CARING for PLANTS while they are GROWING

The feeding of plants during their growing period is rather a mystery to many people, but this need not be so. Chemical fertilisers are available either in powder or granulated form, or as a liquid which is diluted according to the manufacturers’ instructions. Liquid fertilisers should normally be quicker acting than the other types, because all fertilisers have to be dissolved in water before the plant roots can assimilate them.

For regular use in the garden, if one is not trying for maximum results, an ordinary general liquid fertiliser is perfectly capable of producing good results on all crops. But if one is really keen to produce first class results and heavy-crops of, say. Tomatoes in a greenhouse, or indeed any other crop, it is worth while studying the question of plant feeding and varying the feeds as necessary. It is important to remember two things. First, a week of strong sunshine has the same effect on a plant as an overdose of potash fertiliser. This has the effect of stiffening up the plant and not encouraging quick growth. Now a week or so of dull weather has the opposite effect. 11 acts on plants in the same way as a strong dose of nitrogenous fertiliser. Growth is rapid and the plants tend to become soft and rather spindly.

So if you want to fertilise your plants sensibly, feed them every week or so with a good general fertiliser, but have always handy some sulphate of potash and a quick acting nitrogenous fertiliser such as soluble dried blood. These are available in all good garden shops.

Many plants benefit enormously if they are given some extra feeding from time to time. Dahlias and gladioli, and of course plants growing in pots, tubs, or window boxes outdoors all appreciate regular feeding throughout their season of growth. There are nowadays special fertilisers for carnations, chrysanthemums, roses, and so on. These are compounded with the right balance of nitrogen, potash, and phosphates to suit the various plants. But unless you are .trying for perfection, a good general liquid fertiliser used according to the maker’s instructions, and well watered in, will usually give results that will be highly gratifying.

So, feed regularly with the general mixed fertiliser. Then if the weather is hot and sunny, balance the feeding by giving a dressing of the nitrogenous fertiliser – the soluble dried blood. A normal dressing would be a teaspoonful of dried blood dissolved in about a pint of water to each plant – dahlias or chrysanthemums for example.

If the weather is dull and sunless for a week or two, your plants will greatly benefit from a dressing of a potash fertiliser -say a quarter of an ounce of sulphate of potash to each plant. Sprinkle it around the plants and water it well in.

If you watch the weather and adjust your feeding programme accordingly, you will be surprised how well your plants will respond.

All plants growing in pots, tubs, window boxes or other containers need a weekly Iced of weak fertiliser. Very few gardeners today can find enough animal manure, or make enough garden compost, to keep their soil rich enough for really good growth. Herbaceous plants, trees, shrubs that were planted in the early part of the year, or even in the autumn will greatly appreciate plenty of water in dry periods, and a little judicious feeding. Clematis, for example, are gluttons for plant food, and if they are given a watering with liquid manure once every ten days or so in summer, they will respond with strong growth.

One or two important points about liquid feeds never apply them to dry soil, whether it be in a pot. A window box or an open border. Always moisten the soil with clear water first, and then apply the fertiliser.

Never apply more than the recommended amount: an overdose of fertiliser may damage the tender roots of plants. Indeed it is often highly rewarding to apply the fertiliser at half the recommended strength twice as often as the makers suggest. This certainly pays o(f handsomely with pot plants in a greenhouse or in the home.

And do not forget your hedges. They are usually left to fend for themselves for years: their roots exhaust the soil of plant food. And as the years go by the hedges become thin and miserable. So include hedges in the feeding programme if you want good strong growth.

SOWING SEEDS and PLANTING OUT

MANY hardy herbaceous perennial plants may easily be grown from seed. The seed is readily obtainable from seedsmen who list many hundreds of suitable plants. Some of the highly bred plants such as lupins, phloxes, michaelmas daisies and delphiniums will not produce seedlings with flowers of the same colour as the parents and often the heights and-habits will be different, too. However, it is well worth the gamble of sowing-seeds of such plants. Some of the seedlings may have to be discarded as their flowers may not be sufficiently colourful, but many of them will be perfectly suitable border plants. Very occasionally one of these seedlings may turn out to be a much better plant than its parents. The gardener does not normally sow seeds with this possibility in mind, but it has been known to happen that fine varieties of well-known perennials have been raised by amateurs as a result of finding chance seedlings and recognising their worth.

Apart from this, raising herbaceous perennials from seed is a cheap and quite quick way of getting large numbers of plants. Many plants, if they are raised in the greenhouse in early spring as described below, will produce some flowering stems in their first season. The majority will make plants large enough to be planted out by the autumn. A few will not make decent sized clumps until the following year, but after that they will go on making larger clumps year by year.

A start may be made on the sowing of perennials in late March in the cool greenhouse or frame. Sowings under glass may also be made in April and May. Sow the seeds thinly in seed-boxes of John Innes Seed Compost. Cover the seeds to a depth roughly equivalent to their thickness. A good many of the seeds of the Daisy family (Compositae), including such plants as heleniums, anthemis, coreopsis, hcliopsis, rudbeckias and echinaceas, have seeds with feathery ‘parachutes’ attached. When sowing these it is unnecessary to cover the parachutes; it does not matter if these are left sticking out ol’ the soil, provided the seeds at the ends are covered. Very fine seeds need only the slightest of soil covering. It is sufficient to scat KM- soil evenly over them through a fine sieve. After sowing and covering with soil, water the boxes by immersing them to their rims in water until the surface soil darkens with moisture. Then let the boxes drain for a while to get rid of surplus moisture. They should then be covered with a sheet of glass over which is placed a sheet of brown paper or newspaper. The glass should be turned over each day to get rid of the condensation drops on the underside. As soon as the seeds have germinated the paper should be removed and a day or two after that the glass, too, should be taken off.

As soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle without damaging them they should be moved on into boxes or pots of John Innes Potting Compost, spacing them out well in the boxes. As these plants are hardy. From now on they should not be coddled but should be grown in cool, airy conditions, and in May they should be planted out in a nursery bed in the open ground. They may be planted now in rows, 3 in. apart, 6-9 in. between plants. The chosen position should be an open one and the soil should be well broken up. The plants will need little attention until the autumn apart from hoeing between the rows to keep down weeds and if the weather is very dry before they become properly established, a certain amount of watering.

In the autumn the young plants may be set out in their permanent flowering positions. Often there is no room in the greenhouse or frame in spring for raising these hardy plants. But perfectly good results can be obtained by sowing the seed outdoors from April onwards. The best site is a bed facing north or west, well dug and well drained. Here the seeds should be sown thinly in drills 9 in. apart to allow lor running the hoe between them. This is particularly important, for the seeds of some plants are very slow to germinate at all the first year. Accordingly each row should be labelled and, as far as possible, keep clear of weeds, and should be left for at least a year to allow for slow germination.

When the seedlings are an inch or two high they may be lifted carefully from the seedbed, using a trowel, and transplanted to a nursery bed. Once again, it is best to plant them in rows to allow for hoeing between them, 9 in. between rows. 10 in. between the plants. By the autumn they should have made plants large enough to be set out in their permanent places.

MULCHING

A MULCH is a good old gardening word for a layer of material spread on the surface of the soil. The layer may be from 2 to 6 inches thick, according to the type of soil, the amount of material available and the purpose of the mulch. Mulching is done to feed plants, to conserve moisture or to suppress weeds. The most usual materials are well rotted manure, peat, leaf mould, garden compost, hop manure, spent hops, sawdust. Lawn mowings, and straw. Straw may bring weed seeds with it but otherwise it makes a useful mulch beside rows of sweet peas, raspberries, or runner beans and reduces the amount of watering required. Peat has next to no nutrient value and is not used to feed plants. These materials are not usually mixed with each other but there is no reason why, if you have a little of one and a bit of another, they should not be combined.

It is not advisable to use new sawdust in quantity, but weathered sawdust a year or two old is a useful mulch to prevent surface evaporation and to smother weeds. But it can be used fresh: scatter a handful of sulphate of ammonia over each square yard of a mulch 2 inches deep. Fresh sawdust applied by itself upsets the balance of nutrients in the soil and can cause fungal growth.

Where seaweed is available this may he applied fresh, that is to say wet. At the rate of io to if) lb. To the square yard. It is better, however, to stack it and when dry it may be used at the raf of 5 to (> lb. To the square yard. SeaWeed contains a good deal of nitrogen, a certain amount of potash and phosphates, as well as other elements of value for plant growth. For those fortunate enough to be able to collect seaweed, it is best to do it at different times of the year and make one stack, because the nutrient content of spring seaweed is different when autumn gathered. It may also be mixed with the garden compost.

Tea leaves make a useful mulch in a small way, particularly for hydrangeas or fuchsias in tubs. Household soot has a certain nitrogenous value and may be used, if weathered. At the rate of about 6 Oz. to the square yard.

On light sandy soil mulching in the spring, especially around fruit trees, currant bushes and raspberry canes is most beneficial. It not only provides the hungry soil with plant food, but protects the roots and stops the soil from drving out.

Staking for Protection

STAKING and tying are jobs that have to be done and done well. But they can take up a lot of time. For single stemmed plants the split ring, or sweet pea ring is excel lent. Sweet peas grown on a single stem as cordons, and gladioli, for example. Are quickly secured to their bamboo canes by these split rings. Keep a few always in the pocket of your gardening jacket or apron.

Then there are the larger ‘carnation rings’ wire rings which clip on to the cane and support a number of stems at one lime. They may be raised up the stake as the plants grow. Delphiniums need long canes-up to 6 ft. for the tall varieties, four canes to a plant. Tie soft string around the canes and across from cane to cane as the plants grow. This holds the spikes upright but loosely so that they can sway in the wind. If they are tied individually to the canes they will break over at the tie in a gale.

Other tying aids are balls of green twine in a plastic pack. The string is pulled out from the end and does not unravel in your pocket.

There are also small packets of short lengths of plastic covered wire very easy to twist around stem and stake.

And the ‘string ring’, a plastic ring with a small blade set in the back, worn on a finger is very handy. When a tie is made the string may be cut with a flick of this little blade – none of the weary business of searching for the knife each time a cut has to be made.

PLANTING OUT

It should be quite safe to plant out dahlias and tender annuals at the end of May or early in June where there may still be a risk of frost. For some strange reason, which is not yet understood, dahlias do not like to be planted in borders cheek by jowl with other flowers. They grow much better if they are planted in a bed on their own. For the production of cut flowers they are perfectly happy in a row across the end of the vegetable plot – anywhere by themselves.

The ground should be forked over and a dusting of bone meal worked in at the rate of 3-4 ozs. To the square yard. Put a stout stake into the ground at each planting position – say about 2-2 ½ feet apart.

Then water the plants thoroughly a few hours before planting – a few inches away from the stake. If the soil is really dry water the planting site as well some hours before planting. If the weather is cool and showery the plants will probably not need any further watering unless a really dry period sets in. Always plant very firmly. Tie the label to the top of.the stake – it is irritating to have to search among the leaves at the base of the plant to find the name of your dahlias.

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