Providing gardeners with help on a range of gardening issues, problems and opportunities
How watering regimes can affect vegetable flavour
Vegetables consist mainly of water with a relatively small amount of solid material that gives them flavour and texture. Withholding water might be thought to lead to more solid and stronger flavour and this is sometimes the case but not always.
Tomatoes for example can be watery and tasteless if grown ’soft’ (lavish irrigation and feeding) but sweeter and with more tomato flavour and texture if grown ’hard’ (subjected to a certain amount of water stress). Overdo it though, and blossom end rot will quickly damage fruits as calcium flow through the plant needs a steady supply of water. The same goes for other fruiting plants such as peppers and aubergines.
Many watery vegetables such as lettuces, courgettes and cucumbers do grow best with plenty of fertiliser and water. There are also differences between cultivars - Bavarian lettuces reputedly taste better than icebergs. Some vegetables require ample water to give the right flavour and texture. Radishes and turnips become woody and develop a fiery flavour if grown too hard; water stressed calabrese becomes coarse and stringy; cauliflowers produce small rubbery heads while beetroot and bay carrots lack the desired delicate sweetness if kept too dry.
Damage from larger pests
Any garden can be the subject to serious damage from some of our larger native mammals. Netting can protect new plantings against rabbits but boundary fences have to be substantial and continue below ground level to prevent foxes and badgers digging under them, or deer leaping over. Scaring devices and repellent substances may also fail to give long-term protection.
Badgers - Badgers are nocturnal visitors that will make short work of sweet tasting vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and sweet corn. They might rip up lawns from autumn to spring if there is an infestation of chafer grubs for them to eat.
Fox - Foxes scent mark their territories including your garden with their faeces and pungent urine. They may chew hosepipes, rip polythene tunnels, trample plants, eat ripening fruits and damage lawns.
Becoming more common in urban gardens, foxes can be seen in daylight but are more active at night.
Rabbits - Mainly active at night, rabbits eat the foliage and soft stems of a wide range of woody and herbaceous plants. They can kill young trees and shrubs without tree guards by gnawing away the bark.
Deer - When they arrive in the garden they cause similar damage to rabbits, especially muntjac and native roe deer.
Coping with honey fungus
Honey fungus has been the most common plant enquiry to the Royal Horticultural Society every year for the past 20 years. Symptoms of honey fungus (Amillaria species) can be spotted in summer when infected root struggle to support plants and then dieback becomes visible. Closely examining of rots can reveal a creamy white fungal mycelium below the bark, smelling of mushroom. The fungus then develops in the autumn and is present for several weeks and is noticeable by tiers of mushrooms. The best control is to remove dying plants quickly with as many roots as feasible. Honey fungus survives on woody plant material and growth can be reduced by soil disturbance so regular cultivation of the soil is recommended. The fungus can be very difficult to get rid of completely but does not have to be a plant’s death penalty, Appropriate watering and mulching with well rotted organic matter gives other plants the best chance of surviving.
Growing onion sets over winter
Onion sets planted in autumn mature earlier than plants raised from seed and are less likely to be hit by diseases. Autumn plantings do best on light soils; growing from sets is often avoided for heavy soils.
To reduce the risk of bolting you need to plant heat-treated sets. You should aim to plant in September when the spoil is still warm enough to allow them to establish well. Plant them in drills 2cms deep and push in into loose earth so only their tips show. Keep plants weed free and ideally weed by hand to avoid root disturbance. Autumn planted sets should be ready for lifting by early summer. Yellowing and toppling of foliage are signs the crop is ready for harvesting.
Causes of conifer browning
Brown patches in conifers, especially hedges, are common and there are several causes. Although patches develop mainly in summer and the cause often lies in the previous 12 months. Hedge trimming late in the season, particularly in October to excess or trimming already stressed plants are probably the most common causes. Ideally you should trim hedges by September at the latest. A potent cause of browning is Cyprus aphid appearing from late spring until November. Unfortunately damage is obvious only after aphids have dispersed the following year.
There are also anecdotal reports that suggest brown patches can result from drought, frost, watering or cold, drying winds. In some cases hedges recover but it may take several years. The best thing you can do is follow good practice in watering, drainage, feeding and trimming.
Wait until spring to prune buddleja
Buddleja davidii needs to be pruned at the right time. There’s a tendency to look at the bush in autumn and start to attack it. The much better practice is to wait until the spring.
If you don’t prune Buddleja hard each year, it will get out of hand and untidy - just like the wild ones that sprout up wherever they can.
Garden varieties, all rather plump healthy looking flowers, come as a result of proper pruning. Without pruning, the flowers would be smaller, and get progressively smaller as every season passes.
This group of shrubs flower on new growth made in the current year, so it is to your advantage to prune the shrub well to produce many flowering shoots. These shoots that emerge as a result of properly pruning will have an upright, then arching habit of growth - totally unlike the ‘wild’ varieties seen on a vacant building site - or growing out of walls!
The pruning should take place early in the spring - March is normally ideal and you can afford to be brutal. All species will resprout from old wood. Buddleja also respond well to dead heading with a second flush of flowers which also prevents seeding. Buddleja are very hardy, and not normally prone to frost.