Gardening is a fine art, and often learning to get it right is a process of trial and error. However, there are top tips and tricks you can learn from professional gardeners – so, whether you want to stop slugs eating your plants, or learn how to keep your soil moist for longer, read on…
1. Coffee, grapefruit, eggshells, tea and beer all fend off snails and slugs
If your plants constantly fall victim to garden snails and slugs, these common household goods are a great (and eco-friendly) way to discourage them! According to Peter Burks, horticultural expert at Potter & Rest, coffee grounds deter slugs and snails. Using grapefruit skins (cut in half and turned upside down) around your plants also helps keep slugs away from plants, according to Nicola Macnaughton of The Bonnie Gardener. And, as slugs and snails don’t like rough territory, they can be deterred by using crushed eggshells around the bottom of precious plants, says plant advisor Jane Earty from Monkton Elm Garden & Pet Centre.
Another clever way to discourage slugs is with rooibos tea leaves. Katie Gilbert, founder of BloomBox Club advises breaking up a bag of tea and spreading the leaves around the plants base. And finally, one sure-fire way to get rid of them is to create a beer trap – apparently slugs and snails can’t resist it! Find a container (something like a Philadelphia cheese carton or margarine tub), and bury it so the soil level is just below the top of the carton, then put beer in the carton. ‘The slugs are attracted to the smell and they fall in and drown,’ says award-winning garden designer Nikki Hollier. Rather unpleasant, but helpful advice nonetheless.
2. Grind eggshells into a powder and sprinkle in the garden for a calcium boost
Much like humans, all plants need calcium for fresh growth. Calcium is important in plant development and processes and also helps reduce risk of plant diseases. ‘It can reduce disease such as bitter pit in apples, and clubroot in brassicas,’ says Peter. To give your plants a calcium boost, try feeding them eggshells – or even milk!
‘Powdered eggshell is good for this, but it’s best mixed in with potting compost before planting,’ advises Jane. And apparently milk works just as well! ‘Powdered milk can again be used in a potting mix for a good source of calcium,’ she adds.
MORE: 5 TIPS FOR GROWING PERFECT ROSES
3. Baking soda can make home-grown tomatoes taste less tart
‘Baking soda can make tomatoes sweeter – but only in tiny amounts as overdosing can poison the soil,’ advises Jane.
4. Rotten cider helps wisteria grow
‘Wisteria that refuses to flower should be treated by pouring rotten cider over its roots,’ advises Barry Burrows, managing director at Bartholomew Landscaping. However unlikely this seems, he promises it has produced some remarkable results!
MORE: TOP TIPS TO STOP SLUGS AND SNAILS FROM EATING YOUR PLANTS
5. Coffee grounds, pine needles and mushrooms can change the colour of your hydrangeas
Hydrangeas are fascinating in that, unlike most other plants, the colour of their flowers can change dramatically – and it’s all down to the pH level of the soil. If the soil is acidic, then the hydrangeas will turn blue, and when the soil is alkaline, then the hydrangeas will be pink!
‘Add pine needles to make your soil more acidic and mushroom compost to make it more alkaline,’ advises Nicola. And coffee comes in handy once again. ‘Coffee, being acidic, will also alter the pH of the soil and so in turn (depending on volume used and the original pH of the soil) can turn the flowers blue,’ explains Peter.
6. Lay nappies in your flower-pots to keep the soil moist for days
Going on holiday any time soon? A clever way to keep soil moist for days is by using a (clean) nappy. ‘The granules used in nappies absorb a large amount of water and so will release this water to the pot or hanging basket as the plants need it’, explains Peter.
MORE: 7 CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW GARDEN TRENDS YOU CAN REPLICATE AT HOME
7. Soak your seeds in warm water 24 hours before sowing
If you’re planting seeds, it could be worth soaking them in warm water 24 hours before sowing. ‘It is a method, for some species, of breaking seed dormancy. All seeds will need to absorb water before germination takes place, so soaking them will speed the germination process up in many plants,’ explains Peter.
But it depends on the seed – ‘Soaking large, hard seeds helps break down their outer coating (this especially applies to Sweet Peas), but small seeds do not need soaking,’ says Plant Advisor Jane Earty. ‘Not all seeds need to be soaked,’ adds award winning garden designer Nikki Hollier. ‘Some need to be put into refrigeration to imitate cold weather.’
MORE: HOW TO PLANT A JAPANESE INSPIRED GARDEN
8. Some sprigs, twigs and cuttings can grow a new plant on their own
Some plants will grow well from cuttings, particularly Cornus alba and lavender, explains Nicola. ‘You will need to cut it in a specific way and use a good quality cuttings compost. Beginners should consult a reliable gardening book if they want to do this as different plants will require different growing conditions and cuttings will need to be taken at different times of year if they are going to grow effectively,’ she advises.
This time of year is great fro take cuttings to create more plants, says Nikki. ‘When ginger starts growing (it’s a rhizome) you can pot that on and grow a ginger plant!’, she says. You can also get more basil from your leftover store-bought cuttings – although it’s fairly labour intensive.
MORE: 5 REASONS GARDENING IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH
9. Plants can protect each other
Nasturtium has a reputation for keeping whitefly at bay, chives can prevent lightning strikes, and horseradish provides protection for potatoes from Colorado beetle, says Barry. ‘Alliums, so often used for their stately plumes, are widely credited with suppression of red spider mites, so could be used in conjunction with many of the plants plagued with this tiny pest,’ he adds.
10. Rice and nettles can be used to make your own plant feed / fertiliser.
You can cut nettles, put them in a bucket, add water and leave for a few days, then pour the liquid on your plants. Fill a bucket with nettles (remember to wear gloves!) and fill the bucket with water. Cover with a stone to keep the nettles underwater and leave in a corner of the garden for two weeks, then empty out the nettles and keep the water, which can be used, watered down at a ratio of 20:1, on plants. It will provide an excellent source of nitrogen for leafy plants and vegetables such as kale and broccoli. Another top tip for making your own plant feed: the next time you cook rice, keep the water to use as a natural fertiliser in the garden!
MORE: HOW TO HAVE YEAR-ROUND COLOUR IN YOUR GARDEN
11. Make your own compost
Making your own compost is easier than you may think. Use mixed layers of soft organic waste such as prunings and grass cuttings, and place in a big bin or pile at the back of your garden. ‘Every six inches, sprinkle a layer of Garotta compost maker or add fresh farm yard manure, as these feed the microorganisms that break down the green waste – it will get hot as it does this and that sterilises it, meaning you get no smells!’ says Peter. Food waste also works well – raw veg scraps, eggshells, coffee granules, tea bags and even pet fur, just put it all in a compost heap (locate it away from any seating areas just in case it smells a little, or use Peter’s tip) and add grass clippings and any annual weeds. ‘Give the heap a good mix every few weeks and you should get some good compost in 12-18 months,’ says Nicola.
12. Vodka can help flowers stay fresh longer
Vodka inhibits bacteria growth, so a few drops in a vase of water would help to keep the water clean for cut flowers, explains Jane. A teaspoon of sugar can help too, as will pennies: the copper works as an acidifier and inhibits bacteria that way. ‘Putting a copper coin in the bottom of a vase can help your tulips stand strong, rather than drooping around the vase,’ explains Katie.
You can help roses and hydrangeas last longer by cutting the stem at an angle, and pour boiling water over the fresh cut ends and then putting them into the vase.
MORE: 10 WAYS TO MAKE THE MOST OF A SMALL GARDEN