Submitted by: John Schofield

Here are some tips on saving time and money with plants in containers and herbaceous borders:

Plants in containers

Removing dead flowers: Summer-flowering plants in hanging-baskets, window boxes, troughs and other containers can be brightened up quickly by using sharp scissors to snip off dead flowers. This extends their flowering period and prevents decaying flowers spreading infection to others.

Where daily watering is difficult: Add water-retaining materials to the compost when planting the container. Use moisture-retaining liners when planting a hanging-basket.

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Easy watering: When watering hanging-baskets, or a large group of pots, tie the end of a hosepipe to a 1.2m (4ft) long cane. It is then possible to direct the water more easily into pots: when watering a hanging-basket, bend over the tip of the hosepipe (it can be held in place with a piece of wire, perhaps from a wire clothes hanger). Alternatively, use proprietary hosepipe fittings.

Recycling growing-bags: Where a growing-bag has been used to grow vegetables, perhaps tomatoes in a greenhouse or lettuces on a patio, at the end of the season remove the plants and place the bag in a shed. In the following spring, mix a general fertilizer with the compost and plant with culinary herbs, such as mints that need to have their roots constricted. Half-hardy annuals can also be planted in this medium.

Rejuvenating dry hanging-baskets: Where the compost in a hanging-basket has become exceptionally dry, lower the basket and immerse the compost in a large bowl or bucket of water. Wait until air bubbles cease to rise, then replace the basket on its supporting bracket. First-aid watering: During very hot days -or when a hanging-basket cannot be watered – place a few ice cubes on the compost. These will melt gradually and the water will become available to the plants. Grouping plants in pots: Position plants in pots in a group, rather than spreading them over a large area. This helps to create a more impressive display, as well as slightly reducing the amount and frequency of water they require.

Keeping herbaceous borders smart and tidy

Removing dead flowers: Cutting off dead flowers is time-consuming, but it certainly prolongs the display as well as preventing plants developing seeds at the expense of growth and flowers. Use sharp secateurs or scissors and cut them immediately above a leaf. Place the dead flowers on a compost heap rather than just dropping them on the soil.

Supporting plants: Some herbaceous plants are self-supporting, while others need unobtrusive support. The traditional way to support herbaceous plants is to push twiggy sticks around them while they are still small, so that foliage and flowers grow through them. Proprietary metal supports are available.

Mulching the soil: In spring, shallowly fork around established plants, removing weeds and ensuring that the soil does not have a crusty cap that prevents air and water entering the ground. Thoroughly water the soil, then form a 5cm (2in) thick mulch of well-decayed garden compost over the surface. Alternatively, use a mulch formed of shredded bark.

Autumn tidiness: During autumn, herbaceous plants die down to soil-level; the old stems can be cut down to soil-level, removed and added to a compost heap. This creates a smart and tidy border throughout winter. Alternatively, the stems and old leaves are left in place throughout winter, so that they create an attractive feature when covered in frost.

Re-firm plants in spring: In spring, use the heel of your boot to firm soil around herbaceous plants planted during the previous autumn. This ensures soil is in close contact with the roots and that growth will begin as soon as the weather allows.

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