Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dividing Perennials









I’m clearing a few areas in the garden this week that have become overgrown. Doing this has unearthed a few perennials that have gone bald in the centre. Plants like this slowly expand along the ground leaving the old bit in the middle to die off. This is very common in lower growing perennial plants such as creeping asters. My perennial geraniums are also taking over a whole bed so are being divided too although I’m not really sure where to put them as yet.

Most perennials benefit from division every two to three years to maintain health and vigour. For the purposes of propagation, this can be done more regularly to build up stock.

These are just a few examples of plants that can be divided:, Anemone, arum lily, aster, bergenia, buttercup, daylily, delphinium, euphorbia , hosta, Iris, lily-of-the-valley , ornamental grasses, primula (primrose), sedum, verbena and sea holly,

When to divide perennials
Plants can be divided successfully at almost any time if they are kept well-watered afterwards. However, division is most successful when the plants are not in active growth.

As a general guideline, divide summer-flowering plants in spring (Mar-May) or autumn (Sep-Nov) when the soil is dry enough to work. In wet autumns, delay until spring. Spring is also better suited to plants that are a touch tender

Many spring-flowering plants, such as irises, are best divided in summer (Jun-Aug) after flowering when they produce new roots. I find that I generally divide the plants when I have the time.

Dividing perennials
Lift plants gently with a garden fork, working outwards from the crown’s centre to limit root damage. Shake off excess soil so that roots are clearly visible
Some plants, such as Ajuga (bugle), produce individual plantlets which can simply be teased out and replanted. In the case of chamomiles, these grow plantlets form the existing leaves and can be snipped off and replanted without disturbing the parent plant.
Small, fibrous-rooted plants such as Heuchera, Hosta and Epimedium can be lifted and pulled apart gently. This should produce small clumps for replanting
Large, fibrous-rooted perennials, such as Hemerocallis (daylily) require two garden forks inserted into the crown back-to-back. Use these as levers to loosen and break the root mass into two sections. Further division can then take place. You might find hostas need treating this way if they get really huge. In some cases, a sharp knife might be needed to cleave the clump in two
Plants with woody crowns (e.g. Helleborus) or fleshy roots (e.g. Delphinium) require cutting with a spade or knife. Aim to produce clumps containing three to five healthy shoots.

Dividing rhizomes.
Dig up and select young outer pieces.
Use a sharp knife to separate the rhizomes.
Select pieces that have at least one or two fans of leaves from the outside of the clump and discard the centre rhizomes.
Plants with rhizome roots include: Flag Iris, Lily of the valley and Orris Root.

Aftercare
Plant divisions as soon as possible and water them in well. Alternatively, pot up individually to build up size, overwintering pots in a frost-free environment.

Problems
There are few specific problems associated with dividing, especially if carried out between autumn and spring. However, ensure that plants don’t dry out while they do re-establish. It is also worth carrying out slug and snails control as these are often problematic pests for perennials.

Why Divide?
There are a few good reasons to divide your perennial plants:
  • Clumps have started to die out in the middle. The classic “doughnut” shape with an empty hole in the centre is a sure sign that a perennial clump needs attention.
  • Flowering performance has declined. The clump may have become congested, or the roots old and woody.
  • Soil nutrients have been exhausted around the clump. Signs of this might be stunted growth, yellowish leaves or lack of bloom. Dividing and moving to a new location is a wise idea. Sometimes simply fertilizing the plant will make it smarten up.
  • Perennial weeds like creeping buttercup or grass have infested the clumps. When this happens, usually the best approach is to dig up the entire clump and divide it, picking out every single piece of weed root that can be found.
  • Dividing established clumps can provide plenty of new plants for a new garden bed, or to share with friends and neighbours.

There are a few perennials that don’t respond well to being divided which include: Alyssums candytuft, carnation, delphinium, foxgloves, lavenders and the perennial sweet pea amongst others.
Once you start to divide plants, you will get a feel for those that will do well when divided.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Social and Therapeutic Horticulture Course in Donegal and Plant Your Land with Trees







Plants are relaxing now as the season ends, but the courses keep coming. 

There’s no rest for the more extroverted gardeners among us who like an audience. Gardening clubs will be thinking ahead to the spring and more specialist courses are also growing in popularity.
Especially those where we can eat what we grow.  

GIY Ireland (Grow it Yourself) based in Waterfod have a range of courses from pumpkin carving, after school clubs, grow and make your own Christmas dinner to making comfort foods for those cold winter evenings. 

Some of the courses travel the country in a road show style and there’s one locally you might be interested in which is being held in Gortahork at the Ourganic Gardens on November the 18th.

Introduction to Social and Therapeutic Horticulture
The course will introduce us to social and therapeutic horticulture and is being run by community worker Caitriona Kelly who joined GIY earlier this year to promote the health benefits of gardening. 
The Social and therapeutic horticulture idea stems from horticultural therapy and uses plants to enable people improve both physical and mental well-being, through a process of planned and facilitated programmes. It can be active, whereby individuals carry out gardening tasks, and it can be passive, as in the case of therapeutic and healing gardens. Settings for both, Caitriona says, include rehabilitation hospitals, prisons, day care centres, psychiatric institutions and homes for the elderly.
The course offers to help you gain an insight into the history of social and therapeutic horticulture, learn about the myriad ways in which horticulture can have a positive impact on health and well-being using current research and learn about ways in which it can be used effectively across a range of client groups. 

This course is aimed at anyone with an interest in learning about the use of horticulture as a therapeutic medium including healthcare professionals (occupational therapists, nurses and psychiatric nurses) community workers, teachers and horticulturists. For more information on how to book go to the GIY website.

Lunch is provided and the cost is €65

Plant your own Woodland
For those of you who have already found the joys of gardening and have a spare bit of land, you might be interested in this.
There is increasing recognition of the economic, social and environmental contribution from forestry, including its crucial role in greenhouse gas mitigation.

For growers with land of which they are unsure of what to do with, forestry can be an economical and environmental investment. You may not have ever considered forestry to be a part of your plan for your land, but maybe it should be.

In the latest Forestry Advisory Newsletter from Teagasc they explore the planting options that many land owners have and the benefits that comes hand-in-hand with forestry.

Over the past 25 years, 19,000 landowners – mainly farmers – have decided to convert some of their land to forestry as a very good economic and productive option to complement their farm or enterprise. This of course can be extended to professional growers as well.

Returns from well-managed forests are highly attractive, according to Teagasc. Forestry is a rapidly-expanding competitive sector, from planting to harvesting and timber processing.
Over one-third of landowners who planted in the last ten years went on to plant again, a great measure of its success!

Teagasc are available to provide advice and information, including one-to-one consultations and site visits.

Check out some of the benefits that can be associated with forestry in Ireland.
  • Forestry is a great land use option, making marginal or fragmented land work for you.
  • Forestry is a great tax- and labour-efficient enterprise.
  • Establishment grants generally cover the cost of planting, with 15-year annual premium payments offering a great secure annual income.
  • The interaction of forestry with the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) is great; eligible land parcels planted since 2009 are also eligible for BPS payment.
  • Appropriate forest design, scale and management will help ensure great crop quality, timber value and environmental benefits.
In the next few years I think it would be great if we saw a big rise in tree planting and also the introduction of crops such as hemp for bio plastics, clothing building material, fuels to mention just a few uses. I also really believe our climate up here is perfect for tea growing. It’s the labour costs for harvesting that would be the restriction. Inishowen tea - that has a nice ring to it!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Only Way Is Up - Vertical Gardening






There’s no reason we have to limit ourselves to growing in the ground. A lot of us already have plants growing in containers, hanging baskets and even old brightly painted tin cans, so there’s nothing new there. How about covering the whole wall space with plants though? It sounds a bit excessive, but the idea is growing in popularity with both businesses and individual homeowners embracing a greener future in urban areas.

Vertical gardening
I was in the town of Reading in Berkshire last week and came across a massive planting installation that covered a whole shopping centre wall. I’d say the dimensions of the vertical planted area covered the size of a tennis court and as it was a shady area was planted with ferns, bergenia, the drought tolerant barbed wire plant (Tylecodon reticulatus) and the hardy Heuchera Palace Purple. 

The plants are kept in place by means of small pockets; in this case they were made from modular plastic pot shaped moulds that click together.  At this size the structures need to be fastened securely and most of them sit on a specially constructed galvanized metal frame that sits away from the wall to allow for ventilation.

It’s in cases like this that gardening meets high end design and incorporates the skills of not only the plants person but architects, builders and engineers. Which is great because it confirms that gardeners are in the same league as other professions and are being recognised as so. Gone are the stuffy days of the public thinking professional gardeners sit in their potting sheds smoking a pipe and will work all day for the price of a bag of chips. Hopefully these types of innovations will attract a new generation of modern gardeners who will ‘green up’ our built up urban towns and cities. 

The structures are designed to actually protect walls. Modern materials such as plastics can have a shorter lifespan when the suns UV light hits them and constant heating and cooling could cause cracking. Because of the gap between surfaces there’s no problem with damp or structural damage you would get with something that clings to the wall such as ivy or is fastened by wires. 

These types of wall covers don’t come cheap though, the average price of a commercial wall such as this could cost you up to €500 per square metre. The companies claim the plant covers could triple the lifespan of the walls so this offsets at least a part of the cost.  Plants will need replacing from time to time but if they are chosen correctly and given just the right amount of water and feed,  there’s no huge cash outlay after they have been installed – apart from paying an abseiling gardener. Rooftop rainwater collection could feed the plants by inertia drip feed cutting down the need for electrical pumps. 

The designs are used to good effect indoors too and have the same principle of allowing air to pass behind them sparing the wall any damp. There are some massive corporate ones but we can make our own out of something as simple as a picture frame and a bit of old cloth made into pockets, which would be an ideal home for succulents.

There’s no need for us to be plashing the cash on huge planting schemes. There are products on the market that can be hung on the wall and planted up. If you imagine one of those sheets full of pockets that hang on a bedroom door to put rubbish in and triple the price you will get the idea. The increase in price is because the material has to be thicker. There are solid plastic type holders you can get as well. These click together to make the wall covering as large as your pocket will allow (these cost about €20 for three pots) so I’d say it’d cost you a mortgage to cover the front of the house. The main issue I can see with these small home DIY kits is the lack of air circulation behind them. It could be a mould problem waiting to happen so the solution could be to attach them to wooden batons. 

Let’s assume we have covered the front of the house and the interior walls with decorative plants, but how about the idea of a ‘vertical allotment’ where we can grow our edibles in confined spaces, ideal for the city dweller that only has a balcony? I think it could easily be possible to get a healthy crop of salads plants. I’m not sure about main crops such as carrots, peas and spuds but I should think you would have fun experimenting.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Spent Coffee Grounds - A Guide to their Uses









Expectation vs. reality making coffee lampshades



Over 1.5 million tonnes of coffee grounds are sent to landfill around the world every year. In the UK and Ireland alone it’s over 600,000 tonnes or up to 93% of all the coffee waste produced. 

A huge amount and an indication of just how popular this new drug of choice has become. 

Coffee shops are replacing the pub for people to hang out in and it’s socially acceptable to have all night coffee houses and even drive by coffee collection points.  

These facts passed me by and as I don’t drink coffee.

This changed last week when I was looking online for new lampshades to make ( I tend to make these when winter comes to keep my sanity until I can get out in the garden again). 

I’ve made shades out of various materials, concrete, paper, old car parts, plumbing material, plastic, old spanners and even dog hair, so when I saw a shade made from spent coffee grounds I thought “ I could do that”

 I’m being proved wrong. 

The images of these super smooth, tough and durable shades were  the result of 5 years’ worth of tinkering with materials and a special ‘patented secret formula’ so the designer said on their website. How hard can it be? Just a few dollops of PVA soaked grounds put into a cone shape and were away. Wait a week and then hang up the resulting shade. 

It’s a case of expectation versus reality here. I have not a collection of cup and plate shaped shades (I use the term lightly) that bear no resemblance to the original images. I was also told in the blurb on the website that the shades “emit a delightful smell of freshly ground coffee when the bulb heats the shade” erm, no they don’t. I’ve been sneezing every time I walk past them and the rest of the family thing that there’s a pile of old grounds in the kitchen compost bin rotting away and keep asking what the horrible pong is.  The compost bin is probably where they belong… but is it?

There are a lot of potential uses for spent grounds and the more ways to recycle the waste, the less the large coffee chains have to pay for getting rid of their by product. 

Some uses found so far are:

  •  Add to the compost 
  • Used to dye paper and cloth.
  • Mix with glue and touch up furniture.
  • Flea repellent.
  • Odour eliminator.
  • Soak up grease.
  • Covert to laundry detergent.
  • Make into bioplastic.
  • Use as a biofuel. Oil is extracted from the waste, grounds are dried to filter impurities in biofuel production, and any remnants are burnt as a source of energy from electricity.
  • Firelogs.

It’s the composting of the grounds that I am concentrating on now as I haven’t the patience to “tinker” for 5 years to get the mix right for lampshades.

I have decided to do a test bed with the coffee I collected from the shops last week. I got over 5kg from about 10 shops who all happily dropped their used grounds into my open bin bag. There are some large companies who have bags of grounds on the counter for us gardeners to collect but I didn’t come across any. One shop chain spokesperson said they have now stopped giving away the grounds all together to the public after an email was sent to all of the outlets, I’m not sure why, probably people were trying to boil up an extra brew in their kitchens.

I’m not very hopeful the grounds will improve my garden.  Tests have been done before and the results have not been particularly successful, only in one case of growing oyster mushrooms did the grower actually say there was an improvement in their crop. It could be a case of old wives tales and hearing of the benefits often enough in press releases from the coffee shops could actually make us believe the hype. In most cases large amounts of grounds added to the garden slows plant growth and actually kills plants. 

Coffee grounds are a rich source of caffeine, richer than coffee itself, depending on the brewing technique. One of the key functions of caffeine in the plants that produce it is ‘allelopathy’ ,the ability to reduce competition from surrounding species by suppressing their growth. Caffeine is packed into coffee seeds for the very function of suppressing the germination of other seeds.

Studies suggest it also stalls root growth in young plants, preventing their uptake of water and nutrients. Yet others have shown it has antibacterial effects (so much for boosting soil bacteria). It’s not really acidic either so throwing it around your rhododendrons won’t really do much.
I’ll probably start by just adding the coffee to the compost bin and let the worms work on it,. Even this gets mixed reviews. Some vermicomposters (worm growers) say the spent ground don’t hold water so are not very palatable. I’ll mix mine in with other wetter food scraps as big clumps of coffee might heat up too much.  

Just in case you were wondering if dry coffee grounds deter slugs and snails – They don’t!  I’ve had the bag outside and it’s full of them. 

The ‘Old Wives’ have been at it again.

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