Monday, 14 October 2019

Getting rid of Japanese knotweed quickly and cheaply(?)

The most expensive plant in your garden
Everything is relative. A year would be ‘quickly’. As to ‘cheaply’ I mean compared to a second mortgage to pay a contractor to eliminate JKW (I will call it) before you can sell your house.

It is in the news again relative to invaded railway properties and creeping into adjacent gardens.
Of course it is over-hyped. Worse plant dangers can threaten your home. Think of trees near your house when you have a clay soil. Things like brambles and bamboo if left for years can be a real problem.
They just do not get the publicity to be cast as evil alien invaders.

It is a perfect storm. A whole industry exists to extract huge payments to eliminate it. In unconscious cahoots with surveyors who believe the hype and who consider homes are seriously threatened. (They are when house agents put the fear of god into clients - both sellers and buyers)

It is not that that JKW is inconsequential. It’s just that with a little forward planning by homeowners a year or two in advance of selling they can easily eliminate it with glyphosate. Good gardeners will not have it all.

Here again another perfect storm creates a problem. Apart from irrational fears of glyphosate safety being high in the public domain, pesticide regulations get in the way of law abiding citizens who are led to believe that using professional glyphosate is illegal. There is a kind of conspiracy that keeps amateur gardeners and professionals apart. And certainly there are good reasons that the general public should not use particular chemicals.
Professional suppliers do not want to bother themselves with amateur’s foibles and very small purchases. The likes of garden centres want to trade in products with very high margins. Price differences are at least tenfold and for those suckers who buy ‘ready to use’ diluted spray the difference in cost might be a factor of hundreds. Legislation regarding amateur gardeners is a very grey area which suits our authorities fine.
I know very few gardeners who do not use professional glyphosate. With a little effort it is easily acquired. In my opinion it is one of the safest pesticides ever invented. (For the uninitiated ’pesticide’ is the generic word for all ‘plant protection’ products)
Even if you don’t take my word for its safety the professional product is only different to amateur products in its strength. When applied appropriately diluted to the weeds it is for all practical purposes the same. The good news is that if you choose to control with stuff from the garden centre it is equally effective. It’s just that it will cost you very much more. This will be as nothing compared with tens of thousands knocked off the value of your home.

Peter eliminated it with a single injection
My new post today was inspired by a letter to the Times describing how the householder eliminated JKW in a season with a cutting back technique that exposed the root system to the flow back of weedkiller to the roots via the hollow stems. I have not done this myself on JKW but have good reason to believe it works very well.

My reasons for predicting success

Equisetum hyemale - just as aggressive as the common marestail
I have used the technique very successfully indeed on mares tail, equisetum. Not actually the common weed species itself but on an equally deep rooted ‘impossible to kill’ relation Equisetum hyemale. It was taking over a six square metre patch in Bolton Percy cemetery. I did not want my own memorial to be a huge blot on the landscape and decided it must go. Not only did it completely go for ever after one single treatment, even untreated outlying spreading growth was completely killed as it sucked up the glyphosate from its deep root metres below

Cut back by hedge trimmer and ready to drench

I once read of a professional gardener who used the technique on the feared equisetum weed itself and although at the time I did not believe him when he claimed it worked very well I think he was not fibbing.

Six weeks later
Six months later - at this point it was mulched over

I described in my JKW control opus how Peter Williams eliminated JKW in one go by injection. This is rather fiddly but works extremely well. It succeeds by exactly the same principle as trickle back down hollow stems and subsequent root translocation.

Peter cobbled together this natty injector
My main post on JKW control has now accumulated almost a hundred comments. Although I was then unaware that the cutting back technique was a viable option several readers report great success with it.
I was also rewarded with many grateful thanks for pointing the way to eliminating JKW on their property by conventional spraying

How and when
Although I have not carried out the technique on JKW myself I go on general principles
JKW should be growing strongly when you first treat it. No use zapping when growth first appears in Spring. Little use either if you have recently been scrabbling out roots.
Perhaps optimum is to cut new 18 inch shoots to perhaps an inch to the ground (although it might start very much higher). If you have previously embarked on a spraying regime new growth might be very much shorter.
Immediately give a heavy spray For larger areas use a knapsack sprayer, for smaller areas any bog standard hand sprayer. Although a rose on a watering can is generally inappropriate to apply glyphosate to leaves it is suitable here. You want to apply enough spray to visibly penetrate down into the hollow stems.
I would dilute commercial ‘Roundup’ (any professional version of glyphosate) at perhaps one in ten dilution. That would equate to amateur product concentrate at one in one, two or three (product strengths vary).
I do not expect complete success with a first application. You might miss new growths and it might not be the optimum time. (You can start the procedure right through to late Summer). If there is new growth let it grow strongly before you repeat treatment.

With the more usual spraying techniques I describe in previous posts it takes at least three years of repeated glyphosate sprays to eliminate strong established JKW. With this new approach I expect it to be very much quicker
If you do not declare JKW as a house vendor you will not escape your responsibility to any new householder unless JKW is completely and permanently eliminated. No use in court if it was merely dormant

My post that details control of JKW by spraying has been read twenty five thousand times and includes in ‘comments’ reader’s  tips and questions

Although this post takes a different direction it includes many of the above observations

My original post on marestail/horsetail

Use my search box to read detailed dedicated articles on controlling epilobium (some misidentify as willow herb), ground elder, hairy bitter cress, hymalayan balsam and brambles  - which is the worst weed of all.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Batty about battery electric (in the garden)

My Black and Decker battery electric hedge trimmer
Remember the days of the drama when you cut the cable on your electric hedge trimmer? Remember all those connections as you strove to reach the end of a long hedge or the frustration when the cut out cut in?

Julie has moved on from hand shears
I am afraid I even remember when I cut my hedge with hand shears. (Still used by some expert  topiarising practitioners or pains-taking gardeners)

You might in desperation have turned to petrol driven hedge trimmers. So heavy and unless of professional standard gut wrenching starting and a lottery ticket for even starting at all.
I myself use a STHL model with some reliability (Despite when new, a faulty plastic tube quickly disintegrated to clog up the innards and the uncaring supplier cleaned up the symptoms but even when told failed to cure the cause.
Talented Peter Williams got me up and running).

To be honest although my petrol hedge trimmer gets quite heavy use cutting back end of season perennials and general ‘rough pruning’ and tidying, I have retired from cutting my seventy meter long hedge. Brenda says at my age I ought to pay a certain respect to advancing years and it is cheaper to pay Eric than downsize our home.
In truth he does it better.

Battery technology in recent years has so improved that you can use powerful light weight cutters that go a long time on one charge. You can have a cup of tea or do something else whilst it rapidly charges.

I write today about Peter’s recent experience with his new professional STHL electric hedge cutter and rather repeat myself from an earlier post about my wonderful Black and Decker electric strimmer.

Electric edges and flayed weeds
I have always been suspicious of petrol strimmers and sympathy with those who slave away cutting grass in awkward places all day. I have a dislike of two stroke petrol engines and a fear of constantly fumbling re-threading broken strings

Three years ago a former colleague visited my open day and was drawn to my six hundred meters of meandering lawn edges. I am not sure whether it was was sympathy or just well disguised horror. Years ago I had decided that long handled edging shears had been the best solution but even with sharp shears (thank you Peter) the edges lacked a certain ‘ne sais quoi’
My friend promised me a demonstration of his own Black and Decker electric strimmer. It was a complete revelation! With its monofilament line set vertical (I can fine no other word for the ‘cable’) it whizzed round the edges. Even I soon got the knack of how to use it.
Jim emphasised I should wear goggles for the very occasional flung ‘mud’ or very small stone. I now modify my technique to wander into small weeds in the bottom of my very shallow edge trench.
What a transformation. Even Brenda my consistent ‘advisor’ (and former edger before she hung up her boots) admires them.
What I should have learned years ago is that if used properly, modern electric strimmers automatically get to the end of their spool without human intervention!

I recently witnessed a similar  dramatic revelation when I took my strimmer to Bolton Percy churchyard and showed Jacky Giles how quickly it tidied up small weeds and soft vegetation. Her eyes shined as she saw its potential.

Black and Decker strimmer
30cm 36V 2.0Ah Lithium-ion Strimmer® Grass Trimmer

Stands ready
I don’t seek today to promote a particular product and anyway my own is no longer available. Do get one of sufficient power for your needs and I would go for no less  than the above specification. I get more than half an hour of continuous cutting and an hour or so if I am not in a hurry and stop and start to take out a weed.
I take a break or more often do something else whilst it recharges which takes about half an hour. The battery flashes a reassuring green whilst recharging and remains on its stand until needed again. Sometimes it flashes red which worried me the first time. Peter explained that is what is meant to do and indicates it is nearly fully discharged - which is no sin.

You will have gathered that I now use it for many more things than originally planned; particularly small annual weeds. I align the line vertically most of the time but you will find you discover the best orientation for differing small tasks.

I have a foolish ambition to get rid of coarse grass weeds in my lawn and I find if used to cut in vertically on my sandy soil my strimmer is an absolute godsend and perhaps in a decade or so my lawn will be all fescue

This fescue grass path has been mown once and strimmed once in the two years since sowing

I hope you will have read about my successful use of un-mown pure Chewing fescue stands as grass paths running into my large borders and as a foil to plants in Cathi’s grass verge and in Lyndi’s grass field.
I can struggle into the fescue grass paths and patches once or twice a year with my mower in my own garden and on the village plot but find the strimmer a good substitute and a real boon if I want to cut back the fescue grass after flowering in the other grass features.

Please note my own electric strimmer does not have enough power to 'mow' normal long grass, nor to cut back thick herbaceous perennials for which I still use my hedge trimmer. For all edges it is terrific.

I guess many of my readers have a much greater experience of electrical garden aids and would love to hear your comments. Should I now be considering a battery operated mower?

Peter’s hedge trimmer

He has just splashed out £400 on a super dooper electric hedge trimmer. It is a more powerful cutter than his previous petrol one and cutting his ‘miles of hedge is pure pleasure (I exaggerate the ‘miles’ and even the ‘pleasure’). It goes almost two hours on a single charge.
I feel very tempted.

A beautiful cut

They have been clipping with this small  trimmer for topiary work for several years now

If you would like to read more about how I use Chewings fescue in my garden

If you would like to read more about my use of the Black and Decker strimmer

Monday, 23 September 2019

The curse of compaction

Soil compaction is widely misunderstood

Do not walk on this!
When in the garden particles of sand, silt or clay are squashed together by mechanical forces the consequences are dire. Free movement of water, air, roots and worms are severely restricted and often completely impeded.

When healthy soil stocked with vegetation settles naturally without being squashed or cultivated when wet with heavy implements it IS NOT COMPACTED. It is firm to walk on, yet when closely examined by for example very light forking it has low density and is permeated with channels and cracks laid down by roots, worms and natural expansion and contraction; all loosely cemented together with soil organic matter such as humus and glomalin. 

With more energetic forking this soil reveals a lovely crumb structure. Such action is the start of its eventual structural destruction!

These are examples of real compaction

1. Walking on really wet loose soil, worse driving over or stacking heavy bricks or equipment
2. Working wet soil. You can of course winter dig your allotment in the rain
3. Rotavating or ploughing at the same level each time (a present from the original farmer)
4. Leaving acid sandy grassed soil undisturbed for decades (or more likely centuries) can create hard iron pans

Compaction often occurs when soil particles are in effect exposed ‘in tooth and claw’ to heavy rain when loosened soil and crumbs wash down and later bake hard. 

I don't care

Certain soil textures are very prone to ‘capping’ if excessively fine seed beds are subjected to rain and a thin layer hardens so much that seedlings fail to push through.

The cure for compaction is usually digging or in the case of very hard pans resorting to a pick axe.
The trouble with regular digging and rotavation is that although it conveniently temporarily separates the particles it also destroys the major soil networks and particularly the soil crumbs. Cultivation sows the seeds for the need of further cultivation. Especially on clay soils.

As a no dig gardener I seek to escape this vicious circle. This does not mean I don’t use my border spade for all manor of processes that do disturb the soil. It’s just that I keep this to a minimum and confined only to where it is needed such as making a (very small) hole to put in my plants.
In a new garden following the horrors of builders I might even dig (once). I did inherit an iron pan in a small corner of my present garden. Although I left most of the patch alone and went ahead with planting after weed elimination, I did double dig a small area to sow a grass path! (Matted dry grass and crusty iron layer just had to go and was broken up and deeply buried).

Gardeners are advised keep off their wet soil. On the contrary I rush out and plant. I explain the logic in this important post.

Does nature correct compaction?

Natures methods can be quite brutal. Cracks in clay soil close in wet weather and reopen in the same place when dry

In the top spit nature will usually correct mild compaction. Traditional Winter digging is promoted to expose clods of clay soil to the expansion and contraction of freezing and thawing, wetting and drying.
With soil severely left alone the same will happen and nature will  have less to do correcting the harm of previous destruction. All Summer the worms will have been in there working away! I find that on my settled undisturbed soil worm casts are particularly prolific in early Spring. Such casts are wonderful mixture of particles and organic matter and are a first step to forming ‘water stable crumbs’
It will take a very long time - if ever - for nature alone to correct hard pans below the level of freezing. Think of puddled clay lining lakes. 

(The cracks going down in the picture will help with root, water and air penetration into otherwise hard subsoil)

What should we do with untidy soil surfaces in our borders that are aesthetically unpleasing?

Just enjoy the liverwort
Might I suggest you just change your mind and regard it as natural and attractive. Brenda’s sister Joyce goes into raptures at the sight off my liverwort and moss. For myself I just cringe if borders are fluffy and loose. Worse if there is a notice telling me not to walk on the soil.

Rowena, I understand that my methods of scattering vegetable debris on the surface is far too untidy for most people’s garden! There must be another way - and of course I did post about Harry’s worm bin.

It is not appropriate to employ a gardener to regularly turn over your borders to correct all those compacted bicycle tire tracks or footprints left by your offspring. They do so much damage on loose wet soil. Don’t tell me you are aerating after you have savaged the roots of your plants.
I know several jobbing gardeners who turn over borders. They have an uncanny ability to fail to turn in the weeds! Perhaps you will call them back sooner?

So what should you do?

Soil surfaces can look very scruffy. You can use or combine various strategies in your ornamental borders and under your fruit and vegetables.

Control weeds often and when they are small. I never remove them but leave them to desiccate and die. They are hardly there two minutes if you do it at the right time. Sometimes when hand weeding I will fling large previously missed weeds out of sight to the back. This is NOT bad hygiene and if it feeds the slugs I approve. They prefer the weeds to my plants.

Regular hoeing is good practice and will do negligible structural damage - especially if you just sever the weed and only the weed at ground level. Do not fluff the whole border as is often recommended.

Readers will know my love of glyphosate and most of my own weeds are sprayed. Again, if weeds from seed are small they will not be unsightly as they die.

I have more recently used my Black and Decker electric strimmer to sever small and medium sized weeds. I set it to the vertical twist. Useless against established perennial weeds such as couch of course - as is hoeing and hand weeding.

In a previous post I identified multiple uses of a spade
Once in a blue moon you might wish to very shallowly skim off liverwort or pearlwort with a skimming action of a small border spade. If moss establishes, wait for dry weather to rake it off - or stick in a label and everyone will admire it.

I find a light plastic lawn scarifier is useful to clear off debris such as untidy cast-off twigs or small branches. You can also use it to restore levels if you have entertained slugs or rabbits.

Let the leaves lie
Where appropriate let Autumn leaves lie

Mulching with well decayed compost helps break the vicious circle of repeated cultivation.

Cover with a mulch and add to all the benefits of no cultivation
More permanent mulching with such as bark chips or gravel gives an entirely different dimension to you garden maintenance and is a perfect antidote to surface compaction

Consider more dense planting and use of ground cover plants

I have said more provocative things than usual today. I have said them all before in more detail in earlier posts of which this is just a precis.
If you insert suitable words or phrases such spade, slug, mulch, compaction, clay soil in my search box at the top (or even the very bottom as you scroll down) you will  find more detail.
I would particularly direct you to these links

I wrote about mulching

I regard mulching with gravel and stone particularly valuable for water conservation

Weed control with glyphosate avoids damaging cultivations

The things people ask about compaction

What I said about compaction in one of my first posts

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Faint praise for garden centres

My garden visitors often book their lunch at Langlands
Over my life there have been three big changes to how we buy plants

1. Plants are sold in containers which can be bought and  - with appropriate caveats - planted all the year round. Not always pot grown, sometimes with such as trees they might be grown in the ground and subsequently containerised . Beware their collapse if newly potted or at the other extreme have strangling woody root girdles if left in too long.

2. Plants  are not usually grown at the point of sale but grown elsewhere by highly skilled specialists. So specialised that some growers, especially Dutch ones grow only one crop - for smaller stuff by the million! 

Mass production

About their crop these growers know everything worth knowing and their quality plants  arrive at the superstore or garden centre in perfect condition. It’s a moot point whether they stay that way for long. If you buy at a supermarket buy their new stock on a Saturday morning. By midweek they are frazzled away.
3. Garden centres have become selling pavilions for hardware and trivia. Not always tacky their stuff on a good day vaguely relates to gardening. We all use their restaurants and sometimes buy plants. Brenda and I stop for coffee on our way to our favourite  plant centre at Reighton. You too might have local places that just sell plants.


Powdery mildew when the systemic fungicide wears off

I frequently cast doubt about the garden success of plants purchased at the garden centre. I recently referred to their plants that ‘curl up and die’. It is my penchant for overstatement I don’t really mean it. I will try to be kinder today. I confess that sometimes I do buy their plants. Indeed some of my very best ones were bought at garden centres.

Batting for garden centres
In the round they provide endless pleasure and convenience for consumers. They are customer orientated and make us feel welcome. In the old days I would go to a nursery and apologise for bothering them.

They bring gardening products together and give you new ideas as to gardening aids and new plants. You can just pop round to replace some gadget, a tool or fertiliser or chemical or a plant to fill up a space.

They can provide a day out where you can get a good meal. Perhaps you have visitors who are gardeners and it is somewhere to go.

Most garden centres have advice desks and on a good day will give you real information. Lets face it most visitors know little about real gardening and they will know more than you. You might find them a little biased to promote their own products.

Prefer my blog if you have myths to dispel. If they sell such as tree paint by definition they will claim it a good thing!
To be fair some of their staff have had horticultural training and are keen gardeners themselves. Some on the quiet will admit that their iron sulphate fertiliser will kill moss and is much cheaper than the official mosskiller. Roger dream on.

Some garden centres involve themselves in community activities and have lively gardening clubs which they sponsor.

Some local garden centres are really excellent well managed places who pride themselves on plant quality and have skilled staff who maintain them. They are likely to be managed by their owner. Beware big chains who buy up successful businesses and whose accountants promptly ruin them.

Although in a moment I question long term survival of some of their plants they are generally free of pest and disease. No longer do you buy in such as red spider mite and greenhouse whitefly and infect your garden for ever. When you buy them they look to be in pristine condition and depending on your skill and serendipity will remain so for days - or even longer?

But it’s not all good

Let’s  leave on one side those garden centres that are not well managed and the difficulties they all have of maintaining stock in prime condition in all kinds of weather such as days of sunny windy drying conditions, gales or driving rain. Plants might suffer all kinds of stresses which carry over to the time you get them home.
Although slow release fertilisers in modern composts last quite a long time it is not easy to provide nutrition to plants on display. If garden centre stock has been on display for months it might be tired and hungry. I say 'tired' because often they are put out in apparent pristine flowering condition and by the time you buy them they might be starting to go over. If they are perennial hopefully just for that season and not for ever.

Indeed their is great skill in determining which old plants on cut price sale are absolute rubbish - or in contrast better and sturdier than when they were bought in! Perhaps give them a liquid feed or a light fertiliser top dressing when you get them home.

From various perspectives garden centre plants are grown ‘soft’. I have posted about this elsewhere and it is an ill defined concept.
At the simplest level it is caused by the accelerated growing techniques to enable the producer to get a quick crop - plenty of fertiliser and a wet growing regime.
Plants in garden centre composts are in either peat or trendily produced from organic waste. They do not usually contain sand or soil.
Fifty years ago my old foreman brought up on John Innes compost swore that the then new fangled peat grown plants were not the same. They would not stand up to a Parks Department’s rough hazards when making their displays and succumbed more readily to pest and disease. I argued with him then but would not do so now.

Another kind of softness is that garden centre plants are not usually hardened off. This is the traditional process where plants are slowly acclimatised to cold, storm and wind when they are moved out from protected conditions. Good gardeners now do it themselves when they get them home. Less experienced gardeners suffer checked plants or even lose them - and return to the garden centre to buy some more.

This is on my part purely speculative but after researching my new realisation about the benefits of silicon I am starting to wonder if certain peat or organic composts are deficient in silicon. (Deficient in something that is not even regarded as a nutrient even though some plants take up far more of it than NPK put together - if it is there to be absorbed). Uptake of silicon is now known to correlate with hardening of plant tissues. Is this another reason why garden centre plants are soft?

One upshot of soft growth is that plants are more susceptible to disease. Pristine garden centre plants still retain the protection of the producers systemic fungicide spray but when this wears of……

Another source of disappointment is that many trendy hardy perennial herbaceous plants are not very perennial  and in some cases rather tender too. Modern varieties are bred to stack on Dutch trays and look well on display benching. To hell if they do well in the garden, they can sell you some more.  Indeed modern consumers expect short term offerings that do not last for ever. They expect to buy something new!

Most garden centres offer generous guarantees of long term survivability but who keeps receipts for such things? - and anyway gardeners always blame themselves for plant mortality. In some cases this is true.

All that tat 

It’s not just garden centres that make you walk through consumer products to get what you want. Think of airports and motorway services. For the latter even the toilet is right at the back.
For some customers consumer products are the main attraction and they do keep none gardening spouses happy. They will spend more on the pretty stuff than you on the plants. Indeed it is where garden centres make most of their profit. It does annoy me when the Christmas display starts in August (or even starts at all).
I can claim some prior knowledge of this now established fashion. My friend and colleague Chris Snook promoted the idea to the garden centre trade when he was their professional advisor many years ago. I remind him every time I see him.
I does not have to be so
There are still plant centres that limit themselves to just selling plants and useful garden sundries. You will have to look hard to find them.
Our own favourite is Reighton Nurseries north of Bridlington and near Filey. When we moved in to an empty acre garden we would take regular rides over the Yorkshire Wolds and return with our hatchback stuffed full of all manor of hardy plants. Dozens and even up to a hundred and we would always spend less that an £100. Indeed ours was a ‘Reighton garden’ albeit fortified with plants from my lifetime collecting and stock from ‘my’ cemetery gardens.
Reighton have an unusual business  plan. They propagate their own or buy in very small starter plants, pot them up and grow them on. The unusual thing is they go out to where they will both grow and you can buy them. You might choose young fresh stock or older and sometimes rather mature plants. For some such as shrubs they may be there a year or two, better or worse for their maturity but perhaps somewhat weedy. It’s a real Aladdin’s cave for plant connoisseurs with thousand upon thousand of cheap plants including some unusual and rare.
Their compost contains some sand and those grown outside are not soft. In their extensive tunnels some plants just might be tender

My recent post about silicon

My piece about soft growth  

Sunday, 1 September 2019

A few angles on fertilisers

Remember when considering fertiliser that some gardens do not need any at all
After blogging for seven years I think I have told you all I know about fertilisers. Some of you might have missed old posts and at the end of this post I provide links to those I hope most useful to gardeners. 

Useful balanced analysis
Some of my stories might have been lost in the undergrowth and for example I told the tale how my friend David Willis  invented a fertiliser called Vitax Q4 for the chemical company he then worked for and how after fifty years continuous production they invited and chauffeured him back to a slap up half centenary celebration.

It is a great general purpose amateur fertiliser that provides almost all essential plant nutrients and for the gardener has multiple uses. This tells you something - that you do not need individual fertilisers for each plant you grow.

David bred this euphorbia
(You might ask what constitutes an amateur fertiliser rather than a professional one. Other than that you will only get amateur ones at the garden centre, they are expensive and are generally weaker. Higher levels of nutrients can cause all kinds of problems to gardeners who do not know what they are doing  - and I confess when I have taken liberties making up my own composts things have sometimes gone pear shaped. Let’s face it although we all love  garden centres most customers are not gardeners. The cynic will say that garden centre fertilisers such as bonemeal are a waste of time but they do little obvious harm)

Fertilisers are concentrated sources of nutrients and should not be confused with bulky manure
It is a complete con to persuade gardeners that they need a special fertiliser for every garden use. ‘Special’ plant specific concoctions are NOT needed and most are anyway frequently wrong approximations invented in an adman's office or based on cheap chemical sources.

Provided that a nutrient is actually available in the soil water a plant will absorb what it needs. This might be an active or passive biological process and plants are masters of selection.

I go further than I ought to and rabbit on how the commercial fertiliser ‘Yaramila’ serves all my fertiliser needs. It may be a case of “do what I say rather than do what I do”. Most gardeners will want to use a degree of variation between ‘slow release’, ‘solid’ and ‘liquid feed’. Single nutrient fertilisers are generally inappropriate although I do love iron sulphate for my lawn (actually two nutrients, iron and sulphur).

Iron sulphate is a single chemical, an example of what is sometimes called a 'straight fertiliser'
The main point is that a 25kg bag of such as Yaramila for twenty five quid will last you for a very long time. It will provide all the six major nutrients and umpteen trace elements that your plants might need.
Lots of little bags of fertiliser for such as orchids, turf, vegetables, cabbage, flowers, shrubs and  you name it, cost an absolute fortune.
You might enquire why commercial growers do buy specialist fertilisers. That’s the economy of scale - they are buying exactly what their specialist crop and/or their soil needs - in 25kg bags or bigger! It’s not that their plants grow better - although they often do, it’s that they are not buying unnecessary resources.
(Nutrients added to the soil unused that season - other than nitrogen - will usually remain in the soil for next year).

Soil analysis
Other than pH testing kits, do-it-yourself stuff at the garden centre is an almost complete waste of time. Don’t put too much faith in pH tests either but it is sometimes useful to have a rough check with that colour indicator you have in the cupboard.

I confess that I have never had a laboratory soil test for my soil. Such testing does have an important place for farmers and commercial growers who work on knife edges of accuracy but is generally of little use to gardeners. They are difficult to interpret for the vast range of different things we grow; so many plants have different requirements and are in small and very variable parts of the garden.
For the major nutrient nitrogen, soil samples sent for testing will vary by a huge amount depending on when you collect it. Your best measure of the soil’s store of nitrogen is to estimate its organic content.
It surprises me how many gardeners are ignorant of the physical make up of their soil as to it’s composition of sand, silt and clay. It tells you a great deal about its nutrient retention and  availability.

Here again professional texture analysis is only of limited help and it is more appropriate to apply common sense investigation. What is the general nature of the soil in your area? Is your soil formed on chalk or limestone? There are simple tests that you can do with your fingers or a bottle of water to learn about its sand, silt and clay.
If you are a beginner the best advice is to have a talk with a knowledgeable neighbour and to have a walk round and see what plants locally thrive.
If you are an experienced gardener just looking at your plants will tell you much about their nutrition.

Which general fertiliser?

As to my penchant for using Yaramila. I like it because it comes with a good balanced analysis, suitable strength and in the form of an easily spread and stored prill. This granule is soluble (but not soluble enough to be suitable for liquid feeding) and does not go mushy in store.
It may be that your local semi-professional supplier carries stock of 25kg bags of a different general fertiliser. Should my supplier, East Riding Horticulture offer something different I would consider a change. 

Should you change from that excellent fertiliser Vitax Q4 or growmore you need to half the amount you have previously applied. In the past I have recommended growmore to amateurs  - its a good compromise with it’s 7:7:7 analysis but lacks magnesium, sulphur and trace elements and is half as strong. Your soil does not usually lack trace elements but you cannot be sure.

I used growmore for years
How I get through 25kg general fertiliser in about two years 
I have a very large garden and my soil is sandy and subject to leaching! If your soil unlike mine contains clay and/or you have regularly added compost you might need no fertiliser at all. Particularly so if you liquid feed and buy ready made compost. If you make up your own compost I recommend you use just one slow release coated fertiliser. For liquid feeding I suggest you use a tomato liquid feed for any plant.
In most circumstances slow release fertiliser and liquid feeds are inappropriate and rather expensive for plants growing in the garden - their value is for container grown plants.

I look after several other gardens than my own; Bolton Percy churchyard, the village plot, Lyndi’s field and Cathi’s garden. None of them receive any fertiliser at all. If your vegetable garden is annually heavily manured it might need no fertiliser either

Very rough guide as to how I use my Yaramila
1. Perhaps 30% goes to feed my 800 sq. metres of lawn

2. I find it more convenient to top dress container plants than liquid feed. These vary between small trees and shrubs permanently outside in very large containers, collections such as cacti and alpines, plants in my nursery, ten litre pots of tomatoes and house plants galore. We do indulge in summer and winter bedding in large tubs too.
Plants in containers are subject to leaching and if you do not feed them they will eventually starve.

My tomatoes get top dressed five times and get more fertiliser than anything else I grow

I lightly scatter yaramila on my small pots three or four times a year

The bedding plant soil has yaramila added when prepared and is carefully top dressed not leaving fertiliser lodged on the leaves. The shrubs and small trees are fed three or four times a year

3. I use yaramila when I make up my soil based composts - but not for propagation or delicate plants. When such as planting up tubs of mature bedding plants or starting up large pots of tulips or daffodils I prefer to top dress later and the amount mixed in the soil is zero or very small.
Other than for large display planters I DO NOT advocate using Yaramila  for making up potting compost for inexperienced gardeners. Best to stick to slow release fertiliser.

When I planted my tulips yaramila was lightly added to the compost and more heavily top dressed on the surface to be washed in by the rain
4. My garden soil is almost pure silt/sand and nutrients leach out of the ground in winter. Significantly nitrogen and potash and perhaps magnesium and calcium too. I do find it rewarding to fertilise my blackcurrants, autumn raspberries, rhubarb, my large thornless blackberry and asparagus. Such plants are top dressed once in the year, usually in March. Note top dressing does NOT need working in and the fertiliser is just flung on the surface over the whole of the rooting area. I tend to apply earlier than normally recommended - roots are active sooner than you think.

5. When I used to grow vegetables I would top dress my winter greens in February or March.

6. Although I don’t reckon to feed my ornamental borders a few plants such as delphiniums just do not grow well on my soil. A light dressing in March works wonders.

7. I confess too that when I want to get a young plant from my nursery or a plant bought at the garden centre to establish quickly although I usually do NOT fertilise at planting time I do a few weeks later.

8. This Summer I bought some rather hungry shrubs for planting this Autumn on the village plot (delayed because of watering difficulties) and after dunking them up in my tub, top dressed with Yaramila. They jumped for joy.

These links provide more detail - apologies that they are merely cut and pasted from an earlier post

Why you do not need to buy lots of little bags of specialist fertiliser. 
My thing against bonemeal
All year round use of fertiliser
Why general fertiliser is suitable for your lawn
My penchant for using charcoal
Restoration of a slag heap 
Buying professional fertiliser
Crushed rock myth
Do fertilisers degrade soil? - whoops I have been repeating myself
My homemade soil potting compost
My post about hard and soft growth was a damp squib

Blogger Robert Pavlis takes a rather different view

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Hand weeding

Pete has lovely Julie's help to remove his weeds (and to design and plant his borders)
I think it a mortal sin to let weeds grow large, shed seed and be yanked out together with good soil and placed in the bin. One way traffic out of the garden. I despise the penance paid when such people (I will not call them gardeners) seek to replace such denudation by buying dubious stuff at the garden centre.

I feel sorry for those who through lack of knowledge, prejudice or impatience fail to eliminate perennial weeds such as couch, ground elder and convolvulus and are for ever fruitlessly pulling or scratching away.

I admire those gardeners who have achieved a nirvana where a casual walk round the garden and the odd stoop to pull out a weed gives a shot of serotonin and is all that is needed to keep the garden completely weed free. It will be a small loved garden where no weeds are allowed to seed. Pure joy to love your plants and nurture every wanted self sown flower.

I preach that weed control should be varied and all appropriate methods should be melded together. Each weed has it’s own strengths and vulnerabilities. Ring the changes. Many of you will not share my penchant for using glyphosate which for me is essential for the several acres that I garden and be surprised to hear that I frequently hand weed.

Even a spade might be enrolled (in truth I am dividing an alstroemeria)
I want to talk about this today. I might stray into mentioning a few aids to merely hand pulling but shall ignore valuable cultural practices such as forking out or hoeing. As to digging it might have a place to bury none-perennial weeds on such as allotments, or to dig holes for ceremonial weed burial in a relative’s garden.
I firmly believe that to dig over borders is yet another sin.

Hand weeding

The nicer of my two problem epilobiums
It is almost impossible to pull out established perennial weeds. Hand weeding is more suitable for annuals and short lived seed sown perennials such as my own nemesis that pink wind born invader epilobium.

Brenda's wellies see little weeding
I use the word ‘hand’ rather flexibly. Sometimes it will be my instep or heal. Should I stumble on a patch of about-to-seed hairy bittercress I will scrape my boot over them. The result is the same as if I severed them at ground level with a hoe - and yes, some weeds need to come out completely but most true annuals will be killed by root detachment.

This is all you need to pull out this sowthistle

My cacti grown in garden soil sometimes need hand  weeding with the help of my secateurs to grip them
For those weeds where the root needs to come out grasp the weed firmly and low and gently tug vertically taking care not to snap them.
For tap rooted plants such as dandelion and docks you can loosen them with a spade and grasping the root/stem juncture  pull them out cleanly.

I am cavalier about any to-hand aids to weeding. I will enrol my secateurs to grasp a weed nestling in a pot of prickly cactus. Of course I will wear gloves if I pull out a large nettle or as recently soft thistles growing in my colourful annual display. I am quite prepared to bend further if cutting back with my hedge trimmer or shears to take out an intruder.

My own penchant is to fling the weed over the garden sometimes flamboyantly to the back of the border. In normal dry conditions it will shrivel and die and its goodness will return to the soil. Do not equate this with sweeping dust under the rug in the kitchen. Recycling is good and if the slugs like my scattered weeds that suits me fine (decaying vegetation is more tasty to slugs than are your plants). I prefer slugs and snails to eat scattered weeds rather than my hostas.

It takes only a day or four for the weed to disappear. I doubt if tidy people like my dear friend Peter can bring themselves to do it. You can always take them for compost but oh what a chore.
People fear the weeds will re-root or continue to seed as they die. If the weeds are such that they still have substantial root, or the weather is wet you are probably doing it wrong or at the wrong time. Just use your gumption. If hand weeding is your only method of weeding then you need to do it often or my method of disposal are just too untidy.

Hairy bittercress will not seed in the lawn
(Don’t tell anyone but if it is wet my (few) hand pulled weeds sometimes are deposited on a hard surface, on my lawn or even suspended and hidden in a plant clump! I do drop most pulled weed in a clear space in the border and if they do regrow will be easily nobbled when I spray or hoe next time) 

I know to many of you my untidy methods sound ridiculous and indeed if you are tackling a border full of seeding large weeds when wet conditions prevail they jolly well are. If so just remember they should go to compost and not to the municipal bin! (And if I might say as a cynic, permit you to recycle all those weed seeds when you spread your compost)

When I need to hand weed

Goosegrass is not a grass!

Scramblers such as cleavers. Sometimes in Bolton Percy churchyard or in my own garden creeping over the wall from the farm field I find Galium aparine. You might know it as goose grass, sticky Willy, velcro plant or a profane name of your own. They are fun to pullout, stick together and drag out their brothers and sisters. Only if already seeding do you need to cart them away.

Too many to hand pull

Epilobiums. 75% of my time spent on weed control is spent on this pretty and evil invader. Having eliminated most of the other weeds they just take their place. Their weedy credentials are impressive. Here is their portfolio.
1. Arrive in the air in copious quantities August to October. If any of your gardens flood as mine does it floats in on the water!

2. Germinates profusely at literally any time of the year.
3. Grows in most insidious spaces in all manor of soils and in all conditions from wet to dry.
4.It floats on the air into the middle of your plant clumps where it thrives and right through the summer pops out as if from nowhere
5. It is partly resistant to glyphosate and its overwintering tight mats of shining rosettes almost completely so.

Shiny epilobium hides in the foxglove

If you don't pull epilobium out cleanly the stump proliferates  likes this one

6. If not hand weeded or hoed out cleanly it regenerates into straggly difficult to control irritating snippets. (It is a joy to cleanly pull out in Summer: the tight rosettes in Winter are best hoed undercutting a little more than severance at ground level. In this case in wet weather they might take a few weeks to die, but they do).
7.It is perennial
You might gather I don’t like this willow herb relative and have written about it here


Nettles get into insidious places
Although nettles are best controlled with herbicide they are partly resistant and if you are using glyphosate you need a dose at the top end of the concentration spectrum. Even in a  garden where you think they have completely gone, wayward seeds pop up and establish in the most awkward places. I often need to get my gloves and to delve into the middle of a shrub or herbaceous perennial.

The only way to get rid of this sow thistle is to pull it out
The world is not ready to hear of my obsession with pulling up grass weeds in my lawn. I might sum up courage in my next post on my series on lawns. What I think is more useful is to suggest that if you are sowing a new lawn and hope to create a sward made up of the grass that you actually sow - a fairly rare achievement - then at first germination weed grasses are pretty obvious and should be pulled out.

This fat hen needs yanking out
In the round for me hand weeding is a spontaneous, generally unplanned action as I walk round the garden. It is pretty frequent and occurs at times at least once a day! It is only for those weeds in insidious and annoying places and those I know are difficult by my routine methods or ones that have been missed that threaten to seed. One year’s seeding really is seven years weeding.

The phantom weeder
Other articles
No links today but I have written before about almost all the weeds named in this article and can be found by inserting their names in my search box. I have also done major articles on perennial weeds such as equisetum, brambles and ground elder. You might want to check out my statement about slugs and hoeing

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