Month: April 2020

Top 10 autumn flowers & autumn flowering plants

Top 10 autumn flowers & autumn flowering plants

Spring is the time of flowers? Not true! These are ten of the most gorgeous flowers that bloom in autumn. Autumn is considered by many the best season of all and no wonder why: the vivid autumnal colours are greatly anticipated all year. Most of…

15 best shrubs for bees

15 best shrubs for bees

Choosing the right plants for a bee-friendly garden is not as easy as it seems. Here is a list of 15 wonderful bee-friendly bushes and shrubs. When it comes to bee-friendly plants, the first thing that usually comes to mind are colourful flowers. However, it…

How to make a herb garden: tips & instructions for growing herbs at home

How to make a herb garden: tips & instructions for growing herbs at home

You can have your own fresh herbs easily all year round. Here we discuss what to keep in mind when growing herbs in an herb garden.

Many herbs can be cultivated well not just in pots but also in garden beds. To ensure that the herbs thrive, there are a few things to bear in mind when planning an herb garden. Moreover, some herb species hibernate in winter, which must be taken into account too. In the following, we explain what needs to be considered when selecting, arranging, growing and taking care of herbs in a garden bed. Hopefully, with the following tips you will be able to easily grow your own herbs. 

First of all, choose which herbs to grow. Each herb has different requirements regarding soil and light conditions, all of which should be considered when planning the layout of an herb garden. 

Location and position for the perfect herb bed

Mediterranean herbs, such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) or thyme (Thymus vulgaris), usually prefer a sunny and rather dry location. On the other hand, many temperate climate herbs, including mint (Mentha) and chives (Allium schoenoprasum), prefer a shady or semi-shady place. These types of herbs can therefore be planted under a tree or in places that are not as suitable for the warmth-loving Mediterranean herbs. Even though many native herbs are adapted well to the cooler weather conditions in temperate climates, the herb bed should be sheltered from the wind. For example, a spot close to a house wall is very suitable. In areas with a lot of snowfall, though, the herb bed should be out of reach of roof avalanches to avoid damage to the plants caused by falling snow. 

Preparing the soil for an herb bed

Once the right location is chosen, is it time to prepare the ground, in which the herbs will grow. It is recommended to dig up the bed in late autumn and remove any weeds from it. The soil can then rest during the winter months. During this time, frost will diminish the larger chunks of earth into small crumbs. In this way, the gardener is saved from one extra step of work. Most herbs prefer permeable and light soils. Because of that, loamy and highly compacted soils should be enriched with sand. On the other hand, if the soil is excessively sandy and too permeable, it can be improved with high-quality gardening soil. Alternatively, it is possible to buy special herb soils in gardening centres, which are specifically tailored to the needs of herbs, and are used for both pots and garden beds. The incorporation of organic materials, such as compost, can also improve the soil structure and promote healthy soil life.

Which herbs to grow? 

Choosing herbs for an herb garden depends mainly on their use. There is of course a large variety of herbs that can be used for cooking and teas. Some plants are also decorative and have a delightful scent. To make the choice even harder, there is also an enormous variety of exciting exotic herbs. All in all, it is up to personal preference and needs of the gardener. 

Which herbs are suitable for an herb bed?

There is a variety of herbs that can be grown in an herb garden. There are two groups of herbs that can be distinguished: annual and perennial herbs. 

First, let’s discuss perennial herbs. Most of herbs grown in temperate climates are hardy perennials and can endure cold winters outside. Next spring they sprout again. Well-known representatives of perennial herbs are thyme, oregano (Origanum vulgare), sage (Salvia officinalis), chives, fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and savory (Satureja hortensis).

Second, annual herbs only flower for one summer and die after seed formation. Therefore, they have to be reseeded from year to year. However, some species are only short-lived due to their lack of winter hardiness in temperate climates. Annual herbs include dill (Anethum graveolens), chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), borage (Borago officinalis) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) are biennial, i.e. they flower only in the second year and then they wither and die. 

Frost sensitivity can be another selection criterion. Some Mediterranean herbs are not hardy enough to withstand winters in the colder areas of the world. Basil, lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora), rosemary and laurel (Laurus nobilis) should be overwintered indoors and are therefore only partially suitable for an herb bed outside.

Companion planting: which herbs can be planted together? 

To make work a bit easier, it can make sense to plant annual and perennial herbs separately. However, it is more important to pay attention to whether the potential plant neighbours will inhibit each other’s growth or increase susceptibility to diseases. The most tolerable species among annual herbs is probably basil. Among the perennial herbs, for example, savory, oregano and sage can be grown as companion plants. 

Furthermore, it is essential to keep in mind the location requirements of the herbs when deciding which herbs to grow together. Due to their Mediterranean origin, savory, rosemary, basil, lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), oregano, sage or thyme, prefer sunny locations and light soils without stagnant moisture. Herbs such as watercress (Nasturtium officinale), dill, parsley, chives, lovage (Levisticum officinale), peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and chamomile do not depend on sunshine as much. Unlike the Mediterranean herbs, they also prefer humus-rich, nutrient-rich and slightly moist soils. 

What to consider when buying herbs?

Many garden centres offer a large selection of different herbs, especially in spring. If you have no experience in growing herbs, you can also get very good advice there. If you want a quick harvest, you should buy young plants. Growing herbs from seeds is also possible but takes a little more time and work.

Be extra careful to buy only healthy and strong plants with as many branches as possible. In addition, the roots should be healthy and well developed. The leaves should have a fresh green colour and be free of fungal and pest infestation.

Growing herbs in a bed: instructions

After the subsoil has been loosened up with suitable substrate, you can start planting in the herb bed from mid-May. The young herbs should be well rooted already, so they should be planted as soon as possible after purchase. To do this, dig a hole with a hand shovel at a sufficient depth. The base of the plant should be at ground level after watering. Free the plant from the pot and, if necessary, loosen the root ball slightly with your fingers. The plant can then be placed in the hole and filled up with loose soil. Press the soil carefully and water the plant well. 

Summary: how to plant herbs

  • Dig out the planting hole
  • Remove the plant from the pot and loosen the root ball
  • Insert the plant and fill the hole with some soil
  • Press the soil lightly around the plant
  • Water thoroughly

Herb garden bed ideas: arrangement suggestions

There are many different approaches to layout of herb garden beds. Herb beds with a clear and geometric arrangement can be easier to maintain. Herbs can be placed in groups and the bed can be bordered with low growing hedges, such as lavender, or with wooden bed borders. If you arrange the herbs clearly and perhaps even insert signs with the names of the species, it can make it easier to find and take care of the plants. Good accessibility through cleverly designed paths is another practical solution that makes it less difficult to take care of the plants and harvest them.

When arranging the plants, however, please note that not every herb grows well in every location. Tall- growing plants (fennel, mugwort or wormwood) should be placed in the middle or in the background. Drought-loving herbs (thyme, rosemary or savory) can be planted along the edges of the bed. Plants that grow fast (mint or lemon balm) should be planted in separate areas or provided with a root barrier. Another option is to arrange your garden bed according to a common theme. For example, you can have a fragrant garden bed with aromatic herbs, a culinary kitchen herb bed or a colourful tea herb garden. 

Maintaining an herb garden bed

Most herbs are relatively easy to care for. Just like in vegetable garden beds, herb gardens should be regularly weeded. If the heat is persistent, regular irrigation is necessary. A mulch layer of lawn cuttings can reduce evaporation of moisture. In addition, the soil should be loosened from time to time. For heat-loving plants, such as lavender, thyme or savory, a layer of gravel or chippings (about 2 cm tall) can help retain the warmth in the bed. 

To ensure that your herbs are adequately supplied with nutrients, you can work some compost into the soil in spring. Regular cutting of the herbs will also ensure that they grow densely and produce young, tender leaves. Fortunately, herbs are rarely affected by diseases and attract relatively few insect pests. Infested shoots are best removed with gardening shears. Be careful not to use chemical pesticides if you intend to use the plant for consumption! Another reason to avoid using pesticides is environment protection. Beneficial animals, that are actually helpful in the garden, can be negatively impacted by harsh pesticides. Therefore, when fertilising, use organic slow-release fertilisers.

Herb garden beds in winter

Perennial herbs require special measures to ensure that they survive the winter without damage and can sprout again in spring. While overwintering of winter hardy herbs is usually unproblematic, Mediterranean herbs have somewhat higher requirements.

Before the first snowfall you should loosen the soil well and, if necessary, some compost can be added. In addition, herbs should be cut back and covered with green pine needles. Herbs that are sensitive to cold, such as lemon verbena, can be covered with straw or garden fleece. Herbs that grow in pots should be brought indoors. They can be stored in a bright place at about 5°C on a windowsill or similar. However, if you place your herbs in darker, cooler rooms for the winter, the plants will shed their leaves, which reduces the risk of rotting. Don’t forget to water the potted plants a little from time to time to prevent the herbs from drying out.

Summary: how to create an herb garden

  1. First, select the herbs and plan the layout of the bed according to the plants’ location requirements
  2. Depending on the time available, buy young plants or seeds
  3. Dig up the bed in autumn and improve it with sand and fresh gardening soil
  4. Care for the bed after planting with regular weeding, mulching and watering
  5. Cut back herbs before winter and cover them with some pine needles; non-hardy species should overwinter indoors

Alternatives to the herb garden bed

Besides the classic herb bed in the garden, there are also various other possibilities for growing herbs. We will introduce some of them to you in more detail below.

Raised herb bed, herb spiral or herb snail

Those who prefer raised beds can also grow a wide variety of herbs in them. The optimal location of the raised bed depends on the requirements of the herbs that are planted in it. Mediterranean herbs need a sunny spot, whereas other herbs also feel quite comfortable in partial shade. Since most species do not have very deep roots, a height of about 50 cm is usually sufficient for a raised herb bed. Here we explain how to plant an herb raised bed correctly.

growing herbs
A fun and unique way to herb cultivation is the so-called herb snail or herb spiral [Shutterstock.com/ Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH]

An herb spiral, or and herb snail, is a modern and space-saving way to grow herbs. To cultivate herbs in this way, a larger mound of soil should be formed in the shape of a spiral or a snail shell. The hill-like form offers different habitats for the plants. At the very bottom, moisture-loving herbs such as mint, parsley or chives can be grown. At the top of the spiral, thyme or lemon thyme (Thymus pulegioides) grow best. On the shady northern side, you can plant mint, watercress and chives and, on the sunny southern side, Mediterranean herbs like sage, rosemary and lavender can thrive very well.

Herb cultivation in a pot for balcony, terrace and windowsill

Those who do not like to do without fresh, aromatic herbs in the kitchen in winter can also plant herbs in pots. Chives and parsley, for example, are ideal for cultivation on windowsills. A layer of gravel or clay fragments under the substrate ensures that the water in the pot can drain off easily, which reduces the risk of stagnant moisture. 

If you have enough space, you can also cultivate herbs in flower containers or tubs. It should be determined beforehand whether the orientation of the balcony or terrace meets the location requirements of the plants. Just as important for the success of the cultivation is the use of a suitable substrate and the size of the planters. Dill and lovage, for example, have very deep roots and need a correspondingly tall pot. Other deep-rooting plants or plants with a pronounced root system, such as tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) or wormwood, are not suitable for cultivation on the balcony or terrace.

Household remedies against Colorado potato beetles

Household remedies against Colorado potato beetles

Entire potato harvests can be destroyed by the Colorado beetle! We show you how to recognise an infestation, how to treat it effectively and how to prevent it. Colorado beetles can become a real nuisance. It is therefore important to detect the pest at an…

Rhododendron problems: pests, diseases & yellow leaves

Rhododendron problems: pests, diseases & yellow leaves

Rhododendrons are usually a beautiful sight. In this article, you can find out what to do about rhododendron problems such as yellow leaves, black buds or feeding marks. Even though the evergreen shrubs are very low-maintenance, the genus Rhododendron is prone to fungal diseases and…

Planting cherry trees: advice & tips

Planting cherry trees: advice & tips

There is nothing better than nibbling on juicy cherries right from the tree in summer. This article explains how to plant a cherry tree in your own garden.

The original home of the cherry (Prunus) is in Asia Minor in the areas of present-day Turkey. During summer cherries become indispensable in many areas of the world. Cherry trees bear sweet fruits that are a popular summertime treat especially with children. Unfortunately, both the time of harvest and the supply of cherries by the trade are limited. To be able to stock up on cherries, you should consider planting your own cherry tree in your garden. 

Growing fruit trees is a commitment for several years. Therefore, diligent care is essential and some aspects of it should be taken into account right from the beginning. 

How to plant a cherry tree: in a pot or in bunches?

The same type of cherry may be offered in the nursery in pots or in bunches. While the plant has already been cultivated as a potted plant in a container in which it is also sold, the baled cherry is only removed from the field shortly before it is planted and usually packed with the so-called baling cloth. Baled cherries are therefore usually only available in early spring or autumn, while cherries in containers can be bought and planted all year round. Baled trees are relatively robust due to outdoor cultivation. In contrast, however, cherries in containers do not lose any root mass as a result of pruning and the tree develops very well in the first year, as it does not have to expend any energy on regrowing the roots.

When to plant cherry trees?

The ideal planting time for cherry trees is in autumn (October/November). This gives them enough time during the winter months to take root and sprout vigorously in spring. Alternatively, planting in early spring (March/April) on a frost-free day is also possible.

Planting cherry trees: planting instructions

Once you have decided on a cherry tree, it should be planted as soon as possible after purchase. We will explain below, step by step, how to do this best.

Materials required for planting cherry trees

To make the process of planting cherry trees quick and easy, have these utensils and materials ready: 

  • Spade, shovel, pickaxe
  • Supporting rod, binding material
  • Hammer, gardening shears
  • Potting soil, compost soil
  • Trunk protection, coconut fibre protecting mat

Select a suitable location for the cherry tree

To ensure that your cherry tree grows well, you should think about the right location in advance. Cherry trees prefer a warm, sunny and protected place. The soil should not be too

heavy and wet, because cherries do not tolerate waterlogging well. A well aerated soil with a high humus content is therefore ideal.

A tip: Not all cherry trees are self-fertile. It is best to find out about this directly from the tree nursery. It may be necessary to plant another cherry tree in the immediate vicinity in order to have a plentiful harvest of delicious fruit.

Dig a planting hole for the cherry tree

The very first step is to dig a hole to plant the tree. The planting hole should be about twice as large as the root ball. Pierce the surface of the ground to create an outline of the planting hole with a spade and then remove the surface and the individual layers of soil layer by layer. It is best to pile up the soil near the hole, as it will be needed again later. We recommend digging the planting hole a third deeper than the size of the tree’s root ball. Finally, loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole with a hoe.

Attach a supporting post for the cherry tree

The second step is to add a supporting rod for the tree. The supporting rod or post can be put into the ground, where the hole for the tree has been dug. The supporting aid should be about the same height as the trunk of the cherry tree. It is best to drive the pole in on the west side so that the wind pushes the tree away from the post and not against it. 

Prepare the planting hole for cherry tree

Next, it is essential to ensure excellent growing conditions right from the start. Add a good layer of some fresh potting soil into the hole and mix it well with some compost. In addition, we recommend adding some organic fertiliser with a long-term effect into the soil. The organic fertiliser will slowly decompose in the soil and gradually release valuable nutrients to the little tree. 

Prepare the cherry tree before planting

To support the health of the roots for the long term, it is advised to scarify the root ball slightly all around with scissors before planting the tree. After scarifying with scissors, loosen the root ball a little more with your hands. This will help the roots to branch out later. 

A tip: If the root ball seems very dry to you, the cherry tree can be placed in a bucket of water before being placed into the soil.

Planting the cherry tree

Now you can place the tree in the middle of the planting hole and fill in the hole with the dug-up soil. By lightly stepping on the soil, any cavities that have been created will be closed off. If you have problems with rodents, attach a trunk protector to shield the young tree from pests. To protect the freshly planted cherry tree from strong winds, it should be tied below to the supporting rod. Do not tie the tree too tightly to its support. 

Finally, you should water the cherry tree thoroughly. This will ensure that the soil settles well and the water reaches the roots. You can also place a coconut fibre mat around the trunk of the tree. The mat covers the soil and thus suppresses the growth of weeds, which could steal away nutrients from the young tree. 

A summary of how to plant cherry trees:

  • Best to plant in autumn (October/November)
  • A sunny, warm location is ideal
  • Dig a planting hole at least twice as large and a third deeper than the root ball
  • Insert a supporting rod facing west
  • Add fresh potting soil mixed with compost 
  • Carefully scarify and loosen up the root ball
  • Place the tree in the middle of the hole and fill it with soil
  • Lightly compact the soil and water the tree well
  • Tie the tree to the supporting pole, put the trunk protection on and lay out the coconut fibre protection mat 

After planting care

After planting, you should supply your cherry tree with sufficient nutrients with annual fertilisation. For this purpose, it is best to use compost or organic slow-release fertilisers. As the young cherry tree has only a limited root volume in the first few years, you should ensure that there is sufficient watering, especially in the hot summer months. 

In addition, the cherry tree should be pruned in the first year after being planted. In later years, a simple thinning cut is enough to remove any diseased or old branches.

Harvesting potatoes: how & when

Harvesting potatoes: how & when

After months of taking care of potato plants, harvesting them is a welcome treat. When is the right time and what should be considered when harvesting potatoes? Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are vegetables with a long-standing tradition. For ages, they have been a staple food for…

15 best winter hardy potted plants

15 best winter hardy potted plants

Frost, snow, or sub-zero temperatures? These 15 potted plants can stay outside whatever the weather because they are winter hardy. Potted plants have always been popular with gardeners. Whether on the balcony, the terrace or directly by the house, potted plants create a great atmosphere…

Springtails: identification & treatment

Springtails: identification & treatment

Springtails like to romp about in potting soil. But are these small insects harmful at all and do they need to be controlled?

Springtails (Collembola) are usually found in the soil where they feed on rotting plant material and fungi. Generally, there is enough of that in the soil and we do not have to worry about our plants. It is only when the small animals appear in large numbers and can no longer find any other food, that they can also start harming our crops.

Springtails: characteristics

Springtails are moisture-loving insects that are very tolerant of cold. They live sociably in the ground and fulfil an important role in the ecosystem by breaking down dead organic material. Due to this decomposition humus is formed, which in turn provides food for the plants. Some of the most common springtail species are, for example, Onychiurus fimatus or Sminthunus viridis.

What do springtails feed on?

As already mentioned above, springtails are detritivores. Therefore, their primary diet consists of rotting and dead plant material as well as fungi. However, what can happen is that an above-average number of springtails accumulates and, consequently, their food supply decreases. In such a case, it is possible that the small animals begin feeding on living roots or seedlings and become harmful to the plants. This can be caused, for example, by using unnecessarily high doses of organic fertiliser. A larger supply of food increases the number of springtails. 

What are springtails and what do they look like?

If you see small jumping bugs or “lice” while watering your houseplants, you have already discovered the first sign of springtails. Depending on the species, springtails have a pretty well-developed jumping apparatus. One of their distinguishing features is the so-called furca: a fork-like apparatus on their abdomen that helps them jump. This jumping apparatus is reduced in springtails that live in deeper soil layers. Normally, the furca is fixed to the back when at rest. If the springtails are disturbed, the fixation is released and the furca springs down. This causes the springtails to bounce upwards, often even with a flip. 

Springtails have a three-part body. The species living close to the surface are darker in colour, while those living in deeper layers of soil are lighter. The hexapods also differ in body shape. Among the approximately 1,500 species in Central Europe, there are both springtails that are longer in shape and other that tent to be more globular. Their average size is between 0.2 and 0.5 mm and they have either chewing and biting or piercingly sucking mouthparts.

How to get rid of springtails

Treating springtails with water

If you have springtails in your potted plants, there is an easy way to get rid of them. Place your plants in the sink or a large pot and fill it with water. The root ball must be completely covered, and the plant must remain in the water for at least half an hour. After this, the springtails should float on top of the water surface and can then be easily disposed of. Next, you should take the plant out of the bath and not water it for some time. After this treatment, it is often also beneficial to repot the plants.

Treating springtails with dryness

If you have springtails in your garden bed, you have to work in exactly the opposite way as with potted plants. As springtails enjoy moist environments, the best way to get rid of them is by drying them out in the garden. The small, jumping animals in the bed should not be a big problem, as there is usually enough dead organic material on which they prefer to feed rather than on your plants. You can also try the method of drying out very large potted plants if dipping them into water is too cumbersome. In the case of a springtail plague in a hydroponic culture it is recommended to repot the plants in soil or to clean the pot thoroughly and add new expanded clay.

Treating springtails with predatory mites

Predatory mites can also be used to control springtails. Hypoaspis miles or Hypoaspis aculeifer, for example, are suitable. These predatory mites are often sold to control fungus gnats, but they have a broad host spectrum and can also be used for springtails. The ravenous animals can even go without prey for a long time and starve. Therefore, they are ideal both for preventive treatment and for acute infestation. The predatory mites are supplied as scatter material and only need to be distributed onto the ground.

Checking the root area

You should also check your potted plants. The main cause of the problem is often underground. As springtails like to feed on dead material and rotting organic matter, it is recommended to check the root ball of your plants. Remove rotting parts and replace the substrate with fresh soil. Even this small step can help against the springtail infestation. 

Beware of Internet tips!

When searching for tips on springtail control online, you might stumble upon treatment methods that promise amazing results but unfortunately do not have the desired effect. These tips include, for example, watering the plant with lemon water. Lemon water changes the pH value in your potting soil and can therefore damage your plants. Some sensitive plants, such as orchids, are especially susceptible to damage of the pH of the soil is changed. Some sources also recommend using detergent when dipping the plants to reduce the surface tension. However, since only a few of the 1,500 springtail species are able to float on the water surface, it is not necessary to load the plant with dishwashing detergent. If the plant is infested with springtail species that can survive immersion in water, it is better to dry out the substrate.

Treating springtails in the house

When combating springtails in your living quarters, the most important step is finding the source of the outbreak. Houseplants are often the place to start. Once you have cleared them of springtails, you should soon have peace within your own four walls. As springtails revel in moist environments, they tend to inhabit places with a high concentration of moisture. The first step to a successful indoor springtail treatment, is a thorough cleaning at home. Insects that crawl away can be caught with a vacuum cleaner. Alternatively, ventilation in damp rooms (in bathrooms, for example) should reduce the number of springtails, too. However, a springtail infestation can also occur in damp buildings after water damage. Damp environments are conducive to springtail reproduction. It is therefore essential to find such places and dehumidify them. For such procedures, however, you must consult a specialist.

Pruning raspberries: expert tips

Pruning raspberries: expert tips

Cutting back raspberries requires some skill. Here are all the tips on pruning raspberries from the right time to prune to detailed instructions. Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) are one of the most popular berries to grow and are cultivated in many gardens. The red to pink…