Care and Maintenance

Whatever the garden design, most of the plants in your garden will require some level of care and attention on a regular basis to keep them in top condition, including watering, feeding, deadheading and staking, as well as the overwintering of tender plants. 

Remove faded flowers to encourage
the plant to produce more.

How can I use water sensibly when caring for my plants?

Good watering techniques are vital 
to avoid waste. It is best to water thoroughly, preferably in the morning or evening when temperatures are lower in order to reduce evaporation. Mulching the soil surface with composted bark or well-rotted garden compost minimizes evaporation, but make sure that the soil is already moist before mulching or rain may not reach the plant roots. In areas with seasonal water shortages consider growing drought-tolerant plants.

What are the different methods of watering?

Plants can be watered in many ways, but all methods generally fall into two categories: hand watering or automatic systems. For hand watering, you can use either a watering can or a garden hose. Garden hoses can also be used with various nozzle attachments to deliver a shower, rather than a jet, of water. If you opt for an automatic system, you will find that there is an array of devices to choose from, some of which can deliver doses of water at set times of the day or week. Even the most complex of these use relatively simple water-delivery methods such as seep or drip hoses and sprinklers.

Do I have to feed my plants in order to keep them healthy?

Additional feeding should not be necessary for most plants growing in 
a bed of reasonably well-prepared garden soil. Most plants extract vital nutrients, including the major ones such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), as well as the trace elements such as calcium, magnesium and sulphur, that they need from the soil. However, many gardeners like to give their plants some form of supplementary feeding at some stage.

What are the different types of inorganic fertilizer?

You can buy general-purpose granular fertilizers that are applied as a base dressing before cultivating new plants, as well as to established plants at the start of the growing season (perhaps in early spring). Soluble fertilizers are also available, which take effect more quickly than the granular ones. 
But they need to be applied at regular intervals during the growing season. 
If you do not have enough time for such a feeding regime, then you could try slow-release fertilizers that, as the name suggests, are released when 
the soil is damp and warm enough for plant growth. You can also purchase fertilizers for specific purposes such 
as for roses, lawns and tomatoes. 
Always follow the manufacturer’s directions when using any chemical products in the garden.

Are there any organic fertilizers that I can use?

A wide variety of organic substances can be used to boost nutrient levels. They should be used in addition to garden composts and manures. 
Fish, blood and bone is a balanced general-purpose fertilizer that is normally applied in spring to promote root and shoot growth. Another balanced organic fertilizer is pelleted chicken manure. Hoof and horn can be used to give a slow release of nitrogen where strong growth is needed and is applied in spring or early summer. Bonemeal promotes strong root growth and can be applied as a base dressing prior to planting. (Remember to use gloves and wear a mask when handling bonemeal, and choose a still day.)

This wire mesh will quickly be covered
by the growing plants.

What is foliar feeding?

Plants in need of a fast-acting treatment, perhaps due to a lengthy dry spell that is affecting the plants’ roots or to an attack by a pest 
or disease, should be foliar fed. 
Simply spray the leaves with a dilute solution of the chosen fertilizer early in the morning or evening.

Do I have to feed all the plants in an ornamental garden?

Trees and shrubs do not generally need regular feeding, although there are some exceptions. A newly planted tree or shrub, for example, should be treated to a slow-release fertilizer such as bonemeal. Also, shrubs with large flowers such as hydrangeas, or a lengthy flowering season, should be fed each year. Border perennials can be treated with a general-purpose fertilizer in spring, while bulbs will also benefit from regular feeding. 
As they do not have to develop a storage root system to help them survive the winter, annuals need much less feeding, as do alpines.

What is a liquid tea and how do I make it?

Organic liquid teas, often made from comfrey or stinging nettles, are easy to make. You can also use sheep or goat manure, or finely sifted garden compost. Simply fill an old pillowcase with your chosen material and sink it in a large bucket of water. Cover the bucket and let it steep for a few days. Remember, the longer you steep the mixture for, the stronger the resulting tea will be. You can use the final ‘solution’ as a light liquid feed. It can also be used as a foliar feed (which means that is sprayed directly on to the plant), as long as it is well diluted. The residue in the pillowcase can be used as a mulch.

Why is it a good idea to deadhead flowers?

Use twigs bound together to create a
mesh through which plants grow.

Deadheading is the removal of flowerheads from a plant as they fade so that the plant does not set seed. 
It is usually recommended in order to enable the plant to concentrate its energies on producing more flowers. Particularly useful with roses and sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), the technique does not work for all plants. Poppies (Papaver), for example, do not produce more flowers after deadheading. Do not deadhead if the seedpods or fruits are required for ornamental effect, as is the case with honesty (Lunaria), for instance.

Why is staking important?

Stakes, canes, wire meshes, pea sticks and other means of support are vital for plants with weak stems or those with large flowers that are liable to topple over in an ungainly fashion. The stakes for some plants, such as chrysanthemums and dahlias, are inserted into the ground at the same time as planting, while other plants can be supported while they are quite small, which means that the stems can grow over and disguise the support.

Why do I have to overwinter some plants?

Tender plants such as dahlias and chrysanthemums, as well as many bedding plants such as pelargoniums and fuchsias, must either be taken under cover for the winter or be given adequate protection outside.