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Gardening Tips and Advice by Alastair Agurtter

Author's Gardening Tips and Advice

Dear All, a very big welcome to more of my news and updates for "Up the Garden" keeping you all up to date of events on what's growing, and also hopefully providing valuable advice, tips, and ideas, for the Garden. Plus gardening secrets, for successfully keeping healthy plants, vegetables and fruits pesticide free, and all based on over 50 years experience. Best Wishes and Regards, Alastair. 

Beating The Pesky Slugs

In the recent latest news updates, I briefly mentioned how I have developed a method to keep slugs and snails off of my tender vegetables when growing from seedling, and not using slug pellets or any other pesticide to protect the Wild Life and the Environment. The photograph above to the left, shows how I have used plastic flower pots, that have had the bottoms cut off.

I simply set the pots into my peat and compost soil, fill the pots up with peat and compost, and then planted out my cucumber seedlings into the bottomless pots. I then scatter pea beach gravel around the pots, and across the surface soil of the cold frame I am using, and also cover the compost in the pots with a small amount of the pea beach gravel, but without damaging the seedlings planted. This method and technique that I came up with, has been a fantastic success and winner, and I plan to do exactly the same in the future, even regarding some of my plants that get attacked and a real battering, like my Lupins, and Hollyhocks.

Now is the Time to Prune Fruit Trees

One of the biggest setbacks to Gardeners with regards to growing and producing fruit is a fear of damage, or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time of the year, with regards to pruning fruit trees and the maintenance of them. Now is the right time of the year late January and early February in Blighty to start pruning fruit trees. This is in the later winter months, as the ground starts to gently warm, and due to the increased sunlight, the trees come out of dormancy. As soon as there are any signs of life, this is the time to start pruning. And not to be afraid, prune vigorously, cutting back last years small branches, and pruning back to the beginning of each branch that I describe as the knuckle, but properly called the plant, or tree node. Make sure you prune tight to the knuckle, this prevents disease to the tree when folk snip off branches and not tight, right back to the tree or shrub node.

Today we are in the middle of January in the United Kingdom and the Cherry, Pear, and Apple Trees are starting to shoot. I will be out in the garden and orchard in the coming next few days to start pruning myself, to encourage rigorous growth for the coming year, thus producing an abundance of fruit.

Part of my maintenance includes grabbing a fork, and forking around the roots of the fruit tree, and even adding manure where possible, to give the fruit tree more nutrients from the soil.

Runner Beans in Tubs Keep Picking

Hi Folks, Only just last week I started picking the new runners and had them with Lamb and Roasties, they were delicious. The Flower Pots, or Tubs I have are around 90 to 100 litres in size, and can be of terracotta, or another material (plastic) subject to ones budget.

The Garden Canes I use for the tubs are to make a wigwam effect with the garden canes tied with string, are normally either 6, or 8 foot long garden canes.

Compost wise I tend to mix some of my own compost that I have been making over the season, from vegetable peelings and grass cuttings with some of Levington's Grow Bag compost. The runner beans just love the substrate soil and take off like a rocket after a couple of weeks, once the seeds have been planted. I pop the seeds in by using my thumb to a depth of around 2 inches. I start to plant the seeds around the inside of the tub first, and then finish off with around about 4 or 5 runner bean seeds in the middle of the pot. This enables me to plant around 12 to 14 runners in every pot. This year I have about five tubs on the go, so that's around 70 plants that will provide me with a really good few runner beans this year. Even enough when picking to start freezing down in bags when the runners are out of season, but when we all still want our Roast Potatoes and Lamb.

Towards the end of the season, I let some of the runner beans grow and dry in the sun on the runner bean plant. These seeds I then put in a paper envelope, once I remove the seeds from the kernels and use these seeds for the following season. Any gardener worth their sort, or commercial grower will tell you once the runners start producing, to keep picking the beans, as this will encourage the plant to grow more beans, flowering more and producing more runner beans.

Runner beans need plenty of water when they start producing the beans and as they start to flower. I therefore tend to water the runners at least once a day. Once a week also, I start to give the Runners a good drink of tomorite mixed with water around the base of the plants with a watering can. Most vegetables, plants and fruits like Tomorite as a plant food.

Keeping The Chilli Peppers Producing and Growing

More and more folk are really getting into their food these days, especially from Jamie Oliver's chef books and television programmes. So growing chilli peppers to spice things up as they say, has now become a popular crop to grow.

As the weather continues to rise in temperature each year in Blighty, from Climate Change. Chilli's Peppers are becoming even easier to grow, and yes, even outdoors!

Once the temperatures in the late Spring and early Summer start to knock on the doors of round 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, 19 to 20 degrees centigrade. I start to plant the chilli seeds out into small 3 inch pots, normally about 3 to 4 chilli seeds in each flower pot. I use one of my old pencils as a dibber, and go down to a depth of about 1/2 inch in the compost, placing the seed into the hole and gently covering. I continue this process, until I have planted the required number of Chilli seeds. Then with a water can that has a fine spray, I give the chilli seeds a good drink, so the soil is moist and not too over watered, as seeds will rot if we get a cold spell and from over watering.

The Chilli's normally start to appear after and about 21 to 28 days. They will soon start to shoot up, and when the small Chilli plants become a manageable size. I pot on the small Chilli plants into 5 to 6 inch pots, and then place the plants in a hot spot in the garden, or on a ledge, or table in the greenhouse.

Once the Chilli Plants start to flower and produce the crop, again like the runner beans keep picking, otherwise if you leave the Chilli's on the plant, the plant will think it's done it's job, and stop flowering and producing chillies.


The Most Underated Shrub Yet So Important

Most commonly known as the Butterfly Bush, or Shrub, I think the Buddleja is one of the most underrated plants of all, and one of the biggest friends to the gardener.

As a high pollen producer, the Buddleja attracts a great many insects to our gardens, none more so than the Butterflies, and Bees, whom pollinate our Plants, Vegetables, and Fruits.

The Buddleja is a great plant, or shrub to grow in most, if not all places and all types of soils and substrates in the garden. Very often there will be a spot in the garden that needs some tender love and care, or where little has ever grown. However, by planting a Buddleja in such a location, they will bring a marvellous splash of colour.

The Buddleja will never let you down, and will thrive in some of the most hostile areas of a garden. Once flowered, give the shrub a good prune and the Buddleja will start to shoot again and thicken up as a shrub. Buddleja can also be used as part of a hedgerow, or as a canopy shrub, so you can plant smaller more tender shaded plants below, or around the flower bed or garden area such as Fuchsias.

Pruning and Growing Roses Successfully

When we think of the English Countryside and Garden Shows, the images and smells from our memories and imagination, very often conjure up our beautiful Roses. However, for many gardening enthusiasts, Roses can be a thorn in their side, if you excuse the pun!

But Roses can be a pleasure to grow, delivering fantastic results, by applying a few simple rules, with regards to maintenance and care. Roses are a hungry shrub plant, and their growth in the height of summer months can be astronomical. And we all know, the flowers they produce are something to behold. So here follows a few simple methods and rules I use to have healthy, happy, Roses, continuously flowering throughout the spring, summer, and autumn months.

Firstly, regarding soil, roses need well drained soil. The soil types however can vary greatly, from dry clay type based alkaline soils, to peat based rich soil, that is slightly acid. I prefer what I would describe as a balanced soil mix, by using something like a John Innes number 3, mixed with a Levington's compost. Such a soil is not too rich when planting out in pots, or in the garden of new rose plants. The quality of such a soil mix will contain enough nutrients and minerals for successful flowering and growth for one, or two seasons.

Through the course of the season, and as your roses begin to produce buds, and start to flower. It is well worth it and wise, to feed the roses with Tomorite about once a week, around the base of the plant shrub, using a watering can with water mixed by following the instructions on the bottle.

Every season and every so many months, gently fork around the Roses, do this by placing the fork into the soil, and giving the fork a very slight lift and wiggle. This will help keep the soil malleable, help root growth and deliver more oxygen to the roots that all plants need.

In the early months of the year, around February and March time, dig in around your roses some good quality manure, purchased from a local farm, or garden centre. Roses are greedy shrub plants, and need to be fed well. Roses need especially Zinc and Potassium minerals, and very often when the green leaves on the roses start to get black spots on them, or start to go brown, and start to curl up at the ends, this is a sign of a lack of minerals in the soil. So if you still have a log fire, or know of a friend, or have a barbecue, use the ashes from the fire, or the barbecue and mix these into the soil as well. Fire ashes and cinders are great for Roses and Tomato Plants especially, as the ashes are rich in potassium and zinc. You can also throw into the soil, a handful of small rusty nails, around the base of the roses, this will provide a rich source of iron in the soil, this process will also help your roses thrive.

Now when it comes to pruning roses, this has to be done right, as most of the problems gardeners experience regarding diseases etc. Have derived from not pruning roses properly, and as mentioned roses are particularly susceptible to disease. The first thing NOT to do, is to just nip out the rose heads once flowered. This will not encourage flowering and will in fact expose the rose plant or shrub to disease.

The proper and most successful way to prune roses is; once the rose bud has flowered, or that particular clutch of rose buds have flowered. Follow or chase back the branch of the flowered rose buds in question and find where the branch has started from the main stem in question, and then cut the complete branch off from the main shrub stem in question. If the branch is even 3, 4 or 5 foot long, cut the branch off, and tight from the main plant. If the branch is not cut tight, and you leave a few inches of the branch, it will be exposed to disease, and start to turn yellow and then brown. Such diseases can then quickly travel and spread to other parts of the plant, leaving it stressed and fighting to survive.

Repeat this process of pruning constantly throughout the season, once the rose buds either single, or in clutches, have flowered. Within days, new shoots will start to appear on the rose plant shrub, and you will be amazed at how quickly they grow, and in a couple, or a few weeks, your rose will be flowering again. Never be frightened to cut roses hard, as they say. But the pruning must be right, by always cutting the branch tight to the shrubs main stems.

If you follow these few rules above, you will be amazed how healthy your roses become, and they will flower throughout the season and for a great many years, if not all time. But you must keep pruning your roses throughout the flowering season.


Straw for More Delicious Rippened Strawberries

When we think of Wimbledon and Tennis, we think of Strawberries, lovely! The best size strawberries to grow are the small English type, as they have a much better flavour and taste. Those large strawberries these days, from some producers are hard as nails, and taste like water.

I tend to grow my strawberries in large pots, or in a cold frame that gets a great deal of sunlight through the day. Strawberries are hungry plants and for the best results, I grow them in compost and soil (John Innes) mixed and added to that Fish and Blood, that can be purchased online, or from your local garden centre.

I place around the strawberries straw, as this keeps the fruit up from the soil to prevent the strawberries form going mouldy, and pests such as slugs. I get my straw from the local pet store, or pet centre, as the straw they use is for pets bedding, and not so course if purchased in bales from a local farmer, or producer.

A Taste of Heaven, Tomato Plants Just the Ticket

These days more folk are taking the plunge and growing Tomatoes and for good reason. The taste of a fresh tomato is literally something else, and wait for it, you can actually taste the tomato.

Types of Tomatoes to try and grow are; Money Maker and Alicante. They are easy to grow and you just need to follow the instructions on the seed packets.

I tend to plant 3 to 4 seeds in small 3 inch diameter pots, and once the tomato plants have grown to a fair size, about 3 to 4 inches in height, I will then plant them on, into another set of pots of 5 to 6 inch diameter.

After a few weeks, you can plant these potted tomatoes into your greenhouse, where you have prepared an area and compost with canes. Or simply plant the tomatoes into much larger pots, and place them in a sunny part of the garden, that has a wall or fence, to give the tomato plants a degree of protection from winds, and any other extreme weather.

Once the Tomato plants start to flower, feed the tomato plants once a week with Levington's Tomorite for best results.

Protecting Tender Plants from Frost

Frosts seem to be happening more and more these days, and at more erratic times throughout winter and spring months these days. Just when you think you are out of the woods at the end of April, you are then again hit with another bought of frost, causing great damage to half hardy and tender plants.

Short of keeping plants indoors, you have to try and do your very best outdoors, and in the greenhouse. So here are some tips, ideas, and advice, regarding locations in the garden, that can play an important role in protecting these precious tender plants.

If you have a garden with fences, or walls, and you are confined to keeping your tender plants outside in pots. One good idea is to try and find a sheltered area along one of the walls, or fences. This will help towards keeping the plants protected from frosts to some degree.

Next is to go to your local pet centre and buy some straw. The straw can be gently placed around the plants in the pots, protecting the plants roots in the soil.

Another idea if the tender plants are relatively small in size in your pots, in addition to the straw, is to use plastic bags, or hessian, to cover the plants in the pots. The bags, or hessian, can be tied with string, or twine.

Thinning Out Fruit for Better Results

This time of the year (July and August), it is wise to now start thinning out your fruit on your trees, to get decent sized apples and pears. If you have a large batch of fruit on the branches and do not thin them out, the size of the fruits will be very small and possibly inedible.  On a small branch, if I have say around 4 to 5 pears, or apples. I will thin this quantity down to about 2 to 3 fruits per clutch.

With young fruit trees, they especially need thinning out to around 1 to 2 fruits on a branch, as they can easily break from the weight of the fruit on each young branch in heavy winds and extreme weather.

Author's Related Reference Books:

Gardening For Beginners (Large Gift Size). Full details and how to buy >

Gardening For Beginners Pocket Book Edition. Full details and how to buy >

Written by Alastair R Agutter
Last Modified and Updated: 16th January 2018
Alastair Agutter Author and Writer

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