Want to know the best way to do the gardening basics? You won’t go wrong with Adrienne Wild’s top gardening tips
Cultivating soil is fundamental to good gardening. It improves the soil’s structure as reducing compaction increases aeration, so that more air gets to plant roots and drainage is enhanced.
How to dig
Known as single digging, the technique is to dig out a trench across the plot to a spade’s depth, known as a spit, and about 30cm wide.
The soil removed is wheelbarrowed to the end of the plot, ready to put in the final spit when all the soil has been turned over. Winter digging is well worth mastering, as it means that you will have a fluffy soil to plant in spring.
How to weed
Weeds are plants that are growing where they are not wanted. If left, they compete for light, water and nutrients, and they flourish often with vigorous top growth, ranging and deep-penetrating roots and several generations of seeds that colonise the garden.
The aim should be to stop them in their tracks. Weed-free soil can be protected with fabric, paper or plastic mulch that stops the seeds from sprouting from below. A deep bark or gravel mulch on beds will also suffocate developing weeds and starve them of light.
Perennial weeds that keep coming back year after year and can grow from even the smallest segment left in the soil, such as nettles, usually need digging out or perhaps the help of a glyphosate-based weedkiller that kills the entire plant. Use it to spot treat individual plants or clumps.
The best approach to wage war on weeds is to make time for a weekly weed workout. Hoe the soil when the surface is dry and on hot, sunny days or when there’s a good breeze, and weeds will soon wilt, shrivel and die.
Use a knife to loosen soil and lever up individual weeds that grow in beds and paved areas. In lawns, invest in a daisy grubber, the classic two-pronged tool with a lever action for pulling daisies and other weeds out of a lawn without spoiling the grass.
How to prune
Pruning is done to keep plants healthy and in good shape, but it can also invigorate them and encourage flower and fruit production. With shrubs, the starting point is always to cut out entirely all crossing and damaged branches to leave an open centre where air can circulate freely, which will reduce the risk of disease.
During the winter, when deciduous plants are dormant, prune any overgrown shrubs to make room for new growth and remove suckers growing from the base of trees and shrubs, otherwise they will take over.
Make sure to also trim rose bushes, removing a third of the growth with secateurs. Rambling roses such as ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Albertine’ are best pruned when their flowering is over.
In early spring, buddlejas that flower in mid-late summer on current season’s wood and spring-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering can be reduced by a third to maintain their height and shape.
At the same time, prune summer-flowering clematis, (which are to flower on the new shoots produced this year), by cutting all the old growth back to about 60cm above ground.
How to harvest
If you’re growing your own vegetables, you will no doubt be starting to reap the rewards of all your hard work.
Young new potatoes were harvested along with the first crop of peas, while the majority of varieties are allowed to reach maturity and will be lifted during the next few weeks to be used immediately and to be stored in paper sacks in a cool, dark shed for use throughout the winter.
Beans thrive when the roots are cool and moist, but you must pick them regularly and before the beans inside begin to bulge the side of the pods in order to encourage more pods to form.
As soon as the leaves start to yellow and die back, onions and garlic are ready for harvesting. Don’t bend the leaves down to speed this up, but lay the bulbs, complete with foliage, in a warm, dry place for a couple of weeks before putting them in net bags and hanging them up in a dark, frost-free shed.
Pinching out the growing tips on tomato plants now will encourage the fruit to swell and ripen, as this makes sure the plant’s energy is not diverted into foliage from the fruit.
How to make cuttings
Collect tip shoots from border plants such as penstemons and summer bedders. Make cuttings 7.5-10cm long, trimming them just below a leaf joint and remove the lower leaves. Insert cuttings to half their length in a pot of compost and cover with a polythene tent, making sure that the sides don’t touch the cuttings.
Place on a shady windowsill indoors and watch for signs of new growth as this indicates that roots have formed.
How to provide nutrients
For plants to stay healthy and give the best results, they also need supplementary fertilisers. The basic nutrients required by plants are nitrogen (N), for leaf and stem growth, phosphorus (P), for root growth, and potassium (K), for flowers, fruit and to maintain healthy growth. A balanced fertiliser contains a bit of everything, including secondary and trace elements that promote plant cell and root growth.
Feeding is usually done during the growing season, and a useful regime to adopt starts in spring with a sprinkling of Growmore lightly forked into the soil around mature plants.
New plantings benefit from a dressing of bone meal that will supply them with nutrients slowly, or better still, a ‘controlled release’ fertiliser, which is temperature sensitive and will only give up its nutrients when the weather is mild and plants are actively growing. This type of fertiliser is perfect for plants growing in pots as it lasts the whole season.
Roses, lawns and tomatoes are very hungry plants, so use a fertiliser formulated for each specifically and feed throughout the season.
For nourishing leafy veg you can save money with a home-made version using nettles! Simply fill an old water butt with 2kg of nettle leaves to every 5 litre of water, ferment for at least three weeks, then dilute at a rate of one part nettle mixture to 10 parts water.