Chillies on the go

chilliesThe trick to success with chilli sowing is to keep it simple. I’ve tried all sorts of sowing methods, from expanding coir pellets and thermostatic controlled propagators to expensive home hydroponic systems – but what method has given me quick high-yielding results this season?

Answer: Good quality compost and a no-frills plug-in heated propagator. Actually, make that two propagators – I am growing more varieties this year than ever before!

When it comes to seed compost for chillies I prefer a multipurpose mix compost and to make it suitable for seed sowing I spend a lot of time breaking up the lumps and bumps before running it through a garden sieve to create fine textured sowing compost.

Where suitable I now carry out all my seed sowing in Haxnicks root trainers. They allow for optimal root development and no disturbance when potting on – the hinged strips simply open like a book for easy transplanting. When filling sowing containers, I loosely fill to the brim with compost, and then drop the container several times on the work surface to firm down and level. A heavy watering further settles the compost and prepares it for sowing. This is the only water I provide until germination.

chilliesI set two seeds per cell as an insurance policy, though the second is rarely needed, and cover the seeds with a little more compost – no more than 0.5cm deep. The compost below pulls the covering compost down as moisture is transferred, helping to bed the seeds in.

Set in a bright spot in a heated propagator, germination usually occurs within 7-14 days, though several varieties popped up on day 6 for me this year.

I’m now faced with two trays of healthy seedlings – 14 chilli varieties and two sweet peppers. The immediate job is to thin out the weakest of the two seedlings in each cell – these could be potted on but I’ve not got the space for them all. The trays will stay on a south facing windowsill until roots poke through the pots, then it’s time to pot them on.

One slow starter
I was surprised at how quickly the majority of my seedlings emerged, but three weeks after sowing I’m still waiting on one variety. Naga Jolokia, the hottest on my list with a 1,000 000+ Scoville heat rating, is still to germinate. I’m not too concerned – this was the last variety to sprout for me last year too. And if I’m honest I won’t be too sad if it doesn’t germinate at all this season – I added a Naga Jolokia chilli to a mild curry last year and ended up crying into my dinner as the chilli hiccups kicked in – it’s the first time a chilli has defeated me!

chillies

Surprised by seeds
It’s not so noticeable when you only a sow a few types each year, but there is a surprising amount of variation in seed shape and size depending on variety. Sowing 16 varieties has really brought this home from me. From the tiny fleck-like seeds of ‘Demon ‘Red’ to the large flat discs of the sweet peppers I’ve sown I’ve found it interesting to note the differences. Some are flat, some are crinkled, some are near white, others are cream, yellow, tan and even black. Tapping the seeds of one variety into my hand, my young daughter commented how they looked like dried pixie ears. Oddly I couldn’t think of a better description!

Are you trying chillies this year?

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

Pinching out Fuchsias

Let’s start at the beginning – your fuchsia plugs will be with you in the next few weeks and you will want to grow the best plants that you can whether they are for your patio or to enter in a local show! In my blogs I will be concentrating on how to grow fuchsias to get the maximum amount of flowers for the summer!

Let’s look initially at pinching out or stopping as it is often called.

What we are aiming for when we grow fuchsias, is lots of flowers, so I guess that we could just leave the plant to grow as it wants to and so generally we would get a straggly plant. However if we take control, by pinching out our fuchsias we will get the best results!

So what is pinching out? If you want to grow a fuchsia that has a bushy growth, then you are going to need to pinch or remove the growing tip at a fairly early stage. (If you want to grow a standard – don’t panic we will cover that another time!) I let the rooted cutting or plug grow to 3 pairs of leaves about 2” tall before removing the very tip of the plant. I remove the very smallest bit at the top; however if you want to use the bit that you take off as a cutting then you may want to let the plant grow slightly taller so that you can safely take off a larger tip. Remove the tip growth with a sharp pair of scissors with fine tips. Make certain that the cut is just above the next set of leaves, as a piece of stem left behind will rot away and can cause problems.

Removing the tip stimulates the side shoots into growth, so that instead of having one main stem, the side shoots will take precedence. You have started to grow a bushy plant! Then let those side shoots grow until they have two or three pairs of leaves, and then remove their growing tips! And so on etc. etc! Having pinched out several times you will have a nice bushy plant with lots of growth. Remember that each time you remove a growing tip that you are going to at least double the numbers of main shoots. Each plant will be different in its growth –with a slow growing plant or a very short jointed one you may want to leave longer between pinches. A fast growing and rampant plant may need to be pinched out more often.

Pinching out does several things – firstly it creates a bushy plant, secondly it gives you control of the plants growth and finally, and perhaps most importantly it gives you a degree of control of when the plant will flower!   As a general rule – single flowered fuchsias (those with 4 petals) will flower after about 60 days, doubles (the larger fluffy flowers) about 80 days and triphyllas (generally with the long thin orange flowers) about 100 days. The word “about” is vital, as we can never guarantee when the plant will flower but it does give us a rough guideline!

 

My family first got the fuchsia bug in 1963 when my late father stopped to admire the plants growing in a neighbour’s garden – they were fuchsias and he was hooked! Gradually the garden was overtaken by fuchsias – and in 1979 we moved as a family to a little village near Guildford, where to this day I grow lots of fuchsias (about 500 different types!)

I am Assistant Secretary of The British Fuchsia Society and involved in anything and everything to do with fuchsias!

A great way to grow herbs – the windowsill gardener

windowsill gardeningNow I’m not a drinking person. But the people I live with do like the occasional bottle of wine, so when I went outside the other day and found the glass recycling box was rather full, I decided to do some recycling of my own.

I wanted something that would look neat and tidy but at the same time have a bit of uniqueness to it and wine bottles seemed to fit the bill nicely, after all, they were only going to be smashed up! So if it all went horribly wrong I could pretend it hadn’t happened and take a quiet trip to the bottle bank.

I’m rather lucky in one sense that over the years I’ve managed to build up a collection of various DIY tools and so it didn’t take long for me to dig out my electric tile saw, pop it onto my work bench and make a start. My first attempt at cutting one of the bottles in half was a disaster, I didn’t keep the bottle steady and level and so I managed to end up with a 1cm difference in just one circuit of the bottle, it didn’t look good – one for the bottle bank.

My next attempt was much better; I decided on a line and kept my hand steady, producing a nicely level cut bottle, one down, and five to go!

Once they were all done, I filed and sanded down all the sharp edges, after all, there’s no point in getting cut yourself when reaching for some herbs – which I’d decided to use the bottles for by the way. I lined up my creations on the windowsill and stood back to admire my handy work. They were going to be a nuisance to clean around etc if left loose like that so back to the garage for some plywood off cuts ( a man never throws away any wood “just in case” ). Twenty minutes later a nice little box had been made and everything looked neat and tidy, I was a happy chap.

windowsill gardening

Now for the fun part, the seeds… after much deliberation I decided on Oregano, Mint, Basil, Chives, Plain Leaved Parsley and Coriander. Mint being a bit unusual to grow on a windowsill, but it beats going to get some from the garden in the pouring rain!

I filled about a quarter of each bottle with horticultural grit and charcoal as there were no drainage holes in the bottles so I wanted to be able to see if there was water sitting in the bottom and the charcoal would help absorb any smell of sitting water, which would be unpleasant. Then topped them to within a couple of cm from the top with good quality compost. Once I’d sown all the seeds, I covered with cling film to make a propagator and waited for the shoots to appear.

windowsill gardeningOverall I’m very pleased with the look. I’ve recycled, in my own way, half a dozen wine bottles and a friend will be benefiting from a windowsill herb planter in the very near future (as long as I get to taste them in a nice meal of course).

Last months project was a success all the bulbs have grown well, the crocuses and daffodils have all flowered and the tulips are still to come. On reflection I will probably plant the same bulb variety in each planter next year as now the crocuses have finished it’s looking a little bit untidy and there are gaps.

I’ve managed to acquire some onions and even some shallots which have been planted in another two bottles (the shallots had fewer in the bottle and larger holes to allow room for them to split (hopefully)).

Next month there might be teapots!

I have been gardening since I was knee high to my Grandad, he taught me as much about gardening when I was a nipper as I learnt at school about reading and writing! I have been working as a self employed gardener/landscaper for approximately ten years. I have a passion for gardening, growing things is one of the most rewarding things anyone can do. I would like to share with you some of my experiments and who knows, they might just work!

The quickest way to plant up a new garden

Are you planting up a new garden and don’t know where to start? I would recommend garden shrubs as a starting point. By selecting more compact varieties, and those which are easier to prune and tame, you can make life easier for yourself! A garden which only includes bedding plants is a blaze of colour, yet is so much more difficult to maintain, and needs re-planting every year, whereas shrubs will last for 20 years or more.

It’s so easy to build a new garden, or fill gaps in an existing garden, when you buy small shrubs online! Thompson & Morgan are also offering an ‘instant garden’ range this year which offers large, chunky plants (and same size as garden centres) which will begin to fill borders from the moment they’re planted.

There are some fantastic evergreen shrubs for small gardens in this range, and those which offer something a little bit different in colour, form and fragrance!

The quickest way to plant up a new garden

I’d like to show off to you, Buddleja ‘Buzz’; the very first garden-friendly Buddleja! Buddleja are well-known as being easy to grow shrubs which attracts birds, bees and butterflies to the garden and now they will stay restrained; growing no more than 1.2m and without self-seeding everywhere they shouldn’t!

The quickest way to plant up a new garden

Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ is similar in that it’s a well-known shrub in miniature! Powerfully perfumed blooms, on rounded plants, which sit well at the front of the border or in decorative pots. An extremely long-lasting shrub too, plants will last well over 20 years! Cut some sprigs fort indoor winter vases too!

The quickest way to plant up a new garden

But, let’s not forget the fuchsia family, especially the hardy varieties which are little mini shrubs all of their own! Super hardy, branching and dripping with jewelled blooms throughout the summer. There’s almost a hardy fuchsia for every position too; from creeping ground cover to mid-sized bush or even robust hedging!

Why not try a new shrub in your garden this year and let us know how you get on?

Michael Perry
Michael works as Thompson & Morgan’s New Product Development Manager, scouring the globe for new and innovative products and concepts to keep the keen gardeners as well as amateurs of the UK happy!

Getting the best from your fuchsias – our growing secrets revealed

Fuchsias will put on a good show with minimal care throughout the season, but for the best displays it pays to learn a few simple tricks and tips.

For a fantastic fuchsia display this summer follow our secrets for success:

history of fuchsiasGrowing conditions:

  • Plant in fertile, moist but well-drained soil, with shelter from cold, drying winds. Work plenty of rotted compost or manure and slow release fertiliser into the area ahead of planting.
  • In patio containers and window boxes use a 50:50 mix of multipurpose compost and soil-based John Innes No.2 compost, mixing in some slow release fertiliser ahead of planting.
  • In hanging baskets, stick to multipurpose compost to keep the weight down, but add some Swell Gel to reduce watering needs in the height of summer.

Uses:

  • Use hardy fuchsia varieties for permanent planting – use as specimen shrubs or seasonal floral hedging.
  • Use trailing fuchsia varieties in baskets and containers at height or as seasonal ground cover.
  • Use upright fuchsia varieties in patio containers and window boxes or as gap fillers in the border.

fuchsiaGrowing on Thompson &Morgan fuchsia plug plants:

-Young fuchsias are frost-tender and need to be grown on in warm frost-free conditions before planting out at the end of May or Early June, once threat of frost has passed.

-Pot on plug plants soon after delivery into small pots or cell trays filled with multipurpose compost.

Early training:

-Pinch out the soft stem tips once plugs have put on three leaf sets – simply remove the tip and top pair of leaves with scissors snips or fingers. This will encourage bushier, compact plants and more flowers. Pinch out 2 or 3 more times once each resulting side shoot has developed three pairs of leaves – the first flowers will start to bloom 5-8 weeks after the last pinching.

Later training

  • The early training above will create a bush.
  • You could experiment and create a fan or espalier, similar to fruit tree training. This is best done with hardy varieties and done over several years to create a truly impressive flowering wall shrub.
  • It’s easy to train a standard fuchsia (long bare stem with a lollipop canopy), but it can take 18 months to achieve. We’ll be posting more in-depth instructions for this method – watch this space.

Early training:

  • Boost the flower power and habit of your fuchsia plants by pinching out the soft stem tips.

fuchsia growing tipsOn-going maintenance:

  • Feeding: Fresh compost should supply enough nutrients for 4-6 weeks of growth. Start to offer a balanced liquid feed after this time, once or twice a month through the season. Alternatively, for fuss-free feeding with impressive results, mix our long lasting Incredibloom® plant food with your compost at planting time for 7 months of controlled feeding.
  • Watering: Keep composts and soils moist at all times. In the height of summer, baskets and small containers may need watering twice daily – do this early morning and late evening to avoid scorching foliage.
  • Deadheading: Look for faded blooms every time you go past you plants – the more you remove the more your plants will bloom.

Fuchsias are edible too!
All fuchsias produce edible berries but some taste better than others! We’d love you to taste test the berries of every variety you grow this year. Let us know your favourites varieties and how you used them in the kitchen.

Try a little tenderness!

While there are some fantastic hardy fuchsias available it is usually the tender varieties that put on the most impressive floral displays. You can overwinter container plants in a frost-free location for re-using the following year – but you might not need to! We’re finding that tender varieties are getting tougher and tougher and you may find they will overwinter in your garden soil with little to no protection. Experiment this year with your favourite plants – leave them in place at the end of the season, cutting them back by a third and mulching around the base. With luck you’ll be rewarded with re-growth the following spring. If not, you can always reorder fresh plug plants in spring for guaranteed success next summer.

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

Gardening without the graft

Gardening is, without question, one of the most active and rewarding hobbies. To get the most out of your garden it is best to plan all year round and create your own gardening calendar to keep you on track. You have to think about which flowers and vegetables you are going to grow, when is the right time to plant them and how to care for them. When everything falls into place and you get it right, you get such a sense of satisfaction and achievement from raising your seeds to maturity.

However, sometimes reality can creep up on us and we run out of time, leaving our gardens taking a back seat. Occasionally something more immediate is called for when we lack time or even space to grow plants from seed. With modern innovation, creating a beautiful garden does not need to take up much time. That is why we introduced our instant gardening range.

Our range of larger shrubs and plants have a proven track record for hardiness, ease of care and garden performance and includes instant-impact shrubs and herbaceous perennials. The best part is, they are established on the nursery grounds and delivered straight to your door, ready to be planted in your garden.

gardening without the graft

Take a look at Lavender ‘Hidcote’. This hardy English lavender is perfect for pots and borders. Mid-height ‘Hidcote’ is ideal for an informal low hedge along paths, where its evergreen foliage can be appreciated. Flowers July – Sep. Supplied as 1 x 3.5 litre potted plant.

For the full selection of our larger plants click here.

You can also now buy garden ready plants online. Unlike shop bought plants that have been grown to look good in store, our garden ready plants are sent out in prime time for planting out in your garden or containers. Our garden ready plants are sent to you ‘green’ ahead of flowering which means the plants will establish quickly and as their energy goes into producing roots, they will be producing more flowers throughout the season.

Our garden ready Busy Lizzie ‘Divine Mixed’ has received a 5 star customer rating for their spectacular colour spectrum and ease of planting. No potting on is required and they can be planted straight into your garden.

gardening without the graft

‘These plants arrived in fantastic condition and truly were ‘garden ready’. No potting on required, they’ve been planted in their final position and in only a few days look well established’ – Natalie, online customer.

To see our full range of garden ready plants click here.

Why not try our instant gardening and garden ready ranges this year, we promise it will be worth it! We would love to see how you get on so please post or tweet us your pictures.

 

Terri Overett
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.

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