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Flowers and Images from Jayne Anthony Gardens

 

Looking After Your New Garden

Irrigation
Plants need a regular supply of water to keep them healthy, help them to establish more quickly and reduce the stress of being moved into a new home.
Healthy plants are also more tolerant of attacks by pests and diseases.

The areas that require the most vigilance are:

  • Containers, where there is a limited supply of water
  • Newly planted areas where the roots have yet to extend down into the soil
  • Mature shrubs and trees which need lots of water to support the amount of foliage
  • Annuals, which never have time to build up a large root system
  • Vegetables and fruit

How Often to Water
It is often said that you should water thoroughly, say, once a week, depending on the weather, rather than every day. However this depends on your soil type.
Clay soils will hold onto water for longer and so for this type of soil, the statement is true. If it is watered little and often, the water stays close to the surface of the soil and so do the roots, whereas what you want is for the roots to have to reach down and access water deeper underground. Then in dry periods they already have deep roots and the need to water will be less as they can reach the water accessible lower down.
However, on sandy soils, water drains very quickly and to establish plants you really do need to water quite frequently.

The best test is to feel how damp the soil is at a spades depth. If it feels dry then water is needed. To complicate things, clay soils can feel more damp than they really are and sandy soils can feel dryer then they really are, so it is best to use this test in conjunction with observation of any wilting plants. The RHS give a general guide that up to 24 litres per square metre (5.2 gallons per 10 square foot) every seven to 10 days will be sufficient to maintain plant growth.

What Time of Day to Water
It is best to water in the evening when there will be less evaporation of water from the leaves of the plants and the soil.

Methods of Watering
Watering cans and hosepipes -
these are time consuming but it is easier to access water from water butts and the application is more accurate. If you are watering by hand, always try to water at the base of the plant. If the water goes on the leaves, more will evaporate before it has the chance to get to the ground.
It will also limit weed growth as the remaining soil is dry.
Sprinklers -
Try to avoid using sprinklers as a lot of water is wasted by falling on areas that don't need watering and a lot is lost through evaporation.
Irrigation systems - These can be designed to water everything in your garden from containers and hanging baskets to large planted areas.
For borders I would recommend a drip system which is basically a pipe with holes in it which can run off your outside tap. The water seeps into the ground and there is little evaporation. There are control units and rain sensors available if you want the system fully automated, or you can simply switch it on and off as you need to.
You can also get sprinkler systems but I would only recommend these for lawns for the reasons given above.
These systems are best installed during the garden construction phase as any pipe work can be hidden underground, however it is possible to fit them retrospectively.
There are different qualities of system available and it is worth investing in a system which has durable pipe, retains even pressure throughout the system and does not block up.
There are several water regulations to be adhered to depending on the type of system you want to install.

Reducing Water Loss

Weeds compete with your garden plants for water and nutrients so by weeding regularly you can increase the amount of water available to your plants.

An annual mulch to cover the soil surface will help reduce weeds and also reduce evaporation of water from the soil surface. It has the added benefit of being taken down into the soil over time by micro-organisms and improving the structure of the soil as well as adding nutrients, all contributing to healthier plants.
I prefer using a manure based mulch which is a more natural way of improving the soil and adding nutrients. Bark is often used but I find that this degrades messily and is thrown on the lawn by the birds.
Mulch should be applied at least 5cm, ideally 7.5cm thick but should not touch the stems of plants as it can make them rot.

Preventing Winter Damage

  • Don't feed you plants with a nitrogen rich fertilizer in late summer or autumn as this can stimulate sappy growth which is more easily damaged by frost.
  • Tender plants can be protected by covering the crown of herbaceous plants with a layer of mulch, or wrapping them in horticultural fleece.
  • Move containers to a dry, sheltered area and cluster them together and they give each other some protection.
  • Knock any snow off shrubs as it can weigh down branches and leave a large gap in the top of your plant
  • Before the start of winter, check all garden structures and replace or re-attach loose panels, roofs, posts and fences. Replace solid fences with ones that are 50 percent wind permeable to avoid gusting, turbulence and shaking.
  • Plant windbreaks. A cold and windy site will often require windbreaks of additional planting such as hedges. Strategic placing of temporary woven hurdles, netting or similar materials on deeply embedded stout posts can help in the short-term.
  • Deal with drainage problems promptly, as wet soils can make young or shallow rooted trees more likely to uproot in the wind

Feeding
The most recent thinking is that we have traditionally overfed our garden plants to get larger plants and bigger flowers. In reality it is healthier for the plants if they are allowed to grow in a more natural way. One benefit is that if they grow shorter they are less likely to be damaged by wind or rain. A key problem with overfeeding is that this can actually cause water to come out of the roots into the soil rather than the other way round, and therefore risking the death of the plant.
Clay soils tend to hold onto more nutrients so these soils need less feeding however in sandy soils, nutrients are easily leached away and I would recommend adding a balanced fertiliser (roughly equal proportions of Nitrogen[N], Phosphorous[P] and Potassium[K]). I would apply this at least once a year, in the spring. You can get soil testing kits to check the nutrient levels in your soil if you think you may need to feed more often. On clay soils I would only feed if the ground has been left barren, but I would rather add nutrients in the form of organic matter with maybe half the recommended amount of balanced fertiliser.

Pruning
Pruning is an important part of garden maintenance. Whilst most young shrubs can be left for a couple of years without pruning, after this, a regular routine of annual pruning will keep the plant healthy and avoid plants getting overcrowded and unproductive.

You should use a good quality pair of bypass secateurs to make a clean cut and prevent any wound damage that could attract infections.

I always provide my clients with a maintenance plan for all their new plants but the RHS website or books are also a good source of reference. You will need to know at what time of year to prune each plant to make sure that you are not pruning out the next season's flowers, and also how to prune, as some shrubs involve an overall trim whereas others need a proportion of branches taken out completely to get the best shape and flowers. Remember that some shrubs should not be pruned at all.