Gardening, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

The buddleia is growing over my chair and - even though I like it - orange pollen messes my shirt!
The buddleia is growing over my chair and – even though I like it – orange pollen messes my shirt!

People get themselves into a bit of a muck-mess when it comes to pruning trees – and any fruit for that matter! But in fact it’s quite simple and once you have the basic idea about what you are doing, it becomes second nature.

Always try to assess the tree, look for branches that make up the main skeleton of the tree, and leave these alone. However, pruning isn’t the same as lopping, and if your tree is too large, then the best advice you can get is to employ a tree surgeon to do the job.

The cost of a branch crashing through your greenhouse, or worse, is rather more than the cost of a day’s work. Never attempt to lop a large tree, wood is really heavy, and you simply will not have the correct equipment for the job.

That said, it is also hard work, and a few days (or longer) flat on your back on painkillers just isn’t worth it.

Winter density lettuces - one of those lettuces that, when you bite into it, let's you know you are eating a salad, it's so thick.
Winter density lettuces – one of those lettuces that, when you bite into it, let’s you know you are eating a salad, it’s so thick.

If you care cutting a branch that is more than an inch thick, use a saw. Always start underneath cutting upwards upwards. This stops the wood peeling off when the branch falls, which will be a site of infection. Usually branches are quite heavy, and when you get to the last few cuts it is prone to break uncleanly, or at best, peel back the bark on the stump. Cut as close to the main branch as possible.

You can finish off these larger cuts with wound paint, which acts as a plaster, keeping infections out.

All pruning should take place in the dormant season, when there are no leaves on the tree, and before the Spring, when the sap in the tree is rising and any cutting will cause the tree to ‘bleed’.

The garlic we grew - not so much, is drying, and we should be planting fresh soon.
The garlic we grew – not so much, is drying, and we should be planting fresh soon.

First of all you are protecting the plant from itself. When branches cross over and touch, they rub and bang in the wind, and this causes damage. Since fruit tree wood is particularly susceptible, we need to cut out the possibility of this happening, otherwise you’ll get fungal infections where the damage occurs.

Cut out any branches that overlap or touch in such a way to make sure the plant that remains looks like a goblet, or wine glass. This is the best shape for allowing the wind through the branches, cutting down humidity, and therefore lessening the chance of disease.

The second thing to do is to cut out any small branches that are facing inwards, ones that will, in later months and years, crown the inside of the tree and disrupt the constant flow of air through it. Or will touch other branches were they allowed to grow.

Take cuttings in September. Nothing makes you feel like a proper gardener, and you get free plants.
Take cuttings in September. Nothing makes you feel more like a proper gardener, and you get free plants.

This is the major part of pruning a tree. If you wish, you can now take off some of the height of the tree too, should you feel it necessary, but remember, taking out the terminal buds will cause more branching, which will probably need to be prunes out at a later date.

On fruit trees it is a good idea to reduce the number of fruiting buds, on each branch, so the plant isn’t overwhelmed next Spring. You can tell the fruiting spurs, they form a little mass altogether. Just cut out a few per branch, and this encourages better fruit next year.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Allotment, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

primrose spades I am often being asked about what garden tools a gardener should have in the locker as a bare minimum.

It’s a difficult question to answer because there are so many tools out there and frankly some of them I really don’t understand the use for, and I have been gardening for a long time!

Take garden forks, as a starting point! There are digging forks, potato forks, hey forks and manure forks, and from a distance it is pretty difficult to see any difference between them.

So what would I never do without?

Spade – Obviously, a good spade is a must. Remember that a spade is not a carrying tool, but a cutting tool. It is there to slice through the soil, and turn over the earth, like a one man powered plough.

Fork – A good fork is a must, and I would buy a general purpose one, with a good strong shaft for serious digging work. Use the fork to loosen up the earth, to incorporate manure and compost and start the job of making a fine tilth of your beds.

Hoe – This leads me onto a hoe. This is a tool with so many uses, a cutting tool and a weeding tool. Remember it has two cutting edges, not one. One for the push stroke and another on the pull stroke. It is used with a series of two and fro movements, either working the soil or cutting through weeds.

Rake – There are two more long handled tools I wouldn’t be without, both of them rakes. First is a garden rake, which I use almost exclusively for making a fine bed. They are great for getting the little stones out of the soil – particularly important when it comes to growing carrots. I also wouldn’t be without my grass rake, which I need to gather up clippings of all kinds on the lawn. The garden rake is too harsh for this and the long tines of the grass rake are just the job when it comes to not damaging the grass.

Trowel – A good trowel is a must, for planting bulbs and general pottering in the borders, adding plants, pulling them up and keeping everything tidy.

Now, of course, there are lots of other tools you could buy, but this list is my absolute minimum. But there is one more point we need to make.

Take care of your tools!

When you have finished using your tools – no matter how much you pay for them, always give them a wipe down.

Once a month, give the blade a good wipe over with an oily rag, and once a year sharpen the cutting tools. This way you will get a lifetime’s service, and your tools will become old friends.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Cat, Celebrations And Holidays, Composting, Gardening, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, Insects, Mice & Rats, Moles, Outdoor Heating, Pest Control, Slugs & Snails, Spiders

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With Easter practically on our doorstep we are all looking forward to nicer and warmer weather so we can spend more time in our gardens.

If your garden is anything like ours you will probably have quite a lot of cleaning up to do before you can really enjoy it.

We thought we would help you and show you our range of composters so you can dispose of your garden and vegetable waste whilst creating compost to be used at a later time. Available in various sizes they are functional and look great!

Of course it is also important to enjoy your garden once you’re done with the spring clean, but we still have some chilly days and nights ahead of us. If you can’t wait, why not take a look at our patio heaters.

Whether you’re looking for a freestanding heater or one to attach to your wall or ceiling, we’re here to keep you warm.

It isn’t just you and your garden that needs a bit of TLC at this time of year, but also your pond. Do you have enough barley straw to clarify your pond?

It is totally safe for:
  • Fish
  • Pondlife
  • Aquatic plants
  • Children

It is simple to apply and maintain – all you need to do is remove the plastic outer packaging, and put it in your pond.

“Barley straw… now recognised as the only effective product that can safely be used in ponds”

– Chris Beardshaw, ‘3 little gems’, Daily Mail.

Of course you have to be able to reach your pond. Our roll-out path makes navigation in your muddy and wet garden simple!

We also have a huge range of weed killers and pest control to tackle those not-so-pleasant problems.

Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, Mice & Rats, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell, Pest Control, Slugs & Snails

They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, and it is this change from winter to spring that sets the human heart on a course for growing. Indeed, any warmish day (should one appear) gets us all talking about spring and itching to get out there in the garden. But don’t be fooled into starting too soon – It is always true that what you can sow in early March will be just as good started out in late March.

Snowdrops coming up in the garden
The snowdrops look lovely this year in the garden, growing everywhere they shouldn’t. It’s a joy to see these little beauties popping up all over the place.

March for me is a “just about” month. You can just about still prune your roses, you can just about plant bare rooted trees, you can just about get away with sowing salads, carrots, and parsnips, so long as the ground is warm. But really, March is a month for preparation.
First crocus blooms of spring
I don’t mind admitting it – the first crocus of the year move me to tears – just don’t tell anyone!

A fine tilth

The biggest preparation for me is that of the seed bed. Now this year I am building raised beds and what with everything else, all the piled-up work and myriad tasks I have to sort around the house, it looks as though I am going to be a little late. But no matter, it’s best to get things right than to try to rush them.

Seed beds need to provide the young plants with all they need for growth. These are:

  • Moisture
  • Warmth
  • Oxygen
  • Protection from cold – which is different from warmth (I’ll explain later)
  • Protection from hungry animals
  • Ventilation
  • Nutrients
  • An easy passage for roots to grow

Moisture

All living things need water to grow and this is provided by the moisture between the particles of soil. It is increased by the addition of rotted plant material which acts as a sponge, holding moisture until it is forcibly taken in by growing roots.

I always make sure that my beds are enriched with compost for this reason – water retention. However, too much water can be a bad thing. You can check how much water your soil has quite easily by the way it responds to squeezing.

Take a handful of soil and squeeze it in your hands. If it forms a tight ball, there is too much water in it. If it just starts to fall apart when released, it is just right. If there is too much water in your seedbed, add some sand – this will open the structure.
If your ball simply refuses to stick, even a little, your soil is too dry and you need to add more organic material – compost.

Warmth

In the first week of March I cover the soil with black plastic where possible. This is to warm the soil, the black plastic acting as a blanket to keep the day’s warmth in. By the end of the month the soil is ready for sowing direct. Even a couple of degrees is all you need for a growing seedling to get established.

For this reason also, I tend to put a plastic cloche on my tender plants, to keep the heat in. But you don’t want it so hot that the seedlings grow too quickly. I have found over the years that seedlings that grow too fast don’t store well when picked. Take onions for example: if you grow them too quickly they will produce onions that rot more easily than the ones that were a little cooler and slower growing. I am not sure, but I believe this is because of fungal infections that might get in the seedling and lie dormant.

Another thing to look out for is the amount of water in it that causes it to be cold. Clay soils are cold, and seeds don’t germinate too well in them. Adding compost, sand, and lime to clay soils, over a number of years, can improve it tremendously.

Oxygen

Almost all living things need oxygen for growth. This comes dissolved in the water between the soil particles. If your soil is too wet, if there is a lot of clay, it is likely that the oxygen in the soil will be largely used up.

The way to improve this is to add sand and organic matter. A fluffy soil is an airy soil.

Protection from Cold

This is different from keeping them warm. There is a phenomenon called ‘cold air drainage’ that basically says as wind blows over the land, it gets cooler. This is pronounced if you live on a hill. Cold air is heavy, and it rolls down the hill, getting colder all the time. This is responsible for frost pockets, which you almost always see at the bottom of a hill, or on your lawn if you live in the valley.

This is the reason for lining beds with box plants to keep the plants out of the chilling breeze. An old allotment trick is to plant in pyramids of soil, which bring them higher than they would have been sown flat.

Sedum plants in the garden
Sedum is as tough as old boots. Simply cut away the old stems when they die and you will get a crowd of new ones as a replacement

Protection from hungry animals

There is nothing more annoying than getting your cabbages ready and growing only to see them become breakfast for a flock of pigeons, or your peas to be pulled out of the ground by hungry mice, or worse still (I say worse – I love to watch them invent ways of getting to your plants), slugs and snails hang off branches to get to your lettuces.

There are clearly millions of chemicals you can use against nature, but in the end I prefer simple netting. My garden looks like a bedroom, by the end of March, with all the plants tucked under horticultural fleece. They get all the light they need, you can water through it and you can buy it so even the smallest insects can’t gain access.

Ventilation

One of the problems with keeping plants warm is this: warm and wet makes fungi grow. If you are using a cloche, keep at least one side open to get a bit of ventilation to shift the fungal infections. I’m not talking cold wind – just a good waft of air.

Nutrients

Not all plants need the same amount of nutrients. I work it like this: Potatoes need a lot, root crops next, then brassicas, then beans, then salads. But for now, seedlings don’t really need any nutrients at all, just enough water to make them explode into life, so if you are using a seed bed you don’t need to manure it too much.

Delphinium growing in garden
The tender growth of delphinium heralds Spring around the corner. I am going to fleece these to give them a little extra protection until April.

An easy passage for roots to grow

This comes by working the soil. It used to be a joke in our family. Granddad never really got on with grandma, so he was always to be found hoeing the carrot bed. It was said that his prize carrots were a barometer for how often they had argued that spring. The hoe is the best tool you have in the garden.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

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