Saturday 21 February 2009

Spring has sprung on BBC Essex

I've just got back from my latest guest appearance on Gardening Plus on BBC Essex with Ken Crowther. And although it's a one-and-a-half hour drive down to the studios in Chelmsford today it was a great journey. Sun shining - shades on - lovely and warm - reaching 12.5C on the car thermometer - and lots of plants bursting into new growth. All in all, a bit of a change from the miserable weather of the last few weeks. Don't get me wrong - I love the snow and the cold of winter - but it's just great to see spring is on it's way - hopefully.

And maybe it was the spring-like weather that ensured we were inundated with phone calls, e-mails and text messages. In fact, I'm feeling mentally drained it was so busy. An interesting selection of questions too, not just the run-of-the-mill when do I do this. Some of the questions - and answers - sparked further questions and replies - always a good sign of a healthy show.

One of the great things about gardening is that there aren't always exact answers to everything - sometimes if you do something that isn't the 'set book' answer and it works, who cares?

Ken and I had a couple of disagreements today, which has resulted in the listeners going off and running some experiments for us. At least, they say they will and I hope they do and come back to us with the results.

The first related to cutting back newly-planted raspberry canes to ground level to take away the old growth. The idea being that it encourages more new growth from ground level. I said I would, Ken said he wouldn't; so the listener has agreed to do both to her row of plants.

The second was about pruning some really old roses - around 45-50 years' old - that have been neglected and not pruned for several years. Ken said he would just cut them all back hard right down to around 23-30cm (9-12in). I said I would tidy them up, removing all the dead, weak and crowded growth, then cut them back by about half, cutting back harder next year if necessary. As the listener has around 25 bushes she agreed to do half and half and come back to us.

Some people think I'm mad - and it is a question for debate. When I told someone last night that I was leaving at 7.15am (on a Saturday!), would be driving in total for three hours and doing a three-hour live programme they said I must be paid well to do it. When I told them I wasn't paid anything but did it because I enjoyed it, eyebrows were raised and the loony comments were made. But I do enjoy it, although some good British sterling in the pocket would make it even more enjoyable!

Friday 13 February 2009

Snow blindness, snow panic

At this time of year gardeners panic about one thing - snow and what it'll do to their plants. Well panic not - it'll do very little damage per se. It's the cold and frost you need to worry about!

Even hardy plants can suffer from extensive periods of cold, freezing weather, especially if they're growing in containers (even the hardiest of plants can be killed if their rootballs freeze solid for weeks on end) and even more especially if the cold is combined with strong winds.

In fact, snow on the ground provides some insulation against cold, freezing weather and is a blessing in disguise. Until it melts that is, and the garden becomes waterlogged!

I guess there is one thing to worry about snow - snow loading. That is the weight of snow on branches and the foliage of evergreens bending them down to ground level or even causing them to snap.

I've had one casualty in the garden so far. An old tree stump covered in ivy became so snow loaded that all the ivy has bent away from the stump and flopped all over my lean-to greenhouse. It needed a prune anyway and this has given me the incentive to go out and do it - maybe this weekend if I don't freeze to death when I go out there. Being a gardening journo I spend most of my time sitting on my bum in a nice warm office.

The only thing that will panic over the stump/ivy situation is the robin who has nested in there for the last three years. But with some 'judicious' pruning I should be able to save its nest site for years to come.

Sunday 1 February 2009

Keeping Pest at Bay 2

Following my blog on November 5 about the future of garden chemicals, the future is now looking bleak following legislation passed by the European parliament.

MEPs voted overwhelmingly for the proposals for a Regulation on the Placing on the Market of Plant Protection Products. At the same time, they also voted in favour for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive. Basically what this means is that under these new Europe-wide rules, substances that are potentially dangerous will be taken off the market. No bad thing? Well, the definition of 'potentially dangerous' is being disputed by a number of organisations and professional bodies.

It looks like, although again no-one seems completely clear on this yet, the regulations will come into force towards the end of 2010.

Chemicals on the list that are used by gardeners include bifenthrin (widely used in pesticide sprays), mancozeb (a broad-spectrum fungicide), systemic weedkiller glyphosate and metaldehyde, used in slug pellets.

The list of possible losses includes:
Weedkillers: 2,4 D, amitrole, dichlorprop-p, glufosinate, glyphosate, mecoprop-p.
Pesticides: bifenthrin, deltamethin, pyrethroid insecticides, methiocarb and metaldehyde.
Fungicides: mancozeb.

Even so, some of the bigger companies supplying pesticides to gardeners, especially Bayer Garden, are fighting back by producing new pesticides for gardeners. The company is introducing a couple of new products this year. Probably the most notable is Lawn Disease Control. Us gardeners haven't had a fungicide for lawn problems for several years now - and I've certainly noticed an increase in red thread disease in my lawn, so hopefully this new product will help keep this under control.

I'll keep you posted on anything new that happens.