Planting for soil type Acanthus mollis

Planting for soil type

The earth beneath our feet can differ from one place to the next, and planting for soil type in your garden is essential. It's not easy changing this aspect, so it's important to understand how to work with it.

 

Soil types

Soil type can be a complex quality. The composition of your soil will vary subtly, depending on exactly which part of the garden you took it from. It may differ from your neighbour's slightly. The percentage of clay, silt or sand it contains alters its overall make-up. You can find out more in-depth information on soil type here, at the RHS website. This link also explains ways to work out your soil type, as does this link.

We'll focus here on five main soil types for the sake of simplicity: clay, silt, sand, loam and chalk.

 

Clay soil

Clay soil is heavy, nutrient-rich, and extreme (it's a waterlogged mudbath in winter but bakes solid in summer). It is slow to warm up. Working with it in wet weather is ill-advised. Its small particles (less than 0.002mm in size) increase surface area, forming layers and clinging to one another.

Here's a list of some of the plants which will thrive in clay soil:

A longer list can be found on this RHS page.

 

Silty soil

Silty soils can be described as fertilemoisture-retentive and easily compacted. Their fertility comes from their origin as lakes, riverbeds or floodplains.

A vast range of plants will thrive in silty soil. Lists of plants suited to clay soils will often furnish a silt garden too.

 

Sandy soil

Lighteasily eroded and low in nutrients, sandy soils can be as tricky to develop as clay. On a positive note, they warm up quickly, although can often be acidic. Check your pH if unsure, and avoid lime-loving plants if the pH is low.

This RHS page gives a more extensive list of plants for sandy soil, but here are a few to get you going:

 

Loam

Loam is a combination of all three previous soil types, without any of their extremes. It'd be wrong to think of loam as an "ideal" condition for gardening however. The truth is that each plant has its own perfect growing condition, depending where it grows as a native.

 

Chalk soil

Chalk soil is a law unto itself. Often less fertile, it may be light or heavy, but is always alkaline. It will contain either lime or calcium carbonate. It isn't possible to change its pH, yet don't panic. A myriad of plants will happily grow in soils with a higher pH, such as the following:

You'll discover more chalk-loving plants on this RHS page.

 

Improving your soil conditions

Trying to alter your soil type indefinitely is impossible. The best you can do is excavate a deep layer of the ground and refill with a different soil. This is expensive to achieve, and eventually your soil will return to its original state thanks to the bedrock beneath and surrounding sites.

Nonetheless, there are ways you can combat the worst qualities of clay, silt and sand. The key ingredient to add is organic matter: compost, bark chippings, well-rotted manure. Either dig this into the soil, or lay a 10-15cm surface mulch which organisms will work in for you. The organic matter opens clay soil up. More air pockets are created, allowing roots to penetrate more efficiently. Plants will obtain water and nutrients more easily. On the other hand, organic matter binds lighter silt and sandy soils together. This reduces erosion and compaction, plus increases retention of nutrients in sandy soil.

Unfortunately, chalky soils really can't be changed. They will always return quickly to an alkaline pH. As shown above, working with your soil type and exploiting the wide range of plants suited to each is vital. If you long for acid-loving/chalk-hating plants, your one option is container planting. Don't let this put you off however: it's an opportunity to inject some style and creativity into your garden.


Changing climate

Our gardens in a changing climate

Politicians may try to play it down. Environmentalists may want to throw it in our faces. Whatever your stance, there is no denying that climate change is a fact. Its effects are already felt in the UK as the seasons become less variable: wet, grey and mild.

Conversely, in its most recent report Gardening in a changing climate, the RHS describes how British weather will in fact also experience more frequent extreme weather events such as storms and heatwaves. Frost may become a rare occurrence in large parts of the country. This report follows up from UKCIP’s Gardening in the Global Greenhouse, published 2002, which more simply anticipated increased temperatures and water shortages. As climate change science becomes more precise, the understanding is that higher global temperatures actually result in more complex patterns.

 

North and south

Brits often describe the northern and southern counties as different cultures. It might feel even more like this over the next century thanks to climate change predictions.

The north is predicted to face wet summers, but additionally much wetter winters than currently. More regular flooding is going to be a serious issue. The RHS also anticipates temperatures becoming milder.

Southern and eastern English counties, on the other hand, will experience much warmer temperatures all year round. Rainfall in summer months will dramatically reduce, with frequent droughts. Hosepipe bans will be a common governmental reaction.

 

Impact on gardens

Obviously with such a divide between north and south, the effects climate change will have on our gardens depends on where we live. Northern gardeners will have to bear in mind waterlogging. Gardening in the south will have to focus on water storage from the wetter months ahead of the drier periods. In both situations, the quintessentially British lawn will suffer, either from moss infestation or drying out. Country Living magazine here suggests artificial lawns will become the norm.

Other changes, consequences and methods of tackling them include:

  • Warmer springs and autumns > A longer growing season > Encouragement to take advantage and grow a greater variety of plants
  • Extreme rainfall events > Quicker leeching of nutrients from soil and more flooding and waterlogging > Employment of bog gardens
  • Prolonged droughts > Less water and increased heat stress > Creation of more dry gardens as well as use of water butts or storage tanks
  • Warmer and damper conditions > A greater range of pests and diseases > Increased vigilance and reporting as well as speedier responses to them are needed
  • Altered flowering periods of plants > Decreased coincidence with pollinators’ usual feeding periods > Necessity to cultivate a wider spectrum of nectar-rich flowering plants in our gardens

 

A shift in mentality

Brits must pursue a shift in mentality as well as practice to prepare their gardens for the changing climate. These are things we should put into effect now, not in the future. For instance, when planting a tree, consider how your local conditions may work with or against it as conditions alter. Beeches are cited by the RHS. They don’t grow well in free-draining lighter soils, but couple this with reduced rainfall in the south and east and your beech trees will simply die. Instead try planting Mediterranean clime species like Quercus ilex.

Below are some more general considerations to reduce the extremity of climate change as well as support sustainable gardening:

  • Use energy-efficient tools and techniques
  • Use peat-free composts
  • Increase composting, either at home or through local authorities
  • Reduce use of chemicals
  • Cut back on plastics
  • Plant more trees and shrubs
  • Include green roofs and walls around your property
  • Buy British and reduce plant travel

 

Glass half-full

Climate change in the UK is an inevitability. These are all scientific predictions, but the most likely insight we have. The key is to taking as positive an approach as we can to these changes. Begin planning now. This will affect individual gardeners and garden designers alike.

As horticultural experts like Beth Chatto and Carol Klein have long been saying, it’s a matter of choosing “the right plant for the right place”. This isn’t a hindrance – these changes could open us up to growing an even greater array of plants to enjoy for a greater part of the year.


Newly-planted trees

Looking after your newly-planted trees

Trees add an essential, irreplaceable element to any garden, and there are innumerable species out there to suit your plot size. They bring a strong architectural element all year round, and provide interest at different times of year dependent on their foliage, flowering and fruits. Some have bark that you can’t help but touch, and others are evergreen, bringing colour to the dull days of winter.

 

Saplings vs. mature trees

An important consideration when selecting your new tree is what age of specimen to buy. In many ways a smaller, younger tree is better. Its production and nurturing will have a lower carbon footprint, it’s easier to transport and handle, requires less strenuous hole digging, generally costs less and requires less time to establish. The chances of transplant shock occurring are lower.

Conversely, here at Bestall & Co we furnish our clients with more mature trees of several years. These have unbeatable benefits. They give instant impact, are less susceptible to animal or human damage, and add immediate value to your property.

When your garden re-design is complete and you have your new mature trees, the question becomes How do I care for these magnificent specimens? As touched upon above, there is a danger of larger trees suffering from transplant shock, which can ultimately kill them. We do our best during planting to retain as much of the soil around a tree’s roots as possible, and fortunately, after planting, you can do a few simple things to protect your trees too.

 

Spotting transplant shock

Transplant shock becomes obvious quickly in trees in leaf. Leaves will first begin to wilt and curl up, and almost simultaneously discolour. They may turn yellow, or red as though autumn has arrived early. After this, if shock is stronger or measures aren’t taken, leaves will drop and branches can die back. In effect, the tree is sacrificing superfluous parts to reduce water loss, while developing new root networks below ground.

Transplant shock is less evident in a tree’s dormant season. The first signs will come when it should be sending out strong, long new shoots and leaves. These may actually be short and stunted, and slow to grow. Again, follow the steps below to rouse your trees back to full health.

 

Shock tactics

The steps to take are straightforward and require no specialist equipment:

  1. Water your trees regularly. Ideally do this every other day, soaking soil at the roots for 2-3 minutes per tree. Water daily in prolonged dry weather. Be cautious if on heavy soils, as waterlogged roots will do little to improve the situation. Waterlogging reduces oxygen levels, and oxygen is as vital to tree growth as to our own survival.
  2. Give trees a balanced liquid fertiliser feed as directed. Beware fertilisers that contain a higher amount of nitrogen (N) – plants use this in lush foliage growth, which is currently unnecessary. It can scorch existing roots too, amplifying the damage. Phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) support root development more.
  3. Some websites recommend mixing a spoonful of sugar or three into water and applying this to the roots regularly. It’s supposed to give the tree an extra boost! Aspirin even gets a mention too.
  4. If we haven’t mulched the base of your plants, give this a go as well. Organic mulch, like bark chippings or compost, helps retain more of the moisture you’re adding. Apply in a 10-15cm layer around the base of the trees for maximum effect.
  5. This final step is the topic of much debate and it’s up to you whether to try it or not. Some horticulturalists advise pruning back up to one-third of your shocked tree, diverting its energy towards the roots rather than leaves and stems. Others say to avoid this, stating the trees need as many leaves as possible to provide energy for root development.

 

Living things

Use of large trees in planting schemes has huge advantages for the finished product, yielding an instantaneous effect. Remember though that these are living things. They need care, and unlike animals or children, cannot move and make their requirements known to us. We have to be vigilant and give a little extra attention, especially in their first year while they establish root systems. Doing so will reduce the chance of transplant shock and increase your enjoyment of them for years to come.

 

Newly-planted trees


IMG_4990

Laying wildflower turf

Once upon a time, to achieve a wildflower area, you had to prepare the ground and sow seed mix. The patch required protection from footfall and hungry wildlife. Gone are those days, with companies offering ready-set wildflower turf. Preparation and attention is still needed, much like laying a new lawn, but the results are much more instantaneous. Laying wildflower turf couldn't be easier.

 

How to lay your wildflower turf

Having read several sources on laying wildflower turf, there are seven common steps to follow for success:

  1. Remove existing lawn, plants or weeds from the desired area, and ensure you dig up as many roots as possible too (especially perennial weeds)
  2. Check the nutrient level of your soil – this guide points out how. Wildflowers thrive on poorer soils, so you may need to reduce the richness of your designated spot:
    1. Remove all topsoil and lay turf directly onto poorer subsoil
    2. Remove topsoil and refill with low fertility soil
    3. Lay your wildflower turf directly onto the rich soil, but mow short throughout the first year, raking off all cuttings and therefore many nutrients
  3. Dig over or rotovate the cleared patch to a depth equal to or greater than 100mm
  4. Rake the soil to a fine tilth before treading over it carefully to compact. You then need to rake to loosen the top again
  5. Carefully lift turf pieces into position, butting them up against one another thereby reducing gaps. Press turves gently but firmly into contact with the soil beneath. Stagger rows of turf much like brickwork
  6. Use a sharp knife or handsaw to trim pieces for the optimum fit. Fill odd-shaped gaps with offcuts
  7. Once laid, avoid walking on the turves and water well every day for the first 2-3 weeks, making sure the ground underneath is soaked too

 

Remember:

  • Unroll your wildflower turf as soon as delivered, and keep moist
  • Plant in position as soon after delivery as possible
  • You can plant the turf at any time of year as long as the soil is workable (i.e. not frozen or waterlogged). However, experts find autumn best because the soil is still warm but plants are diverting energy into rooting rather than flowering
  • Only mow your turf in autumn once all wildflowers have self-seeded. Self-seeding increases your stock of plants for free. Also be sure to rake off all clippings to both increase light levels for trimmed plants and reduce soil nutrients
  • Daily watering can be gradually reduced after 2-3 weeks, as the turf becomes more self-sufficient with its developing root system. Do still water in prolonged dry spells of several days, however, in the first year or two

 

Further reading


Clematis

How to prune your Clematis

We've already examined the different Royal Horticultural Society pruning groups in previous posts (see here for the first group article). Species of Clematis fall into three separate pruning groups, depending on when they flower. To help simplify things for you, we're going to have a look at each of those groups here, considering when, why and how to prune each category.

 

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Group 1

When to prune?

Mid- to late spring, but not necessarily every year. Regular removal of faded blooms keeps the plant looking cleaner.

Why in mid- to late-spring?

Clematis in group one flower early in the year, before this time. Its flowers develop on growth put on in the previous season. Pruning from April to May ensures all buds have bloomed and died off, and allows the rest of the year to produce future flowering material.

How?

Prune back dead flowerheads to healthy buds. You can shear over the more vigorous bushy species such as C. montana with less care.

 

Group 2

When to prune?

February initially, then again in summer after the first flush of blooms has faded. Again, annual pruning is not necessarily required.

Why?

The February prune is to cut back to an ideal framework of older growth, yet promoting new shoots to arise on which this year's flowerbuds will develop. Pruning in summer is to encourage a second flush of flowers before the year's end. Clematis in group two bear the biggest blooms, between May and June.

How?

Remove weak or damaged older stems, cutting back to a sturdy, healthy pair of buds.

In the summer pruning, cut flowered stems back to healthy buds.

It's possible to chop these Clematis back hard to 30-90cm above ground level to renew the plant. Do this in late winter and expect just a single flush of flowers the following summer.

 

Group 3

When to prune?

February pruning for this group too.

Why in February?

These Clematis produce flowers on the end 60cm of new growth. Failure to prune these regularly results in bare, tangled lower stems and flowers lost in the aether.

How?

Chop members of this group back close to base, leaving a pair of healthy buds on each stem. The plant will be reinvigorated each year, well in advance of its late summer flowering.

 

Clematis


Water table

The water table and your garden

Is your garden submerged in the winter months? Do you struggle to dig into a dry patch even in summer? It could be your home is sited above a high water table, bringing groundwater problems with it. We’re going to look at what exactly this means and how you can adapt your gardening methods.

 

Water table

 

Key terms

Without a doubt you’ll have examined water tables in school geography classes. It’s an easy topic to forget in everyday life however. Let’s begin by understanding some of the key terms associated with groundwater and water tables.

  • Groundwater: water which soaks into the earth through the force of gravity. It also flows sidewards, following slopes, whatever the gradient
  • Impermeable rock: the depth of earth at which water can no longer soak further, due to the rock not allowing water to pass through. They are often less porous too – that is, they don’t have large spaces between their grains. Examples include clay and granite
  • Aquifer: a geological feature – made of porous and permeable material - moving groundwater along the course of gravity
  • Saturated zone: the area of ground above impermeable rock which has no air pockets; these are completely filled with water
  • Unsaturated zone: the area of ground above impermeable rock which still contains air pockets. Water clings to the soil molecules by surface tension. Some water is drawn back up to the surface through capillary action (heat causes water on the surface to evaporate, pulling deeper molecules up behind it). This zone is closest to the surface
  • Water table: the line at which the saturated zone meets the unsaturated zone. Its depth varies based on how far down the impermeable rock layer is, and to a certain extent the amount of recent rainfall

 

This presentation demonstrates some of these terms clearly via diagrams.

If your garden waterlogs easily, especially after heavy or prolonged rain, you either have heavy clay soil or a high water table. The two very easily go hand-in-hand, as compacted clay is very impermeable, so you might be facing a combination.

We can all too easily look at sloping site and expect it to be very dry. After all, water runs away after gravity. Sadly, even sloping gardens can be boggy due to a feature known as an aquiclude. This is a layer of impermeable rock higher than the water table which traps water above it. This water often releases itself as a spring, flowing down over the surface of the hillside until it reaches a river. Your sloping garden might be just below a spring, or perhaps has one or more in its boundary.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to alter the water table and drainage installation rarely helps. However, there are tactics you can employ to work around it.

 

Gardening with your high water table

The simplest and cheapest way of gardening when confronted with a high water table is to work with the phenomenon. Choose the right plant for the right place: plant those specimens which like standing in water. Why not develop a bog garden? You could incorporate a wildlife pond or swales (gently sloping depressed channels leading water away from slightly higher areas – see image below). Both allow for marsh or aquatic planting for a unique feature in your garden.

Water table

Water table - swale

Some herbaceous perennials have shallow, spreading root systems which won’t sit in the higher saturated zone and struggle. If they do spend time in waterlogged soil, many renew parts of their root systems regularly and so can survive. As this article explains, trees, conversely, have deeper roots and spend years developing these systems. A prolonged soaking can irreparably destroy these, leading to the tree dying. Be aware which species flourish with wet feet, avoiding those which need drier ground.

A more costly method is to construct raised beds in which to plant. Water falling into these will soak away more quickly (keep on top of your warm weather watering!) and flooding won’t usually affect them. More expensive still is to import larger quantities of soil and spread over your current ground level, raising the entire plot.

As you see, while you can't alter a high water table, it needn’t hinder your gardening. You just need to weigh up your options and decide whether you want to exploit this natural feature or cloak it.


RHS Pruning Groups 11, 12 & 13

RHS Pruning Groups 11, 12 and 13

It’s easy to overlook one dimension of our gardens that we really should exploit: the vertical. We’re always eager for groundcover and stunning feature plants, but bare walls, fences and trunks are perfect for climbing plants and trained shrubs. Once planted, how do we keep them in the best shape? RHS pruning groups 11, 12 and 13 cover this, to ensure these specimens don’t become ‘a bushy or straggly mess’. Read on for the final installment in our summary of the Royal Horticultural Society pruning groups.

 

When?

Similarly to previous groups, timing depends on when flowering occurs and what growth it develops on.

For those plants flowering on the previous season’s growth, you should prune immediately after flowers fade. This is often December through to June.

Plants which flower on the current season’s growth should be prune in late winter or early spring. They normally produce blooms between July and November.

If ever in doubt as to when to prune, do some research on the specimen in question to be sure.

 

How?

Begin by pruning out dead, damaged, diseased or congested shoots.

After, remember the individual requirements of the species in question. For example, a wall-trained Ceanothus is usually in pruning group 8 when untrained, so needs cutting after flowering ends in October.

The RHS divides pruning of climbers and wall-trained shrubs further into three groups:

  • Group 11: Vigorous climbers: Prune back stems exceeding allocated space when necessary, after flowering
  • Group 12: Less vigorous climbers: Trim sideshoots to within three or four buds of the main framework
  • Group 13: Wall-trained shrubs: Cut sideshoots back to within two-four buds of the main framework. Remove any shoots growing into the wall or fence

Be sure to regularly secure desired new shoots to a framework (wires or string) regularly to maintain a pleasing form and avoid damage to the plant.

 

Why?

Pruning of climbers and wall-trained shrubs aims to maintain bushiness and avoid bare wood. It also encourages the formation of more flower buds on the shorter, stronger stems that remain. On the vigorous climbers, this pruning also restricts them to just the area you want covering.

 

Plants falling into pruning groups 11, 12 and 13


Plant names

Do you look at plant books and labels and wonder who on earth comes up with such complex and crazy plant names? And how they even invent these things? Well actually, had you been an Ancient Roman or Greek, these names would have been extremely familiar. Why? They’re composed mainly of descriptive words derived from these classical languages. Having said that, a Roman or Athenian wouldn’t necessarily have been able to visualise the exact plant being described. They’d have had “common names” for plants, just like we have buttercup, dandelion or daisy.

In order to help you out when picking or planting specimens in future, below is a list of elements commonly found in the names of plants we use at Bestall & Co.

 

A-Z

 

Acuti- “Sharp”, from Latin acutus

Angusti- “Narrow”, from Latin angustus

Arborescens “Tree-like”, from Latin arbor “tree”

Argenteus, argenteum, argentea “Silvery”, from Latin argentum “silver”

Arvensis, arvense “Of the fields”, from Latin arvus “cultivated”

Atro- “Dark, black”, from the Latin ater

Aureus, aureum, aurea “Golden”, from Latin aurum “gold”

Baccatus, baccatum, baccata “Bearing berries”, from Latin bacca “berry”

Caeruleus, caeruleum, caerulea “Sky blue”, from Latin caelum “sky”

Capensis, capense “South African”, from New Latin

Chinensis, chinense “Chinese”, from New Latin; the older Latin term is sinensis, sinense which you’ll also see

Denticulatus, denticulatum, denticulata “Toothed”, from Latin dens “tooth”

-flora “Flowers”, from Latin flos

-folia “Leaves”, from Latin folium

Giganteus, giganteum, gigantea “Very large”, from Greek γιγας “giant”

Grandi- “Large”, from Latin grandis

Hepta- “Seven”, from Greek ἐπτα

Japonicus, japonicum, japonica “Japanese”, from New Latin

Lusitanicus, lusitanicum, lusitanica “Portuguese”, from Latin Lusitania “Portugal”

Macro- “Large”, from Greek μακρος

Maculatus, maculatum, maculata “Spotty, marked”, from the Latin for “stained”

-mas “Male”, from Latin

Micro- “Small”, from Greek μικρος

Mollis, molle “Soft”, from Latin

Nemorosus, nemorosum, nemorosa “Of the woods”, from Latin nemus “sacred grove, woodland”

Nigra “Black”, from Latin niger

Nivalis, nivale “Snowy”, from the Latin nix “snow”; you’ll also see niveus, niveum, nivea

Occidentalis, occidentale “Western”, from the Latin occidere “to fall down”

Officinalis, officinale “Medicinal”, from Latin officina “workshop, practice”

-oides “Resembling”, from Greek ειδος “shape, form”

Orientalis, orientale “Eastern”, from the Latin orior “to rise”

Paniculatus, paniculatum, paniculata “Tufted”, from Latin panicula “tuft”

Parvi- “Small”, from Latin parvus

-phylla “Leaves”, from Greek φυλλον phyllon

Plani- “Flat”, from Latin planus

Purpureus, purpureum, purpurea “Purple”, from Latin

Racemosus, racemosum, racemosa “Forming clusters”, from Latin racemus “cluster”

Repens “Creeping”, from Latin; related to the English word reptile

Semper “Always, ever”

Spicatus, spicatum, spicata “Spiky”, from Latin spica “spike”

Tenuissimus, tenuissimum, tenuissima “Softest”, from Latin tenuis “soft”

Vulgaris, vulgare “Common” (not vulgar though!), from Latin

 

Names which give insight

Other genus names give a deeper insight into the plant. For example:

  • Delphinium: Look closely at the flowers; they could be said to be “dolphin-shaped”. The Ancient Greek for dolphin was delphis δελφις !
  • Digitalis: We don’t recommend sticking your fingers in poisonous foxglove flowerheads, but they’d fit very nicely. The Latin for “finger” was digitus.
  • Geranium: The Ancient Greek for a crane was geranos γερανος, and this plant’s seedpods look like a crane’s bill.
  • Allium: We usually use this word for the ornamental plants, but it actually means “garlic” or “onion” in Latin. Our “Purple Sensations” are closely related to garlic, onion and leek.

 

The list could go on and on, but that’s far too much information for one blog post. If your interest is piqued, there are plenty of publications around which will tell you more.


Beautiful outdoor rooms with all weather sofas. Contemporary planting design make for a cosy place to relax

Pruning Groups 8, 9 and 10

The Royal Horticultural Society has grouped together its advice on Pruning Groups 8, 9 and 10 because they all relate to evergreen shrubs. We often think of conifers when referring to evergreens, but there are a lot of other species included in these groups. It’s important to remember evergreens are any plants ‘retaining their leaves in winter’. Let's continue with our review of he RHS pruning groups.

 

When?

Generally prune your evergreen shrubs in spring just ahead of growth starting again, unless they’re flowering at this point. In the latter instance, simply prune back as soon as flowering has finished.

 

How?

We’ve started with this in the other groups too: begin by cutting out any weak, damaged, diseased or dead shoots, as well as those spoiling the overall form of the shrub.

After that, each group is a little more specific:

  • Group 8: Prune these early-flowering evergreens immediately after flowering rather than sticking to just April. These plants are often best left to their own devices in terms of shape. Simply deadhead or remove damaged stems.
  • Group 9: These evergreens are late-flowering and benefit from pruning in April or May. They flower on growth put on in the previous or current year and again, do best with minimal pruning. You can prune those suitable for hedging (e.g. Prunus laurocerasus) more heavily to maintain form.
  • Group 10: Evergreens fall into this group where you need to prune:
    • Straight after flowering on the previous year’s growth
    • In March or April when the plant flowers on this year’s growth

 

Mulching well straight after pruning supports the plant’s recovery.

 

Why?

Evergreens can become tall or leggy, with lots of unsightly woody growth on display. The best way around this is to remove one-third of the older woody growth each year, before the plants send up new shoots.

Smaller shrubs like heathers and lavender have a limited life expectancy of no more than 10 years in ideal conditions (sometimes five in less suitable situations). Their lifespan can sometimes be extended by pruning as indicated by the RHS.

Larger or slow-growing shrubs such as rhododendrons require less pruning, other than to reduce disease incidence.

 

Pruning groups 8, 9 and 10: Plants we use


Feeding your plants

Feeding your plants may not always be necessary, but it’s good practice to get into. A lot of problems which arise with plants can be reduced or resolved through use of plant food. Unlike organic mulch which feeds the soil, plant food (a.k.a. fertiliser) is a concentrated source of the main nutrients required by plants.

 

To feed or not to feed?

First and foremost, keep an eye out for signs of nutrient deficiency such as yellowing leaves, stunted growth or reduced flowering and/or fruiting.

However, as with human diseases, prevention is better than the cure. Feeding from early on can avoid many of the issues arising from nutrient deficiency. Plants in open ground can generally fend well for themselves once established. Their roots delve deep and spread far in the hunt for water and nutrients.

Plants in pots, on the other hand, start with only the nutrients we include in the container. Even if we add plant food at the beginning, these are finite and we must replace them once lost.

Fast-growing plants may also benefit from regular applications of fertiliser as they use up nutrients more quickly. This includes vegetable crops and fruit trees and shrubs.

 

Key nutrients

The three main plant nutrients all fertilisers include are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

  • N – nitrogen – supports leafy green growth
  • P – phosphorus – for healthy development of roots and shoots
  • K – potassium – used in flowering, fruiting and general plant hardiness

 

All UK fertilisers must indicate the ratio of these major nutrients on the packaging in the format N:P:K (for example, Bayer Garden Toprose is 5:6:12). Other micronutrients such as magnesium are vital to a healthy plant, but not all products contain these.

 

Application

Always follow the product instructions as to how to apply the food. It can be tempting to apply more fertiliser than instructed, but this can be counterproductive. Too much can scorch foliage. An excess of potassium will have a negative effect by inhibiting magnesium absorption and thus causing magnesium deficiency.

Always make sure the soil around a plant is moist when applying plant food, or else it won’t have any effect. Similarly, compacted soil will reduce fertiliser efficiency by limiting its movement down to the roots.

There are four main methods of application for fertilisers which must be adhered to:

  • Top dressing: apply the fertiliser to the surface of the soil, normally in spring
  • Base dressing: mix the food into the soil or potting compost before planting up
  • Water on: drizzle liquids or soluble formulas onto roots – but not leaves – during growth for a quick boost
  • Foliar feeding: apply dilute fertiliser solution directly onto the leaves

 

Types of fertiliser

The diagram below demonstrates the main divisions of plant food.

 

Straight fertilisers focus on just one vital nutrient. Controlled release fertilisers are coated to allow steady leakage of the nutrients. Compound fertilisers are balanced or only slightly unbalanced in ratio. Slow release fertilisers are always organic and due to this, they are broken down and taken up by plants gradually.

The choice is yours as to whether you opt for organic or inorganic food; the latter is faster acting and more concentrated than the former.