Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, George, Grow Your Own, Herbs, How To, Infographics, Planters, Planting, Plants

You may have noticed over the last few months that we’ve been going potty over pot-growing plants. Through a series of infographics, we’ve compiled the Complete Guide to Container Gardening – simple guides to help you get the most out of planting in pots.

Here are the collected guides for you to enjoy all over again. And when you’re ready to start growing, we have all the planters you could ever need!

How to Plant in Pots

How to plant in pots

We kick off with the basics, for gardening novices or simply those who need a refresher. Planting in pots opens up a whole world of flexible gardening for decorative plants, herbs, houseplants and more.

How to Repot a Plant

Hot to repot a plant

Most potted plants will need repotting at some stage in their life. If they outgrow their current container it’s essential to give them more space. We made this 5 step guide to make the process super straight forward!

How to Water Pot Plants

How to water pot plants

Watering is one of those critical conundrums when it comes to pot plants. With potentially no natural water and limited drainage, it’s easy to over or under-water. Follow these best practices for healthy plants.

How to Choose the Right Planter for Your Garden

How to choose the right planter

Picking the right planter is a deceptively easily task. But there are so many factors aside from taste – material, portability, size and more. We address them all to make your decision simple again.

How to Plant Potatoes in Containers

How to plant potatoes in containers

Container gardening is such an adaptable form of growing and it’s perfect for raising your own crops to eat. Potatoes especially are a natural fit for pots, meaning you can have home-grown spuds without the need for an allotment.

How to Plant Strawberries in Containers

How to plant strawberries

Strawberries are perfect for growing in pots on the patio too. Fresh fruit on the doorstep – what’s not to like? We take you through how to grow the juiciest strawberries at home.

How to Grow Herbs in Pots

How to grow herbs in pots

Take your cooking to the next level with a stock of fresh herbs at your fingertips. We show you how to start growing herbs at home in a kitchen garden or right on the windowsill.

How to Grow Plants Indoors

How to grow plants indoors

Of course, many of us who love container gardening do so because it allows us to fill the house with beautiful blooms. Indoor gardening has its own challenges, so we’ve got the tips for you to master it.

How to Plant a Hanging Basket

How to plant a hanging basket

Finally we round off the series by heading back out into the garden for a classic horticultural endeavour – planting a hanging basket. By now you should be an expert in container growing and well prepared for this last task.

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.

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.

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.

Current Issues, Jorge, Plants

Unlike genetically modified crops, mutation breeding goes largely under the radar, but has been ongoing since at least 1942 when scientists Freisleben and Lenn induced mildew resistance in barley through the use of X-rays. The same scientists coined the term in 1944, defining it as “the utilisation of induced mutations in crop improvement”. Mutations are the “sudden heritable change in an organism” and crop improvement is induced “desirable changes in the genetic constitution of plants” and improved “performance of a cultivated variety” whether that be increased drought resistance or early flowering (and hence fruiting).

Standing at over 30 billion dollars, the seed market is a huge industry with such firms as the maligned Monsanto, which has run into public disdain and increasingly legislative hurdles as it tries to introduce new GM varieties into the world’s markets. A large chunk of this is mutation breeding that has no such regulation and offers an opportunity for companies to circumvent anti-GM laws and public scrutiny, while introducing new patented strains of seeds.

Before delving into the science and the question of whether foodstuffs derived mutagenesis are dangerous, it will be first worthwhile telling the fascinating history of mutation breeding.  

Mutation breeding was first proposed at the turn of century when Hugo de Vries suggested using radiation to induce mutations in plants and animals. By 1927 his ideas were confirmed when scientists Gager and Blakeslee carried out radium ray treatment of a Datura stramonium, inducing mutations. It was however Hermann J. Muller’s work in the 1910s and 1920s that provided the chief principles of spontaneous gene mutation, which eventually won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1946.

Mutation breeding achieved popularity in the 1950s, when it became part of the atoms for peace movement – a movement dedicated to the use of atomic energy for peaceful ends. The movement was kickstarted by the United States government that funded both research into peaceful applications of the technology and the construction of nuclear power plants around the world. The program was seen as a way to resolve the atomic dilemma as summarised in Dwight D.Eisenhower’s 1953 speech to the U.N. General Assembly that the “miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life”. This speech was followed by multiple conferences in the 50s that sought to bring together scientists from both East and West and reduce animosity between the two blocs.

The atoms for peace symbol, used during the 1955 Atoms for peace conference.

As part of the research into the application of atomic technology, mutation breeding was funded with the establishment of gamma gardens, in which crops were arranged in concentric circles around around a radiation source – usually a cobalt-60. The experiments were crude with crops near the source simply dying, and the ones further away riddled with growth abnormalities. It was the ones further away apparently healthy, but with alterations that were of interest.

Some experiments proved fruitful and gave us varieties that overcame limitations and now dominate as a percentage of production. Peppermint for example was extremely susceptible to Verticillium wilt, a fungal disease and cause of plant death, and it was experiments at the Brookhaven National Laboratory that led to the release of the ‘Todd’s Mitcham’ cultivar. A variety which underpins the $930 million global mint oil industry, which is used in everything from chewing gum to toothpaste. Another resultant variety from such experiments is the ‘Rio Star’ grapefruit, which is more red in colour and produces more flesh and juice. The variety accounts for 75% of grapefruit production in Texas.

Atoms for peace inspired certain sections of the public to conduct their own experiments such as Muriel Howorth in the United Kingdom and C.J. Speas in the United States, part of the atomic gardening movement.

Muriel, a laywoman, was extraordinarily passionate about the technology and promoted all things nuclear: publishing books (including Atomic Gardening for the Layman) and journals, forming multiple societies (including the Atomic Gardening society) and even staging a “Radioactivity Jubilee”. She was a maverick, who at the time was the only person speaking to women about the new science, founding the Ladies Atomic Energy Club. In 1959, she was the host of a dinner party of the Royal Commonwealth Society and decided to surprise her guests with irradiated peanuts as big as almonds. To her disappointment, they did not take off. Unruffled, she planted the peanuts in her greenhouse, which upon growing rapidly to two feet, she phoned the press to make the best out of a bad situation.

Holworth presenting her two-foot peanut plant to Beverley Nichols, a popular garden writer at the time.

C.J. Speas, another enthusiast, managed to obtain a license from the Atomic Energy Commission for a cobalt-60 source, which he encased in a cinderblocks in his back garden. From this he irradiated trays of seeds of which he reportedly sent millions (of seeds) to the Atomic Gardening Society, who distributed them to nearly a thousand members. He used to give tours of his cinderblock bunker to tourists and school groups. Separately, as pictures from Life magazine document, ‘super atomic energized seeds’ and ‘atom blasted seeds’ were sold at store and fairs in the late 50s and early 60s.

Atom-blasted seeds on sale in 1958. Photo by Grey Villet for Life.
Speas giving a tour of his bunker. Photo by Grey Villet for Life.

Today, mutagenesis is practiced by chemical companies and conglomerates such as BASF and DuPont. (It is important to mention that mutagenesis can be instigated by three classes of agents – biological, chemical and physical mutagens, so radiation is not necessarily involved.) Although, the legacy of Atoms for peace lives on in the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is commemorating its sixtieth birthday, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, who through their technical cooperation programme contribute to the UN sustainable development goals through providing scientific support to member states.

One fascinating example of mutagenesis was carried out by the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science, Japan, who used heavy ion beams to induce mutations in a cherry tree, creating a new cherry blossom that blooms in all four seasons. The tree is unique in that it does not need a period of cold weather to trigger growth in spring and ostensibly produces three times more flowers than standard trees and stays in bloom for twice as long when blooming in April.

Interestingly, mutagenesis has proved highly profitable for Japan with the country investing $69 million on mutant breeds from 1959-2001, which have yielded $62 billion worth of goods in the same period. Hence, bringing new cultivars to market through mutation breeding is significantly cheaper than through GM, with Monsanto spending up to $200 million to launch a single GM product. And as things stand, this offers a huge incentive for firms to abandon GM methods and switch to mutation breeding.

How does mutation breeding work?

Mutation breeding is a two stage process involving mutation induction and detection. It is extremely effective, increasing the natural mutation rate by a thousand to a million fold. Mutation induction works by damaging an organism’s cellular structure, causing a change in the DNA, which when not repaired by the cell’s repair mechanism, lives on as a heritable mutation. These mutations are induced through two classes of mutagens – chemical and physical with the latter generating 70% of released mutant variables.

Physical mutagens are primarily induced through ionising radiation from gamma and x rays. These rays form part of the electromagnetic spectrum, just like visible and infrared light, except are extremely high energy. Chemical mutagens work differently involving chemical reactions within the genome, which alter a section of the DNA. Unlike physical mutagens, chemical mutagens are varied, with a number of agents, altering DNA through different causal chains.

With physical mutagens, mutations can be induced through a number of methods such as the aforementioned gamma gardens or fields. Alternatively, seeds or plant propagules can be placed within a gamma cell with a Cobalt-60 source (similar to Speas) or simply irradiated with an x ray machine. More recently, ion beam technology has been used to introduce mutations.

Plants arranged in concentric rings around a Cobalt 60 source. C.1959 at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Usually, scientists set upon finding the optimal dose that will be high enough to cause mutations, without putting a halt to germination or growth. And with most methods, scientists will go through thousands of plants before a mutation imparts a desirable characteristic. In addition, as many mutations are recessive, these characteristics are not revealed till subsequent generations.

The true art of mutation breeding lies in the mutation detection stage that has long been a bottleneck in plant breeding due to the reliance on phenotypic screening. Put simply, genotypes and phenotypes are used to distinguish between a plant’s hereditary information and an organism’s observed properties. As these observed properties are influenced by both the environment and a plant’s genetic code, scientists can’t be sure an observed trait originates from genetics. Rather a plant’s ostensible disease resistance may originate from an absence of a pathogen, as opposed to an inbuilt resistance to disease.

More recently, the introduction of genotypic screening has allowed scientists to distinguish between putative mutants and true mutants, by identifying variations that are inherited and linked to a trait of interest. By identifying a variation in the DNA, populations can be then assayed, leading to the identification of molecular markers that allows breeders to introduce mutant traits into different cultivars for improvement. Next, putative mutants are evaluated under a set stringent conditions, leading to mutant confirmation.  

Are foodstuffs derived from mutants dangerous?

As previously mentioned, unlike GMO, mutagenesis is unregulated and to some hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Accordingly, the National Academy of Sciences has stated the risks of creating unintended genetic consequences from mutation breeding is higher than any other techniques due to the imprecise nature of the method and the random alteration of DNA. However, they also state that the risks are small relative to the incidence of other foodborne illnesses. Unsurprisingly, BASF, states that the crops are safe with the technique being used for many decades without concern.

In line with this, mutant breeds are relatively widespread, especially in Asia where countries such as China, India and Japan produce over 10% of their produce from such varieties. According to the UN, there are over 3200 mutant varieties released for commercial use in more than 210 plant species for use in more than 70 countries. Furthermore, there may be many more varieties with mutant genetic code that we have simply forgotten about due to the long history of mutant breeding. So, it is probable such foodstuffs have already entered our food supply.

Ultimately, mutation breeding has proven a vital tool to increase crop yields in our increasingly hungry world. Due to the work of the UN, mutant strains are widely used throughout the developing world and have done much to alleviate hunger. Certainly, neither GM, nor mutagenesis derived varieties should receive a blanket ban, but be assessed on a case-by-case bases. As with many ethical dilemmas, the truth lies hidden in the details.

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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