Propagators – The must have purchase this month!

Propagators – The must have purchase this month!

If you want to raise your own plants from seed, an electrically heated propagator is a must.

In fact, it only uses as much electricity as a light bulb, yet it allows you to produce all your own tomato plants, as well as many veg and bedding plants. then there are houseplants and exotics. Invest in one and it will save you a fortune – and introduce you to a very satisfying new hobby.

Setting up

Stand the propagator on a windowsill or table close to a window where it gets good light but won’t be in strong midday sun later in the spring (which will cook everything inside). A small, inexpensive, heated propagator won’t be thermostatically controlled. It will be on all the time and capable of raising the temperature inside by approximately 10°F above the ambient temperature. So in a room that is normally heated to 60-65°F, the propagator will maintain the ideal temperature (70-75°F) for raising a wide range of useful plants.

Good hygiene is vital. Sterilise some silver sand (a small bag is enough) by transferring the contents into a plastic roasting bag and baking it in the oven for an hour on a very low setting. Allow to cool, then spread a layer around ½in deep all over the base of the propagator and dampen it slightly, so that it’s just moist. this is to spread the heat evenly and maintain humidity.

Have ready a supply of clean, plastic pots; square 2in pots make the best use of space. Stand them inside, empty, to check they will fit the propagator exactly, allowing the lid to close over them.

The day before you intend starting to use the propagator, plug in and switch on, to give it time to heat up and warm through. Close the ventilators in the lid to trap the heat inside.

Plan your sowing sequence

Aim to keep the propagator full all the time it is in use, to get full value for money from the electricity used. Plan a sequence of sowings, starting now with slow-growing seeds that need warmth plus an early start, such as houseplants, pelargoniums and greenhouse peppers and aubergines.

These should be ready to move out of the propagator in mid-March. Then you can re-use the space by sowing tomatoes, herbs and peppers or aubergines to grow out of doors. In mid- to late-April, you might try sowing cucumber and melon seeds – and also some courgettes, squashes and pumpkins so that you have plants ready to put outside after the last frosts have safely passed in late May. Mark sowing dates on your gardening calendar as a reminder.

Sowing seeds

Loosely fill each pot almost to the rim with multipurpose compost, strike it off level with the side of your hand, then tap down on a hard surface to settle the compost. press the surface down very lightly with the base of another clean, dry pot to firm it gently.

Sprinkle seeds thinly and evenly over the surface. very small seeds don’t need to be covered; they need light to germinate and are easily swamped. larger seeds (tomato seed-sized upwards) should be covered to their own depth with finely sifted seed compost. Insert a label in each pot with the name of the plant, the variety and the date of sowing.

Water in the seeds by standing the pots in an inch or two of tepid water until the change of colour shows that it has soaked through the compost. Allow excess water to drain away before placing the pots inside the propagator. when it’s full, close the lid.

Check the propagator daily, watering the sand in the base slightly if it becomes dry – this also helps keep the compost in the pots at the right moisture level. when seeds start germinating, open the ventilators in the lid of the propagator to allow air exchange to take place; open them fully as the seedlings develop, to deter fungal disease. then prick the seedlings out as soon as they are big enough to handle.

10 Easy ways to help bees in your garden

10 Easy ways to help bees in your garden

With bees in trouble, our gardens are vital fast-food takeaways for bees and other beneficial bugs. As well as serving up a varied menu of plants they provide the shelter and nesting places that bees also need.

It’s a sad commentary on the declining state of nature that our gardens are proving to be better habitat for bees than our countryside. It should be the other way round but that’s one reason why Britain’s bees are in trouble.

Our green and pleasant land has lost much of its natural variety. It has become a large industrial unit, with huge fields of single crops replacing the hedgerows and the variety of plants bees need.

No wonder over 20 of the UK’s bee species are now extinct, or that a quarter of the 267 remaining bee species are endangered.

With the simple tips below, you can make your garden a bee paradise, and help other wildlife to survive in your garden and beyond.

 

1. Set up a bee garden right away 

First of all, relax. You don’t have to be an expert or have sprawling grounds. Small spaces can be great gardens. A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but gardening is about trying things out. With bees as your guide, you are likely to make rapid steps in the right direction. Best of all, you can get a lot done in fragments of time, and you can start at any time. There’s no need to wait for the perfect sunny Sunday.

2. Choose bee-friendly plants for your space 

With that in mind, start with something simple to suit your space, your time and your interests. Pots on a patio, herbs in a window box or even a hanging basket can get you going and help bees – if you grow the right plants. Also, think trees, shrubs and larger plants to provide height in your borders. A cherry or birch tree can form a backdrop to ‘layers’ of plants of different height and size closer to the front of the border.

Low growing heathers and crocuses in the front will provide colour and help feed bees in the barren months.

3. Plant through the seasons to provide year-round bee habitat 

Like you, bees need food and shelter all year round – so think about planting through the seasons. Which plants will flower and provide the nectar (carbohydrates) and pollen (protein) bees need? Remember that late winter is the time to sow seeds for spring and summer plants. Autumn planted bulbs will burst forth in spring. When the soil warms in the spring, try growing sunflowers that will rise through the year, and stand proud as they feed bees and birds alike. TIP: when they die back cut them off but leave the stump and roots in the ground to return nutrients to the soil.

4. Ask for advice on the best plants for bees

Peek over the garden fence or at your neighbours’ front gardens to see which plants are doing well, and which are being visited by bees. If you like the plants they are visiting, ask your neighbour what they are or take a picture and ask your garden centre. While at the garden centre, have a look to see which plants bees are visiting there.

5. Plant a mix of bee-friendly seeds to grow plants, fruit and veg 

Bees need different plants for food – from trees, hedges and shrubs, to bulbs, herbs and grasses – throughout the seasons.Small trees like hazel, holly and pussy (or goat) willow help bees at different times of the year. Ivy is a top food in autumn – try not to cut it cut it back until after flowering. Do you prefer to grow fruit  or vegetables? Bees will love both. You can even mix them up – there is no need to keep things formal and separate unless you want to. If you fancy growing your own, the bees will help pollinate your veg – try French, runner and broad beans; aubergines, onions and peppers. They’ll do the same for fruit – from apples, pears and plums to blackberries, strawberries and raspberries.

The greater variety of plant life, the greater the variety of bugs and birds they will support.

6. Give bees shelter by letting the grass grow

Give your mower – and back – a rest by letting some of your lawn (if you have one) grow longer. When you do mow, cutting less often and less closely will help give pollinators places to feed and shelter among the grass. TIP: raise the notches on the mower to lift the cutting blade a few centimetres.

Don’t push it, pile it. Another cheap way to help is with a small wood pile in a corner where bugs can nest and feed. This micro-habitat will decay over time and give a natural look. Use logs or sawn off tree branches but avoid treated wood. Even a small heap of pruned branches and twigs will give shelter and can be placed out of sight at the back of a border.

Being a bit messy is part of being a good gardener for nature. Mess can attract bugs, birds and larger creatures such as hedgehogs. (Tip: cut a hedgehog-shaped hole in the bottom of a fence panel to let them move through.)

Your compost heap may get occupied by harmless queen bumblebees and grass snakes seeking a place to nurture their young. Don’t worry, they will move on but you will be helping them heaps if you let them be.

7. Save the bees and put away the pesticides 

One thing to put away is the ‘bug gun’. Bee-harming pesticides and herbicides are implicated in bee decline. It’s tempting to put a can of spray in your basket on a trip to the garden centre, but it is a lot of money when dealing with real pests like aphids is as easy as stripping them off with gloved hands.

8. Use peat-free compost to save wildlife habitat

Help keep our threatened peat bogs intact by using the many good alternatives that now exist. Public concern about the loss of these unique natural habitats has persuaded the Government to phase out the sale of peat in garden centres by 2020.

9. Grow from seed to create great bee habitats 

Growing from seed is growing in popularity, especially vegetables. It is a cheap way to get the full experience of tending through to maturity and is the ideal method for creating pollinator-friendly habitats such as wildflower meadows. Look for heritage and naturally ‘open-pollinated’ seeds which help keep the diverse genetic make-up of what is being grown – contributing to greater biodiversity.

10. Welcome beneficial insects in your garden

Beneficial insects like hoverflies, beetles and ladybirds hunt aphids and other pests so treat them as allies not enemies. We can have great gardens and help bees and other nature at the same time.

To survive and thrive, bees need us to be the generation that saves our British bees. Letting bees be your guide and ally will help transform your patch, control real pests naturally and get your plants and crops pollinated for free. That’s more than a fair trade.

Chimineas – Today’s garden must have!

chim

Historically chimeneas, also spelled chimineas, have been made out of fired clay and used for heating and cooking. These traditional designs can be traced to Spain and its influence on Mexico. The first use of a traditionally designed chiminea appears around 400 years ago.

The chiminea was once a daily life necessity that served a domestic purpose. The chiminea of the past was used indoors for heating and cooking, usually by an open window or in the center of the hut or home with an opening in the roof to allow smoke to escape. With the advent of the modern home, chimineas are now used outdoors mainly for entertainment in a backyard setting.

The design of a good chiminea creates a draughting action, drawing fresh air into the fire directing smoke/fumes upward away from those present. The fire burns hotter and cleaner, leaving behind only a small amount of ash. The efficient draughting of a good chiminea design means the fire will burn out completely in a short period of time, so they can be used safely on wooden decks or other locations where an open burning fire pit may cause damage. Chimineas can also be converted to use natural gas or propane.

Clay was used in the production of traditional chimineas because it was readily available and very cheap to produce. Most homes that used chimineas in the past had dirt floors, so a broken clay chiminea was not a real crisis. Today, chimineas are primarily used outdoors for entertaining.

Because of the exposure to elements and occasional usage, clay chimineas no longer serve as the material of choice. The lifespan of the newer cast iron- and aluminium-design outdoor fireplaces and concern for safety have mostly replaced the traditional clay building techniques.

Visually, the cast-aluminium and cast-iron chimineas look the same. They are the same thickness and cast from the same mould. Only the weight of the material is different. Compared to cast-iron chimineas, the cast-aluminium chiminea will not rust, heats the same as cast iron, is very low-maintenance, and is easier to move for a patio or entertaining rearrangement.

The aluminium chiminea is readily transported and can be easily stored in the wintertime in the off season. (Chiminea storage is only recommended to prevent damage or theft). Both cast-iron and cast-aluminium chimineas are designed for year-around use in any climate.

Chiminea-2

Fuels

Most available firewoods can be used as chiminea fuels. However, there are certain types of wood that are not recommended for use as fuel. For example, pressure-treated wood may emit toxic gases that are dangerous to the health.

It must also be noted that the kind of fuel used for a chiminea boils down to the kind of chiminea in question. As already mentioned above, most wood can be used as fuel for chimineas, but not all kinds of wood. Also, there are other fuels that can be used efficiently for lighting up and firing a chiminea. Listed below are most of the fuels that can be used for your chiminea:

Charcoal

Charcoal is one of the best fuels that can be used as fuel for a chiminea. It is the ideal fuel for use in a cast-iron chiminea. However, it is not advisable to use either coal or charcoal in a Mexican clay chiminea as charcoal can become very hot and might damage the chiminea. On the other hand, cast-iron chimineas can handle any kind of fuel thrown into them. Charcoal is also the ideal fuel for cooking with a chiminea because it does not add its own taste to the meat or whatever is being cooked. Wood on the other hand will add an unpleasant taste to the meat. To prevent this transfer of flavour, meat should be covered or wrapped with tin foil before being cooked in a chiminea.

Wood

Wood, as was mentioned above, is the most popular fuel used by chiminea owners because of its abundance. Wood can be found almost anywhere, making it the favourite to most. However, wood used in chimineas should ideally be dry wood, as this burns with little smoke. Wet or green wood makes a lot of smoke.

Wood is the ideal fuel for Mexican clay chimineas. However, they must have the bottom filled with sand or lava stones before they are fuelled, because clay chimineas crack open at the base if heat is applied directly.

Ethanol

Ethanol is another fuel that can be used in a chiminea. Ethanol must be handled with care when being used as fuel in a chiminea because it is a flammable liquid. It is first placed in small metal cans that fit well inside the chiminea and then lit with a long-nosed lighter.

The advantage of using ethanol as fuel in a chiminea is that it can then be used indoors, because ethanol does not produce smoke when it burns.

 

How to grow Succulents

How to grow and care for succulents such as sedum and sempervivum, including advice for propagation and overwintering.

Most succulents come from hot countries and they need protection over winter because they are not fully hardy. Most will survive in an unheated greenhouse if fleeced, but there are usually some losses. However, there are some hardy succulents – principally houseleeks and sedums.

What is a succulent?

‘Succulent’ covers a wide range of plants, some hardy and some decidedly tender, however they all share one characteristic: they have fleshy stems and leaves that carry water.

This makes them drought tolerant so they are ideal plants for hot, sunny positions. The water they store helps them through dry summer months, so if your watering regime is less than perfect these sculptural plants are for you.

Succulents store water because their root systems tend to be shallow, so all succulents (hardy or not) will resent cold, wet soil at their feet – especially in winter.

Many succulents have glaucous leaves arranged in a rosette. Others have tiny leaves similar to bladder rack seaweed. Some have linear leaves. Mixed together, they provide an interesting mix of textures. Spines and web-like hairs put off grazing animals in the wild but, despite this, succulents are a lot kinder on the fingers than prickly cacti.

Single specimens can look stunning grown alone, especially once they mature. Galvanised metal is an especially suitable material: it frames the greyer varieties perfectly. However there are burnished blacks, warm-golds, warm-red and variegated creams and greens on offer too.

Where to plant?

Succulents need a warm, sunny well-drained position to develop their foliage colour.

Most succulents will be grown in containers and pots and they will need good drainage. Add coarse grit to soil-less compost and repot every year in late-spring.

Don’t worry about damaging the roots when re-potting: these plants tolerate disturbance.

Overwintering succulents

When summer begins to wane, begin to dry off the plants by moving them against a house wall where rain cannot penetrate the roots.

Get them as dry as you can before putting the hardy pots somewhere sheltered.

Place the tender succulents in the greenhouse with a frost-breaking heater.

Fleece them well in cold weather.

Clean any mouldy or dead leaves away regularly.

Revive them in March, with a drink.

If they look dead give them at least three months before throwing them away.

How to propagate succulents

Succulents are easy to propagate in almost all cases.

Those that produce new rosettes can have babies pulled away.

Individual leaves root easily in horticultural sand if left to for a day so that the wound calluses over. Nurseries often dry them off completely before propagating them.

Small succulents rosettes keep for many weeks and they will still grow away.

Pests

Vine weevil

Always check for vine weevil: they adore the fleshy leaves and stems. Should you find any, bin the plant but pull off some leaves or a smaller rosettes and pot these up.

Succulents thrive on poor soil. They do not need feeding as long as they are repotted in good compost and grit every year.

Pebbles throw up heat and single specimens in pots can be made to look much better with grit or small stones round the base. This layer will deter pests.

Houseleeks, or sempervivums

Houseleeks are hardy enough to withstand British winters, although they do tend to get ragged during hard winters. They normally grow away in spring and by early summer they look handsome once again. Houseleeks spread by forming new rosettes and four or five new rosettes usually form each year giving rise to the common name Hens and Chicks. Once the rosette gets large enough, a flower spike will appear. After this, the rosette dies leaving the baby rosettes more space to grow.

Basically, sempervivums are monocarpic – they die after flowering. If a houseleek gets stressed (if it’s too hot and dry) it will flower and set seed more quickly.

Six varieties of sempervivum

There are many to choose from that are equally good.

‘Reinhard’ AGM
Eye-catching vivid emerald green rosettes with black tips.

‘Virgil’
Unusual bluish purple leaves with dark tips

‘Sioux’
Medium-sized pinkish red and glowing orange rosettes

‘Rotkopf’ AGM
Shapely pink-brown leaves

‘Othello’ AGM
Echeveria-like enormous dark-red rosettes

‘Lilac Time’
Large pale-lilac rosettes

Hardy sedums

The smaller, low-growing sedums make excellent partners for all succulents. Many are hardy, but not all.

Sedum sieboldii (Japanese orpine)
Flat waxy leaves with a red hue topped by pink starry flowers. Sprawls well – hardy.

Sedum prealtum
A shrubby sedum that can reach over two foot in height, producing stems topped by green leaves margined in red. A Mexican species for a hot spot – not totally hardy.

Sedum morganiacum (Donkey’s Tail)
Hanging branches of overlapping blue-grey leaves arranged in a dense spiral. Probably Mexican. Treat as a tender.

 

 

Pest & Disease watch this month!

Pest and disease watch

Inspect lilies for the scarlet lily beetle whose larvae can strip plants in days.

Vine weevils can also be a problem at this time of year.

Small holes and tears in new foliage of ornamentals such as Caryopteris, Fuchsia and Dahlia are most likely caused by capsid bug damage.

Watch out for aphids (greeenfly and blackfly) on stems and leaves of young shoots.

Sudden collapse of apparently healthy clematis, especially the large-flowered cultivars, could indicate clematis wilt.

In dry weather powdery mildew can play havoc with plants such as clematis, roses and Lonicera.

Look out for and treat black spot on roses and scab on Pyracantha.

How to grow Strawberries

Strawberry-Malling-Centenary-1300312

Grow

Water frequently while new plants are establishing. Also water during dry periods in the growing season. Water from the bottom as water from overhead can rot the crown and fruit.

During the growing season, give strawberry plants a liquid potash feed – such as a tomato feed – every 7 to 14 days. In early spring, apply general fertiliser such as Growmore at a rate of 50g per sq m (2oz per sq yd).

In a heated greenhouse or conservatory, it is possible to bring forward flowering by several weeks, so long as the temperature does not go above 16°C (61°F), because this will inhibit flowering. You will also need to hand pollinate the flowers.

As fruits start to develop, tuck straw underneath them to prevent the strawberries from rotting on the soil. Otherwise use individual fibre mats if these are not already in position. The straw or matting will also help to suppress weeds. Weeds that do emerge should be pulled out by hand.

After cropping has finished, remove the old leaves from summer-fruiting strawberries with secateurs or hand shears. Also remove the straw mulch, fibre mat, or black polythene, to prevent a build-up of pests and diseases.

Expect strawberry plants to crop successfully for three years before replacing them. Crop rotation is recommended to minimise the risk of an attack by pests and diseases in the soil.

Plant

Strawberries are so versatile – they just need sun, shelter, and fertile, well-drained soil. Avoid areas prone to frost and soils that have previously grown potatoes, chrysanthemums, or tomatoes because they are all prone to the disease verticillium wilt.

Buy plants from a trustworthy supplier so that the cultivars are what they say they are and the plants are disease free. Order plants in late summer so that they can be planted in early autumn. Strawberry plants bought as cold-stored runners should be planted from late spring to early summer and will fruit 60 days after planting.

Runners look like little pieces of roots with very few leaves. Don’t be alarmed, this is how they should look. You can buy runners from late summer to early spring, and they should be planted in early autumn, or early spring (avoid planting in winter when the ground is wet and cold). You sometimes also see strawberries for sale in pots (normally from late spring onwards) and these can be planted as soon as you buy them.

Strawberries are traditionally grown in rows directly into the garden soil – often referred to as the strawberry patch. Avoid windy sites which will prevent pollinating insects from reaching the flowers. In poor soils grow in raised beds, which improves drainage and increases rooting depth. Alternatively, try containers or growing-bags.

Strawberry plants can be grown under a tunnel cloche to produce an earlier crop by up to seven to 10 days. Place the cloche over the plants in early spring, but remove or roll up the sides when the plants are flowering to give pollinating insects access.

Strawberries in containers can also be grown in an unheated greenhouse, which encourages an even earlier crop, by 10–14 days. In a heated greenhouse or conservatory, it is possible to bring forward flowering by several weeks, so long as the temperature does not go above 16°C (61°F), because this will inhibit flowering. You will also need to hand pollinate the flowers.

Harvesting

Pick strawberries when they are bright red all over, ideally during the warmest part of the day because this is when they are at their most tasty.

Eat them as soon as possible; they do not keep well, but some can be frozen or made into preserves.

Get 20% off everything at Bonmarche!

bonmarch sale

 

Customers who are signed up to the free Bonmarché Bonus club get 20% off everything at Bonmarché Blackdown Garden Centre between Tuesday 17th and Thursday 19th May.

What’s more, all customers who purchase in-store during this 3-day spectacular will also have the chance to win a seaside summer break courtesy of Warner Leisure Hotels and many more fantastic prizes.

Bonus club membership is free and you can join on the day to benefit from the discount.

Terms and conditions: 20% off is valid in-store between Tuesday 17th May – Thursday 19th May 2016, when you spend £20 or more and present a valid Bonmarche Bonus club card. Discount excludes gift cards.

What to do with your pond this month

pond

There are many beautiful plants which enjoy a damp spot, such as Iris ensata ‘Katy Mendez’, left. Tidy and mulch with composted bark or garden compost.

Thin out, cut back or divide excessive new growth on established aquatic plants. You can still plant new aquatic plants this month. Plant vigorous specimens in aquatic plant baskets to contain them. Top the surface with a layer of gravel to prevent the fish from stirring up the compost.

Begin stocking ponds with fish once new plantings have established. Avoid introducing goldfish to wildlife ponds. They will eat frogspawn and so upset the natural balance.

Remove blanket weed by twirling around a rough stick. Skim off floating weeds such as duckweed with a net. Leave weeds on the pond side for 24 hours to allow trapped creatures to return to the water before adding to the compost heap