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The Star

Thursday January 25 2018

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Be wise and don’t waste water

WITH THE hot weather and sunshine, it’s a pleasure to be outside in the garden. But this time of year can be a real challenge and you will need careful planning and proactive measures to ensure your garden survives the height of summer. Water and mulch are your top weapons to help keep your garden lush, healthy and productive. The best mulch is a form of organic matter that is applied as a layer on top of your soil in your garden, around plants, trees, and especially in pots. Organic mulches aid water retention by hindering water evaporation, keeping the moisture in the soil. Valuable nutrients are also added as mulch breaks down over time. It improves the soil quality and structure by encouraging micro-organisms and worm activity. You can purchase bulk or bagged mulch from your local garden centre. A thick (50-100mm) layer of mulch around your plants will help suppress weeds. This means your plants are not competing for

BE SENSIBLE: Water your garden little and often, or else use mulch to retain moisture.

root space and nutrients. When mulching around trees, don’t apply it up to the trunk – think donut shape around the trunk instead. Make sure you mulch new planting areas too as soil left exposed to the hot summer sun will lessen in goodness in and have reduced water content. When it comes to watering,

regularly check irrigation systems if you have them and make sure all sprinkler heads are operating well and the timer has been set to suit the summer weather. Be regular when watering your garden, little and often is best, avoiding the hottest part of the day when plants are heat stressed. Once a day in the early morning or evening up to three times a

week should be plenty, but increase this if the heat is extreme. Some plants such as roses and trees require deep watering to encourage deep root development, so apply extra water to those plant types in the early part of the day. Water until it begins to puddle on top of the soil which means the soil has reached its water holding capacity. Avoid getting

foliage wet as this can promote the spread of disease on plants like tomatoes and roses – aim for the root zone instead. Don’t over water – too much of anything is not good. If there has been plenty of rainfall you will not need to water as regularly. With many plants (trees and shrubs particularly) if they are not watered well and regularly over the hotter summer months, they will stop growing. Check your indoor plants. Increase watering and if necessary and reposition plants by avoiding placing them too close to sunny windows. Don’t forget about plants in pots or containers, keep them well watered and remove any weeds. If you apply mulch and maintain a consistent watering regime then you can expect excellent results with continued growth through the hot summer months. This is critical when establishing a new garden as you want plants to grow to maturity as soon as possible.

Get your leeks growing – they need heat „„ By Henri Ham LEEKS ARE another of those plants that I often get people telling me they struggle to grow. Instead of producing solid, large leeks, these frustrated gardeners talk of shrivelled, spring onion-look-alikes. Leeks are not a set and forget type of plant, they require a little love and attention, and if looked after will be a handy and tasty vegetable to have in the garden. And now is a really good time to plant them. They take a long time to grow, so in order to be ready during winter they need to be in the ground soon. Now is also a good time because even though they need cold weather, they like to get started while the weather is still warm. Find a good place to plant.

SLOW GROWERS: Leeks like it warm and sunny when planted. They need constant attention.

They need to be grown in full sun and the soil needs to be welldrained. So if your soil is dense and compact, break it up with a garden fork and dig in some compost and well-rotted manure. This will help improve the quality and drainage. Leeks also prefer the soil to


be a neutral to slightly sweet pH - around 6.5 to 7.5pH. So if you’ve had a bit of rain (which can make the soil sour or acidic) I recommend adding some lime to the soil a few days before you plant to help raise its pH level. I also suggest digging in a good general fertiliser to help

give your seedlings the right head start. When you’ve got the soil all sorted dig a small trench. Next place the seedlings in the trench, approximately 20cm apart. Leeks need space to expand, and grow best when planted in rows. Fill in the trench with soil to the top of the stems, leaving the leaves at the top exposed. Now, give your leeks a light water. Try to keep the soil constantly moist, without being too wet. The tricky part of growing leeks is they need constant moisture but can’t stand water-logged conditions. So, for the first few weeks after planting, you will need to check on the soil every couple of days until they are well established. As your plants grow, regu-

larly fold in the soil around the stems. Doing this will ensure they increase in size and will help to achieve white, chunky, stems. As I mentioned at the start, leeks like the soil to be welldrained and lose. Hoeing the soil gently on a regular basis will keep the soil light and fluffy and your leeks happy. It will take around three to four months for your leeks to be ready to harvest. The easiest way to tell when they’re ready is just to keep checking the size of the part that sticks out of the soil. When that part is looking nice and thick, pull one up and have a look. A successful harvest will produce leeks approximately 15cm tall and 5cm wide. And trust me, nothing beats home-grown leeks.

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