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.

Competitions, Decoration, Garden Design, Make over, Zoe

As many of you know, during the summer we ran a care home competition in which the winner won £1000 cash to use towards renovating their communal garden. However, alongside the cash we also wanted to offer some practical advice on how they could transform their space in the best way. The care home discussed how they wanted to make their garden space a place where all the residents could go out and enjoy  the outdoors and wildlife, so our team of experts put their minds together to create the plan below.

Care Home Garden

Design Plan

As you can see from the above design, we wanted to create safe, smooth pathways for the residents to walk on compared to walking on the grass, and make it easier for wheelchair users to navigate. We suggested that the care home may also want to install railings alongside the path to provide extra support for those when walking in the garden.

The next important thing was to provide ample seating so the residents could relax and enjoy the garden comfortably. As you can see from the design, we have incorporated a number of wooden benches between the two central areas so that residents are able to sit and talk to each other, whilst also viewing the focus points.

Bird bath

On the left hand side we have a tiered water feature bird bath that will encourage the wild birds to come and bathe and drink from. This was a particular requirement from the care home, as they try and engage the residents in recognising the wildlife in the garden and discussing this as a group. The other benefit of having a water feature is the soothing sounds of trickling water. Alongside the noise of birds chirping, the calming sounds of water can soothe a busy mind.

It was also vitally important to include planters and raised beds in the design so those residents who were more able could still enjoy light gardening. The height of raised beds often helps those who are elderly or disabled because it puts less pressure on the back from bending down. A recent survey found that 79% of people believe access to a garden is essential for quality of life,  so we thought it would be great to have the residents engage with gardening in a positive way.

In terms of which plants would work in this area we thought something fragrant would help engage the senses. Plants such as lavender emit a calming scent, known to improve cognitive function in dementia sufferers  and also jasmine which is a natural remedy for relieving feelings of depression and stress. We believe the planting of these flowers would help to improve the residents’ wellbeing whilst enjoying the garden.

Lavender

On a summers day when the sun is shining, we also wanted to provide areas of cover for the residents so they do not suffer from sunburn. In the design you can notice our plan to install two sail shades in the different seating areas. These sail shades are also waterproof so provide cover in rainy weather if they get caught in the rain! Should the residents want to be in the garden in all weathers, they may also enjoy sitting whilst the evenings get darker enjoying the dim light from the solar fairy lights installed.

Next steps

The design process is still in progress, and we will be sure to update you with the latest changes in the development of the care home garden. Fill us in with any garden designs you are planning over the winter too by commenting below or tagging us on Facebook. We can’t wait to show you the finished result in summer 2018!

Zoe at PrimroseZoë works in the Marketing team at Primrose, and is passionate about all things social media.

After travelling across Europe and Asia, Zoë is intrigued by different cultures and learning more about the world around her. If she’s not jet setting, Zoë loves nothing more than curling up with a good book and a large glass of red wine!

She is an amateur gardener but keen to learn more and get stuck in!

See all of Zoë’s posts.

Becky H, Grow Your Own, How To, Infographics

If you’ve found yourself with an abundance of apples this autumn, we suggest you make your very own apple cider this year to enjoy with friends and family. Because when life gives you apples, you should definitely use them to make cider!

We’ve made an infographic just for you that lists all the steps involved in making your very own apple cider, but of course this could be adapted to include pears. Let us know if you have tried making your own cider, we’d love to see how you got on in the comments section below or on Facebook!

How to make apple cider

Author

Becky Hughes is a designer at Primrose, and currently in her final year of Digital Media Design at Bournemouth University. When she’s not studying Becky enjoys keeping fit and gardening in her family home.