Alex, Gardening, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting, Plants, Trees

Pruning a peach tree

Growing fruit is incredibly rewarding, as long as your trees or bushes are productive – but how do you get the best out of them? We have produced this guides with all the tips and tricks you need for the following fruits (click to jump to section)

Unlike many plant groups that you can care for generally, each fruit requires different treatment to get the best yields. Prune at the wrong time and you could be cutting off your crops or laying them open to disease.

At the very least, feed them well in spring, mulch and water during drought.

Apples & Pears

Apples and pears are generally easy to care for, although correct pruning is essential for the formation of flower buds.

Plants should be pruned every year to get the best crop, generally in summer for espalier, bushes, fans and pyramids and summer and winter for trees. The aim of pruning is to increase flower bud formation and restrict excessive growth. However, prune too hard and you’ll encourage excessive growth of water shoots, which bear no fruit buds, so never remove more than a quarter of the canopy in one season.

The Perfect Pruning Cut
The Perfect Pruning Cut

Feed trees in early spring with a balanced general fertiliser (such as Growmore) at 100g per square metre. It’s important not to overfeed, as a condition called bitter pit can occur – keep feeding and watering steady during the growing season.

Apples and pears thrive in a sunny, sheltered site, away from any frost pockets and poorly-drained or shallow soils.

Biennial bearing, or trees having a huge crop one year and next to nothing the next, can be a problem. It can be triggered by excessive feeding one year, or frost/drought killing off all blooms, so the plant has extra energy to form fruit buds for the next year. Once it has happened, it’s often hard to regulate the tree’s fruiting mechanism. However, try to avoid too much fertiliser, water regularly during dry spells, mulch and clear away competing plants and weeds.

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Shop our selection of 40+ Pear Trees

Apricots

Apricots are a stone fruit, part of the Prunus family, which includes cherries, plums, nectarines, almonds and hybrids. Where other fruit trees are improved by winter pruning, avoid cutting them back then, as the tree can become infected by silver leaf disease. Members of the Prunus family don’t need much pruning but if you must cut a tree back, do it from the end of July to the end of August.

Apricot blossom forms very early in the season and can be ruined by frost. Plant them away from the morning sun (avoid east-facing) – this will destroy flowers. If a series of heavy frosts is forecast, cover the tree with fleece supported by canes so it doesn’t touch the tree but remove it during the day so insects can pollinate the flowers.

You can hand-pollinate for a bigger yield, using a soft artist’s paintbrush or cotton bud. Midday on a dry, sunny day is ideal, preferably for a few days in a row. Afterwards, mist the tree with water – the flowers should be dry by nightfall.

Apricots often set bigger crops than they can support and naturally shed some. However, to enable the fruit to develop to their full size and flavour, thin to about 8-10cm apart when they are the size of hazelnuts – remove any defective fruit first.

Apricot crop

In late February, feed with a general granular fertiliser such as Growmore at 70g per square metre, then mulch with a 5cm layer of well-rotted manure or compost, in March or early April.

Apricots are susceptible to drought, especially when newly-planted – they will drop their fruit in protest. Water frequently in the first spring and summer, and established trees may need watering when the fruit starts to swell.

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Blackberries

Blackberries and related hybrid berries (such as Tayberries) are an easy choice for beginners to achieve a successful crop. Thornless, compact varieties are attractive enough to be grown over obelisks in the flower border, as they have great autumn foliage colour.

Although, they will fruit in light shade, blackberries will bear the largest yields in a sunny, sheltered site, on moisture-retentive, but free-draining soil. On chalky, sandy, or heavy clay, add bulky organic matter.

After planting, cut down all canes to a healthy bud to encourage vigorous, healthy shoots. Regularly tie in these shoots to the plant’s support.

blackberry crop

Top-dress blackberries with 100g per square metre of general-purpose fertiliser (such as Growmore) in mid-spring. Cover with a 7cm mulch of well-rotted manure or compost but keep this clear of the crown to prevent new canes rotting.

Young plants will need watering every 7-10 days, after planting and during fruit formation, unless the weather is wet. Established plants shouldn’t need watering unless the summer is very dry, when a good drenching every 10-14 days will help fruit size.

Birds can wreck a crop, so it’s best to net canes to keep them off.

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Blueberries

Blueberries are tricky to grow well if you have alkaline soil. They’re lime haters and need an acid soil of pH 5.5 or lower to remain healthy. Even if your soil is on the acid side, check the pH each spring and add sulphur chips if it needs lowering.

If your soil has a higher pH (check with a pH test kit or meter), it’s best to grow blueberries in containers using ericaceous compost. Pick one that is at least 30cm wide initially, moving up eventually to a 50cm pot.

Blueberries need moist compost, but not soaking, and don’t tolerate drought well, so don’t let them dry out. Water with rainwater, not tap water, unless you have no alternative (this will raise the pH level).

Blueberries

Choose your varieties with care – some are self-fertile, some need a different type of blueberry to bear fruit – even self-fertile types will give heavier crops with another bush nearby.

Plant in a sunny, sheltered spot for the biggest crops – while tolerant of shade, your yield will suffer. Add bulky, acidic organic matter to the planting hole, such as pine needles or composted conifer clippings – avoid farmyard manure.

Once the basics are right, boost yields by feeding container plants every month during the growing season using an ericaceous liquid fertiliser or add slow-release fertiliser in spring (again for lime-hating plants).

After the first couple of years, plants should be pruned in late winter, removing a small amount of old wood to encourage new growth.

Birds can decimate crops, so cover bushes with netting or fleece.

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Cherry

Cherries are part of the Prunus family, which includes plums, apricots, nectarines, almonds and hybrids. Where other fruit trees are improved by winter pruning, avoid cutting them back at all costs, as the tree can become infected by silver leaf disease. Members of the Prunus family don’t need much pruning (make sure to choose one on a dwarfing rootstock) but if you must cut a tree back, do it in midsummer.

Many cherries are self-fertile and will fruit happily on their own but the yield will be even better if a different variety is planted nearby so bees, etc, can increase the chance of cross-pollination.

A common problem is that their early blossom is ruined by frost. You can solve this problem by planting trees where they don’t get the morning sun (avoid east-facing) – this will destroy flowers. If a series of heavy frosts is forecast, cover the tree with fleece but remove it during the day so insects can pollinate the flowers.

Pruned cherry

Cherries like deep, fertile and well-drained soil – avoid if your garden has shallow, sandy or badly-drained soil. However, some varieties are suitable for growing in a large container.

Feeding cherries is very important – start with a mulch of well-rotted compost or manure in late February, followed by a granular all-purpose fertiliser like Growmore in March at a rate of 100g per square metre. If fruiting was poor last year, add sulphate of potash at 15g per square metre at the same time. Top up the general fertiliser in mid-spring and keep well watered during fruit formation – drought or waterlogging can cause fruit to drop.

Finally, birds are very keen on cherries – you can net smaller trees or cordons but it may be impractical to cover a large tree.

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Figs

Figs can be grown outdoors in the UK but only successfully in milder regions. It’s better to grow them in large containers and move them to a sunny location outside after overwintering indoor once all danger of frost is past.

Figs are unusual, as flowers develop from fruitlets, which plants can produce from spring to late summer. Only the pea-sized fruitlets produced in late summer survive winter and are advanced enough to flower the next summer. However, fruitlets produced in spring may ripen in greenhouses, giving two crops a year.

To fruit well, figs like to have compact roots, which is why they perform well in pots – start in 30cm containers, repotting every other year, using a pot 5cm larger each time. If you are planting outside, line the planting hole with concrete slabs or similar to restrict root growth. Every other year, dig around the outside of the slabs to trim roots.

Big Fig crop

For the best yields, in spring, apply a general-purpose granular feed (such as Growmore) and mulch with well-rotted manure or compost.

Once you see young figs, feed plants with liquid tomato fertiliser every two or three weeks, until they start to ripen. Figs also require lots of water during summer but make sure it is free draining – they don’t like to sit in water.

To save the plant’s energy, remove larger fruits that are not mature enough to ripen at the end of the season, leaving the tiny embryo fruits at the shoot tips for the following year.

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Grapes

Grapes require patience – and knowledge – to fruit correctly but by following some basic rules, you can enjoy growing your own bunches.

Firstly, consider where you live. While it’s quite possible to get a decent crop on good garden soil in a sunny spot in southern Britain, your best bet further north (or at altitude) is to grow under glass.

Dessert grapes need to be grown in a greenhouse to ripen properly, while wine varieties are hardier, ripening on a sheltered, sunny, south- or southwest-facing wall or fence.

Grapevines grow on any soil, as long as it is relatively deep and well drained. Once established, outdoor vines are relatively drought-tolerant but will need watering in their first year.

Grape crop

Mulch with 5-7cm of gravel in spring – don’t use manure. During the growing season, water well and feed with a liquid tomato fertiliser.

Pruning correctly is vital for high yields and here’s where the patience comes in. Remove all flowers for the first two years after planting, then allow just three bunches on three-year-old vines. A four-year-old will support about five bunches – allow full cropping from the fifth year.

Indoors, pollination needs a dry atmosphere and gently shaking branches helps. One the grapes are forming, use special grape-thinning scissors to thin the bunches, which will improve ripening, although outdoor wine grapes don’t need this.

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Plums

Plums, gages and damsons are part of the Prunus family, which includes cherries, apricots, nectarines, almonds and hybrids. Where other fruit trees are improved by winter pruning, avoid cutting them back at this time, as the tree can become infected by silver leaf disease. Members of the Prunus family don’t need much pruning (make sure to choose one on a dwarfing rootstock) but if you must cut a tree back, do it in midsummer and make pruning cuts as small as possible.

Some plum varieties can bear huge crops one year, followed by much smaller yields the next – basically, the tree exhausts itself and needs to build up its strength.

Increase yearly yields by watering and feeding at the right times. On established trees, top-dress with sulphate of potash in February. In mid-spring, mulch with well-rotted manure or compost to retain soil moisture and provide much-needed nitrogen. For an extra boost, add a top-dressing of organic dried poultry manure pellets or non-organic sulphate of ammonia.

Bumper crop of plums

Plums are one of the earliest flowering of the stone fruits and their early blossom can be ruined by frost. You can solve this problem by planting them where they don’t get the morning sun (avoid east-facing) – this will destroy flowers. If a series of heavy frosts is forecast, cover the tree with fleece but remove it during the day so insects can pollinate the flowers.

Plums require a lot of water so like loamy or clay soils but hate being waterlogged – add lots of bulky organic matter if you have shallow or sandy soil. If growing in a container, make sure it is large enough so the tree isn’t short of water.

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Raspberries

Raspberries are an easy-to-grow cane fruit, fruiting either in summer or autumn.

They love moisture-retentive, fertile, slightly acidic soils, which are well-drained. Avoid waterlogged and chalky soils.

The canes do best in a sheltered, sunny position – they will tolerate part shade. Raspberries are self-fertile and pollinated by insects, so avoid a windy site.

Yields depend very much on pruning. For summer-fruiting raspberries, cut back fruited canes to ground level after harvesting. Choose six to eight strong canes per plant, and remove the rest at ground level.

Autumn-fruiting raspberries are even easier – simply cut back all canes to ground level in February, reducing the number in summer if they are overcrowded.

In mid-spring, sprinkle a granular fertiliser (such as Growmore or blood, fish and bone) around plants at 35g per square metre, then add a mulch of garden compost – avoid mushroom compost or very rich manure as it may burn new shoots. If last year’s crop was poor, add dried poultry manure pellets at 100 per square metre.

Feed monthly with a liquid general-purpose fertiliser during the growing season.

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Raspberries

AlexAlex works in the Primrose buying team, sourcing exciting new varieties of plants.

As a psychology graduate it is ironic that he understands plants better than people but a benefit for the purpose of writing this blog.

An enthusiastic gardener, all he needs now is a garden and he’ll be on the path to greatness. Alex’s special talents include superior planter knowledge and the ability to put a gardening twist on any current affairs story.

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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.

Gardening, Gardening Year, How To, Liam, Plants, Trees

Many of us are unaware of what a good, well-shaped fruit tree is supposed to look like. We all know that it is supposed to bear fruit but sometimes we neglect that the key to this is pruning.

Whether you have just brought your fruit tree or if you have let nature run its course over the last few years it’s a perfect time to start an annual pruning regiment. A well-shaped fruit tree can support the most fruit and is less susceptible to disease and pest infestation.

Fear not! Pruning is not as daunting as it sounds and with this guide you’ll know how to prune a fruit tree in no time. With just a few hours every year you’ll be sure to expect a bumper crop of your very own.

In this guide we’ll be covering the two main types of fruit tree; the pome (apples, pears, seed bearing fruit) and stone (cherries, apricots, plums) fruit varieties. The central premise for all is the same but there are some slight adjustments in method and timing dependant on the variety.

Pruning a Pome – The Winning Formula

To those that know, gardening is incredibly sentimental. But to yield the greatest crop you have to be clinical and professional. Cutting so many young fruitlets, branches and leaves may feel counter-intuitive but in the long-run your tree will thank you for it, trust me. With that being said you do not want to be reckless. Over-pruning equally leads to a decline in the abundance of fruit.

Pruning serves two main functions; training and maintenance. As the tree is growing you can train it through pruning out undesirable branches and guiding the tree to an evenly-spaced, goblet shape. Once this is done you’ll be left with branches capable of supporting fruit. The objective then is to maintain this shape and keep things tidy.

How to Prune a Fruit Tree Diagram
Step by Step to the Desired Shape

For Young Trees (2-4 yrs)

  • When pruning a Pome fruit tree it is best to carry this out during the winter while the tree is dormant.
  • Always remember to cut at a 45° angle and to wash any pruning equipment in a sterilising solution if you are dealing with anything diseased. This will help prevent the spread of contamination.
  • The priority is to get rid of anything dead, dying or diseased. The goal is to manage the plant’s growth so that energy is directed into establishing the roots and healthy branches.
  • You then want to remove any vertical and acute growing branches. These branches won’t be able to support the weight of fruit and usually end up getting damaged.
  • You also want to prune away any branches that cluster or cross over. When these grow larger they’ll damage one another and help the spread of disease and pests. 
  • This may require you to cut as much as a 1/3 of all your branches if the tree is particularly unkempt.
  • We are looking to train the tree as horizontally as possible. So with the branches you have left you should cut back to an outward facing bud. This will stimulate growth from this bud training the branch outwards.

In the early years pruning is a form of training designed to stimulate growth in branches capable of supplying fruit. Even though by this point the side shoots may be very small it is a good idea to cut them off if they’re growing inward to maintain the desired shape early on.

For Older Trees (5+ yrs)

As the tree gets older however, and especially if you’ve been suffering from poor harvests, the aim is to maintain the shape and branches which can support fruit maximising your yields.

  • After removing anything dead, dying or diseased you then want to pick out any unfavourable branches. These again include any vertical, acute or congested branches. This opens the tree up allowing for air and sunlight to reach it.
  • Additionally if there are any branches growing from below the rootstock these are ‘suckers’ and should be pruned out entirely.
How to cut diagram
The Perfect Pruning Cut
  • After this, prune back last year’s growth on each of the main branches roughly by about ⅓. Prune back to just above a bud which looks like it will grow outwards in the desired direction.
  • A cautionary note; an apple tree will respond to very heavy pruning by a vigorous regrowth the following year. So if you have a tree which needs some serious renovation it may be worth spacing the work out over a period of 2-3 years.

After this, when you have a neat and well-trained tree, simple annual maintenance should keep a great shape for growing fruit.

Pruning a Stone Fruit Tree

  • Unlike the Pome a stone fruit tree such as a cherry or apricot will prefer being pruned during spring for younger trees and early to mid-summer for established trees. This is to prevent your tree being contaminated with silver leaf or bacterial canker, both of which serious tree diseases.
  • When it comes to pruning a stone fruit tree the method is the same as for the Pome fruit tree and again you want the same result; a goblet-shaped tree with strong, evenly spaced branches growing out horizontally.

  • Pruning in spring and summer may require you to cut out buds and fruitlets. However traumatising this process may seem it is necessary. The key to good pruning is to be as professional as possible; in the long run you and your tree will reap the benefits.

Despite the fact cutting off developing fruit may see wholeheartedly counter-intuitive it must be done and can actually lead to a better crop. Many trees naturally want to produce as many seeds as possible which can lead the tree to exhaust itself. If this happens your tree could fall into a biennial harvest; only producing fruit every two or more years. See the section on ‘thinning’ in our  apple tree troubleshooter for how to do this. 

Pruning is the key to a healthy tree and fruit which develops and ripens beautifully. Hopefully by now you know how to prune a fruit tree. Over time though you may recognise specific trees respond to different kinds of treatment. This is all part of a personal learning experience with your garden.

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.

Cat, Flowers, Gardening

Jersey Plants at Primrose

We’re excited to be teaming up with Jersey Plants Direct, whose beautiful autumn plants are available now on our website, with free delivery!

Perennial Plants mix
Popular Perennial Mix with 24 Jumbo Ready Plants

Summer’s fading light can easily make the colours in our gardens look a bit dull. With our new handpicked Jersey Plants Direct range, blazing autumn colours can easily enrich your garden for one last glorious time this year.

By planting brightly coloured bedding plants, such as wallflowers or pansies, you’ve got your garden’s autumnal needs covered.

Autumnal bedding plants not floating your boat? We have many more plants available on our site, including pond plantsexoticsrosesfruit treesspring bulbs and many more!

Of course there are also our 980+ planters to complement your new flowers!

wedding-meCat works in the marketing team and is responsible for online marketing, social media and the newsletter.

She spends most of her time reading about a variety of interesting facts, such as oddly named Canadian towns, obscure holidays and unusual gardening.

She mostly writes about Primrose news and current events.

See all of Cat’s posts.