Maintaining a Garden – Ideas and Expert Tips
Maintaining a Garden
Aftercare and garden maintenance really all starts way back, at the preparatory stages. If you prepared the ground properly and planted sensibly, you will have given your plants the best of starts, but that does not mean that you can sit back and let nature get on with things – as I am sure you are all well aware by now that a garden is not made by sitting in the shade, and your work is cut out somewhat with simply maintaining a garden after everything is planted and set out the way you want it to be.
You will have to keep up with the watering above all, even in the most labour-saving of gardens. Except for those plants that like a poor, which are usually the silver-leaved things of Mediterranean origin, the ground will need to be kept fed and fertile, while all new plants will have to be given a chance to develop, which will mean keeping them free from weeds until they are strong enough to smother the competition.
Anything tall and slender should be given a stake or a cane if it is not to be rocked and broken by the wind or careless passers-by, whether they be two or four-footed. Fruit trees and bushes will all require some protection from the birds, and almost every plant in the garden will need some kind of spray at one time or other, although the healthier the plant, the less medication it should require. It would be well worth trying out some preventative medicine, too. Even if it did not work it would be unlikely to do harm; which is more than you can say for most commercial products, although I do use these when desperate, from time to time.
The following general garden maintenance ideas are worth trying:
Garlic should be planted near each rose plant, as this does help to keep them free of greenfly.
Ground infested with couch grass is said to be cleared if planted thickly with tomato plants or turnip seeds, while French and African Marigolds are meant to be beneficial to practically everything, killing nematodes (eelworms) in the soil and frightening off whitefly, amongst other virtues.
Tagetes minuta, the Mexican Marigold, is supposed to overcome ground elder and marestail.
All members of the onion family help to keep carrots free from carrot fly, and Nasturtiums, grown at the base of, and up, an apple tree will repel Woolly Aphis.
The mint family is beneficial to the, as their pungent smell repels many pests. I would not recommend planting mint directly into the soil amongst the cabbages, but pot it up in old buckets or similar containers and sink these into the ground, with about 15cm (6″) of the container above the surface, so that the mint is kept within bounds. You will have to keep an eye on it, even so, or it will overflow its bin and root all around. Mint is also supposed to deter rats and mice, but Randolph, who lives under my garden shed, seems to have become mint-resistant, and thrives happily enough next to the mint patch.
Midges and mosquitoes can be a serious deterrent to your gardening chores, if you have only the evenings in which to to carry out such tasks. You can brew up a handful or two of ground elder and sponge yourself with the resulting liquid, but I rely on a dab of Oil of Citronella on the temples – very effective, and a little goes a long way. Mind you, it can repel humans as well, but that is a small price to pay.
Birds present us with another difficult choice when we are maintaining a garden. A garden without them is an abomination, but if only they would show some restraint. I am quite prepared to share the garden produce with them, but not to hand it over entirely. A good idea is to hang lumps of fat from a piece of string tied to a cane and set this at a slant so that the fat hangs 30cm (1ft) above yourand 30cm (1ft) below the top of the cane. This prevents starlings reaching down from the cane or up from the roses to munch all the fat before the tits, for whom it is intended, can get at it. You do this, not just out of the kindness of your heart, but because only a few birds such as tits can cling on to the fat ball at the same time. The rest in the queue will fill in the waiting time by finding greenfly eggs in the bark of the rose bushes, which will save you a lot of spraying next summer.
You can use the same system to discourage black fly which overwinter in the Viburnums andspecies. Tie the fat above these plants and do the birds and yourself a favour. Tie more fat in the branches of the cherry trees, both fruiting and ornamental, for the same reason.
Hoverflies will produce larvae that are ferocious aphis-eaters, so the more hoverflies we can attract to our gardens, the better. Hoverflies particularly like the pollen and nectar of the pretty little annual, Convolvulus tricolor, which does not share the distressing vices of its more familiar and rather common cousin, the bindweed. Sow the seeds quite thinly in a sunny spot amongst the vegetables, or anywhere else where you have room for a few. Thin them out to about 15cm (6″) apart and plant out the thinnings in another spot. The more hoverflies in your garden this year, the fewer aphides the following year. Any that do survive can be sprayed with soapy water, or with a liquid you have made by simmering 454g (1lb) of the leaves of rhubarb, elder or wormwood, in 1 litre (2 pints) of water for about half an hour and then diluting with one more litre (2 pints) of cold water. If you do buy the commercial sprays that claim to be safe, read the labels carefully and, to be on the side of the bees, spray after they have retired to bed, which is usually one hour before official sunset – but allow a little extra time, just in case.
If millipedes and wireworms are your problem, make a sneaky trap for them by piercing holes all round a tin, or make a cylinder of perforated metal. Fill this with potato peelings and sink it into the soil near any endangered species. It will be helpful to fit these traps with a handle of galvanised wire. Once a week haul up the traps and throw the mush to the chickens, if you have them, or flush down the loo if you have not. Do not add to the compost heap.
Maintaining a garden can be a particular challenge when slugs and snails are rife. They can both chomp through an alarming number of plants while you are asleep. You can foil them by surrounding anything that they particularly fancy with something rough and gritty, such as gravel, cinders, or crushed eggshells. Save up all your eggshells through the year so that you have a sufficient quantity to strew thickly when danger threatens.
Lilies and Hostas come pretty high on the slugs’ hit-list, so remember to give them a protective circle as soon as the young leaves appear. You can make slug-traps, too, by putting shallow dishes of beer and sugar, diluted half-and-half with water, at ground level in the garden overnight. The slugs will rush for this like city gents to a happy-hour, become equally sozzled, and eventually drown. Then they can be added to the compost heap and the trap refilled if necessary. Do not use plastic containers as the slugs can climb these.
Mulching and Compost
I hope I have impressed upon you the virtues of mulching your plants. It is unlikely that you will have enoughto do this in large areas, so save that for your plants that need it most. The same is true of leafmould, unless you have a large garden on the edge of a forest. Lawn mowings are quite good, and if you do not like the look of them as they rot down, cover them with a sprinkling of earth. Newspapers make a good mulch and can be kept in place by stones, or pegged-down netting, and covered in the same way. Seaweed is another possibility if you are able to find some, and bracken is good, too. All of them should be applied when the soil is both warm and moist, not cold or dry.
Remember that wind can loosen plants and that even if they a re not blown down they can be left loose and in danger. This can also happen after frost, so your tour of duty should include a check for this, firming down the soil and fixing stakes and ties. On the other hand, the ties may need to be let out on growing plants, as many can be damaged or killed by a forgotten tie which has bitten deeply into its stem. Even tree-ties made from nylon tights must be checked regularly, although they do have more ‘give’ than most.
If you do not have any sort of compost heap, do at least empty your tea-pots and tea-bags over the soil round any plants. Hydrangeas and Camellias seem particularly appreciative of this tonic, while roses actually adore chopped banana skins as well as tea-leaves. Rinse out your milk bottles and pour the water over your plants as a diluted foliar feed and pick-me-up. Milk and yoghurt can be smeared over your pots and containers to encourage mosses and algae to grow there and ‘age’ them quickly.
Neglected Shrubs and Trees
If you have trees with ornamental bark, such as the Silver Birches and the Snake Bark Maples, you may find that they become covered with grime in towns and green grime in the country, so give them a quick wash-and-brush-up with soapy water and a not too harsh scrubbing brush, to restore them to gleaming splendour. You should check all your trees and shrubs for dead wood I crossed branches that are chaffing. Cut these out as you them, or you will forget about them later.
Neglected shrubs can often be revived by having one or two of their oldest branches cut right out. Shrub roses, lilacs and privets are plants that will respond to this treatment, but be sure that you do not spoil the overall shape of the plant. Remember that any prunings (but not these old branches) are worth sticking in a bit of shady ground as cuttings, even if you do not attempt any serious propagation.
This is also the time to see that your plants are not crowding each other out. Most youngish plants can be lifted and moved at almost any time of the year, if taken with a large enough root-ball and dragged on some kind of sheeting to a well-prepared new position. They will have to be regarded as convalescents for a while and perhaps given an overhead spray as well as regular waterings in dry weather.
Evergreens can be sprayed with a special liquid to reduce the loss of moisture from their foliage. It is sold under different names, but is basically the stuff you put on the Christmas tree to prevent the needles from dropping. I am glad to say that it works better on transplanted evergreens than it does on Christmas trees.
Overcrowding is obviously wasteful. It is difficult to get spacing right; one wants a casual, tumbling look, but not a confused mess, and no-one gets it right all the time. Any bare patches can be filled by sowing with seed that you have gathered yourself, by house plants that need an airing, some vegetable seedling, or thinnings from elsewhere.