A GARDENING expert has issued an urgent warning over the soaring cost of keeping your green space neat and tidy and in tip-top shape.
Louise Curley, the author of two books The Cut Flower Patch and The Crafted Garden, says the cost of living crisis has also impacted those with green fingers.
The war in Ukraine and other factors such as high fuel prices and a move in the horticultural sector to become more sustainable, have all driven up prices.
However, writing in The Sunday Times, Louise has offered her top tips on how to get your garden into shape without having to break the bank.
Sow your own
The expert says there is still time to plant half-hardy annuals for summer flowers, which will be cheaper than bedding plants which are likely to be more expensive or harder to find this year.
Louise advises to use them in containers or in borders to fill in any gaps.
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They are also great for a quick hit of inexpensive colour.
While perennials need more patience and nurturing but sowing them in spring and early summer will mean you’ll have flowers next year for a fraction of the price of shop-bought potted plants.
You don’t need to invest in a greenhouse either as you can start your seeds off on a sunny windowsill or on the floor by French doors.
Louise also advises that due to rising food prices, you can save some pennies by growing your own veg.
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Inexperienced veg growers are advised to start off with easy, highly productive crops such as courgettes, salad leaves, herbs and leafy greens like kale and chard.
Spring is a good time to split herbaceous perennials in order to produce free plants.
Louise advises to dig around the plant and lift it from the soil – and she says to put a sheet down on your path or lawn to avoid making a mess.
While some plants can be gently pulled apart, others will need slicing into sections, which can usually be done with a sharp spade.
For tough root balls though, use an old pruning saw.
As a guide, she says a root ball around 16in in diameter can be quartered which can then be replanted and watered.
Seek out seedlings
As temperatures start to rise, self-seeded plants will begin to emerge in borders and paths.
Louise recommends getting to know what is what – while some will be weeds, others will be the offspring of plants growing nearby that can be grown or moved elsewhere in the garden.
She says patches of gravel can make for particularly good seedbeds.
Carefully lift the seedlings, without damaging the roots, and pot up into small pots for a couple of months before planting in the garden.
Spring is a great time to take softwood cuttings using flexible, vigorous new growth.
This is suitable for a whole number of plants such as pelargonium, anthemis, thyme and verbena, and deciduous shrubs such as fuchsia, buddleia and lavatera.
For plants such as asters, chrysanthemums, phlox and salvia remove shoots from the base just as the leaves are starting to unfurl.
Ideally, the shoots should be 3in to 4in tall.
For others, remove a section of stem 3in to 4in long, just below the leaf joint.
Strip away the bottom leaves, pinch out the growing tip then put the cuttings into pots filled with cuttings compost.
Water and then cover the pot and cuttings with a clear plastic bag.
Louise recommends the resealable ones because they can easily be opened to ventilate the cuttings if moisture builds up.
You should have rooted cuttings in about four weeks.
Spread plant joy
Simply sharing plants with other gardeners is a great way to keep costs down.
Louise though does give a word of warning.
It’s best to quarantine new plants for a couple of weeks at least and always check the soil before your plant out, in case there’s a plant or best in there which you don’t want to bring into your garden.
Louise says she has started buying her plants online, using trusted nurseries.
Although this may not sound like a money-saving tip, she says that this way she has been able to research and select the plants from the comfort of her settee.
This has made her more targeted about what she wants to grow and what she actually has space for, rather than being easily tempted by an instant splash of colour at a garden centre.
Clubs and societies
Louise says that whatever your particular garden interest there will be a plant society catering to your needs, and recommends going onto the RHS website for a list.
Most will hold regular talks, trips and plant sales or swaps and membership will come with newsletters, publications and access to free or low-cost seeds.
While fertilisers such as potassium have felt the impact of the war in Ukraine causing worldwide shortages and fuelling price rises, there are home-grown alternatives.
These are often free and also great for the environment as they have no carbon footprint.
Louise recommends Comfrey as one of the best feeds for flowering and fruiting plants and it comes with a bonus too – its own flowers are loved by bees.
She says she prefers to grow ‘Bocking 14’ which is sterile and won’t self-seed everywhere.
Once its growing it can be harvested a couple of times a year, cutting back the leaves and steeping them for two to three weeks in a large bucket of water.
She warns it’s best to use a bucket with a lid as it stinks and it will also prevent spills transporting it around your garden.
Louise also says a handful of comfrey leaves can be buried in the bottom of the planning hole when you’re planting out dahlias and courgettes.
The steeping method also works with nettle leaves, as they are a good source of nitrogen and great for feeding leafy plants which have deep-tap roots that search out nutrients and minerals.
It’s best to decant the liquid into plastic bottles which can be stored in the garden shed, and put the decomposing leaves on the compost heap.
Dilute one part of the liquid to ten parts water.
Being handy at DIY will help here as wooden pallets can be transformed into all sorts of things for the garden – from building a compost bin, planters and even garden furniture to bug hotels and seed trays.
If you don’t have any pallets of your own, skips often have them but make sure you have permission to take them.
You can always ask a builders’ merchant if they have any it no longer needs.
Make your own compost
Making your own compost will save a few pounds as bagged compost is becoming increasingly expensive.
Dumpy bags can be repurposed as compost bins.
Wooden stakes can be used at the corners to hold up the sides and the handles of the bag can be attached.
Then make a slit in the base so worms and other compost-making creatures can get inside.
Some dumpy bags come with lids which is useful to stop you compost from becoming too wet.
If you don’t have a cover, you can always make one from a material like tarpaulin.
Old compost can also be reused – but always check there are no pests in it or the plants previously growing in it didn’t suffer from any disease.
Spread it out on a sheet and the robins will pick out any grubs and it can be used again.
It can be used either as a mulch on your borders, where it will work as a soil conditioner, or refresh and use it again.
Mix it in equal parts with a shop-bought or garden compost and add in a handful of chicken manure pellets or seaweed meal.
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