How to Attract Birds to Your Garden

If perhaps you are a young bloodied male and typed the phrase ‘how to attract birds’ into the search engine, hit search and came across this article then you have made a slight error and maybe you should leave right now. For starters you are not going to attract birds of the type that you desire by calling them birds. Women like to be called ladies and our feathered friends have the honour of being called birds. Have you ever seen a lady with feathers?? Me neither.

On the other hand, women love flowers and flowers are one of the many key points to attracting birds to the garden so maybe this article will work out for you after all.

At this time of year, the sun rises and we are normally awoken and greeted with the sound of singing birds, but can you really imagine a world where that was not the case?  It’s a sad fact that many of our native species of birds are at risk in the UK and it is really up to us to help save them and we can do that by starting at home in our gardens.

Birds can play a massive role in the ecosystem of your garden, and no matter what area you live in, you can easily attract them to the garden by meeting their needs and making them feel at home. So herein lies the question of how do you attract a variety of species to your pride and joy?

Bringing Birds to the Garden

Food – It’s not like birds can pop down the local supermarket to stock up on provisions, so a variety of methods for them to obtain food will make them feel at home. The simplest solution would be to place various bird feeders in strategic positions around the garden and also away from the house.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of food such as fat balls, fruit and nuts as this will attract different species, in the summer drought wildlife will really appreciate anything on offer. Just like us humans, birds have preferences too. They’ll still naturally eat a slug if nothing better is on offer and what a great way to dispose of them too, without the need for any pest control. Turning your soil will loosen the ground and make it easier for plants to grow, it’ll also make it easier for worms and birds love a wriggly worm.

Tip: Bird feeders are easily the most popular way to store food. Not only do they deter squirrels from stealing the food but can also be used all year round. Place these off the ground and away from nesting boxes.

Water – Water is key to the survival of all living species and more often than not birds will have to travel great distances just to hydrate themselves. A fresh source of water will not only encourage them to visit you but they will also be able to have a bath: something that they love to do. Try not to place a bird bath in an open space where they can be a clear target from predators. The house we used to rent off a family member was a haven for birds to visit, the garden was beautiful and even had a pond with a stream and 2 rocky waterfalls. Pond plants are a lovely addition too. Watching the birds take a bath was sometimes a comical thing to see.

Tip: Water is even harder to find in the winter season so keep your bird baths topped up, clean and ice free.

Shelter – From personal observations , normally whilst I’m out with the hedge trimmer or leaf blower, you have may have noticed that birds can be quite nervous creatures and therefore will require various ways in which to take shelter when the need arises: whether that be for evading predators, sheltering from the elements or to simply rest, the correct position of nesting boxes will not only keep them safe but provide them with a home should they wish to take up residence in your garden. It is not surprising for birds to stay in the same area for many generations and increasing their numbers is only a good thing. Keep feeders, bird boxes and any other areas that they may shelter or live clean and easy for them to access when they need to.

Tip:  A bramble bush is a good way to attract the birds due to the berries being an excellent source of food for those winged wonders. They also act as a natural deterrent and a quick escape from predators such as cats who love nothing more than to chase and attack them. It’s highly unlikely that a cat or squirrel will venture to close to the prickly branches but be mindful that toddlers can hurt themselves on bramble.

Flowers and Plants – To construct a garden that is bird friendly does not have to be too strenuous and making use of natural sources such as trees and bushes are an excellent way to help with the diversity of your visitors. Where there is a rich habitat, there is an abundance of fruits, insects and berries and the birds will thrive on this as it provides an excellent source of nutrition. Planting a selection of wildflowers, herbaceous plants and bulbs and generally adding a bit of colour to the area will assist you greatly in captivating birds to the garden. Another method that I use every year (some of you may say its laziness) is allowing a plant, once it has finished flowering to naturally die back as this will provide plenty of seeds for them to eat, any seeds that remain, I take for free and use the next year.

Tip: When creating a natural habitat, don’t be too obsessive with clearing twigs and leaves from the ground as birds will certainly make use of these in the form of making nests in and around your garden.

I have never been much of a bird watcher to be honest, but I do feel very strongly about helping nature live as intended and with the world getting smaller all the time this is just one of the things that we could all do to help the survival of a precious species.

Slugs – Removing Them Naturally and Un-naturally

Getting Rid of Slugs

As a rule, I don’t tend to kill any living creature, ok so I may step on one of the many snails or slugs when its dark and raining but when it comes to removing a spider from the house after the kids or my partner run screaming from a room – I happily remove it (on a tissue if it’s too ghastly) and take it outside for it to happily wander back in once it finds a way.

That said, there are those moments in life when ones hard work becomes ruined by what I like to call pests, I find them in my troughs, in my hanging baskets, just about everywhere I work hard to improve, it was particularly annoying to see my plant trays attacked that I received as a Mother’s Day gift – I do call them others things as well but in a family friendly piece of content I do not think that is the way to go about it, so pest control is in order. So onto the agenda for today and with that being slugs and how to remove them I shall get on with it as best as I know how.

There are some people in this world that are not too worried about how these creatures are removed and there are some that would like a more orthodox approach, so I think it’s for the best if I cater for everyone and cover the subject from both angles. The best way in my mind is when the birds eat them, slugs will attract all manner of lovely wildlife.

This first little remedy that you will read below is probably the one that I remember the most, as my youngest daughter proudly informs her Nana about it whenever she goes into the garden planting.

Natural Methods

Eggs – After using eggs, save them up in their box and when you are ready to use them, crush up the shells and place them onto the soil in your plant pots acting as a natural deterrent and saving your previous plants.

Cornflour – Put a couple of tablespoons of this everyday kitchen ingredient into a jar or bottle and lay it down on its side the slugs truly love this stuff and as sad as it is, after eating it they will die.

Red Leaves – Slugs for whatever reason do not like plants with red leaves so to protect your favourite plants why not plant some of these types around the edge to act as a natural barrier. It won’t stop the insects though, so bare that in mind.

Pine Needles – This natural method works wonders as the needles are highly acidic and slugs prefer environments that have an alkaline composition.

Sand – Coarse sand is another method that will deter those slugs from eating at your foliage as the sand will rip their stomachs open. Sand is also great for drainage in your soil too. It’s also handy to buy a bag of sand for the garden.

Beer – Now as a lover of beer I personally do not use this method but a friend of mine brews his own so is never short of using it for the many things that he does. You can use this in a similar way that you would the corn flour or you can dig a hole big enough to hold a cup, place into the ground and empty each morning. You will be surprised at how many slugs that you can dispose of in this way.

source : www.pinterest.com

Coffee – As I am sure you can tell I am running out of natural ways in which to deter or eliminate the slimy beings but, I have recently read in the Daily Mail that coffee seems to work a treat but it’s actually illegal in EU terms. Simply placing coffee granules around your borders and lightly dampening the soil will pretty much solve the problem that may have been causing you hassle for so long. Please not this is illegal and I highly advise against it.

Salt – I find salt a difficult one to categorise so I am placing it in the middle, yes it’s a natural product but is it really a humane and natural way to use it? It obviously causes a lot of pain to the creature and not to mention can ruin your soil if sprinkled on or around it, but it is an effective way of eradicating them. Personally I don’t like the idea of ruining my soil, so here’s some tips on how to improve soil instead, and I think let’s pass on this method.

Un-natural Methods

First off I would start by saying if you have toddlers these methods are a terrible idea and completely unsafe.

Ammonia – I am not a huge fan of ammonia myself, when I was about 15 in a science class at school we were experimenting and the teacher specifically said do not get close and smell the chemical. So what did I do? You guessed it, myself and a lad called James thought it would be funny and I gave it a little sniff. Minutes later I had finally recovered from my coughing fit vowing never again to do such as stupid thing – you have been warned. To use this concoction, dilute five parts water to one part ammonia and spray onto the plant. Try to get the consistency correct as a weak solution will not damage the plant but will dissolve the slug.

Slug Pellets – This method is readily available in any shop that sells garden products but should only be really used if you do not have pets or children as the pellets can be toxic and makes someone very ill. They can also harm birds so if you have a colourful garden that attracts them it may be wise to find another way.

Burn them – I am not even sure I should even mention this as a way of getting rid of slugs, but a weed burner is another option – just be sure to not do it close to your plants, animals or children for obvious reasons.

Slug Hunting – Does this sound fun to you? Me neither, but I have heard that this is yet another method that can be used to get rid of them, the only catch is that you have to be up in the early hours, on a damp night and be prepared to remove them from your wellies before entering the house. I think I will leave that one well alone.

Throw them over the neighbour’s garden – We don’t really recommend this action, simply because it’s not polite and the slugs will still make their way back to your yummy vegetation but I thought it was a great way to end this article and hopefully leave you with an arsenal of insight and a smile.

There are obviously other pests to control but we can cover those in a later article, I hope you enjoyed the read, thanks very much,

Why Buying a Garden Shredder Is a Worthwhile Investment

Why Buying a Garden Shredder Is a Worthwhile Investment

Garden shredders are one piece of kit that is regularly debated in the gardening world; people love the soil fertilising mulch that one creates but it’s also constantly prompting questions about whether you should buy a garden shredder or simply rent one. Now obviously there are pros and cons to each, which I’m about to get into, but to sum up this article for those that don’t have time to read on I’ll tell you what the camp I roll with. You should buy a garden shredder as they’re a great investment. Want to read on? Here’s why.

For garden shredders you can expect to pay at least £100, although you may be able to get one for a few quid cheaper. The more expensive they get, the more powerful they tend to get too, and the more unlikely it is that it’s going to get blocked all the time and it can handle thicker branches too. On the other hand you could rent one, which may cost you around £30 or so for a weekend’s worth of shredding. This is fine if you’re only using the garden shredder once, but for the regular gardener who likes to get the hedge trimmer out (or shrub trimmers if you prefer by hand) and trim shrubs and branches 2 or 3 times a year it may be worth it to invest in your own instead. Just think about it, 3 times renting a year for 5 years is going to cost you quite a bit more than just renting one outright, plus when you buy one you’re in control of when you can use it and you don’t have to run into the problem of a shop being all out of rentals when you really need to tidy your garden up that weekend.

Most gardeners will also know why you should be using one in the first place, and that’s because of the lovely mulch that using one generates. Churning all your garden waste up, such as loose twigs and branches, in a shredder means you’re actually recycling what nature provides and not just chucking it away. The mulch can be spread around your garden and helps improved soil quality by supplying it with much needed nutrients, leading to better plants in the long run. As an added bonus it also helps suppress the growth of nasty weeds, so at the end of the day you’re saving more money by not having to buy fertiliser and weed killer. Not only that, mulch really helps plants in a time of drought, which in turn helps the wildlife when there’s a shortage of water too.

NOTE: Before you buy you also need to be aware about safety. Using a garden shredder is quite safe provided you know how to use it properly and you wear adequate safety gear. It’s worth taking a look at our hedge trimmer history fact sheet too. Get hold of goggles, gloves and safety clothing so you don’t get scratched before you even plug your new garden shredder in. Also, make sure you never put in anything that is obvious the blades won’t cut. Not only is it for safeties sake, but you could also damage the shredder. Finally, don’t put any wet waste into an electric shredder, for obvious reasons.

So, what garden shredder should I buy?

You can expect to pay around £100 for a decent high quality garden shredder that’s going to do the job efficiently and won’t end up breaking down on you before you’ve even thrown half of your garden waste in there. There are a number of brands that put out garden shredders; such as the esteemed Bosch, Black & Decker and Flymo. Generally, you can expect to pay a little more for well-known branded products but you’ll definitely be getting a worthwhile deal from it. They do amazing chain saws too if you need something to cut the branches before shredding.

At the lower end of the scale we have the Handy Impact Garden Shredder, which you can get for around £96 excluding any delivery charges. It’s portable, meaning you can easily wheel it around the garden to have it where you need; saving you the effort of carrying bundles of branches about making more mess, all the while dropping half of it on the garden lawn(and obviously the lawn mower won’t thank you for that). The downside is the 3m cable means you may not be able to take it as far as you want, but that can be overridden by using an extension cable. It also has a powerful 2400 watt motor and will shred solid branches up to 40mm in diameter in a fast rotary shredding action, and there’s enough space in the debris bag to fit 50L of waste. It doesn’t have any of the fancy features that the more expensive models have, but this is a great bay if you’re simply after a simple basic garden shredder.

This is obviously quite a bit more expensive – at around £336 – but it’s a powerful beast that is designed to shred large trees, hard branches, shrubs and other green material. It cuts up your waste incredibly fast with a turbine system that will significantly reduce the chance of blocking, but if there does happen to be a block it is equipped with an easy unblocking system. You’re not getting any more space for you waste though, as it also fits 50L in the collection box. Still, if you’re after a shredder that’s going to handle thicker waste without much trouble and not make you end up having to unblock it all the time then it’s well worth the investment.

If you have a lot of money to burn then you could pump for the Makita GSP5500 Petrol Garden Shredder. At nearly £1,100 this is more for the buyer who is in the gardening business, not to mention the cost of having to fill it up with petrol too. However, for that price you get a hell of a lot of brute force; shredding 50mm branches with a 9 blade cutting system, each blade being individually detachable for sharpening. It’s safe to say that you’ll have your garden cleaned up in no time with this beast.

Gardening Gift Ideas For Mother’s Day

As I mentioned in my previous article my mum was an avid gardener. She would be out there for at least an hour or two on most days, making sure her plants were watered and everything was nice and tidy. During the summer you’d be hard pressed to find my mum out of the garden, only really coming in to cook dinner, and often it would be nearly 10pm before she finally came in (and even then it was only because it was going dark). Her garden really was her pride and joy, as a child she really taught me how to look after a garden. Not only that, my dad always insisted how she made the garden a safe place for me to play. I have no qualms in saying that it was easily the best kept and most beautiful garden on our street and, not just in the summer either, she would also have beautiful wintery blooms.

When it came to Mother’s Day my mum liked the usual chocolate and flowers – just like the majority of mums do – but she also wouldn’t pass on something super practical if it was to help her in the garden, something she could really work with like a hanging basket. She would also love that it was something different from the norm, I once bought her a water butt and she told me it was the best Mother’s Day gift she ever received, showing that you’d put more thought into it and got her something that she’d really love. So, if your mother is like mine, why not have a look at some of these gardening gift ideas to surprise her this Mother’s Day? We’re not suggesting you get her a chain saw(but here’s a link incase you think it’s appropriate :D) as well as a chain saw safety guide, but here are some small – and cheap – gifts you can get to make her gardening experience that much better.

Kingfisher Dual Faced Garden Clock
Kingfisher Dual Faced Garden Clock

First off is this dashing Kingfisher Dual Faced Garden Clock, ideal so that your mum can suddenly realise she’s spent absolutely ages in the garden today and she should really be getting ready for bed. It’s gorgeous styling looks like it’s straight out of a Victorian train station, and you can almost imagine the gentleman with the bowler hat and owning a terribly dashing moustache running for his train. Adds a touch of class to any garden!

Buying your mum what looks like a plastic plant pot may not be your first choice of present, but this selection really will give your mum a bit of a break in the garden. The Sankey Premium Self Watering Trough does exactly what it says on the tin. It comes complete with a water reservoir, water level indicator and wall stabiliser, this acts really well to retain water. It means that your mum won’t have to run around watering these plants every day, and will also give her peace of mind should she have to leave the garden unattended for a few days, a really handy bit of kit if there’s a summer drought, the plants will stay in tip top condition. Plus, eco mums will be happy to know that it means a reduced water usage.

The Sankey Premium Self Watering
The Sankey Premium Self Watering Trough

Given that we had a well-attended garden, with plenty of plants and the fact that our home bordered a lovely wood, we tended to get quite a lot of wildlife in our garden, especially in a drought, we always kept them well watered and fed. Time’s are tough for wildlife when there’s no water. We would regularly see foxes, squirrels and even once a deer – but the most common visitors to our garden were birds. My mum put out plenty of bird feeders, and we even had a bird box on a tree that I actually won in a competition. A big part of the bird population is to do with how much mulch and compost you put into the ground. Here’s some top tips to keep your soil in excellent condition.

So, with that in mind, consider getting a bird box if your mum doesn’t already have one. Since they’re relatively cheap you could also get a bird bath or a bird table. It’s actually quite fun watching birds having a bath in the bird bath, so it’ll be fun for all the family and it’s comforting to know that you’re aiding the local wildlife population.

Those are just a few ideas for Mother’s Day gifts, so if you’re going to act on these ideas then get to it today as Mother’s Day is coming up soon! Thankfully Garden Tool Box aims to get your delivery out as fast as possible; making sure your gardening mum has a gift she’ll love. If I could recommend one gift that could be a little lavish, it would be a barbecue. Have it in mind though, you can get value and expensive, the old adage, the thought that counts. Click here for even more superb gardening gift ideas.

Tackle overgrown garden

How to Tackle an Overgrown Garden

When I still lived at my dad’s house we had quite a big back garden that bordered the beautiful Bluebell Wood. My mum would spend most of her spare time in the garden every week, especially during the summer months, so it became quite a stunning place brimming with wildlife and a variety of plants and flowers. Unfortunately my mum passed away a few years ago, and following her death we found it quite hard to keep our garden in the same state it had been throughout our time at the house, and it fell into disrepair and became overgrown, it’s particularly a problem for the toddlers, we really need to make it safer for them.

It was quite sad to see such a beautiful garden turned into a place overgrown with weeds; with a mucky pond, a lawn that hadn’t been trimmed in months and a small conifer tree that had been blown over by strong winds. It needed the hedge trimming and it would have been really handy if we had a chain saw too to cut the fallen tree, unfortunately we only had a bow saw so that had to make do but it was arduous to say the least. If you get a chain saw, please read my chain saw safety advice.

My dad spent some money getting the front garden gutted so it would be easier to tend and also rented a shredder, leaving just a lawn to take care of, but the back garden would have to wait. Eventually we managed to get out and tackle it, and while it took a lot of work and doesn’t look anything like my mum used to keep it at least it looks a thousand times better than an overgrown mess that even the birds had started avoiding, we really needed to get the tidying tools out.

Here are the things we learned when we were tackling our overgrown garden.

One Step at a Time

Don’t try to tackle an overgrown garden all at once, as if it’s anything like mine you’ll quickly burn yourself out and give up due to tiredness. It doesn’t all have to be done in one weekend, and with the way the weather is in the UK you’d probably have to pass on a few days anyway. Instead tackle it section by section, setting small goals that are easily achievable and make you feel like you’re getting somewhere. For example, one day you can tell yourself you are going to weed a particular section, while the next you could mow the lawn.

Prune, Prune and Prune Again!

You’re going to have some terribly overgrown bushes, shrubs, trees and other plants that are going to need some good pruning if your garden is going to retain any sense of semblance. Before you get to work tackling this though look for any creepers like ivy or bramble and rip them out with sturdy gardening gloves, then to summarise this step you can go with shrub trimmers or shears and finally more delicate work with your secateurs.

If you can find the source of the creeper, prune it back to a small plant if you’re planning on keeping it, or rip out all the roots if you’d rather be rid of it.

Start pruning once you can tell which plant is which, there’s no point in pruning if you later find out you’ve been cutting the wrong plant apart. Grab your hedge trimmer and get to work, reshaping them so that they actually look presentable and will grow as a shape instead of being a crazy mess. It’s best to start the pruning period in late winter or early spring, as plants won’t try to repair the wound as rapidly as when they’re in their active period. It’s also far easier to prune when there are no leaves present during the colder months – especially when you’re tackling an overgrown garden jungle – as you can see just how you’re shaping the plant. When you are tackling trees remove any dead branches first. Then work your way down toward the ground, a leaf blower is really handy with the mess you’ll make.

What to Keep

Once you’ve pruned and tidied up your garden( I expect the compost bin is overflowing) you need to decide what you want to keep. You could start from scratch (see the next step) or decide on whether or not the things you want to keep are going to remain in the same place. You can still create a new garden design, maybe even incorporate a deck, heres some good decking tool suggestions to get you going and maybe keep the same plants; you simply have to transplant them with care to other areas of the garden or pot them.

Remember that not every plant can be moved with success, and even those that can don’t always take to the new location. In this case it’s best to just plant a new plant and either keeping the old one where it is or discarding it.

Consider Starting Afresh

If your garden is extremely overgrown and is looking more like a South American jungle then a place to relax with a glass of lemonade it’s best to rip it all out and simply start again, ideally try to get it done before winter kicks in and you have to look at it for 6 months, good timely preparation for the next spring and summer will make you feel much better about yourself. On that theme, take a look at these beautiful shrubs that flower in winter. An overgrown garden gives you the perfect opportunity to revamp your garden with a new design, changing the placement of flower beds or even moving your lawn here’s a handy guide on how to lay turf. While this is big work, and will obviously cost you money, it’s a real joy to start with a blank canvas and just work from there. It’s also a great opportunity to round up any potential freebie plants. As I said previously, you don’t have to rebuild your garden all at once; instead improve it in short bursts throughout the year. Any gardener knows you can’t do everything at once anyway, but if you’re blessed with a particularly large garden then you could always enlist help from family and friends.

How much you get stuck in is up to you, but before you even jump in make sure you have the right equipment for the job by checking out our shop.

Teach Children Gardening Skills For The Future

Teach Children Gardening Skills For The Future

I was delighted to see some recent news while scouring the Internet for gardening related tit-bits. It concerns a charity in Ryton, Coventry that has been campaigning to get gardening added to the UK’s school’s National Curriculum. The charity, Garden Organic, wants to give pupils the opportunity to grow their own fruit and vegetables and, thus, learn valuable gardening skills for the future. A draft version of the National Curriculum has answered their plea and has included horticulture as part of design and technology.

While the change isn’t yet set in stone it will mean that pupils will begin being taught these basic gardening skills from September next year. The draft states that from the ages of five to fourteen it should teach ‘practical knowledge, skills and crafts in fields such as “horticulture: to cultivate plants for practical purposes, such as for food or for decorative displays.”  There are practically thousands of practical things to be learnt in gardening such as how to look after plants in a drought, or what you can do to help wildlife in a drought. This addition to the curriculum might unlock the doors the bigger issues if promoting an interest in these key areas at an early age. With the Government drive to tackle the effects of obesity this couldn’t have come at a better time.

This is not only beneficial to encouraging children to think about doing horticulture as a career in the future, which will undoubtedly streamline growth in the sector, but it’s also teaching children about where their food comes from rather than just from the shops and gives them the key skills to be able to grow their own food and not rely on retail in the future.

Since our children may be part of an economy where food might be more expensive it makes sense to cut future costs, and also benefit the environment, by encouraging them to get used to growing their own food. Growing food and plants at home can almost be free, a few plant pots, a pack of seeds(if you don’t have someone who will lend a few) and a hand fork is about the total cost of setting up at home. Don’t get me wrong, you could go the whole hog; hedge trimmers, shears, protective clothing, water butts, and many more, but honestly, you don’t need all that to get started. Once it’s more than a hobby go with all the kit.

It’s splendid to see that our children will be learning about gardening in school, but I think that parents should play a part in teaching their children about gardening too, you probably remember toddler proofing your garden, this is just the next phase. Of course, for parents to do this they must also have some idea about gardening, so it’s beneficial if you take some time to learn some basic gardening skills if you haven’t already. Gardening with your children is fun, and introducing your children to where food comes from will help them immensely when it comes to being aware of the wider world food situation.

So, what can you do? Introduce your children to planting, watering and harvesting. I used to help my parents pick strawberries when I was a kid and I found it great fun, especially when you treat it as a game like kids normally do. Picking fruit and vegetables at specialised locations will help teach your children where food comes from if you don’t have your own garden, and you can also buy a plant pot or trough to grow something indoors or on the window sill if you don’t have the space to do it outside. A garden isn’t vital but if you have one teaching your kids about soil or how to compost is priceless. It’ll show them how to recycle and set in motion a mindset that won’t be undone. Another important lesson to teach is one of how work can pay off in 6 months time. Just take how we prep our garden for spring in Autumn for example. These lessons echo through all aspects of life and are valuable ideas we can pass on.

It might be a good idea to portion off a section of your garden especially for use by your children, just use a bit of plastic coated wire or old string, anything that has a feel of creating ownership, that way they feel like they have an area to call their own and have some impact on the way your garden develops. Ask them what they would like to plant there; taking them along to a garden centre to pick some plants they might want to plant, or any vegetables they’d like to grow. Kids don’t always love their vegetables, but if they have planted it and picked it they will be far more willing to eat them. So not only will your kids gain new knowledge, but they will also be far healthier in the long run too.

Gardening is a skill that everyone should have some basic knowledge in. Humans have lived off the land for thousands of years, but with the advent of your local supermarket people seem to have forgotten how to grow a carrot. The new National Curriculum will go some way to changing this, but change should also come at home too. You can start by buying your children some basic garden hand tools: Garden Hand Tools

5 Wonderful Winter Plants to Brighten Up Your Garden

5 Wonderful Winter Plants to Brighten Up Your Garden

Let’s face it; your garden in winter can look pretty dull. Aside from the charm of having a covering of snow (and the new gardening techniques we can use) everything looks bleak, with plants having retreated underground to shelter from the cold and flowers yet to bloom into their full colourful variety. However, all is not lost! There are certain garden plants that can brighten up your winter garden and are hardy enough to take the cold. Here’s five of the best!

5 of the Best Winter Plants

Skimmia ‘Kew Green’

While the flowers of the Asian plant Skimmia won’t burst into life until the spring, bringing with it some charming greenish-white flowers, the green shade of the buds are just as attractive. This plant also thrives in the shade, as too much sun can turn the leaves yellow – meaning it’s perfect for the short days of winter with minimal daylight!

Skimmia Kew Green | 5 Wonderful Winter Plants to Brighten Up Your Garden
Skimmia Kew Green

Euonymus Fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’

One of the most versatile evergreen shrubs you can have in your garden, the Euonymus Fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’ brings a lovely bright gold-tip leaves look to your garden during most of the year. However, as the colder months roll round the colour of the leaves turns to a pinkish-red that brings some much needed colour to that dreary winter garden. It can also grow as a vine if you provide it with enough support. I wouldn’t use the hedge trimmer on this plant, I much prefer secateurs or shears or shrub trimmers when it comes to pruning this shrub.

5 Wonderful Winter Plants to Brighten Up Your Garden
Euonymus Fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’

Cornus Sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’

This one is perfectly named; as you could be forgiven for thinking someone has set fire to your garden from a distance. This beautiful plant looks best during winter, when fiery shade of autumn red falls away to leave a radiant clash of orange, yellow and red stems. It’s pretty robust too, so if you have toddlers then it’s a good choice, it’s definitely safe children. Outside winter it takes on small white flowers and black berries, making it a wonderful addition no matter the season.

5 Wonderful Winter Plants to Brighten Up Your Garden
Cornus Sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’

Helleborus Niger ‘Christmas Rose’

Despite being called ‘Christmas Rose’ the Hellebore isn’t actually a rose, although its appearance suggests otherwise. Surprisingly frost resistant, its large bowl-shaped white flowers and lime green centre lend a snowy air to your garden if you haven’t had any of the white stuff that year. The Christmas Rose grows wonderfully in a plant pot.

5 Wonderful Winter Plants to Brighten Up Your Garden
Helleborus Niger ‘Christmas Rose’

Hamamelis Mollis ‘Chinese Witch Hazel’

A deciduous shrub, up until autumn the ‘Chinese Witch Hazel’ holds green ovate or rounded leaves, but it’s not until winter where its best look explodes. During the gloomy months the plant blooms with fragrant yellow and red flowers that have four narrow petals, bringing a touch of brightness to the short days.

5 Wonderful Winter Plants to Brighten Up Your Garden
Hamamelis Mollis ‘Chinese Witch Hazel’

As for planting all these? Well, you could always check out the superb offers from www.gardentoolbox.co.uk

Get more plants for next year – absolutely free!

Now that you’ve done most of the repairs in your garden that you’d been meaning to do over the summer months but had never quite got round to, the raised flower beds are tidier than they’ve been all year – not to mention nicely spread with mulch – it’s time to focus on the seeds. Hopefully you grabbed plenty of free seeds last year too!

Collect the seeds from your tomato plant for a bumper harvest next year
Collect the seeds from your tomato plant for a bumper harvest next year

Yes, the seeds, and we mean the seeds from plants in your garden such as poppies and hollyhocks, bulbs and even hazelnuts and shrubs. By cleaning and preserving the seeds from your favourite plants you’ll be able to grow more next year or, better still, swap them with a neighbour or fellow gardening enthusiast to allow you to grow new plants you’ve never introduced to the garden before.

But the best bit about collecting, drying and sowing dry seeds (especially on a comfy workbench with nice trays) is that it allows you to grow more plants next year at absolutely no cost whatsoever to yourself (which is not a bad thing in these recessionary times, we’re sure you’ll agree).

After cutting the seeds from the plant wash them under the tap and dry with several sheets of kitchen paper. Use decent secateurs or a sharp knife.  Make sure the seeds are thoroughly dry before storing to ensure no mould accumulates. The best place to store them is in an envelope (which allows you to write the name of the seeds and the date cleaned) then put them in a little-used corner of the fridge for germination and where they will survive for several years (if your other half doesn’t throw them out by mistake!).

Tips on collecting gardening seeds

  • Do it in autumn – on a day where there is very little wind (you don’t want your carefully collected little piles to blow away). This is a job I would try to get done in October, mainly because there’s so much to do in November preparing the garden for spring and summer next year.
  • Disease-free plants only should be used – cut off the plant’s head, turn it upside down and shake into a paper bag until the seeds fall off
  • Drying off – it’s important to remember that some seeds, such as walnuts and magnolias shouldn’t be allowed to dry out otherwise they won’t germinate. These seeds should instead be stored in a moist bag of sand and damp vermiculite for a few months. It’s generally not worth buying a whole sandbag unless you have a serious garden or many many seeds. Instead borrow a little from the neighbour, taking a handful from the beach would technically not be right to do!
  • Disappointment – try not to be overly-optimistic. Not all plants will produce seeds and it’s a sure bet that not every single seed will survive. The more you store and germinate in tray the following year, the better chances you have. Remember the condition of the compost will also factor in the germination process. Have you checked your compost bin lately?

Tomatoes in particular are a good plant for seeding, simply because it’s so easy to do. To prepare, cut open a ripened tomato by slicing it in the middle into two clean pieces. Squeeze out the juice and seeds onto a plate or bowl.

Next, pour in half as much water and keep covered for a few days, stirring the mixture occasionally until mould begins to form on the top.

Now double the mixture and stir. The seeds you want to use are the ones which fall to the bottom of the bowl. Get a strainer or sieve and pour the mixture through so that only the seeds remain. Wash them and dry with a paper towel then place on a saucer and leave them to dry. Place in your envelope and store until next year, you’ll be ready for planting in no time.

There you have it, free seeds, and if you’re part of a community simply swap to share the enjoyment and diversity.

Growing used to daylight

Like humans, plants prefer to operate in daylight rather than fumbling around in the dark. And that’s why many flowering species refuse to grow without the necessary 10 hours of daylight to encourage them (onions insist on a lengthier 14 hours).

As a result, don’t expect much growth during November to February. There’s plenty of things to do in November anyway. If you’re growing indoors in a greenhouse or a propagator then you’ll need additional lighting as well as having to pump in more heat (what utility bill increase?!). Incidentally high pressure sodium lighting is believed to be better at encouraging plants to grow indoors than standard fluorescent lights.

Having said that, many gardeners say that it is the length of the darker (night time) periods rather than day light which control the growth of a plant. Well, here in the UK we are currently a month from the Winter Solstice (or shortest day) on December 21. Talking of December and winter, there is also another big problem we face as gardeners in the winter, that doesn’t come from the sunlight hours, however, it’s the winter snow and icy winds.

The more sunlight available to a plant the longer it will potentially grow for. All bulbs used for creating ‘artificial sunlight’ for plant growth have reflective light fittings to derive maximum effect.

The strength of the bulb is measured in kelvins with 5,600 kelvins equivalent to natural day light. A light with a blue tinge indicates a high kelvin rate while red does the opposite.

Different types of lights for plant growing

Fluorescent grow lights. Standard or high output, these tubes come in both cold and warm varieties. The standard lasts for around 10 hours while the high output will go on for double that length of time.

Incandescent growing lights Incandescent grow lights heat up so much they can actually cause the plant to burn if not checked regularly. However, they are excellent for use on a single plan such as a bonsai tree, provided they are at least 24 inches away from the plant.

High Pressure Sodium Grow Lights The most popular type of lighting is the high pressure sodium (HPS) grow light. You’ll find it in both domestic greenhouses and commercial growing industries. It’s also the most energy efficient bulb available on the market at the moment which again, will appeal to plenty of gardeners.

High Pressure Sodium Grow Lights
Source: www.pinterest.com

Metal Halide HID Grow Lights More like natural sunlight than any of the other available bulbs, the metal halide (MH) high density discharge grow lights provide bright white light of up to 5,500 Kelvin degrees. You’ll normally find these in supermarkets and other large stores. Those used in gardening are on the warm (red) side of the spectrum and last up to 20,000 hours. You can replicate an incredibly similar to summer rig in your conservatory. Simply get a decent planting setup, quality soil (hopefully partially from the compost and garden bin. You can even setup an automatic watering system in case it’s too cold to go outside.

Potting your Amaryllis

It is, of course, the season for the flowering Amaryllis and we couldn’t go without giving you a few potting tips for this most lovely and fast-growing of plants. The time to pot these bulbs is right now(we use a bulb planter and a few other plant pot accessories including self watering troughs and a quality workbench) and the way to do is to fill a jar with water and leave the bulb in overnight so that by morning some of the water will have soaked through. Next, take the bulb and simply pot it in some dirt and compost, ensuring a third of the bulb is still visible. Now just sit back and watch the flowering magic show…

Using Coffee To Deter Slugs

Gardeners Breaking EU Law By Using Coffee To Deter Slugs

Gardeners who use coffee granules to keep slugs at bay during this wet summer may be surprised to learn they are in fact breaking EU law.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has warned that placing coffee granules near plants and vegetable patches in the garden to ward off the pests could be against EU regulations.

This summer has been particularly wet – one of the wettest on record, we haven’t had the usual plant dehydration issues that come from a summer drought – which has been great for slugs(take a look at slug control options here that are EU friendly) and snails but a struggle for gardeners who have found their vegetables and plants inundated with the pests. The likes of cabbages and lettuces, in particular, have been munched on heartily by slugs over the last few months. Insects control is of paramount importance in these wet years, the wet great for animals though and a start contract to needing to help wildlife in your garden through a drought.

Organic gardeners want to avoid using chemicals in their gardens and so have been using coffee granules instead of slug pellets, as the caffeine in the coffee deters slugs. This is why tea leaves work well as a deterrent too but they won’t stop other pests.

In The Garden magazine, the RHS warned that such a gardening technique is breaking EU law and gardeners could face big fines. The Independent reports that Dr Andrew Halstead, principal scientist for plant health at the RHS, said that any home-made solution without EU approval is against the law.

Any active ingredient needs to be approved for use and added to an EU list of pesticides, and caffeine has not been tested. This means its impact on the environment, gardeners and surrounding wildlife is unknown.

“All chemicals being used to control or deter animals are classed as pesticides in the UK and EU, and must be registered and approved for this purpose by our own government and the EU,” Dr Halstead said.

“Legislation requires potential pesticides to be extensively tested for effectiveness, environmental safety, operator safety and safety of breakdown products before they can be sold and used.”

Although gardeners are being warned of possible big fines as a result of using coffee to deter slugs, Dr Halstead admits the chances of this actually happening are “remote”. Quite rightly so, how on earth do they expect us to put our coffee remains in the compost bin, yet not directly around our plants baffles me. one of the main things I teach my child in the garden is not to waste, always re-use coffee grindings.

“Anything that has not been through the system is illegal to use as a pesticide, however safe that chemical is perceived to be. Heavy fines can be imposed for breaches of the laws relating to pesticide use; however, the chances of being prosecuted for scattering coffee grounds in a garden are, I suspect, remote.”

Using coffee granules as a mulch or to enhance the compost bin is fine, however. In fact, the gardening benefits of coffee are well known and a number of coffee shops will give away the ground coffee from their machines to gardeners for free, most grindings make excellent base for quality soil and end up in pots or for happy hanging baskets.

Dr Halstead commented: “If you were to use coffee grounds around plants with the intention of providing some organic matter in the form of a mulch, rather than as a slug control/deterrent, then the regulations relating to pesticides would not apply. This may all sound rather daft, but the intention of the pesticides legislation is to prevent people from applying untested dangerous chemicals.”

soap and water on plants to kill insects
soap and water on plants to kill insects

Gardeners use a variety of other means to deter slugs and other pests from their gardens, including soap and water on plants to kill insects and salt to kill slugs.

Bob Flowerdew

Bob Flowerdew, who’s written a number of books on organic gardening, commented on the fact gardeners frequently use soap to kill aphids on plants: “As long as you say, ‘I’m not killing the aphids, I’m giving them a wash, but oh dear they seem to have died accidentally’, it’s OK. It’s the British way: we work our way around the regulations.”