Sunday, 8 December 2019

FESTIVE GIFTS FOR GARDENERS


FESTIVE GIFTS FOR GARDENERS

We are now in December so it is very hard to avoid festive thoughts on the run up to Christmas, as we ponder what gifts do you get for the keen gardener. Although the keen gardener will have all the necessary tools to keep on top of the garden, things wear out, so check on those secateurs, loppers, and good garden gloves which never last too long.
White stemmed birch tree
Gift vouchers for garden centres or specialist nursery are favourite for chrysanthemums, begonias, raspberries, strawberries and other fruit trees and bushes. Then there is any amount of great house plants in flower to decorate the home and add that wee bit of festive luxury in addition to the essential Christmas tree. Several years ago a friend who knew I was into gardening, brought me ten sacks of horse manure. Now that was different and very welcome but they were not going under the Christmas tree with all the other gifts.
Supermarkets always get geared up for the festive trade, so a large poinsettia is essential, then I see great cyclamen, winter cherries, Christmas cactus, Phalaenopsis orchids, winter flowering azaleas and lovely Amaryllis. Another store had small pots of roses in full flower about nine inches high. This brought back a memory of my time in College in Chelmsford studying for my National Diploma way back in 1968. I did an experimental study for my dissertation on how to grow dwarf roses. College staff helped me sort out some dwarfing chemicals and I managed to produce a range of scented roses of Wendy Cussons taken from softwood cuttings. I was sure this skill was a winner and once I left collage it would make me a millionaire. Just look how the demand for pot mums took off assisted by dwarfing chemicals. Unfortunately I never had a greenhouse at that time so the pipe dream never got started. Dwarfing chemicals are still used to keep the red poinsettias down to a decent size, (they make small trees in native environment.) They last for several months, but in spring they will start to
Poinsettia
grow quite big so without access to chemicals they end up on the compost heap. However the dwarf azaleas and cyclamen can both be kept for several years, but grow them on in summer in cool shady conditions. Christmas cactus can also be kept for many years, but needs drying off after flowering. When it starts back into growth in spring start to water again but once it has put on some decent shoots it needs drying off again till early winter to ripen up the shoots when flower buds should appear once more.
Amaryllis is often given as a gift both in flower and as a dormant bulb. Pot up the bulb in a small pot leaving half the bulb below the surface and keep watered. After flowering keep it watered and fed
Pink orchid
then in late summer dry it off to let it go dormant before starting up again a few weeks before Christmas. Bowls of hyacinths and Paperwhite narcissi are popular gifts for the house at Christmas and both have a lovely perfume. After flowering plant them outdoors where they can grow and flower for a few more years. Phalaenopsis orchids are also a favourite and these will flower for many years. Some evergreen house plants make great gifts including dumb cane, Aloe Vera, the Cheese plant, the rubber tree and many others. The festive period is a great time to do a bit of goodwill to people, the
Cyclamen
environment and the planet so a gift of a young tree is a great idea to help out our carbon footprint as green leaves absorb carbon and add oxygen to the atmosphere. However make sure there is room for one. Trees come in all sizes and shapes and where room is restricted go for a columnar shape like the upright cherry, Prunus Amanogawa. Other smaller trees will include hazel, rowan, white stemmed birch, Japanese maple (Sango Kaku is a cracker) and the evergreen Cordyline australis, the cabbage palm. Fruiting trees are also popular especially apple (Starline Firedance), pear and plum and for the more exotic try a fig plant.

Wee jobs to do this week

Potting up rooted geranium cuttings
Geranium cuttings taken last October have rooted well and now need potting up as the young plants are starting to grow. Pot up into small pots and keep them on a windowsill in a cool room. If they have put on a bit of growth, pinch the top out to keep them stocky and encourage sideshoots. Remove all flower buds so plant can put all its energy into creating a strong plant, and do not overwater during the winter months.
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Monday, 2 December 2019

A GOOD TIME FOR WINTER PRUNING


A GOOD TIME FOR WINTER PRUNING

Most of the autumn leaves have now fallen, and a few frosts towards the end of November have firmed up the soil, so now is the perfect time to start the winter pruning. Up at City Road allotments the timing of pruning is also related to the disposal of prunings. We have a large shredding machine so we make sure everything needing pruned
Cutting back the outdoor fuchsia
is done in one operation, so roses, fruit bushes, raspberries, apples and pears and even our grape vines all get chopped. We form teams who gather the prunings together then another team feed the wood
Climbing rose after pruning
into the shredder. The shredded material is great for paths, mulching, or adding to the compost heap. Nothing is wasted and it is great to see all our pruned branches get recycled back onto our plots. Wood chips used for paths will only last two years before it gets removed to the compost heap and a supply of fresh material brought in.
Raspberry pruned and tied in
Apples and pear pruning in the early years is all about building up a well balanced tree with an open centre then after a few years remove any diseased shoots, overcrowded centres, crossing branches and with pears some removal of those over vigorous shoots growing straight up without  any fruit on them. Do not prune plums in winter as it risks infection by silver leaf disease. Prune these in early summer.
Blackcurrant pruning is done to keep bushes young and remove older wood. Redcurrants are also pruned this way so no shoot is allowed to remain if it is older than three years. They readily push out new shoots from the centre, so try to keep about ten or so main shoots then do a bit of spur pruning to the remaining framework.
Rose bush pruned
Gooseberries have a tendency to bear heavy crops that bend down to ground level when full of fruit, so remove any low growing shoots and keep the centre of the bush open to make picking easier. Invicta is a great variety, but the spines are deadly when picking.
Saskatoons fruit on all wood so pruning is only needed to keep the bushes down to about five feet so they can be netted to keep the blackbirds away. I remove any tall shoots right down to ground level as they grow again from basal suckers.
Raspberries come as summer fruiting on canes grown the previous year, and autumn fruiting on canes grown in the same year. So for autumn fruiting cut everything down to the ground, but on the summer fruiting only cut out those canes that fruited last summer. New canes are thinned if growth has been
Spur pruned grape vine
prolific so that canes can be spaced about four inches apart when tied in to the top wire. Practise tying in with a running knot as this prevents the canes being blown to one side in gales.
Brambles are like summer fruiting raspberries. They fruit on long shoots grown the previous year. Remove all the old canes that have just fruited and tie in the new canes to fruit next year.
Shredding team at City road Allotments
Grape vines grown both under glass and in the open can be pruned in the same way. Establish a permanent framework of rods and spurs. The rods produce spurs every six to ten inches apart from which fruiting laterals grow, so prune from December to January by cutting all this growth back to one or two buds. Sap rises very early on vines so do not delay pruning beyond January otherwise the stems may bleed with rising sap. The Guyot system allows rods to be replaced every year.
Rose pruning of bushes and climbers are fairly similar in that we try and encourage new wood and cut out old wood, but it is difficult with climbers as they need older wood to climb up walls and fences. Remove weak and any diseased shoots and shorten back vigorous shoots by a third.
hardwood cuttings

Wee jobs to do this week

Now that all the deciduous shrubs have gone dormant it is a good time to propagate these with hardwood cuttings. This is an excellent way to propagate Cornus, Forsythia, Philadelphus and many other shrubs as well as currants and gooseberries. Take some of this year’s shoots about pencil thickness and about six inches long, cutting below a leaf joint and above a bud. Insert into a prepared bed of good garden soil with grit mixed in to aid drainage placing cuttings about four inches apart and half their length. A cold frame is also useful to give the cuttings some protection. They should be well rooted by this time next year.
END