Wisteria care

Wisteria care

Wisteria are among some of the most recognisable and stunning plants grown around the world. No other climber cloaks walls with so much purple, although variations on this colour plus pure white cultivars exist. Caring for wisteria still seems to trouble some people, yet it really is straightforward.

 

The species we grow most commonly are either Wisteria sinensis or W. floribunda. The former – Chinese wisteria – bears its flowers before its leaves appear. Wisteria floribunda hails from Japan and its blooms develop alongside its foliage. These facts seriously influence which species you should choose to grow. W. sinensis performs best on vertical surfaces (house walls, fencing, trelliswork) where its naked flowers will be best displayed. W. floribunda is better grown up and over sturdy arches, arbours and pergolas. This enables its longer racemes (bunches of flowers) to hang down, isolated from the leaves, to full effect.

 

How to plant wisteria

The optimal spot for a wisteria is in well-drained but fertile soil. They will tolerate some shade, although perform best in full sun. You may grow them from large containers. When growing up a vertical surface, make sure they are 30-40cm out from the base to avoid a “rain shadow” (the dry, shaded area closest to the base of walls and fences). Lean the shoot back towards the surface.

It is possible to nurture wisteria into a free-standing specimen – more on this below.

 

Training wisteria as a climber

There are only four main points to follow when training wisteria as a climber:

  • Cut back the current year’s whippy shoots to just five or six leaves in July or August. This increases air flow and light penetration through the foliage, ripening wood faster and improving bud formation.
  • Give a second cut in January or February, pruning back to two or three buds.
  • Train wanted shoots along strong, taut training wires placed horizontally along the wall or fence. Tie shoots onto these wires with soft twine.
  • Wisteria will respond well to hard pruning if old, diseased or undesirable shoots need removing. Take care when doing this however, as shoots weave around each other; you don’t want to damage healthy, useful growth by mistake.

 

Training wisteria as a free-standing specimen

For something a little different, cultivate a free-standing wisteria or two in your garden.

  1. Plant a single-stemmed wisteria alongside a steady support (1.5m or more). Tie in the single stem and allow to grow up to the very top of the support.
  2. Remove the single stem tip in the first spring after it’s reached the top.
  3. Cut off lower side shoots and trim the topmost side shoots to 15-30cm in length. This gives the plant a strong “head” from which to grow out.
  4. Once the head has become sufficiently woody, cut shoots back to seven leaves in August.
  5. Remove old unwanted head shoots in winter to maintain shape.
  6. Prune shoots back to 2.5cm of their bases in March to uncover flower racemes.

Alexandra Noble's Health and Wellbeing Garden

Herbal elements

When we think of herbs, we tend to think of how to use them in the kitchen. Gardening with them is often limited to sticking some in a plant pot by the back door.

The truth is that herbs offer a lot more to the garden than simply a living larder. Without doubt, their subtle or zingy flavours bring meals to life, but what about incorporating herbal elements holistically in our outdoor spaces? Find them the right conditions – in terms of soil, sunlight and moisture – and they’ll add ornamentation as attractive as any other plant.

 

Hedging

We’ve discussed alternatives to box (Buxus sempervirens) hedging in a previous article, but a number of herbs work wonderfully as low hedges. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) will put up with more regular, tight trimming and is evergreen. It needs freer draining soil as it’s of Mediterranean origin. Lavender (Lavandula) also requires lighter, drier soils. It forms a less neat hedge as trimming should be restricted to late summer or early autumn, after flowering. Never cut into old wood – this rarely re-grows. Another bushy little hedging herb is sage (Salvia officinalis). You can find a variety of colours and even blend them in your rows: green, purple, golden or the variegated ‘Tricolor’.

 

Edging

Some herbs work well to edge paths and beds – a sort of hedging, but much less coherent. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) give an upright, verdant edge to walkways. These develop pretty soft purple flowers in summer which are perfect for pollinators too. For softer edging, trailing rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis Prostrate Group) will send as many stems out and down edges as upwards.

 

Creepers

Similarly to the prostrate rosemary, other herbs like to creep along and work excellently as ground cover between other things. Different types of thyme (Thymus) can be planted, as can varieties of oregano or marjoram (Origanum vulgare) or chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). While the last is lime green in leaf and white in flower, the others come in a range of hues from green to gold and silver-white. Try using their forms and scents by planting amongst paving, cobbles or gravel too. They really soften paths and seating areas.

 

Statement pieces

The towering herbs mark a stark contrast to the low spreaders just described. Weave these into the middle and back of borders and beds to add height variation. One such popular herb is fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and the bronze variety is especially striking. Their feathery foliage also contrasts well with other, sturdier leaves. Celery-scented lovage (Levisticum officinale) and species of angelica work well as statement pieces too. Angelica archangelica is a vivid green and can reach great heights of 2m or more. A. gigas is from East Asia and hits you with its fulsome purple colouring instead. Both have globular umbels of flowers, beloved by bees and hoverflies.

 

Dark and sultry

If the idea of Angelica gigas’ purple columns has you excited, consider some other dark-leaved herbs too. Red and purple basils (Ocimum basilicum ‘Purpurascens’) add depth when woven into planting at the front of a sunny border. Red orach (Atriplex hortensis) grows taller but also requires warm weather to thrive. In reality it’s more of a vegetable than a herb – people ate its leaves before spinach grew in popularity.

 

The sharpness of mint

Tangy mints (Mentha) are worthwhile for use in cooking, cocktails and infusions, but you’ll experience their real sharpness if planted out in the ground. These are an invasive genus of plant who’ll spring up further and further from their original spot. Restrict them by planting in a container; even then we wouldn’t trust them to play by the rules. These thugs could ruin your carefully planned planting scheme in just two years. Best to confine them to appealing pots worked into your design.


Substitutes for Buxus sempervirens

Substitutes for Buxus sempervirens

Buxus sempervirens is going through the wars right now. Box blight (Cylindrocladium buxicola) has been hitting British Buxus hard for several years. In addition, box tree caterpillars (Cydalima perspectalis) wreak havoc on southern specimens with the potential to spread northwards. Here at Bestall & Co, issues surrounding box are always on our radar; not surprising, given how we planted over 1500 of them this year.

 

There are several other pests and diseases to which Buxus can succumb, but blight and caterpillars are without doubt the most devastating. We often hold onto box hedging through a sense of heritage, and also because its small leaves, fulsome growth and malleable form are perfect for the formal garden. However, should your plants perish or your fears get the better of you, there are some substitutes for Buxus sempervirens.

 

A holly without the attitude

Ilex crenata, commonly called Japanese holly, is the most perfect substitute for box. Its ultimate height is slightly greater than that of box, and its growth rate the same. Most visitors to your garden won’t tell it’s not Buxus, thanks to its small glossy green leaves and acceptance of hard pruning to shape. Use it in hedges, balls, cones and topiary. Ilex crenata is a holly without the attitude – no thorny personality, and it’ll tolerate both shade and pollution.

 

Ideal for smaller shapes

Another similar species to traditional box is Euonymus japonicus ‘Jean Hughes’. It too sports small deep green foliage which lends itself well to close clipping. The leaves are finely serrated on closer inspection, but from a distance the overall effect mirrors that of Buxus. The downside is a slower growth rate and a maximum height of just 1m. For taller hedges, look elsewhere.

 

Fast-growing

With small densely-packed leaves, Lonicera nitida is another hedging option that resembles box. It’s fast-growing and its many leaves appear on long slender stems. Annual pruning will help keep it more compact, although it’s growth rate render it excellent for taller hedging. It’ll tolerate shade and grow in various soil types, but suffers in boggy ground or windy sites and shrivels by the salt-laden seaside.

 

An untaxing alternative

We often use Taxus baccata – good old yew – for hedging, cones and balls. It isn’t taxing to cultivate, responding well to trimming and height restriction. Furthermore, established specimens should send forth strong new shoots when hacked back hard. This is useful if they ever get out of hand. Be sure to avoid waterlogged spots where Taxus roots struggle and rot. It doesn’t look identical to Buxus sempervirens as its leaves are needles in a darker green and its main stems more substantial. You can use it to form perfect short edges or stately towering hedges.

 

Warm scent and a spattering of cerulean

Rosmarinus officinalis proves a useful and probably unexpected alternative to box. Rosemary will never grow tall. More intensive pruning should be done in March and April to remove straggly stems. However, its slower growth rate means it doesn’t become too messy. It requires well-drained ground, hailing from the dry and rocky Mediterranean. Ensure these conditions through the creation of raised beds; plant them around raised veg patches for a more formal feel to your kitchen garden. Rosemary’s shortcomings in terms of height and requirements are balanced out by its usefulness in the kitchen and cut displays, its warming scent and its spattering of small cerulean flowers from February.

 

Other substitutes

Keep your eyes peeled for other alternatives to Buxus sempervirens; you may be surprised. You could opt for colour by choosing Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ (dwarf ‘Little Red Robin’ exists too) or a variegated shrub species. Lavenders with their relaxing aroma are another substitute. Keep trimmed back to just above the old wood after flowering to prevent bare legginess, and note that plants need replacing every four or five years. If you feel able to relinquish some rigidity, why not try out a carefully selected rose hedge? What you lose in formality and tight shape, you gain by beautiful blooms. English roses from David Austin, spaced less than 45cm apart, work very well.


Top 10 plants for waterlogged ground Persicaria

Top 10 plants for waterlogged ground

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, and their soil varies in many ways. It’s not uncommon to encounter a boggy area. This can be due to its position below a slope, a high water table or even the proximity of a watercourse. We’re listing our top 10 plants for waterlogged ground, to help you stop seeing this as a problem spot and begin filling it with attractive foliage and flowers.

 

We’re only dealing here with 10 plants we love for boggy areas. For more information on water tables and working with wet ground, visit our article here. If you’d like to know more about your soil structure, check out our page on soil types too.

 

(1) Astilbe

Hailing from East Asia, these plants are most notable for their clouds of flowers, drifting in the air. They look very impressive en masse. Astilbe x arendsii ‘Fanal’ gives hits of vivid pink. For clear white flowering, consider A. x arendsii ‘Brautschleier’; it’ll sing out in shadier spots.

 

(2) Athyrium

This is a genus of damp-loving shade ferns, and a specimen worth checking out is A. filix-femina ‘Dre’s Dagger’. Its fronds appear less heavy due to the slender, fork-tipped pinnae along them, lending it an ethereal uniqueness.

 

(3) Candelabra primulas

This common name covers a range of primula species, described after the distinctive arrangement of flowers. You can choose from among many colours, often bright. Primula japonica ‘Postford White’ bears snow white rings of blossom. On the other hand, P. japonica ‘Miller’s Crimson’ is less coy in its red colouring. Both can reach 90cm in height given the right conditions.

 

(4) Hostas

Another genus with a wide range of varieties to choose from. Hostas are a favourite for damper, shadier areas. Many cultivars have been bred to tailor for many tastes. Simpler ones have plain green leaves, while others are variegated and outlandish (for example, lime-green centres with blue margins). Hosta ‘Purple Heart’ is a more compact cultivar in paler green. It’s leafstalks are purple, and it displays pink-lavender flowers.

 

(5) Hydrangea paniculata

The perfect shrub for the damp garden, cultivars’ all bear pale flowers. H. paniculata ‘Limelight’ is an old reliable of ours. Its clusters of flowers are green-white and emerge from August. They’re tinged with pink as they fade away. For a splash more pizzazz later in the year, consider H. paniculata ‘Wim’s Red’; the white flowers become a magnificent crimson by their end.

 

(6) Ligularia ‘The Rocket’

This Ligularia reaches up to 1.8m in height, with a spread of 1m or so. Its dark leaves lead up to even blacker stems. These bear the rich yellow flowers, opening in July and August.

 

(7) Persicaria

A clump-forming, spreading genus with the greenest elliptic leaves. P. amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’ is worth planting in a larger space. It’s taller and its plum-coloured flowers sway wonderfully in the breeze. A smaller species is P. bistorta ‘Superba’, whose flowers are a softer candyfloss pink tint.

 

(8) Rodgersia

Rodgersias look like dwarf horse chestnuts spreading to cover the ground. Frothy flowers arise in July and August as an additional feature. The green leaves of R. aesculifolia act as a great foil to ferns and other plants. Alternatively, try out Rodgersia ‘Bronze Peacock’. This will add a metallic architecture to your garden.

 

(9) Salix alba ‘Vitellina’

Named the “Golden Willow” and for good reason: its young stems are brilliantly yellow-orange. It requires regular coppicing to ensure this glowing display and restrict its growth. To enjoy the yellow-green catkins in early spring, make sure you only coppice some stems every other year.

 

(10) Sanguisorba officinalis

More often considered part of a prairie scheme thanks to its stature and swaying, it does benefit from moist ground. It throws up tight balls of deep red flowers, perched on long pale stalks.


Colour wheel planting

Colour wheel planting

It can be very tempting to stick plants of all colours in any gap in our gardens, particularly if an avid plant-a-holic. However, this can result in a collision of competing colours. Competition - as we'll see - can be excellent, but without some consideration, no one wins. Plants are simply lost among each other. Using colour wheel planting will help avoid this problem.

You might recall studying the colour wheel in school art lessons. It seems like just another element to learn at that point. As in many cases, the funny thing is that the colour wheel can be immensely useful in a whole range of adult situations: preparing for a kids' party, redecorating rooms in the house, or planting up gardens.

 

The colour wheel

There are some basics to remember. Yellowred and blue are the primary colours. Begin with these three if all else fails you. We find orange, violet and green between these three. They derive from blending of the primaries and we call them secondary colours. Finally, between each of these primary and secondary colours is another, a combination of the two either side. For example, between blue and green we encounter "blue-green".

Colour wheel planting
Primary and secondary colours

 

More detailed colour wheels show a shift from a tint on the outer edge towards a shade in the centre. Tints are each colour when white is mixed in, thus lightening them. Conversely, shades are colours where a degree of black has been added. Flowers exist in various tints and shades, but the main facet when planning is to focus on the main colours. If they're harmonious, their tints and shades will harmonise too.

 

Application 1: Harmonious colours

We've just mentioned harmonious colours. These exist side-by-side on the colour wheel; the example illustrated is yellow-greenyellow and orange-yellow. The effect of harmonious colour is to sooth and gently lead the eye through a scheme. Use colours from the yellow-orange-red side of the wheel for heat; the green-blue-violet spectrum cool things down.

Colour wheel planting
Harmonious colours

 

When planting harmoniously, assess which flower colours bloom at roughly the same time of year. Using this colour scheme, we could opt for a combination of mid- to late summer flowerers:

The following image shows harmonious planting between two species such as AsterAstrantia, Lobelia and Phlox. Note how the violets and blues sit on the cool side of the spectrum.

Colour wheel planting
Harmonious colours at Renishaw Hall & Gardens, Derbyshire

 

Application 2: Complementary colours

Colours found opposite or away from each another on the colour wheel are described as complementary or contrasting. Their opposition excites and enlivens the design.

Colour wheel planting
Complementary colours

 

We've picked out the complement between yellow and violet on the wheel above. Using this, we could plant September-flowering Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldsturm' with Aster frikartii 'Mönch'. Rudbeckia complements another plant below at one of our own designs; the blue here comes from Echinops ritro 'Veitch's Blue'.

Garden, plant, travel and lifestyle photography

 

Application 3: Triadic colours

Similar to complementary colours, a triadic scheme involves three colours from contrasting sides of the wheel. We've highlighted this approach with yellow, red and blue - the primary colours. Following a triadic application brings an intricate sense of motion and vibrancy.

Colour wheel planting
Triadic colours

 

A good late summer scheme utilising these colours would include:

Similarly, the planting layout below unites cool blues and violets (AsterGeranium) with hotter reds and oranges (Helenium) as well as vivid bursts of yellow Kniphofia.

Colour wheel planting
RHS Harlow Carr

 

Next time you're replanting a border, overhauling your garden or even just planting up pots, grab a copy of the colour wheel and consider the look you want. Are you going for peace and harmony, or a riot of colour?


Harlow Carr photo course 1 May 08 (50)

How to plant a spring bulb lasagne pot

The term bulb lasagne originated in the Netherlands, referring to the careful layering of bulbs for a succession of flowers. Here we’re going to look at how to plant a bulb lasagne pot that’ll take you through from late winter to early summer.

Begin by selecting the right sized planter for the number of bulbs you’re planting up. Bulb lasagne designs look best when really filled, so we’d advocate as large a container as possible. The bulbs we’re recommending below will begin to bloom in late January and end in July, although of course the weather will influence this.

 

Rules to keep in mind

Besides choosing a large enough planter, there are some other considerations to keep in mind:

  • Place crocks (broken pots) over the drainage holes to stop compost washing into them and blocking them up. We always put a layer of 10mm pea gravel at the bottom of planters too, to ensure adequate drainage.
  • Consider raising planters up on pot feet. Again, this improves drainage. Buried bulbs will rot easily in waterlogged soil, leaving you with no display come spring.
  • Pots of bulbs will do best in a sunny position. This doesn’t necessarily have to be sunlit all day, but this will affect the colours you want to use. Whites and lighter colours are washed out in full sun, losing impact, so use rich, darker tones. Conversely, dark colours fade into the gloom in shadier spots.
  • Additionally, position your planters where they’ll be most visible and have maximum effect.
  • Position your largest and later flowering bulbs deeper in the pot. Bulb size should decrease as you rise up to the top of the compost.
  • Leave gaps of 2cm around bulbs on each layer. This allows new shoots to weave up to the surface between them.
  • If you dislike the idea of bare compost until your shoots emerge, try covering with attractive gravel. Alternatively, you could plant small specimens of ivy (Hedera) or periwinkle (Vinca minor) to trail over the surface and the pot edges.

 

How to plant a spring bulb lasagne pot
Biggest bulbs at the bottom, smallest near the top

Some bulbs we recommend

We’ve picked out some spring and early summer bulbs for you, in case you need some inspiration. The final choice of varieties is yours though – play around with colours and combinations! Simply continue to layer your bulbs, biggest to smallest as you move up towards the surface.

  1. Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’: snowdrops from the end of January through to early March. It has showy white flowers.
  2. Crocus chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’: yellow isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea, but this gentle crocus will have you thinking ahead to stronger sunlight without being too garish. Flowers in February and March.
  3. Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus: flowering between March and May, this ancient daffodil has white tepals and a yellow corona (“trumpet”) dipped in scarlet.
  4. Anemone coronaria ‘Mistral Pink’: pleasing daisy-shaped flowers in a blushing pink. These tubers bloom between April and June.
  5. Tulipa ‘Véronique Sanson’: a simple shape yet with tropical sunset colouring which would take over nicely from Narcissus poeticus. Flowers in April.
  6. Tulipa ‘Showcase’: also flowering in April, this double tulip has violet-purple petals.
  7. Tulipa ‘Greenstar’: this May-blooming tulip has a whirl of twisted petals in a fresh white and green colouration.
  8. Tulipa ‘National Velvet’: a richer tulip for May, its single goblets are a blue-ruby hue.
  9. Allium caeruleum: these sky-blue blooms will take you through to midsummer, appearing in June and July.

 

It really is the time of year to study bulb catalogues, plant websites and place your orders. You can plant bulbs as late as November and still have success, but the sooner you order, the less chance of prime varieties selling out!


Perfect for pleaching

Perfect for pleaching

Pleached trees are a beautiful way of bringing living architecture into our gardens. For a higher price they can be purchased in a pleached form. Alternatively, you could try forming your own pleached trees from young plants.

 

Certain species of tree are much more perfect for pleaching than others. The trees we’re considering are ornamental specimens, although pleaching fruit trees has been a decorative and functional practice for hundreds of years. When pleached, fruit trees are generally termed espaliers.

 

Some trees perfect for pleaching

 

When selecting trees for pleaching, bear in mind the effect you want to have. You want the grandiose structure of pleached trees, but what about their colour? Photinia ‘Red Robin’ has red tips, thanks to the colouration of its new foliage. Fagus sylvatica comes in a copper-purple form, Atropurpurea Group. Beeches also hang onto their leaves for most of the year. If you want non-stop, year-round screening, then evergreens like Magnolia grandiflora, Prunus laurocerasus or Quercus ilex are ideal. Tilia platyphyllos ‘Rubra’ produces bright red-brown young shoots – an excellent attribute given the regular pruning of pleached trees.

 

One thing to think about when choosing a species is its effect on wildlife. Observations of bees dying beneath lime trees have been made for hundreds of years, with no sure reason why. Some claim the nectar is toxic or contains baffling caffeine. Kew believes their rich, far-reaching scent draws bees in with little reward, leading to exhaustion. Authorities claim Tilia tomentosa is the worst culprit, hence its exclusion from our list.

 

You may also use pleaching to form arches and tunnelled walkways. Two types of plant stand out for this purpose, neither being a tree: Laburnum and Wisteria. Ensure they have been grown from cuttings or grafts, as seed-propagated specimens take longer to flower, if at all.

 

The rules of perfect pleaching

There are eight essential steps to follow to ensure your homegrown pleached trees reach perfection:

 

  1. Carefully assess your site. Are planting and growing conditions right for the plant? What is the purpose of the pleaching there? Examples include drawing you to a focal point, dividing the garden up, and screening from neighbours or public spaces. Finally, will pleaching have maximum effect in your chosen spot?
  2. Gather the necessary equipment: spade, canes or stakes, training wire, soft twine, tie wraps, secateurs.
  3. Choose young, flexible specimens. These are easier to tie into frames.
  4. Plant each tree at the correct spacing (1.2-1.6m) in winter. Ensure trees look equal to each other, and also to specimens in any other rows (e.g. if forming a walkway).
  5. Tie in soft young shoots to form lateral branches in summer.
  6. Prune outward and unwanted shoots in autumn or winter.
  7. Annually prune unwanted shoots to one bud from the main laterals, in winter. This retains a smart shape and also encourages leafiness in the growing season.
  8. Remove support frames after the matured trees can support their own shape.

 

Remember that pleaching trees from scratch yourself is a slow process requiring patience and vision.

 

Check out the RHS webpage on pleaching here for more detailed instructions.


Nutrients and deficiencies

Nutrients and deficiencies

Understanding the elemental nutrients essential to a plant’s development gives us a solid foundation on which to practise gardening. It also helps to recognise the key features of nutrient deficiencies. In doing so, we can respond quickly to any weakness and reduce the risk of losing plants.

 

There are 16 nutrients necessary to good plant health. The first three are organic nutrients:

  • Oxygen
  • Hydrogen
  • Carbon

 

The next six are the major nutrients, more technically known as macronutrients. The ratio of the first three (N, P, K) is always given on fertilisers. This is important information, as it helps us choose the best product for correcting a deficiency in our plants:

  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K)
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Sulphur

 

And lastly the seven micronutrients:

  • Iron
  • Chlorine
  • Boron
  • Manganese
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Molybdenum

 

The majority of these are readily available from either the soil or the air. Factors limiting their uptake include soil pH and soil moisture content.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll take a look at five of the six macronutrients along with one of the micronutrients (iron). Let’s consider how each one benefits the plant, plus how to recognise a deficiency.

 

Nitrogen

Nitrogen is used firstly for the creation of chlorophyll, the green pigment which enables photosynthesis. Growth processes all rely on nitrogen availability; it’s required for formation of both proteins and enzymes.

Deficiency can be recognised by yellowing (chlorosis) of older leaves, leading to stunted, slowed growth and delayed flowering and fruiting. Brassica (cabbages, kale, brussels sprouts) leaves will turn purple.

 

Phosphorus

Coming from decomposing organic matter, phosphorus is vital to several processes. It's a key element of DNA, the plant’s building blocks. It plays a part in both respiration and metabolism (release and use of energy). It also contributes to flowering and fruiting, and germination of seeds.

When lacking in phosphorus, plants will develop blue-green or purplish tints to their older leaves. These will begin to fall prematurely and growth will be stunted. Similarly, seedlings that germinate with a deficiency will have purple foliage and slow, weak growth. There's a delay in flowering and so also fruiting.

 

Potassium

Potassium is utilised by the plant in a range of ways. Protein synthesis, uptake of oxygen for photosynthesis, and also carbohydrate breakdown for release of energy all need potassium. Furthermore, plants require it for water regulation, and it’s pumped in and out of guard cells surrounding the leaf pores to cause them to open and close. This enables gas exchange.

Deficiency symptoms will again begin in older leaves. It manifests as brown stains underneath leaves, and some yellowing between veins. Leaf tips and margins curl and shrivel, appearing scorched. Stems and roots are weak.

 

Calcium

Plants use this macronutrient to bind cell structures together. Death of young leaves and shoot tips reveals calcium deficiency. In fruits, the ends of tomatoes go brown, and apples develop dark spots all over their skin.

 

Magnesium

A vital component of chlorophyll, magnesium deficiency appears as yellowing of older leaves and the turning upwards of their tips. The yellowing changes to red discolouration between veins.

 

Iron

This is an important micronutrient, responsible for facilitating chlorophyll production and respiration. Iron deficiency affects young leaves, with yellowing between the veins. Stems are weak, being slender and shorter than normal, although new buds will still survive.

 

How to combat nutrient deficiency?

The main points to bear in mind are water and feed.

Plants absorb most of their nutrients through their roots, from the soil. Waterlogged ground reduces oxygen content, causing roots to die. Conversely, soil with too little moisture inhibits nutrient uptake because most enter the plant dissolved in water. Ensure your garden is appropriately and adequately watered (see our watering article here).

In terms of feeding your plants, soil with a neutral pH gives plants access to the widest range of nutrients. Balancing pH may be necessary, although isn’t always possible. An alternative is to plant according to your soil type – these plants will be naturally adept at thriving in your home conditions. If plants are struggling, you could apply fertilisers. Our article here explains more about feeding plants. Remember that plants in containers will struggle for nutrients after only a couple of weeks. This is because compost contains a much smaller, finite amount of nutrients in the first place. Once used up by the plants, you’ll start to see signs of deficiencies. Don’t delay in applying a feed at this stage. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


How to water well

How to water well

We’ve experienced a remarkably long spell of hot, dry weather. Even though it may be coming to an end, it’s still important to ensure plants are well watered. Yet how do we water well, and why is it so significant?

 

Just like us humans, plants require a regular supply of water. In fact, unlike us, most need constant contact with it. When a plant’s roots no longer touch water below ground, the uptake process is broken and more difficult to re-establish.

 

How plants imbibe water

A plant’s roots penetrate into the ground, searching not only for nutrients and anchorage, but water.

When a plant’s finest roots encounter water, the process of osmosis begins. This is where water moves from areas of low sugar and salt concentration to areas with high concentrations. Root cells are full of sugar and salt, facilitating water’s movement into the plant. It is forced through cells until it reaches the xylem – the water transport system. These are like straws leading up through the stems and out to leaves. Suction is provided by the process of transpiration, where sun and wind cause water loss from leaf pores. Water which isn’t lost in transpiration enters cells that need it.

Water is essential in cells for a number of reasons:

  • Cells combine it with carbon dioxide to enable photosynthesis. This process provides the plant with carbohydrates
  • Cell enzymes require some water to begin the process of respiration, where carbohydrates are broken down to release energy
  • The opening and closing of the stomata (leaf pores), allowing gases in and out of the plant
  • The 16 vital nutrients needed by plants are only taken up if dissolved in soil water

 

A lack of water has a seriously detrimental effect on plants. Plants which wilt may recover if watered promptly, but they can pass a limit at which cells are irreversibly damaged.

 

How to ensure a plant is watered correctly

So how do we water well?

  1. Water plants regularly, unless experiencing a prolonged wet spell. Containers need watering every other day as these plant roots can’t delve as deep as needed to reach natural water. They even dry out quickly despite heavy rain (which rarely reaches roots thanks to foliage above)
  2. Know your plants. Some come from boggy situations and need plenty of water. Others come from drier locations and need less frequent watering. Nevertheless, all plants require H2O to survive
  3. Water directly at the base of the plants. Avoid watering leaves. Not only does most of this water evaporate as it can’t soak into foliage, it could increase the likelihood of diseases. Bacteria, viruses and fungi thrive in moist conditions
  4. Soak the roots thoroughly, watering for at least a minute or two so that water sinks deep into the soil. Even if you water less frequently, following this point will boost the health of your plants
  5. If you’re going to apply an annual mulch, water thoroughly before doing so. Mulches are excellent for retaining soil moisture, but they can also keep water out if the soil beneath is dry as a bone before application

 

Someone once put it this way to me: Plants are like children (or pets); you wouldn’t leave them without drink or food would you?


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.