Bulbs, Composting, Gardening, Guest Posts, How To, Planting

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.

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.

Composting, George, How To

At its heart, gardening is rooted in sustainability, from growing your own food to enhancing the local ecosystem. Most gardeners are used to finding thrifty solutions to dilemmas, patching things up with what’s lying around. But there’s always room to find new ways to make your garden greener. With that in mind, here are our tips for recycling in the garden.

recycling in the garden corks

1 – Corks

Break up old corks and use them to help drainage in plant pots. What better way to justify your drinking habit?

2 – Plastic bottles

Cut the ends off plastic drinks bottles and use them as cloches to protect your tender plants. Bottles come in plenty of sizes to fit all your flora.

3 – CDs

A classic grandmother’s trick! Hang up old CDs around your vegetable patch, so the reflecting sunlight will scare off birds.

fish tank

4 – Fish tank water

If you have an aquarium, save the water when you’re cleaning it out. It’s full of nutrients, so perfect for watering your plants.

5 – Compost bags

When you’ve emptied out a fresh load of compost, don’t throw away the bag! Reuse it as a sturdy container for transporting debris around the garden.

egg boxes

6 – Egg boxes

As well as being compostable, egg boxes are the perfect containers for chitting potatoes. Simply pop your potatoes in with the eyes upright.

7 – Lollipop sticks

Forget what you’ve planted where? Take a Sharpie to your used lollipop sticks and give them new life as plant markers.

8 – Windows

If you’re about to throw out unwanted window panes, consider repurposing them as lids for homemade cold frames.

recycling cardboard

9 – Cardboard

Delivery boxes, kids’ art projects… any bit of old cardboard will do for recycling. They make great insulation for plants or even compost.

10 – Tyres

The classic upcycling project – turn worn out car tyres into planters by stacking them up and filling with soil. Paint them for a colourful touch.

11 – Toilet roll tubes

These little cardboard tubes are perfect for seeding vegetables like carrots and peas. Fill and when they’re ready, transplant the tube into the ground, where it will gradually decompose.

seedlings in tubes

Hopefully these ideas will help you see what you can reuse, reduce and recycle in your garden. If you have any tips for the green-fingered community, let us know!

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.

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.