Pruning made easy: berberis 'Rose Glow'

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This prickly deciduous shrub needs thinning and shaping. Jon Brocklebank of Barnsdale Gardens explains what to do

THESE GOOD VALUE shrubs provide leaf colour, flowers and berries during the year. But to flower well, all berberis need annual pruning, removing a proportion of the old wood to create more space for new, flower-bearing shoots.

Deciduous cultivars such as ‘Rose Glow’ shown here, with its reddish-purple stems and marbled leaves, can be pruned while it’s dormant in winter to promote the growth of vigorous new stems and foliage next spring. (Note that pruning now will reduce the flower display Mar-Apr; prune after flowering if you don’t want to cut off any developing buds.)

The aim is to thin out and remove older stems, pruning them right down low, but don’t remove them all. Although you can chop the whole plant down low to stimulate loads of new growth with good foliage, for a better balance of young and old wood, it’s best to use the 1-in-5 rule – thinning out one in every five branches. This plant is about 25 years old; the brighter, reddish-brown stems are this year’s growth so it’s fairly easy to tell them from the older stems.

Read the plant before you start – look for tightly congested areas. Identify stems that are dead, diseased or damaged and remove these first. Shorten them to a new sideshoot or remove to the base.

These shrubs have a naturally crowded, arching habit and here many of the stems are carrying a lot of old growth so the really low branches will get heavy at the ends. I don’t want them all to stand upright, but I may shorten them to a suitable bud or upright new shoot so the silhouette isn’t so lax. 

Pick through the congested areas steadily, taking out stems that offend – such as where old wood is getting a bit long. This thinning process will gradually open the plant up, improving overall shape.

If you’re renovating a really overgrown or neglected berberis, cut the entire shrub down in spring to within 30cm (12in) of ground level so it can regenerate from the base. It will put on lots of good leaf but you’ll lose the flowers and berries in the coming year, as these only grow on older wood.

As with any pruning, tread carefully. Take stems out, look at the plant and consider what’s going to be left behind – then take more off if required!

TAME YOUR BERBERIS STEP BY STEP

1. READ THE PLANT Look for congested areas and identify dead, diseased and damaged stems. Select one-in-five of the older stems to remove so you don’t prune too hard. Flowers and berries form on older wood.

2. THIN OUT CONGESTION Use the one-in-five rule to remove just a few of the older stems. This will rejuvenate the plant and create a more open shape.

3. CUT TO A STRONG PAIR OF BUDS Cut out crossing stems and a fifth of the older stems to allow light in and make room for new shoots. Cut back to a strong pair of buds, to encourage new growth. 

4. REMOVE CROSSING STEMS Shorten one of the crossing stems to a new sideshoot or remove it to the base. Choose between stems by prioritising the younger one or the one in a better overall position.

5. REMOVE LAX BRANCHES Although the shrub has an arching habit, removing the lower stems and shortening the really long ones helps create a slightly more upright silhouette.

6. KNOW WHEN TO STOP After each cut, consider the effect that your pruning choices are making on the overall silhouette of the plant. Plants do respond well to strong pruning so don’t worry too much if you ‘overdo’ it.

 

Plant a wildlife hedge

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Make your boundaries more wildlife friendly by laying a hedge for shelter, food and nesting sites

When it comes to creating a boundary between neighbouring gardens, hedges are far and away the ‘greenest’ solution compared to solid walls and fences.
Evergreen hedges look much the same year round and offer constant privacy. Deciduous hedges change with the seasons and can still be surprisingly good at screening in winter. Small-leaved plants such as yew allow for the neatest lines. Mixed native hedges usually contain hawthorn, buckthorn, hazel, dogwood, wild privet and field maple (Acer campestre) with dog rose or honeysuckle weaving through. This diversity makes it the best hedge for wildlife.

Here’s how to create a hedge:

1 CLEAR THE SITE Clear and dig a metre-wide strip along the line where the hedge is to go, removing all weeds.Measure how long your hedge will be. You’ll need about five plants for every 2m (6½ft) of hedge for a single row, and ten for a double row.

2 SET THE PLANTS IN A ROW Buy deciduous hedging plants as bareroot ‘whips’: living sticks 60-90cm (2-3ft) high. Evergreen hedging plants come potted (as shown) or with their small rootballs in hessian. Keep their roots well covered and moist until the very moment you plant them. Plant the whips 40cm (16in) apart for a single row; just remember a double row creates a much thicker hedge. For a double row space two parallel lines 30cm (12in) apart, and stagger the planting so the whips in the second row are midway between those in the first, forming a zigzag.

3 FIRM IN AND WATER Firm in with your hands, water well, then mulch with bark chippings or compost to keep the weeds at bay. With deciduous whips, cut them down to half their height immediately. This seems harsh, but will give you a much thicker hedge at the base.

4. MULCH TO HOLD BACK WEEDS Lay bark around the plants to give them a head start on any grass or weeds. Prune the hedge each autumn, after the birds have finished nesting. If you don’t mind a slightly wilder look, cut one side one year and the other the next. A cordless hedge trimmer can really make short work of it.

PLANTS TO USE

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) Deciduous and thorny but not savagely so, it’s cheap, fast-growing, easy and can be clipped into a neat hedge. May blossom and autumn berries.

Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) Semi-evergreen, with no thorns or spines, it prunes into a neat hedge. Choose native wild privet for spikes of scented white flowers and black berries.

Beech (Fagus sylvatica) Deciduous, but hedges tend to hold onto their dead golden-brown leaves in autumn and winter, which can look attractive as well as maintaining privacy.

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) Deciduous hedging plant that holds onto dead leaves in autumn and winter for attractive effect. Leaves have a pleated look with a doubly serrated edge.

Yew (Taxus baccata) Sleek evergreen that’s easy to prune into shape. It’s faster-growing than most people think and forms an incredibly dense hedge with red winter berries.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) Slow-growing evergreen that makes an impenetrable hedge with glossy, prickly leaves. Only female plants produce red berries and need a male plant nearby.

Rescue a woody lavender

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Trim and tidy these fragrant woody perennials as soon as the bees lose interest, says Sally Coates from Norfolk Lavender

Pruning lavender helps plants to keep their neat, rounded shape and prolong their lifespan. At Norfolk Lavender, head gardener Sally Coates prunes the National Plant Collection of Lavenders with shears.

“If left unpruned, plants become too tall, woody and gappy, splay open and finally collapse,” she explains. “For plant health and longevity, it’s best to maintain a compact, rounded shape, or for a lavender hedge, a nice undulating ‘caterpillar’.

“Pruning also promotes more vigorous growth the following year and can help 
to keep stems from becoming congested.

“With a young but established plant, cut the stems right back after flowering at the end of summer. This way the new shoots emerge from low down on the base of the plant next spring.

“Established lavender plants that have some woodier growth at the bottom are generally tidied and maintained with just one annual cut, straight after flowering in late August/September, once the bees are no longer interested. If the flowers have gone over and look dull, they’re developing into seedheads. You can cut these back as soon as they form, using secateurs, or wait until October.

“At Norfolk Lavender, we give another light prune in early spring, mid-March. This tidies up ‘loose ends’ and gets them back into shape. After pruning, we apply a mulch of well-rotted organic matter to give them a boost and hold back weeds.”

Sally uses lightweight wavy-edge Fiskars shears for maintenance pruning, removing the spent flower stems and trimming the plant into a neat ball. She’ll use her Felco no2 secateurs for the more precise job of renovating a plant that’s grown too tall and woody.

“You may need to completely regenerate older, established specimens by cutting back into the old wood to remove the congested stems, allowing light and air into the centre. 

“It’s true that lavender doesn’t regenerate if you cut hard back like this, but you can often find signs of young shoots sprouting from those lower, woody stems. This is a good indication that hard pruning could help to regenerate the plant.

“The example we’re using below is Lavandula intermedia ‘Eidelweiss’ – it’s woody but there’s a lot of new growth in there. This shows you can cut right into the old wood, remove tatty older branches and encourage younger shoots to grow.”

 

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OUR EXPERT

Sally Coates has been a gardener at Norfolk Lavender 
for three years. For tours, visits and shopping see www.norfolklavender.co.uk

FACT FILE

Plant name: Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) and Lavandula intermedia (lavandin)

Plant type: Woody perennial; subshrub

Why prune? To harvest stems; keep bushes looking neat and hedges dense and uniform; encourage vigorous growth next spring

When to prune? Late August-September and tidy up in spring. Plants that can be pruned like this: Lavandula angustifolia; Lavandula intermedia; Hebe pinguifolia; Hebe speciosa; and all their cultivars

Pruning tools: Shears, secateurs

 

1 READ THE PLANT 
This woody lavender has gaps and splayed areas, so it’s a good candidate for renovation pruning. Small shoots emerging from the woody base indicate that stems should regenerate.

2 CUT OUT OLD GROWTH 
Carefully cut out the old growth above the young shoots to open up the middle of the plant. Use sharp secateurs to cut as close as you can to the new growth without harming it.

3 KNOW WHEN TO STOP 
Continue until all the woody growth has been removed and you’re left with 
a neat stump of cut stems bearing new shoots. Apply a mulch of well-rotted organic matter around the plant.




Summer prune wisteria

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Everyone dreams of having a well-groomed wisteria draped around the front of their house, yet its bi-annual pruning regime can seem daunting. If you prune it right – shortening the whippy tendrils at the end of summer then cutting them back again in winter – you’ll be rewarded with a neat framework bearing cascades of dangling purple, pink or white flower panicles in spring.

With an established plant like the one shown here, pruning seeks to restrain spread and create more flowering spurs.

“Vigorous whippy growth soon becomes a tangled mess,” says National Trust gardener Rachel Brown, who
works at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. “The new growth will creep into gutters and twine around telephone cables. These growths need to be cut back in summer to form the spurs on which the following year’s flowers will grow. By cutting them back in summer, you increase air flow and allow more sunlight to reach the remaining stems, encouraging flower buds to form. The more you cut them back, the more congested the spurs, creating an attractive cascade of flowers next summer.

“The technique for pruning wisteria in summer is to cut back the new, whippy green stems to just four to six leaves; that’s about 15cm (6in) from the main framework. Cut just above the sixth leaf to remove the long green growth.

“It’s important to be able to tell the difference between this year’s growth (green) and last year’s growth (brown). The older brown stems form your permanent framework, which needs to remain intact – tied securely into trellis or wires using twine or soft ties looped into a figure of eight. “When you’re pruning in summer you can also remove any dead, diseased or damaged stems at the same time. Any basal stems and unwanted sideshoots can be removed too.

“In winter, you can cut back any subsequent long whippy stems that grew after the summer prune. Once the leaves are off and the plant is dormant, it’s easier to see the difference between the plump flower buds and flatter vegetative growth buds, so you’ll get a clearer idea of how many flowers to expect next year. Make the cut just above the third bud, about 2.5-5cm (1-2in) from older wood.”

How to shorten wisteria tendrils:

1 READ THE PLANT Understand the roles played by each part of your plant: the permanent woody framework (main stem and laterals) and whippy green sideshoots. It’s the latter that can be pruned to encourage new flower buds.

2 CUT BACK TO SIX LEAVES In summer, after flowering, cut back the whippy green stems (current year’s growth) to five or six compound leaves. These can be shortened again to two or three buds in winter, ensuring the spring flowers won’t be obscured by leaves.

3 KNOW WHEN TO STOP Leave intact these short woody spurs when shortening the whippy growth. This is where new flower buds will form; prune too hard and you’ll remove the potential for new flower buds. Also consider the plant’s overall silhouette.

FACTFILE:
Plant name:
Wisteria sinensis
Plant type: Deciduous climber
Why prune? To create a strong framework for the pendant summer flowers; allowing light to reach young shoots, encouraging them to ripen and produce new flower buds
When to prune? Midsummer after flowering (July-Aug) and late winter (Jan-Feb)
Other plants that can be pruned like this: Wisteria sinensis cvs; Wisteria floribunda and cvs; Wisteria formosa
Tools to use: hand pruners, loppers, pruning knife

Look after roses

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Follow these tips for a summer of blooms and fabulous fragrance.

• Snip off fading flowers back to a healthy leaf to encourage more blooms, but don’t deadhead species roses (eg Rosa moyesii, R. canina and R. rugosa) and those that won’t repeat flower, because these will form attractive hips.

• Prune rambling roses straight after flowering to control their spread.

• Apply a liquid rose fertiliser as a foliar feed to boost plants, watering or spraying it onto leaves.

• Remove leaves that show signs of blackspot and pop them in your council green waste bin. Use a fungicide such as Provanto Fungus Fighter Plus (£8.90 for 800ml).

• Squish aphids or blast with water from a hose.

• Look out for rose-balling, where the outer petals have been saturated with water then dried and fused together, preventing the flower from opening. Tease away the outer petals to save the flower.

Sow biennials

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Sow biennial honesty, foxgloves and forget-me-nots now to enjoy beautiful flowers next spring

After the first flush of spring bulbs has finished, there can be a lull before herbaceous perennials and annuals get going. This is when biennials come into their own, flowering from mid-to- late-spring and into midsummer.

This group of plants is so often neglected, perhaps because we’re a little impatient: they germinate and produce foliage one year, then flower the next. Because spring is such a busy time in the garden, it’s easy to forget to sow them. However, the fact they need sowing in late spring and summer is a great bonus because our windowsills and greenhouses will start to free up over the coming weeks, making space for another batch of seeds.

Garden centres tend to have a limited range of biennials – such as shorter cultivars of wallflower and sweet Williams – but you can widen your choice by sowing your own.

• Biennials to sow in May: honesty, foxgloves, forget-me-nots.

• Biennials to sow in June: sweet Williams, sweet rocket (hesperis), wallflowers, Canterbury bells (Campanula medium)

Biennials will be ready for planting out in September

Biennials will be ready for planting out in September

HOW TO SOW

 1. Fill trays with multipurpose compost and press down gently to create a firm surface on which to sow. Distribute seeds on the surface of the compost. Check the packet to see if seeds need light to germinate (leave them uncovered) or whether they require a fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite on top.

2 Label and water by standing the trays in a couple of centimetres of water so the compost absorbs the water from below. Or, use a watering can with a fine rose attachment so the seeds aren’t displaced.

3 Place somewhere bright and warm but watch the compost doesn’t dry out and the seedlings don’t wilt or are scorched. Keep well-watered, then prick out when they have two sets of leaves. Grow on in individual pots and move to a cooler spot such as a cold frame or sheltered corner of a patio. The plants will be ready to plant out in early September.

 

 

Prune now for colourful winter stems

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Dogwoods and willows can make a colourful statement in the garden. Steven Bradley explains how to encourage these bright, vigorous new stems

At its simplest, pruning is a means of manipulating a plant’s growth, shape and productivity. To prune plants well is not so much about knowing how anda where to cut, but knowing what you’re trying to achieve.
The main reasons for pruning are to train a plant to grow in a particular way, to balance its growth, to control the production of flowers and fruit, to maintain its health and restrict its growth. A final type of pruning, remedial or renovation pruning, may be necessary with neglected or overgrown plants.
• Formative pruning refers to the pruning required in the early years of a plant’s life. This allows you to create a plant that is well proportioned and attractive. Plants pruned correctly in their formative years are easier to care for in their later years.
• Routine pruning is the act of maintaining the plant’s shape as it grows. A healthy plant shows vigorous active growth especially when it’s young and establishing itself. As plants mature and begin to flower and fruit on a regular basis, the production of shoots slows down: routine pruning can maintain more youthful vigour. In the case of willows and dogwoods, whose stems become more woody and dull as they age, colourful young growth can be achieved by hard pruning each year, cutting the whole plant down to within 5-8cm (2-3in) of ground level.
• Remedial pruning is used to gain control of a plant that’s misshapen, congested or neglected. Dogwoods and willows both respond well to remedial pruning, but years of neglect can’t be rectified in one season.
Dogwoods (cornus) and willows (salix) are among the easiest shrubs to grow; their stems, leaves and flowers provide year-round interest. Some willows also have attractive catkins while others are selected for their weeping habit or twisted stems.

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LIFT & DIVIDE SNOWDROPS

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Lift clumps of snowdrops now to increase your collection and spread them to other parts of your garden.

1. DIG AROUND THEM Dig around clumps when they’ve finished flowering, but only do it if the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged.

2. LIFT THEM CAREFULLY Gently lift the clump from the soil and tease it apart with your hands to make smaller sections.

3. REPLANT THE DIVISIONS Dig holes for the new clumps and fork over the base to release any compaction. Replant each smaller clump at the same depth they were at before. Firm in place and water.

Clean your secateurs

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These trusty cutting tools are a gardener’s best friend – as long as you keep them sharp. Rachel Brown from the National Trust shows us how it’s done

YOU WILL NEED • Wet stone • Splash of water • Dry paper towel or cloth • Disinfectant spray (such as Jeyes Fluid) • Lubricating oil (such as WD40)

STEP BY STEP

1 Unscrew the secateurs Use a screwdriver to loosen the secateurs, then unscrew the cogs/bolt on the opposite side so they can be separated into their constituent parts.
TIP: If they’re stuck, try turning them leftwards: ‘Righty tighty; lefty loosey’.

2 Lay the parts out in order Keep the parts in sequence, running left to right, showing how they fit back together to help you remember which bits go where. Try not to lose the spring which can roll away.

3 Sharpen the cutting blade Wipe any initial debris or sap off the cutting blade. Dampen the wetstone with a sprinkle of water and sweep the blade slowly and gently along the surface of the wetstone.

4 Wipe all parts with disinfectant Use a dilute disinfectant spray and a dry cloth or paper towel to wipe over the secateurs. To remove rust, use a scouring pad or wire wool. Give them a good rub, then wipe dry.

5 Oil the moving parts Reassemble the secateurs so you can give all the joints a final squirt of lubricating oil. This will ease the scissor action of the cutting blade, and coat the blade against rust.

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Make a festive wreath

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Now’s the time to make a festive wreath for the front door, so raid your garden for moss, berries and sprigs of evergreen foliage. Bring them indoors and wire them to a circular frame (either wicker or metal) available from florists’ shops and craft suppliers. Useful foliage includes smaller branches of any conifer (particularly blue ones for a modern look), holly, ivy, euonymus and box.

Red holly, rose hips or cotoneaster berries will add a flash of traditional colour, but also consider orange pyracantha or purple callicarpa berries for variety. As a finishing touch, wire in pine cones, orange slices or baubles from the Christmas tree.

1. Snip off evergreen stems Find lush, attractive conifer stems, other colourful evergreens and berry-laden holly sprigs. Trim the conifer branches into 15cm (6in) pieces with secateurs.

2. Cover your wreath with moss Fix handfuls of moss to a circular wreath frame. Secure the moss with florists’ wire to create a moist cushion on which to secure the conifer and holly sprigs.

3. Hide the moss with conifer sprigs Wire on the conifer sprigs using florists’ wire, then decorate with small cones, holly berries, slices of dried orange and baubles from your Christmas box.

4. Hang the wreath Create a bow from ribbon and fix to the wreath. Attach the wreath to your door with wire or string. Mist the wreath with water to keep the foliage fresh.

RENOVATE SHRUBS

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Give congested trees and shrubs a new lease of life with some judicious pruning during their winter dormancy

The winter months, when deciduous shrubs are dormant, present the perfect opportunity to rejuvenate old or congested specimens and give them a new lease of life. Hard pruning stimulates fresh new growth next season, but will come at the expense of flowers for a year or two. Leave evergreen pruning until spring.

How to do it…

• Total rejuvenation Vigorous shrubs such as buddleia and cotinus can be rejuvenated in one go. This means all the stems can be cut down to 10-20cm (4-8in) of the ground. They’ll sprout again in spring.
• Staggered pruning Most shrubs benefit from a more staggered pruning carried out over three years to reduce the stress. In the first year, remove no more than a third of the branches. Start by cutting off dead, diseased and damaged stems back to ground level, and remove any that are crossing over other branches. These crossing stems can rub, opening up wounds where disease can enter. Cut back additional branches until a third of the plant has been pruned back.
In the second year cut back or shorten another third of the branches, then the following year remove the remaining third so the whole plant is rejuvenated.
l Feed plants afterwards With both the total rejuvenation and staggered pruning methods, give plants a general-purpose feed in spring and mulch with a generous layer of well-rotted compost to help them recover from the pruning and grow away healthily.

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Sow your free sweet pea seeds

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Get an early crop of these fragrant flowers next summer by sowing your sweet pea seeds now. The seedlings very quickly make long roots which can become congested in shallow seed trays or small pots, so use deep containers to sow them.
Toilet roll tubes are a good option for sowing in spring, but the cardboard can get soggy and may become mouldy over winter. For a more robust option, look for deeper pots (such as the ones roses and clematis are grown in), which will give your sweet peas plenty of room to grow.

Fill the pots with multipurpose compost. Sow 4-5 seeds per pot, equally spaced, and push them into the compost to a depth of about 1cm (½in). Cover with more compost. Water well and place in a greenhouse or cold frame to overwinter, watering whenever the compost becomes dry.

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Pamper tomato plants

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High summer brings the pleasurable daily ritual of pampering your tomato plants. Ripe fruit needs to be picked and there’s careful watering to be done: sudden deluges lead to split fruit, while erratic watering leads to blossom end rot. Steady and just enough water is far better.

• Feed pot-grown plants. Water the compost fortnightly with a high-potash liquid tomato feed.
• Remove leaves that are directly shading fruit trusses. This will help green fruit to ripen.
• Snap off side shoots from cordon types. These grow diagonally between leaf and stem; it’s easiest when plants are plump with water. Bush tomatoes don’t require pinching out but they sometimes need a few carefully placed sticks and string for support unless they’re one of the tumbling, hanging-basket cultivars.
• Remove the tip of outdoor cordon plants. Make sure they’ve set four trusses of fruit, or up to seven trusses in the greenhouse. This encourages plants to focus their energy on ripening existing fruit.
• Take off the lowest, yellowing leaves. This will  encourage good airflow around plants, which reduces the risk of disease.
• Watch for tomato blight If it strikes, salvage what you can – green tomatoes are good for chutney. Compost the plant in your green wheelie bin. Daily checks help you spot problems early;  when you’re growing outdoors, choose blight-resistant cultivars.
• Beat whitefly. Use yellow sticky traps or try introducing encarsia (microscopic, parasitic wasps) as a biological control.

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EASY RECIPE
This makes an unbeatable starter to share outside before a barbeque. Have
a tray ready in the centre of the table with garlic cloves, extra virgin olive oil and a bowl of prepared tomatoes.

You will need:

• Two big handfuls of ripe tomatoes • A small handful of basil leaves • Extra-virgin olive oil • Sea salt and black pepper • Sourdough loaf cut into 1cm thick slices • 1 peeled garlic clove per guest (it’s too fiddly sharing cloves)  

1. Prepare the tomatoes first. Halve and squeeze out the pips, slice out any core then chop into 1cm (1/2in) pieces. Place in a bowl and add the torn-up basil leaves, a good drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir and set aside.

2. Toast the bread on a barbeque or griddle pan until nicely striped on both sides.

3. Rub the hot bruschetta with the garlic clove and drizzle over a little olive oil before spooning on the tomato mixture.

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Make cut flowers last

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If you like picking flowers from the garden or an allotment cutting patch to arrange in vases at home it’s worth employing a few tricks to make your blooms last as long as possible once picked.
• Cut in the morning or evening when it’s cooler and plants aren’t under stress. This will help to prevent wilting.
• Plunge the cut stems into a bucket of tepid water straight away.
• Place the flowers in the water somewhere cool and shady for a few hours or overnight.
• Cut stems at an angle so that more surface area is exposed to the water to maximise absorption.
• Clean cuts are important. Don’t bash the stem as this damages the base of the stem and introduces debris into the water which causes bacteria to build up.
• You don’t need to add bleach or anything else to the water, instead just refresh the water every few days.

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Make a flower ice lolly

These flower lollies look almost too good to eat. All you need to make them is a lolly mould (from £3.99 at Lakeland Plastics), a scattering of edible flowers (such as nasturtiums, borage or violas), sugar syrup and water with an optional splash of food colouring. You could also use coconut water, lemonade or fruit cordial to make the frozen lolly.

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How to make them:
1 Gently rinse the flowers before adding them to each mould.
2 Fill a third of the ice lolly moulds with the edible flowers.
3 Pour one part sugar syrup and two parts water in a jug. Add a splash of food colouring if you fancy.
4 Pour the liquid carefully into the lolly moulds. (For stripes you'll need to pour in coloured then clear then coloured solutions, freezing each section in turn for a layered effect.)
5 Place in the freezer until set (about 2 hours)
6 Remove from freezer and place on a kitchen counter fopr five minutes to make the lollies easier to remove from their moulds, or run under a cold tap.

 

JOBS FOR APRIL: take softwood cuttings

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The fresh growth of many perennials and some shrubs will root very easily, which means softwood cuttings are one of the most reliable ways to propagate many plants. The best time to take these cuttings is between April and June. Suitable plants include lavender, pelargoniums, fuchsias and salvias.

Strip off the lower leaves and trim with a sharp knife

Strip off the lower leaves and trim with a sharp knife

 

1. Fill a module tray or 9cm pots with seed compost.

2. Remove the soft growing tips of non-flowering stems using a sharp, clean knife above a bud on the parent plant. Only take cuttings from a healthy plant. The cutting should be 7-10cm (3-4in) long.

Pop several cuttings into each 9cm pot

Pop several cuttings into each 9cm pot

3. If you’re taking lots of cuttings pop them in a plastic bag to stop them wilting while you prepare and plant up the other cuttings.

4. Trim the cutting to below a leaf and strip off the lower leaves.

5. It’s not essential but you can dip the base of the cutting in hormone rooting powder, which can speed up the formation of roots.

6. Make a hole in the compost with a dibber or plant label and insert the cutting into the hole. Firm in place, water and label.

Softwood cuttings will dry out quickly but they can also be prone to damping off so getting the right balance is crucial. Place in a heated propagator or cover the pots with a clear plastic bag to retain moisture around the leaves. Ventilate daily, either opening vents on the propagator or removing the plastic bag and getting rid of the excess moisture. Place somewhere bright but out of direct sunshine.
Keep the cuttings moist and they should root in 2-3 weeks. A good indication they’ve rooted are signs of new growth, although this isn’t always foolproof, so it’s also worth checking the drainage holes of the pots for signs of roots. Pot on into individual pots.

JOBS FOR MARCH

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1. Cut back colourful winter stems Plants grown for their colourful winter stems such as dogwoods, willows and ornamental rubus (bramble) need to be hard-pruned in early spring. As stems mature they tend to lose their vibrancy, so pruning is necessary to maintain winter colour and prevent shrubs becoming congested.
Plants should be 2-3 years old before you hard-prune them. Cut back to 5-7.5cm (2-3in) above ground. Rubus stems can be cut right down to the ground. Vigorous plants such as willow can be cut back every spring, those with more moderate growth, such as cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’, need only be pruned every few years.

2. Revive your lawn After a mild winter, your lawn will already need a quick mow and tidy up. For the first mow of the year, give it a light trim, setting the mower at its highest setting. Scatter grass seed on any bare patches and rake it in. Cover with net to keep off any birds until the seeds have germinated. Water every couple of days during dry spells. It should take a couple of weeks for the seed to germinate.  Towards the end of the month, apply a spring lawn fertiliser or, for an organic alternative, chicken manure pellets to the surface of the grass and rake in.

3.Care for spring bulbs To ensure fabulous displays of spring bulbs every year, it’s worth giving them some care and attention over the coming weeks.
Remove fading flowers. Either snap off the flower head with your fingers or snip off with secateurs. This will stop the plant sending energy into producing seeds and will encourage more floriferous bulbs next year. Wear gloves when touching daffodils and hyacinths as both can cause skin irritation.

Leave the foliage and stems in place, however tempting it may be to cut them back or tie them up. Allow them to die back naturally for at least six weeks as the energy in the leaves will go back into the bulb.
• Feed with a general purpose fertiliser such as Vitax Q4 (£7.99 for 2.5kg). For bulbs grown in pots use a liquid tomato feed for 4-6 weeks after flowering. 

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JOBS FOR FEBRUARY: SOW HARDY PERENNIALS

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By Louise Curley

Some hardy perennials will flower in first year if they’re sown early enough. Sowing early allows them to put on sufficient growth during spring and early summer so they can flower by July or August. This can be an affordable way to grow new plants and they can make great cut flowers too. Perennials to sow now include achillea, agastache, Bellis perennis, catanache, gaura, Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) scabious ‘Beaujolais Bonnets’ and Verbena bonariensis

How to sow them

1. Fill seed trays with a seed compost or a 50:50 mix of multipurpose compost and Perlite to just below the rim of the tray. Firm down so there are no air pockets.

2. Sow the seeds thinly onto the surface of the compost. Some seeds will need a light covering of compost to exclude light, whereas tiny seeds such as Iceland poppies need light to germinate and are best left uncovered. Check the packet instructions.

3. Water gently using a watering can with a fine rose attachment, or place the trays in a sink with some water in the bottom for about five minutes or so, and allow the moisture to be absorbed from below. You’ll know the compost is moist enough when the surface starts to glisten. Remove the trays from the sink and allow to drain.

4. Cover with propagator lids or pop the trays inside a clear plastic bag. This will help to retain moisture while the seeds germinate. Remove as soon as you see signs of life.

5. Place trays on a warm, bright windowsill or inside a heated propagator.