Sunday 27 December 2015

Three quarter of a million page views!

Three quarter of a million page views! Another blog milestone reached, and Roger is away - AGAIN! I can't believe it! Still, he should know better than to leave me in charge of the blog!

Rare Full Moon on Christmas Day

The post that turned the 750 000 counter over was Po's Post Christmas Moonshine, so I thought it would be apposite to put in Po's latest iPhone Digiscoped moonshot. Not since 1977 has a full moon dawned in the skies on Christmas. December's full moon, the last of the year, is called the Full Cold Moon, because it occurs during the beginning of winter. This rare event won't happen again until 2034.

A huge thanks to all our regular readers and commenters and very best wishes for 2016.

- Cathi

Tuesday 22 December 2015

A plantsman's plant

Peter Williams tells how he learned to grow Cornus canadensis - Dwarf dogwood

I first tried to grow this plant about 25 years ago when I ran a small, part-time nursery specialising in acid loving plants. I bought stock of Cornus canadensis on a number of occasions and each time I potted about three-quarters for sale and planted out the remainder. None ever seemed to do well. The potted plants sulked in the compost I used for rhododendrons and other acid lovers, and those planted out into what I thought were ideal soil conditions, all disappeared.  I gave up on the species.
About 10 years after my last attempted introduction, I was lying flat on my stomach trying to get at the base of a weed that was growing through a large and very dense rhododendron, when I saw a tiny rosette of Cornus canadensis.  It was so shaded under the rhododendron that it was almost dark and the soil was very dry. I eased the tiny specimen out of the soil and planted it in a very shady spot at the edge of north-facing woodland bed. I had little expectation of it doing well but the plant had clearly ‘learned its lesson’ and grew away rapidly.  In the first full growing season in its new location shoots appeared all around the plant and a few flowers were produced. Eight or nine years later, it now covers about 20 square metres and flowers profusely in June and July.  It is even invading the edge of the lawn! I now dig out ‘chunks’ in early spring for friends and sell vigorous potted specimens at our charity open-garden days. I do not know why this plant was so temperamental for so long and then flourished. 
As its name indicates, this species’ home is North America, Canada, Siberia and southern Greenland where conditions are cool and wet and soils are base-poor and acid, very similar to my own soil. Its’ natural habitat is usually montane dwarf shrub communities but it is also known to invade montane grassland and is obviously quite a vigorous spreader when ‘playing at home’ because it is a weed of lowland blueberry crops where the fields are recently cleared woodland.  

Interestingly, it has a close relative that occurs in similar locations to C.canadensis but which extend to Europe and even moorland areas of the UK.  This is C. suecica the Dwarf Cornel and it is of very similar appearance to C. canadensis.  North Yorkshire marks the southern edge of its distribution in England and I have seen it growing in Hole of Horcum on the North York Moors.  Where the two species grow together hybridization is possible and the resultant hybrids are said to have intermediate characteristics.
The common name for this species in North America is the Bunchberry because of the bright red fruits produced each autumn that are used for pies and jellies. My clone has never produced fruit suggesting that it is not self pollinating, but it does have good autumn colours before it is totally covered by leaf fall in autumn.
The flowers of this Dogwood are typical of the family – the true flowers are surrounded by coloured bracts that look petal-like.  Incidentally, the common name Dogwood comes from a corruption of the French word dague meaning dagger because the stems of the larger Dogwoods were used for skewers.
The flowers have one very special feature – they open explosively to release their pollen when touched by a large insect.  This can be seen in a fascinating video sequence recorded at 10,000 frames per second.
A picture is as good as a thousand words. This video when taken had ten thousand pictures – and is very quick

The advantage of having such explosive release is that it reduces pollen predation and increases the chances of the pollen becoming attached to the hairs of pollinating insects.  It also helps in wind pollination of adjacent female flowers.
So why did this species fail for so many years in my garden and by report, those of many other shady gardeners?  Some studies in North America suggest that it cannot tolerate mean summer temperatures higher than about 18 0C, so perhaps it needed fairly dense shade to prevent thermal damage. Another possible suggestion is that it was attacked by vine weevil – but I was not aware of this happening in the areas of my garden where it failed, and I never found vine weevil larvae in the compost of the potted plants. My planting advice would therefore be to get the plant established in a very shady area where it gets no direct sunlight. If it becomes established it may well be able to spread out of the shade and become far more light tolerant.

Described as an herbaceous sub-shrub even at Christmas it is still a beautiful ground cover
The lush growth of this species in my garden might now become its downfall.  In North America it is eaten by deer and moose and we are having increasing trouble with Roe deer grazing!  
Peter’s deer lemma according to Roger
Peter swears this was taken before he constructed his fence

When I first met Pete he was spending a long time and a small fortune rabbit-proofing his garden in the hope that his only problem would then be the moles. It sounds from the above that he probably laid on his tummy! He has previously told the story of how some years later he found a rabbit highway marked in the snow under his entrance gate! Now it is the turn of the deer who can easily jump over.
Just like in my post last Christmas Po Simpson with his photographic magic comes into the story. Last summer some of Peter’s prize rhododendrons were eaten. It was almost certainly deer. Po set up his night camera. 
Here is the evidence

There is no hope for this girdled stem
You will now understand Peter’s feelings when he recently learned that deer love to graze on Cornus canadensis.
By the way it has never grown for me either. Peter, if you can forgive my mirth at the thought of you lying horizontally pulling out weeds will you give me some pieces?
Is there any hope?

Three years ago this  sorbus in my garden was severely damaged by a deer just as badly as the above picture

Peter's Christmas pictures I asked Pete to go out into his garden to take seasonal pictures on 20th December

Prosthechea vitelina orchid growing in the heated greenhouse

Growing through a natural leaf mulch

Sunday 13 December 2015

Christmas plants past, a Christmas roundup

No spruce this year
I have written about several plants associated with Christmas. Some such as Christmas trees and poinsettia are on my list for future occasions. Cathi suggested this year I remembered some of my previously posted seasonal plants. Click the coloured title links to read about them.
Ilex aquifolium ‘Golden van Tol’
I revealed my addiction to variegated plants and forgot to mention what a weed holly seedlings are in my cemetery gardens
I will be reporting on my holly cuttings soon

Significant in nature, if allowed to become rampant in a garden it is a considerable nuisance

The holly and the ivy.... Just holly prunings popped in. Ironically the ivy was an unrooted decoration put in two years previously!
My old lilac is still surviving the ivy and the nearby honey fungus infected stump. Brenda predicts its demise every year

I am getting too old to prune this back every year
January source of pollen and nectar

With no support...
Not usually associated with Christmas, this plant brightens our conservatory in the festive season

Rather a false claim as it's flowering rarely naturally hits Christmas when grown in the home. Our five plants, each of different colour, flower twice a year in our east facing conservatory in November and February.

The blackcap has transformed the UK distribution of mistletoe
I was fascinated when I researched this plant that a parasite could be so ecologically significant.
I suggested in the title that its parasitic mechanism had separately evolved in many different plant families around the world. Although I am comfortable with the idea of parallel evolution, with my new interest in hybridity I now provocatively wonder if nature’s evolutionary discoveries are shared.
I discovered Jonathan Briggs’ fine Mistletoe blog and his most recent post explains how to grow this wonderful plant.

When sliced calamondin oranges are frozen in ice cubes they will  flavour your Christmas drink
Another false claim as a Christmas plant. Ours carries fruits for at least four months through the Winter but is particularly welcome in December. Brenda says that this year when Christmas is gone she will make some marmalade.

This is the fifth year my amaryllis has flowered
Another ‘cheat’ but our amarylis is going to hit Christmas day ‘spot on’ this year. It also qualifies as Christmas plant in that many stockings  will include a fat bulb. At least half are doomed to die in poor light although they do usually make their first (and last) flowers.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Control of nettles and ground elder: Part 2

Part 1 followed the progress of 250 square metres of overgrown land between Cathi’s hedge and the road. To eliminate the ground elder will take up to two years. My eventual ambition is to convert the area to an area of flowers growing in fescue grass as if in a meadow. All without digging - of course!
I wonder if the folk who read Part 1 were troubled with nettles or ground elder? By the end of July both of my treatments did for the nettles. Even under the hedge where it was easy to miss them, by August the nettles were completely gone. There was little sign of them returning from seed but that good fortune may not continue. 
Continuing experience tells me that MCPA or its alternative 24D is very effective against both annual and perennial nettles and so is glyphosate but at a strong 1 in 50 dilution of commercial product

The continuing saga
My last post concluded with the resprays of regenerating weeds. As the two treatments were different, the timing of the resprays differed. The two treatments had been one area sprayed with a glyphosate/MCPA mixture the other with MCPA alone. The first treatment had been followed in early July with one more glyphosate application. The original MCPA sprayed plot was resprayed twice with glyphosate. The total amount of glyphosate and MCPA used was the same for each treatment. Both treatments I judged to be equally successful.

There was still plenty of weed at the end of the last post in mid July. The weed in the picture had been sprayed several days before it was strimmed
There were then two changes of plan! A week after the last respray Cathi's handy man intervened uninvited and strimmed the whole area. It certainly looked tidier! No harm was done as the leaves on one of the treatments were dead and the leaves on the other had already absorbed the weedkiller. Indeed the fact that the dead and dying tops were cut away made it easier to recognise new regenerating weed growth.  
You will remember that the plot area at the edge of the road had a four foot band of rough grass which was left unsprayed. It was not a great surprise that a forty foot length of it proved to also be full of ground elder. By August it had been allowed to become fairly luxuriant - as is necessary for effective control - and  was sprayed with MCPA. You will recall that MCPA, commonly bought as Agritox, is selective and does not kill grass. Regenerated ground elder in the grass sward was subsequently resprayed with MCPA in mid September. This grassy section will probably need two further applications next year to completely eliminate the ground elder.   

There was more ground elder growing in the grass strip than I had thought
At the end of July both treatments on the original sprayed areas were effectively at the same phase and had been equally successful. Although the job was certainly not finished! 
My story today starts there. For my continuing saga I will no longer differentiate between the two original treatments.

The nettles were all gone and nor was there much to see of the ground elder. Just a few clumps, perhaps from deeper roots that had not earlier emerged sufficiently to receive enough spray. These clumps were sprayed with glyphosate.

By this time the main problem was new weeds from seed. The new weed cover was quite light and quite honestly I just reverted to my normal routine and when I did my usual maintenance ‘spot’ glyphosate-spraying around Cathi’s garden just added the new area onto my spraying routine. The extra time was no more than ten minutes as my directed spraying only needed to cover the small proportion of the ground area where there were weeds visible. By mid November I had spent a total half an hour to have sprayed three times.

I had scattered some seed of forget-me-not for some Spring flowers next year There are too many and most of them have now been sprayed away
Typical weeds from seed that grew in the empty spaces

The same weed three weeks later
At the end of the year there are still ground elder roots present. If I disturb the soil surface I find small ground elder shoots just below the surface. Not everywhere but in a few significant places. They won’t emerge until Spring! My original advice still applies to not zap them as soon as they emerge but to wait until they make enough leaf.
The battle is almost won but it is important not to assume victory at this stage. Gardeners should not next year get complacent and plant perennials too soon. There should be no permanent planting until the very last ground elder is gone.

At the end of the season there were signs of ground elder regeneration. Because the ground elder is too small it is now too late to spray.

As you will see from the yellow patches of grass in November I have not told you the whole story today!

I small sneaky patch of ground elder and seedling epilobiums in October
On reflection the ‘ground elder’ in the picture looks a ‘dead ringer’ for a seedling elderberry tree. No matter, the elderberry is one of very few shrubs that are very easily killed by glyphosate
Cleavers is a common annual weed that germinates in October. Sprayed in late October it was in early December completely dead. To kill it was a high priority
More about nettles
The few nettles pictured today came from seed. There were no more than half a dozen when I took my picture in early November. It was NOT too late to spray them. My previous problem had been established perennial nettles and the new young nettles were the same perennial kind. 

New nettles from seed had sneakily arrived under the hedge

In my vegetable garden I have eliminated most weeds-from-seed problems by my minimum cultivation policy and by not letting weeds ever set seed (well almost). I still get a few seeded perennial nettles! Their seed must be able to remain dormant for a very long time. As soon as I spot them I pull them out or hoe them.
Some of you may have annual nettles Urtica urens. They can be a considerable nuisance in the vegetable garden. Try not to let them set seed. Keep the hoe going! If they are on an empty patch spray with glyphosate. You will need full strength 1 in 50 dilution of 360gm product. (The alternative MCPA might leave residues for up to a month). Although not perennial, annual nettles can be very persistent. 
I have known gardens with annual or perennial nettles sprayed with too weak a solution of glyphosate where nettles have been able to become badly established.

What about the rest of the project?
Well the cut back hedge certainly grew! It is quite amazing how quickly cut back shrubs and trees can regenerate as a result of their strong root system. I spent several hours cutting new growth back to keep the hedge narrow and not any higher. I was particularly severe on the horrible hornbeam, elderberry and hawthorn. The hedge must not get any wider The new hedging plants inserted into the gaps with the help of watering and fertiliser put on about a foot of new growth. It will be much more next year and I have already applied fertiliser for next season. As the new hedging plants grow I will whittle away at the original coarse wood.
All this hedge cutting is getting too much for me and for next year we have sourced a farmer who will keep it trimmed back very cheaply.

Viewed from inside Cathi’s garden in late November. The hedge is less of a screen than in Summer, there has been leaf fall and heavy pruning and the border is looking tired. Note the strong growth on the privet

Hornbeam is not my favourite plant and that ugly cluster of trunks on the right needs to go
You will recall that some of the trunks previously killed by Dutch Elm disease had been left in as a screen and support for sweet peas. The planted yew and beech have had a good first season
As to my ambition to create a flower border in grass this will be the subject of a new series of posts which will start this month. I have been a little disingenuous today because I have idealised my report to help gardeners struggling with a problem of ground elder control. Other things have been going on! Despite me telling you not to.

(You can now skip to the future to read about my continued weed control and more about planting)

Those of you with ground elder or nettles growing in grass need to read about MCPA

Last week I claimed final victory over Cathi’s woolly aphid

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Buying professional fertilisers

New readers might be surprised when I keep going on about my Yaramila. They might also wonder how this compound satisfies most of my fertiliser needs. When they check at their gardening store nothing anywhere near like it is to be seen.

We are back to the issue of separate professional and amateur horticultural markets. Not like the pesticide market supported by a pseudo legal framework that leads  the gardener into thinking he is committing a sin should he sniff out a source of professional product! 
With fertilisers there is a barrier too. The grower trade is just not interested in selling small packets of often useless chemical to ignorant gardeners who ask silly questions. They are happy however to sell the same useless popular illusions in large quantities to those gardeners who discover a professional store.

About my Yaramila
Note the analysis
It’s not that this fertiliser exclusively is the best thing since sliced bread!  A stupid analogy, it would be more accurate to compare it with Brenda’s lovely homemade manna. 
The point about growers’ fertilisers is that the better ones provide a balance of nutrients  usually including nitrogen, phosphate, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphur and a blend of common trace elements. They are usually concentrated and sold at competitive price in 25kg bags.
It is not in my brief today to discuss whether your garden is actually deficient in any nutrient at all and how much extra might benefit your plants. Many gardening situations require no fertiliser at all. 
Perhaps amateur fertilisers are not such a bad thing. They may be next to useless and in the case of bonemeal completely useless but they do satisfy the gardener’s emotional aspirations and if used in excess do little harm.

Several professional fertilisers are comparable to Yaramila and if my local East Riding Horticulture stocked a different but similar product I would  buy it.
I particularly like Yaramila because of its concentration, balance and wide nutrient content. It is so formulated that its granules come as a hard prill. This makes it easy to spread when I apply it. I can even dribble a few granules through my fingers to top dress my houseplants. 
I don’t find it to be deliquescent and become wet when stored - even for several years - in an opened bag. Some fertilisers like the dreaded 20:10:10 do and after a few months turn to slush!
Don’t make the mistake that because prills are hard they are slow release. They are not and when scattered on the soil surface rapidly dissolve in rain and wash in. As a no dig gardener it would be anathema to me to work fertiliser in. Do not apply such soluble products touching delicate plant roots!
Although such fertilisers have soluble content they are usually unsuitable to dissolve in water to make a liquid feed. Regular readers will know I do use Yaramila as a light top dressing to my container grown plants as a time saving alternative to liquid feeding.

Professional growers who have the economy of scale and specialist product lines might chose a different analysis of Yaramila than I do

A visit to East Riding Horticulture.

Somewhat  daunting
This trade horticultural supplier is for me a short drive to Sutton upon Derwent. Were it not owned by a former student and had I not been buying stuff from such places for the last fifty years I would be somewhat intimidated! You drive into a yard packed with all kinds of durable materials stacked between industrial barns. What appears to be a small bungalow is the sales centre. When you enter you find several busy offices. You poke your face through a door and eventually someone looks your way. 
This hurdle over they are really friendly and you make your order. They usually ring their storeman to check the product is in stock. They make out a chitty, take your money and direct you to the store. If the storeman is busy you find him in an Aladdin’s cave filled with wondrous products. He carries your purchase to your car and you drive away.
If all this scares you it might be easier to order by telephone and pay for delivery! 

Rub the lamp
Friends who comes to stay often demand I drive them round to my supplier to buy their Yaramila. Harry Kennedy felt that all the Preston rain had depleted his garden and later reported subsequent stimulation. Brother-in-law Dave wished to upgrade from growmore. Both thought £23 well spent on 25kg Yaramila. Why that’s less than a pound a kilogram!
(I often recommend growmore to those amateurs who only want small quantities. Also to those who might get carried away with highly concentrated professional product - you should apply fertilisers such as Yaramila at lower rates. There are a few excellent amateur general fertilisers but they are not my subject today. They are usually inorganic.)
I used to use inorganic growmore which supplies three major nutrients, N P and K

Use your Yaramila prill at half the rate you would apply growmore
Most counties have similar suppliers. Most are a little more user friendly although there are a few that act as if they are doing you a favour.
East Riding Horticulture do not do ‘click it’ web sales but do take telephone and e-mail orders.  Most similar firms do have an internet basket, wheel barrow, cart or lorry! For many readers it is best to order supplies on the net. Although I am today recommending you use professional fertilisers be aware that there are gimmicky professional products too especially in the sports turf trade.
Although East Riding supply me my Yaramila, iron sulphate, dolomitic limestone and recently a new knapsack sprayer do not assume that for products such as peat, compost and mulching material they will necessarily be cheaper than amateur outlets.

I cannot resist telling you that a local nurseryman splits his Yaramila into amateur quantities to sell to his customers. What service! Best of luck to him.

Use these links to my former fertiliser offerings

Don’t use bonemeal

There are circumstances where fertilisers are beneficial in Winter

It’s best to buy a big bag of fertiliser than lots of different small ones

General fertiliser on lawns

My first ever post on fertiliser
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