Days are getting hotter and drier, and more inhospitable to the slug which must stay cool and moist to survive. So now the manic spring planting season is over, it’s time to turn your attention to the kind of places where slugs love to hide during these hot summer days.
The sudden burst of lush new growth provides ample places for slugs to take refuge, so keeping this trimmed to a minimum not only helps show off the explosion of colourful summer bedding, it also robs the slug of some of its daytime haunts. Keep the lower leaves of larger annuals pruned because slugs love to shelter there too.
Keep your lawn edges trimmed. This not only adds that finishing touch to a freshly mown lawn, it removes another favourite slug refuge.
It’s from places like these that slugs emerge in droves to launch their night time attack on your plants. Go on a nocturnal slug hunt and see how many of the little blighters you can collect and dispose of. It’s a surprisingly effective form of slug control.
With April showers and warmer temperatures, a slug population explosion seems to descend upon the garden. Any surviving eggs are now hatching into miniature slugs that start feeding immediately, and despite their size, these tiny slugs have voracious appetites. It may seem early, but taking measures at this stage means less slugs develop into the monster munchers that wreak so much havoc during the coming months.
If these warmer spring days tempt you to put out summer bedding and plant up containers early, please be extra vigilant because slugs love tender young plants.
A mild April is often followed a colder spell later in May, and some late spring frost protection may also be required.
10 Tips for feeding your garden birds
About two thirds of all households in Britain feed their garden birds at some stage of the year. Follow these simple tips and after a short time you should be attracting more birds and different species.
1. Use a bird table for putting out kitchen scraps such as animal fats, grated cheese, over ripe fruit and soaked dried fruit, rice, bread crumbs and non-salty bacon. You can also put out nuts and high calorie seed mixes. Avoid putting out raw meat and vegetables which birds will find difficult to digest and which will attract pests.
2. Hang bird feeders filled with black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, sunflower-rich mixes and peanuts.
3. If the food takes a few days to clear from your bird table or the ground then reduce the amount of food offered so it does not go off.
4. Place your feeders and bird table no more than 2 metres from a shrub, fence or tree so the birds have somewhere to escape to if threatened by predators.
5. Fat blocks or fat rubbed into the barks of trees will attract many species including wrens, treecreepers, goldcrests and woodpeckers.
6. Make sure you clean your bird table and bird feeders regularly to ensure food particles and droppings do not build up. This will minimize the risk of disease.
7. Berry-bearing trees and shrubs such as hawthorn, rowan, holly, honeysuckle and ivy will not only provide fruit for birds to feed on but they will also provide somewhere for them to shelter and nest and attract insects for the birds to eat.
8. Cultivated and wild flowering plants such as sunflowers, evening primrose, teasel and shepherd’s purse provide seeds and will attract insects. Leave the stems long to give shelter in the winter and then cut down early in the spring.
9. Let your lawn grow slightly longer. If possible leave areas of grass at different heights to optimise food potential for birds. Leave a patch of long grass in the winter for shelter.
10. Put out a fresh supply of water every day – use a large dish, an upturned dustbin lid, a bird bath or you could even build a pond if you have the space. If it is very cold use tepid water.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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, 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 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 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.
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.
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.
Eye-catching vivid emerald green rosettes with black tips.
Unusual bluish purple leaves with dark tips
Medium-sized pinkish red and glowing orange rosettes
Shapely pink-brown leaves
Echeveria-like enormous dark-red rosettes
Large pale-lilac rosettes
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.
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 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.