Now's the time to be taking cuttings.
If you want to increase your stock for next year, you can start off by taking semi-ripe cuttings from all sorts of shrubs and herbs, soft fruit and lavender, now through to the first half of September.
Beginners to gardening can become confused with the terminology and when to take cuttings. Softwood cuttings are taken in late spring and early summer, taking young shoots from parent plants before the shoots become woody and hard. The cuttings are soft, short and quick to root, and need to be kept in a moist atmosphere.
By mid to late summer, the stems have hardened and are referred to as semi-ripe.
Semi-ripe cuttings should be taken when new shoots from this year's growth have started turning slightly woody at the base. The cutting is quite hard while the tip is still soft.
They take longer to root than softwood cuttings, so the cutting should be slightly longer, and are used for deciduous plants that root easily such as Salvia microphylla, hebe, deutzia, cornus, philadelphus and weigela. Hedera, lavandula and choisya are also suitable.
Before taking any cuttings it's a good idea to prepare the plant in advance so that it has plenty of strong growth that can be utilised. To do this, cut back the plant quite hard at the start of the dormant season and use the strong new growth which is produced the following year.
When you take a cutting from any plant, first check that it is healthy, free of pests and diseases and is true to type.
Cuttings taken from non-flowering stems will have more of the hormones needed for successful rooting than stems with flowers. If there are flowers or buds on the stem, cut them off as they will be using energy needed for making roots. Take cuttings in the morning to avoid wilting.
Look for healthy shoots of the current season's growth. With a sharp knife or secateurs cut off a shoot, at an angle, about 20cm long. The cut should be made just below a leaf node - the point on a stem where leaves grow from.
Remove any leaves from the lower part of the shoot. Cut off the soft new growth at the top of the shoot just above a leaf joint. The length of the stem should be reduced to about 15cm (6in).
Dip the cutting base in fresh rooting hormone powder, ensuring that the basal cut is well covered, and tap off any excess powder.
On large-leaved shrubs, cut the leaves in half to reduce water loss from the foliage.
Insert the cuttings into suitable containers of free-draining compost with 50% sharp sand or perlite, and keep in a glasshouse or propagator with the vents closed. Alternatively, cover pots with a plastic bag and put in a warm place, removing excess moisture but keeping compost damp. Remove any dead or diseased material that may appear.
It should take the cuttings about a month to root. Keep the compost moist initially but in winter only water if the compost is dry.
They will then need hardening off for a few weeks before potting on. They will need protection over the winter, so put them in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame until spring, when they should be ready to plant out.
BEST OF THE BUNCH - Sunflower (Helianthus)
If you want to get your children interested in gardening, these big, bold beauties are a great starting point. Easy to grow from seed and big enough for little hands to handle, these reliable annuals produce stunning flowers in dazzling yellows through to burnt oranges. They can grow to more than 6ft (1.8m) tall or you can grow smaller, bushier varieties.
Good choices include H. 'Velvet Queen', which has sumptuous red petals with chocolate centres and grows to around 1.5m (5ft) tall, and 'Pastiche', in mixed reds, yellows and buffs. The flowers appear on multi-stemmed plants and grow up to 1.5m (5ft) tall. Sunflowers like fertile soil in a sunny spot and should be well watered. Leave the heads on after they are past their best, as they provide seeds for the birds.
GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT - Sprouting seeds
These are another great children's project for summer, as they are usually ready within just two to four days. There's a wide range, including sunflower, lentil sprouts, onion and basil, each with their own distinctive flavour, and they can be sown any time of year. They are delicious in salads or stir-fries.
You need a jam jar, water and a piece of muslin. All you do is put a handful of seeds in a jar, cover them with water and place a piece of muslin on top of the jar overnight instead of a lid, leaving them to soak.
The next day, drain the water through the muslin, rinse the seeds in fresh water and drain, then place the jar on its side. Rinse the seeds twice daily through the muslin cloth until the sprouts are ready to eat. Rinse them again before eating.
THREE WAYS TO... Increase garden security
1. Plant thorny, spiky plants on boundaries such as holly, pyracantha and purple berberis.
2. Instal a gravel driveway or path so you are more likely to hear the crunch underfoot of a would-be intruder.
3. Introduce outdoor decorative lighting to illuminate entrances, driveways and steps, using low-powered lights with diffused beams so that pools of illumination merge together.
WHAT TO DO THIS WEEK
:: Start picking apples and blackberries for use in pies and desserts.
:: Take cuttings of new shoots of camellias, rooting them in gritty compost in a covered propagator.
:: Don't let your bedding plants set seed - it will result in an early end to your flower display. Continue to deadhead plants regularly.
:: Pick lettuce while young and tender, cutting every alternate one in a row to leave others more space to develop.
:: Lift onions, shallots and garlic when ready. Plants should be harvested when the necks start to turn brown and papery and bend over naturally.
:: Support heavily laden branches on plums to prevent breakage.
:: Cut back flowered herbs such as marjoram to encourage a second flush.
:: Tie in long shoots of new wisteria growth to continue developing the plant's framework.
:: Spread a fresh mulch of compost or bark around heathers.
:: Finish splitting congested clumps of bearded iris.
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Weather for Leighton Buzzard
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North west