Friday 27 February 2015


There are a number of objectives to pruning, which vary according to the plant.  
  • Newly planted plants may be pruned to establish a framework for attractive and productive future growth.  
  • Fruit is pruned to maintain the tree in the shape to which it has been trained and to encourage prolific and regular fruiting.  
  • Hedges are pruned to keep the height and width required as well as to ensure that the hedge remains dense and effective as a barrier. 
  • Shrub pruning ensures that the plant is kept to the proportions required, to remove infection and to encourage flowering or the display of attractive fruit, stems and foliage. 
  • Tree pruning is carried out to let in more light or to create and maintain topiary, to remove old, dead or diseased branches and repair damage caused by disease or storms.
Pruning cuts

Pruning cuts should be made about 5mm from a healthy bud.  If the cut is too close there is a risk of damaging the bud, or if it is too far away it will wither and invite disease. Shorten all branches on a tree or shrub by equal amounts, unless you are pruning hedges or topiary and want a sculptured effect. This gives a natural look and reduces wind resistance.

Always prune above a lateral shoot as this will ensure that the sap is channelled towards the living part, otherwise the stumps that remain may produce unsightly growths and bring disease and infection back into the plant.

Pruning hedges
It is beneficial to cut back the new growth severely one year after a new hedge has been planted. The hedge will thicken up much more quickly this way because each shrub will then push out vigorous new shoots. When pruning small leaved shrubs it is much quicker and easier to use shears instead of secateurs but they must be kept sharp as blunt shears will damage the stems.

Pruning trees

The best time to prune most trees is at the start of the growing season during the spring, when the sap is just starting to rise and pruning wounds heal more quickly.  There are some notable exception to this rule like birches, cherries, maples and walnuts which have vigorous sap circulation and should therefore be cut in the autumn when the sap is descending.

Never remove a large branch with a single cut as this is likely to cause snagging and damage.  Saw off branches in manageable sections until you are left with a stub that is 30-45 cm long.  When removing the last stub you can prevent it from snagging by making a cut in an upward direction one third of the way through and then cut down through the branch.

Secure larger branches with a safety sling.  First secure the branch that is to be removed by tying a rope over a strong branch above.  Cut the branch in sections and use the rope pulley to lower each one gently to the ground.

Sunday 8 February 2015


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Cacti and succulents are often grouped together but there are some key difference between them. Cacti are in fact a sub group of succulents and therefore all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.

Horticulturally the term succulent is often used to exclude plants that botanists would regard as succulents, such as cacti. 


Succulents can be distinguished by abnormally fleshy parts, where the cells retain additional water.  It may be the roots that hold this water like Eurphorbias or it could be their stem as demonstrated by Pachypodiums and Stapliads.

Succulents have modified their stems, roots and leaves to retain moisture in response to their arid surrounding where water conservation is key to survival. Geophytes that survive unfavourable periods by dying back to underground storage organs may be regarded as succulents.

The storage of water often gives succulent plants a more swollen or fleshy appearance than other plants (a succulence) and other water-saving features. These include:

  • Modified leaves
  • Reduced number of stomata
  • Reduced growth form
  • Waxy, hairy or spiny outer surface
  • Impervious outer cuticle
  • Roots very near the surface of the plant 
  • Remain plump and full of water even with high internal temperatures 
  • Mucilaginous substances which retain water 

Succulent species include Agaves, Aloes, Asparagus, Beschorneria, Cordyline, Euphorbia, Furcraea, Gasteria, Hesperaloe, Lithops, Pachypodium and Yucca.


Cacti belong to the plant family Cactaceae. Succulents are the overarching category and cacti form a sub-group of that category (cacti also hold water in their cells, hence why they are succulents). 

They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and most live in regions that are subject to some drought.  Unlike succulents which use their roots, stems, and leaves to hold water cacti only use the stem. 

Cacti do not photosynthesis during the day like other plants.  Instead they store the carbon dioxide as malic acid and wait for the cooler night to transpire in order to transpire hence significantly reducing water loss.

Although many cacti have lost their true leaves (which are now modified as spines) not all cacti have spines. In addition some succulents such as Eurphobias and Agaves have spines, so the presence of spines can be misleading and is is not a defining characteristic of a cacti. 

Cacti can be distinguished from succulents by their areoles, a highly reduced branch. These appear as small, white, fluffy cotton like lumps from which spines, flowers, branches sprout from.

Most cacti have a long dormancy period which means that they can make the most of the infrequent rainfall.  They are also ribbed or fluted, which means that they can expand and contract significantly to adapt to infrequent rainfall. A fully grown saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) is said to be able to absorb as much as 170 gallons of water during a rainstorm.

Popular cacti species include Astrophytum, Austrocylindropuntia, Cereus, Echinocactus, Echinopsis, Epiphyllum, Ferocactus, Mammillaria, Opuntia, Pilosocereus, Rebutia and Stenocereus.
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Monday 2 February 2015


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Parsley Petroselinum crispum is a culinary herb, spice and a vegetable.  It is native to the Mediterranean and now widely grown and used in Europe, America and middle east.

There are three main groups of parsley used, including flat leaved or Italian parsley P. crispum neapolitanum group and curly leaved parsley P. crispum crispum group.  Curled parsley has is very decorative with its tightly curled, dark green foliage.  Plain leaved parsley is stronger in taste and easier to cultivate as it closer related to wild parsley but the leaves are less attractive. A third type (Parsley crispum radicosum group) has a thick root stem resembling celery that is eaten in a similar way to carrots.

Parsley is a culinary staple and can be used throughout the year. It grows as a biennial in temperate climates, forming a rosette of tripinnate leaves in the first year as well as a taproot used as a food store over the winter.  It flowers and quickly sets seed in the second year. 

Parsley grows best in moist, well-drained soil, with full sun, growing best best in temperatures between 22–30 °C. Use a garden cane to draw a shallow drill about 5 mm deep.  Parsley seeds are very small so mix your seeds with a handful of dry sand to assist equal spacing and gently trickle the mixture along the drill. Cover with 5mm soil and water.  Cover with black polythene until the first leaves emerge, and then remove it. 

Parsley seeds take a long time to germinate, about four weeks in warm soils and longer in colder ones. The process can be speeded up by soaking the seeds in lukewarm water for a few hours prior to sowing to soften their tough outer shells.  Seeds sown directly into the ground during May and June will germinate quicker than spring sowings.

To ensure a winter supply make a late sowing outdoors in July or August and the parsley will be ready to pick from Autumn onwards.  Protect plants form the frost in the winter with a cloche or dig some seedling up, pot them on and place them in a greenhouse or on a windowsill.

Parsley during its second year produces greenish flowers which if not removed will reduce production and will run to seed quickly. Remove the flowering stems as soon as they appear.
You can cut down your parsley hard in the summer to ensure a growth of new leaves several weeks later.  Ensure you apply a liquid fertiliser in your water after cutting. Parsley keeps well. Chop up your parsley immediately and place them in a bag and store in your freezer. 

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