in the garden is a long afternoon sitting in the shade with a good book. A cool breeze, peace and quiet… But of course, he’s usually disturbed by his energetic wire fox terrier, Poppy!

He writes about his misadventures in repotting plants and new discoveries about cat repellers.

See all of George’s posts.

Cats, George, Pest Advice, Pest Control, Plants

Cat deterrent plants

Cats and plants do not go well together. Since cats are free to roam throughout the neighbourhood, visiting felines are a common sight in many gardens – but they are not always welcome. Not only do cats eat precious plants, they use your garden as a toilet, ruining the soil with their infertile faeces. But there are many solutions for keeping cats out of your garden, including cat deterrent plants.

Which plants repel cats?

Cats won’t generally be repelled by plants as such, but they can be deterred by the scents or textures of particular shrubs. By carefully placing these plants at entry points you can cut down on cats wandering into your garden. Mixing them into borders can prevent cats from climbing over your flowerbeds, where they dig and disturb plants and seedlings.

Cat deterrent plants

Scaredy cat plant
Photo by Amazonia Exotics U.K via Wikimedia Commons

1. Scaredy cat plant (Coleus canina)

The scaredy cat plant was bred in Germany specifically as a garden pest repellent. It emits an odour when animals brush past and can be effective against cats, dogs, foxes and rabbits. Unfortunately the smell of dog urine it gives off is so strong that it is unpleasant for nearby humans too. It’s easy to grow, likes the sun and is drought resistant, but will need protection from the frost during the winter months. It grows best in dry soil, which is ideal as cats usually avoid damp patches anyway. You can expect it to grow no taller than 2 feet and have beautiful blue or purple flowers.

2. Lavender (Lavandula)

Luckily, lavender comes with a scent that’s nice for us but unappealing for felines. These purple flowers are evergreen, so they act as a year round deterrent. Choose the tall varieties and plant them at the front of your borders as cats won’t jump over if they can’t see where they’ll land.

Rosemary

3. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Another fragrant option is rosemary, a herb that’s great for cooking as well as keeping cats at bay. It likes dry soil and a warm climate, but is also evergreen.

4. Rue (Ruta graveolens)

Rue is a shrub that kitties are adverse to. Plant it outside and sprinkle some of its leaves on the patio or inside if you need to warn cats away from these areas. But be careful since rue is poisonous, so always use gardening gloves when handling. If eaten it can cause nausea, vomiting and convulsions.

pennyroyal
Photo by Gardenology

5. Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)

Also known as pudding grass, pennyroyal is the smallest of the mint family. But unlike a lot of mint, this variety is a deterrent for cats as it gives off a very strong spearmint fragrance. Once used in Roman cooking, pennyroyal has also had medical uses (despite the oil being poisonous) and served as a pest deterrent for early settlers in America.

6. Curry herb plant (Helichrysum italicum)

Cats don’t like curry. This spicy plant grows into a thick bush that releases its odour when animals brush past, offending the creatures with both its smell and coarse texture. You may want to use this one sparingly, however, as it is seen as a weed by many due to the harmful effect it can have on other flowers.

Lemon balm

7. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and thyme (Thymus citriodorus)

Citrus is well know to ward off felines, so plant some lemon varieties to help with your natural defenses. Lemon balm produces white flowers in the summer and is great for attracting honey bees. Lemon thyme is an evergreen shrub that needs lots of sun and good drainage. It has pink flowers in late summer that attract bees and butterflies.

8. Thorny bushes

Cats won’t tread on uncomfortable surfaces, so covering exposed ground with spiky plants can be a great natural way to keep the kitties off. Grow thorny plants like roses, perennial geraniums or pyracantha over any bare soil in the flower beds. You can also make a spiky wall out of hedging like blackberry, hawthorn and holly to prevent cats from even entering your garden.

Naturally repel cats

How to use plants to deter cats

Place some of these plants around the boundaries of your garden to ward off cats passing through the neighbourhood. Others work well around the front of flowerbeds as they stop cats climbing in to mark their territory. Cats spread their scent through urine and faeces as a reminder that they can visit this spot again, so preventing this is crucial for keeping them out. Cat deterrent plants ward off cats and physically stop them from digging up the flowerbeds to use as a litter tray. Layer mulch and pebbles around your plants to make it even harder for cats to dig the soil up. It’s also worth putting some of the plants in pots, so you can move them around if you see cats entering via another route, or if they come across the patio.

Using plants that attract cats

As well as deterring cats through planting, you can direct them to specific areas with attractive plants and so control their impact on the garden. Cats are attracted to catnip (Nepeta cataria) – hence the name – mint and honeysuckle, so simply plant these in the places you’d prefer cats to visit.

Cat In Garden

Other ways to repel cats

At Primrose we know a thing or two about pest control. We’ve written a list of ways to keep cats out of your garden and stock a range of cat repellers, including ultrasonic devices and water sprayers.

Our bestselling Pestbye Cat Repeller would make a great companion to deterrent plants to boost your defenses against feline invaders. Simply place it in your flowerbed and it will emit high frequency pulses whenever cats come near to send them running!

George at PrimroseGeorge works in the Primrose marketing team. As a lover of all things filmic, he also gets involved with our TV ads and web videos.

George’s idea of the perfect time in the garden is a long afternoon sitting in the shade with a good book. A cool breeze, peace and quiet… But of course, he’s usually disturbed by his energetic wire fox terrier, Poppy!

He writes about his misadventures in repotting plants and new discoveries about cat repellers.

See all of George’s posts.

Share!