The essentials of maintaining a new or inherited garden.
There’s a lot more to gardening than planting plants. As a gardener, you need to care for your plants once they’re in the soil, making sure they’re well-watered and fed, given adequate support and are not growing in competition with other plants or weeds. Caring for you garden as a whole involves caring for plants individually – what works for one will not necessarily work for another.
Learn how best to care for your garden, below.
Watering container planted with Verbena rigida and sedum ‘Carl’ and Lavandula angustifolia
Watering plants is one of the most important ways to care for your garden. Plants lose moisture from their leaves through a process known as transpiration, so it’s important to ensure there’s enough in the soil for them to reabsorb through their roots. However, in warm weather, moisture evaporates from the soil as well. You’ll therefore need to water the soil more often on hot summer days than in cool spring or autumn conditions, and in sunny areas more than shady ones.
Seedlings and young plants need watering more regularly than older, established plants, as they have smaller roots systems, so absorb less moisture. Planting and transplanting plants damages the tiny hairs on their roots, which are used to absorb water, so for the first few days after planting you’ll need to give these more water, too. Plants grown in containers have restricted roots and less soil to absorb moisture from. So, these also need extra watering than established plants growing in your border. You will also notice that plants growing in a sunny border will require more watering than those growing in shade.
In hot weather, it’s best to water in the evening so it has time to soak in and the plants have time to ‘drink’ overnight, before it gets hot again the next day. In cold or dull weather, it’s a good idea to water in the morning so plants have a chance to dry out before nighttime. Try to avoid splashing water on to leaves in hot weather, as this can cause them to scorch.
As well as water, plants absorb nutrients and minerals through their roots. These include nitrogen (N), which aids leafy growth, phosphorus (P), which encourages root development and potassium (K), which encourages flower and fruit development. These are considered the main nutrients required to keep plants healthy. In the wild, leaf litter and other decomposing plant material release nutrients back into the soil, but in our gardens, they’re gathered up onto the compost heap or the green bin or are burned. As this process gradually depletes the soil’s nutrients, it’s important to replace them by feeding the soil or plants, to help our plants grow.
You can use organic or non-organic fertilizers to feed your plants. Organic fertilizers consist of plant- or animal-based materials, which have the additional benefit of encouraging earthworm activity and soil bacteria, which keeps it and the plants healthy. These include nettle or comfrey feeds, and well-rotted manure. Inorganic fertilizers are made from synthetic chemicals.
Pruning your plants
While some shrubs and trees will happily grow unchecked, most require cutting back or pruning at some point. Pruning is simply cutting off parts of a plant to restrict its size, encourage it to grow in a certain shape or develop more fruit, flowers or stems, or to remove dead or diseased material.
Many new gardeners are daunted by the prospect of pruning their plants. But pruning isn’t difficult or complicated. Simply removing dead, diseased, broken, crossing and crowded branches is often enough for many plants.
Deadheading spent flowers prevents plants from setting seed, which encourages them to produce more flowers. By regularly deadheading bedding plants, herbaceous perennials and roses you can keep them flowering throughout summer and into autumn. Deadheading bulbs also redirects the plant’s energy into flowering the following year, rather than producing seed.
Article By BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine