Category Archives: Practical gardening

Tips for Pruning Formal, Summer Hedges

Formal hedges and topiary need to be trimmed fairly regularly during the growing season (May-September) to keep in shape. A final prune in late summer is recommended for many reasons, one being that any nesting birds are likely to have left by this point rather than earlier in the year. Doing a final cut in August, when summer growth has come to a stop, also helps maintain the shape of hedging through the winter. Completing this task by early autumn also gives cut branches and stems a chance to recover before the weather starts to turn. Here are a few tips to make sure your maintenance pruning a bit easier.

1. Use clean, sharp tools

Cleaning and protecting purners and shears with oil before storing away for winter - © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Cleaning and protecting purners and shears with oil before storing away for winter – © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Make sure all cutting equipment is sharp and sterilised before use. Sharp tools make cleaner cuts to branches and stems, decreasing the chance of long-term damage to the structure of the plants. Using un-sterilised equipment also increases chances of passing diseases from one plant to the other, so giving your tools a thorough clean before use is always worth the effort.

2. Use canes as guides

Hedge trimming. If you find it hard to cut hedges, put up two canes to the desired shape. Attach two lines between them to act as guidelines - © GAP Photos/Mark Winwood

Hedge trimming. If you find it hard to cut hedges, put up two canes to the desired shape. Attach two lines between them to act as guidelines – © GAP Photos/Mark Winwood

It can be hard to cut hedges to the exact specifications just by eye alone. To make it easier, create a guide with bamboo canes and string as a frame. This should prevent you from cutting too much back.

3. Keep sheers flat and parallel to the hedge when cutting the top

Pruning Buxus hedge - © GAP Photos/Visions

Pruning Buxus hedge – © GAP Photos/Visions

Adopting this technique when cutting across the top will guide you, and hopefully prevent you from chopping too much off the top or creating an uneven surface.

4. Keep the bottom ever so slightly wider than the top

Knot garden with patterned Buxus hedges. White garden - © GAP Photos/Robert Mabic

Knot garden with patterned Buxus hedges. White garden – © GAP Photos/Robert Mabic

Many formal hedges are cut slightly wider at the bottom than they are at the top, known as a ‘batter’. This slightly sloping curve to the hedge encourages more even distribution of light to the whole hedge, rather than risking dieback and unsightly, bare branches towards the bottom when the bushy top shoots shade out growth below.

5. Cut from bottom to top in sweeping movements when using electric or petrol-fuelled trimmers.

Step by Step - Maintaining a Privet hedge - © GAP Photos

Step by Step – Maintaining a Privet hedge – © GAP Photos

If you have a small hedge, then using manual tools is probably more than adequate. For larger hedges, you may want a bit of extra help from an electric or petrol-fuelled trimmer or chainsaw to save some time. Always follow the safety precautions that come with the tool, and cut a bit at a time, with regular breaks to ensure you are following the correct line. Using a smooth, sweeping action, bring the trimmer from the bottom to the top, allowing the cut foliage to fall away as you do so.

Dividing Bearded Iris in 5 Simple Steps

Late July and early august is the best time to divide bearded Iris, the type of Iris with fleshy rhizomes that lay on the surface of the soil. They should be divided every three to five years to stop rhizome colonies getting too congested, also giving you the perfect opportunity to multiply the plants in your borders.

Doing this task in mid to late summer, or about six weeks after the irises have finished flowering, gives the plants enough time to settle back into their new planting locations before the weather turns cold. The process is quite straight forward, but there are a few points to remember, which we have outlined in this step-by-step blog:

Lift large colonies of Iris rhizomes from your borders

Woman lifting clump of Iris germanica 'Blue Rhythm' - Bearded Iris - © GAP Photos

Woman lifting clump of Iris germanica ‘Blue Rhythm’ – Bearded Iris – © GAP Photos

At the right time of year, lift congested clumps of bearded Iris with a fork, which decreases the chances of root damage during the process. You may want to use the fork to loosen the roots around the clump first. Once you have lifted a clump, move it to a surface to work and divide the rhizomes by hand.

Division time!

Woman dividing lifted rhizomes of Iris germanica 'Blue Rhythm' - Bearded Iris - © GAP Photos

Woman dividing lifted rhizomes of Iris germanica ‘Blue Rhythm’ – Bearded Iris – © GAP Photos

You should be able to ease the rhizomes away from each other quite easily, but sometimes you might have to apply a bit of force. The roots should stay attached to the rhizomes, but if any get broken, just cut them off as they will simply rot under the soil.

Give the leaves a chop

Woman trimming foliage of divided Iris germanica 'Blue Rhythm' - Bearded Iris - © GAP Photos

Woman trimming foliage of divided Iris germanica ‘Blue Rhythm’ – Bearded Iris – © GAP Photos

Like other divided plants, it is best to cut the foliage down at this stage so that autumn and winter wind doesn’t rock the plants, and the roots continue to establish well. The plant will produce fresh leaves in the spring, so don’t worry about damaging the plant by doing this step. Cut the leaves at an angle so that rain doesn’t sit on the leaves and lead to rot.

Plant the individual rhizomes into their new planting positions

Woman replanting divided and trimmed Iris germanica 'Blue Rhythm' - Bearded Iris rhizomes in flowerbed - © GAP Photos

Woman replanting divided and trimmed Iris germanica ‘Blue Rhythm’ – Bearded Iris rhizomes in flowerbed – © GAP Photos

Once you have divided all the rhizomes and cut down the foliage, you can replant them in their desired position. Just make sure that the rhizomes sit above the soil surface and that they face the direction of the sun, so that they can bake during hot days in late summer and autumn.

Water in well

Woman watering divided and replanted Iris germanica 'Blue Rhythm' - Bearded Iris - © GAP Photos

Woman watering divided and replanted Iris germanica ‘Blue Rhythm’ – Bearded Iris – © GAP Photos

To help aid plant establishment, be sure to water your divided rhizomes well, especially in hot dry weather when the soil is parched. Watering first thing in the morning or in the evening means water is less likely to evaporate before it has been absorbed into the soil.

Feeding Plants in Containers

It is always a good idea to fertilise your plants in the growing season to give them an extra boost, however it is especially important to do this with potted plants. Containers often need more regular watering than plants in the ground, and nutrients originally in the potting compost will be more quickly washed out than they otherwise would in the ground. Here are three ways of feeding your containerised plants this season.

Topdressing with manure

Step by Step - Cutting back, top dressing and fertilising Rose - © GAP Photos

Step by Step – Cutting back, top dressing and fertilising Rose – © GAP Photos

Manure is the most organic way of feeding your plants. Be sure to get well-rotted animal manure. It is widely available in garden centres and inexpensive. It is also nutrient-rich. However, depending on the size of the pot, you are unlikely to need a large quantity of it, and manure tends to be available in large bags, so possibly not a good option if you only have a few small pots to fertilise. It can also be a bit smelly!

Adding slow-release fertiliser granules to the soil at planting stage

Step by step - planting a pink and purple themed container - © GAP Photos

Step by step – planting a pink and purple themed container – © GAP Photos

Incorporating slow-release fertiliser granules in containers is a good option if you know you are unlikely to have time to feed your plants during the summer. They slowly release nutrients as the moisture levels in the containers build up, so you will still need to remember to water your plants. This is a great option if you think about it early on when you come to planting, however if you miss the chance, it’s a bit harder to add them at a later stage.

Feeding while watering with liquid feed

Feeding a container grown fuchsia with liquid feed using a watering can - © GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

Feeding a container grown fuchsia with liquid feed using a watering can – © GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

Liquid feeds are very widely available, and you can get very specific feeds for different types of plants, which will contain the ideal nutrient balance for the plants they are intended. A bit of measuring is usually required to make sure you dilute the feed with the correct proportion of water, however generally this is an easy method, and as it is incorporated at the watering stage, it takes care of two jobs in one go. You can also feed as and when you feel necessary. Liquid feeds are however, more expensive than other types of fertiliser, and you are likely to get through more than one bottle in a growing season, increasing your use of single-use plastic.