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Grow Your Own Strawberries

Today’s article featuring tips to grow your own strawberries is a guest post written by Geoff Wakeling. Geoff lives in London where he shares his life with hens, cats and a garden where you’ll find him snipping, pruning, planting, cutting, propagating, shoveling, or just plain admiring mother nature. Read on and get prepared to grow your own strawberries next season.

Many people may have the perception that strawberries are best left to fruit growing experts. They seem one of the more exotic foods to be growing, only being available for a small time during the year and normally proving fairly expensive.

However, growing strawberry plants is actually very easy, and though encouraging a good crop is not without its problems, tasting your own grown strawberries will beat any shop bought box.

# Planting Strawberry Plants in the Home Garden

Planting strawberries can be done in various manners, utilizing vegetable patches, raised beds, or even pots. For best the results place individual strawberry plants in rows, leaving approximately one foot between each specimen. This allows each plant room to grow, the necessary light to develop fantastic tasting fruit, and the space to easily organize and tidy plants at the end of the season.

Firm each plant into the ground well and remove any dead leaves or small runners which may be coming off on the main plant. It is also a good idea at this stage to add mulch around plants which, when fruit begin to develop, will hold ripening strawberries off of the moist ground and help to prevent rotting. Straw is a great material to use, as are bark chips or shredded wood, all of which allow moisture to trickle through to the roots whilst keeping the leaves and fruit dry.

# Caring for the New Strawberry Bed

It is vital that plants are placed in a sunny position to ensure that fruit can develop properly. In temperate regions flowers will start to develop often as early the end of March and beginning of May, sending up their cream white petals to the sun.

As fruit begin to develop ensure that mulch is kept to a minimum depth of an inch so as to keep moisture away from developing fruit. While strawberry fruits are still white they remain fairly hardy, however, as their distinctive red hue starts to develop they will be particularly susceptible to become moldy. At this time they are also an ideal snack for birds and pests such as slugs and snails so preventative steps such as adding netting and pest deterrents must be undertaken.

# Multiplying Strawberry Plants by Separating the Runners

After fruiting has finished and the colder temperatures of fall arrive it is the ideal time to separate plants. You will find that as soon as fruiting is over, individuals specimens start to send out runners with new plants on them.

Allow these to root, and in the fall you can simply snip these runners off and create new plants. Individual strawberries will stay productive for approximately four years, at which time it is a good idea to replace them with fresher and younger runners. But with the thriving growth you will never be out of new plants to use.

Growing an ample crop of strawberries is very weather dependent, and there are only so many steps you can take to aid the development of juicy fruit. A sunny position and keeping fruit away from too much moisture is vital so that strawberries can grow to their full potential.

However, the joy of growing this fantastic fruit at home is a great reward, and with a little effort you can have delicious and decadent fruit to smother in cream from your own backyard.

Know These Gardening Tips for Beginners

gardening-tips-for-beginners# Choose the right plants for your soil

Before you buy any plants, check your soil type: is it light and sandy, or heavy and clay? Many plants thrive better in one type than the other. If you’re not sure, take a look at what plants are growing in your neighbour’s garden.

# Give plants enough space

Don’t be tempted by the displays at the garden centre and buy too many plants for the size of your bed. If you place young plants too close together, not all will survive or, if they do, they will need more frequent watering and fertiliser. Crowded plants are also more susceptible to disease. Plant labels tell you how much room they need.

# Be gentle with new plants

If you remove new plants from their pots by pulling their stems, you’re likely to break or bruise them. Instead, gently squeeze the pot sides and turn it upside-down, using your other hand to catch the plant as it slides out. Or place the pot on a hard surface and press the sides as you rotate it. Again, the plant should slip out when you upturn the pot.

# Plan ahead with your design

Before you do any digging, have a think about the big picture of your garden. Place all of your bulbs and young plants on the soil surface first and move them around until you’re happy with the arrangement. Then plant them.

# Soak your roots

The last thing you want is dry root balls. Thoroughly soak the roots of a new plant before you put it in the soil. And make sure the hole is bigger than the root ball before you attempt to put it in. A plant’s roots need to be able to spread to get the best chance of tapping moisture and absorbing the soil’s nutrients.

# Label, label, label

For first-time gardeners, it can be easy to forget what you’ve planted and where. Take an extra minute to write a plant label (most plants you buy from a garden centre come with one) and pop it in the ground next to the seeds, bulbs or plants you’ve planted.

# Water mindfully

Plants are designed to live outside and to draw natural moisture from the earth without the need for daily artificial irrigation (unless we’re experiencing a drought). As a rough guide, poke your fingers about two inches into the soil around the plant; if it’s very dry, add some water. The exceptions are container plants which, because there are a lot of them in a finite amount of soil, will need regular watering.

# Be brutal with weeds

It’s important to learn early on that weeds are a gardener’s worst enemy. Weed regularly and make sure you remove all their roots. If there are seeds clinging to the weeds, don’t put them in the compost heap; you’ll end up re-seeding your weeds when you spread the compost.

# Give shrubs some breathing room

Resist the temptation to plant your shrubs near a fence or wall. They grow outwards (in all directions) as well as upwards, so plan accordingly.

# Have fun with it

Allow yourself to experiment and try new things. If you realise you’ve planted something in the wrong place – either because it’s the wrong height or colour, or because it’s not growing well – you can move it. Most plants and shrubs, even young trees, can be uprooted and replanted.

Pick a Tomato Tips

Growing tomatoes from seed is a long journey – about six months. I start at the end of January, sowing into seed compost and lightly covering. You must use a propagator or a warm windowsill, aiming for about 18C to ensure good germination.

Once germinated and you can clearly see the first two leaves have opened out, transplant seedlings into individual pots and grow them on. Don’t let the temperature fall below 15C; be careful of chilly nights, it can knock them back.

Young plants need watering, but do not overwater. I prefer to water in the morning, making sure I don’t get too much on the plant itself. If the soil is almost dried out by the evening you’ve got the amount just right.

Tomato plants naturally want to grow into huge bushes but the aim is to produce a tall plant

At the end of April or early May, when the plants should be about  8-10in (20-25cm) high, they are ready to go into a greenhouse or polytunnel. Prepare the soil by breaking it up as much as possible and incorporating some good-quality compost. Lay some ground cover membrane where you want your plants to go and cut holes in it 2ft (60cm) apart. Dig planting holes through the cuts, place tomatoes, firm them in, and water really well.

Once you know that your plants are growing well, you’ll need to provide some support: tie some strong string at the base of the plant (or see Tip, box right), pull it up fairly tight (but don’t damage the plant) and tie it to one of the crop bars in your polytunnel or greenhouse. If you don’t have these you can use stakes, canes or run string across the width of the house/tunnel on to which you then attach the support strings.

Tomato plants naturally want to grow into huge bushes but the aim is to produce a tall plant. To encourage this, cut off the side shoots. The plant has three main points of growth: leaves, trusses (the flowers that produce the fruit) and side shoots.

A side shoot is a vigorous stem off the main stem. If not picked off, it will make the plant bushier rather than producing lots of fruit.

Once you see tomatoes ripening, start feeding the plants (although for the past two years my soil has been so well fed in the winter I haven’t needed to).

Find a Pond Leak Tips

While some water loss in a water garden is normal due to evaporation and sometimes splash out, significant loss can be a problem. The first, and usually most difficult, step in fixing a leak in a pond is to actually find the leak. Follow these steps to make the job of finding a pond leak little more efficient.

# Turn off the pump. If the water level continues to drop skip to Step C to continue the search for your pond leak. If the water level stays the same see Step B.

You have now determined that the leak is not in the main basin pond. Now you need to narrow it down a bit further. The pond leak is either in the plumbing or in the waterfall / stream. Closely inspect your plumbing, particularly at any joints, make sure there is no leakage here. Next, inspect your waterfall and stream for leaks. Most of the time, the problem is caused by plant matter or other obstructions raising the water level behind the weir and causing an overflow over the liner. Perhaps a stone has settled or your pond liner has slipped below water level in an area. If it hasn’t rained in a few days, check around the perimeter for a wet spot. If you find one, you have a good idea of where to look closer for the source of the leak. If you still have not found the problem use the ideas in Step C in the streambed.

At this point, you have determined that the leak is in the pond itself. Leave the pump off and allow the pond to continue to leak until it stops. If it does not stop before reaching a level dangerous to fish and plants, you will need to temporarily remove them from the pond. While the water level is dropping check around the edges to make sure that the pond liner has not sunken down or rocks have not been displaced. When the water reaches the point where it is no longer dropping it will be necessary to closely inspect the liner all along this water level to find the source of your pond’s leak. You should be looking for any irregularity in the pond liner from a large gash or a tiny pinprick. For fast leaks you can try putting some milk in a squirt bottle and spraying into the water at the edges of the pond. The milk will cloud the water where there is no hole. It will flow toward the hole, if there is one. This method will not work for slow leaks.

Once you have found the source of your pond leak it is time to make repairs. If it was just a displaced liner, move everything back into place. If a hole was found in the pond liner, you can patch it following our Splicing and Patching Instructions.

Healthy Garden Ponds, Here Its Tips

healthy-garden-ponds# Not too tidy

A good wildlife pond has a mixture of different habitats for animals to live and hide in so don’t over-manage it. A mixture of mud, leaves, twigs, stones and lots of plants provides plenty of places for wildlife to live and overwinter in.

#  Mix up the plants

Plants are important habitats; aim for a good mix of underwater plants (submerged), plants with floating leaves and plants that grow out of the water (emergent).

# Buyer beware

# Profitable margins

A broad margin of plants around the edge of the pond acts as a filter and removes nutrients and chemicals from the water. Bankside plants are also important as they provide shelter and food for animals living in the pond and those that visit, including dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, frogs and toads.

# Avoid tap water

Tap water can contain high levels of nutrients such as nitrates. Using it to fill your pond will encourage algae and may turn it a murky green. Use rain water if at all possible. Water levels in ponds fluctuate naturally so don’t be worried by falling levels in summer. However, if you want to top up the pond you could harvest rainwater in a water butt.

# Fish or no fish?

Many people enjoy seeing fish in their ponds, but they do not mix well with other wildlife. If you want a good wildlife pond, which includes frogs and newts, avoid fish. Don’t transfer fish, plants and frog spawn between ponds as this can introduce disease and problem plants.

# A question of shade

Trees and tree roots can provide shelter for pond animals, but too much shade will reduce plant growth and fallen leaves may lead to a lot of decaying organic matter in the bottom. Try to have a balance of shade and sun.

# Not too deep

A mix of shallow and deep water provides a variety of habitats for plants and animals but a pond need not be too deep. For a small pond, 1ft deep is enough for wildlife to flourish. The edges should also be gently shelving.

# Care with chemicals

Be careful when using pesticides, fertilisers or other chemicals near a pond. Water draining off the land will carry these chemicals with it and if you use sprays near water they can easily drift. Small ponds are not able to dilute toxic chemicals sufficiently so they will have a big impact on plant growth and animals.

# Enjoy your pond

Ponds are wildlife-rich, so they are the perfect place to have a bench or seat so you can enjoy the dragonflies and the frogs.