Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

Country Gardener Advice

When to call it a day on your lawn

There will be occasions when you’ve tried all the usual ways to improve your lawn and you are still left with measures that haven’t worked. So when should you just give up trying top improve and decide that the lawn needs to be replaced and not renovated.

It’s worth applying a number of tests.

Is the surface of your lawn made up of more than a quarter to a third of either moss or weeds?

Are there large numbers of bare patches which you are struggling to deal with?

Are there perennial weeds that weed killers cannot eradicate? You will probably have a good idea when a lawn is beyond help but it’s a tough decision as the work required to improve poor lawns is as much as if not more than replacement. Repairs can take several years and still not give satisfying results. The determining factor is the size of the lawn. If you do decide to replace the lawn then try and solve the underlying problems to prevent the new lawn from becoming scraggy. Improve poor soils, install drainage to prevent waterlogging and use tough or shade tolerant grass seed mixes in difficult growing areas.

hazelnut treeGrowing nut trees in your garden

There are five edible nuts that grow in the UK but only three are worth the bother: hazelnuts, sweet chestnuts and walnuts. 

Raising trees from nuts can be interesting and good fun. There are a number of nut-bearing trees well suited to the British climate and yet they are too often overlooked as a source of food. This is a shame as many products produce delicious crops, look decorative and attract wildlife, helping to increase the number of pest predators in your garden. Hazel which include cobnuts and the closely related filberts are the most popular of these trees. They do not get too large and offer a stunning display of catkins. Other types might be more challenging but if you have the space and patience they are worth growing.

These include the almond, a relative of the peach which can be trained against a south facing wall to produce a crop of sweet nuts. Choose a late flowering variety to avoid frost damage to the delicate flowers.

honey fungusDiagnosing honey fungus

Honey fungus is the common name given to several different species of fungi (Armillaria) that attack and kill the roots of many woody and perennial plants. The most characteristic symptom of honey fungus is white fungal growth between the bark and wood usually at ground level. Clumps of honey coloured toadstools sometimes appear briefly on infected stumps in autumn. Honey fungus can attack many woody and herbaceous perennials. No plants are completely immune, but some have very good resistance, such as black walnut and box elder. 

The fungus spreads underground by direct contact between the roots of infected and healthy plants and also by means of black, root-like structures called rhizomorphs (often known as ‘bootlaces’), which can spread from infected roots through soil, usually in the top six inches but as deep as one metre. It is this ability to spread long distances through soil that makes honey fungus such a destructive pathogen, often attacking plants up to 30 metres away from the source of infection.

There are no chemicals available for control of honey fungus. If honey fungus is confirmed, the only effective remedy is to excavate and destroy, by burning or landfill, all of the infected root and stump material. This will destroy the food base on which the rhizomorphs feed and they are unable to grow in the soil when detached from infected material.

Acer griseumThink new trees but think small

There are many trees widely available for smaller gardens, in all shapes and sizes, evergreen and deciduous. Given that many of us have limited space in which to garden, it becomes important that any trees chosen are right for their surroundings, in terms of proportion as well as for their decorative value.

There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a tree for a smaller garden.

  • Height and spread: This is probably the most important factor. Even small ornamental trees may, over time, reach a height of six to eight metres. If this is too much, consider a weeping form, as these rarely increase much in height, or choose a large shrub.
  • Season of interest: Consider when you want your tree to look good, thinking about flowering time, foliage, fruit and bark.

Here’s our choice of top five smaller trees:

Acer griseum - also known as the “Paperback marple’ a beautiful tree with fl aking bark. Rich autumn foliage.

Amelancjier x grandiflora “Ballerina’ - profuse which flowers and then produces good autumn leaf tints.

Sorbus ’Joseph Rock’ - pale yellow fruits mature to amber-yellow and then a wonderful display of autumn red, orange and purple.

Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ - a small columnas tree with greenish bronze young leaves and a dense cluster of shell pink flowers in spring.

Crataegus persimilia ‘Prunifolia’ - has white flowers

overwateredThe biggest killer of houseplants – overwatering

It’s the time of year when more attention turns to indoor plants. A new survey has just revealed what most gardeners already know – that the biggest killer of a wide variety of houseplants is over watering. In winter house plants generally require less water and it does become easy to overwater them. Initially leaves begin to yellow, then develop pale patches which curl and wilt. Water soaked spots may form on the underneath of many plant leaves – especially pelargonium, orchids and succulents.
It may be possible to rescue an over watered plant by reducing watering and improving the drainage. Test by inserting your finger one centimetre into the compost and only water when it is entirely dry. Water in the morning and use tepid water to avoid shocking the roots. Central heating dries the air. Some plants, those without hairy leaves, benefit from spraying to both raise humidity and discourage red spider mite. Stand any plants which need high humidity such as citrus and orchids on a tray of damp gravel.

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