Container Care.

Many different plants can be grown successfully in containers, from bedding plants, bulbs, shrubs, fruit and even small trees.

The secret of success when growing in containers is to make sure that the plants have the correct moisture and nutritional requirements. Even during the winter months, despite the fact that the ground is waterlogged, it may be necessary to water evergreen shrubs in pots simply because the canopy of foliage acts as an umbrella and prevents rain from getting to the roots. Feeding is also essential as the roots are unable to grow into the surrounding soil in search of food. For permanent plants in containers this means feeding on a regular basis to keep the plant growing and in good condition. At this time of the year in anticipation of warmer, growing conditions, container plants can be given a spring tidy up. This involves removing any weeds that have grown over the winter months, or moss on the surface. I then scrape off a couple of inches of the old compost, taking care not to damage the surface root. The pot can then be topped up with fresh compost. Bear in mind though that the nutrients in bagged growing compost only last for a matter of weeks, so it is well worth adding a slow release fertiliser to the mix to feed the plants through the summer months. The choice of compost is also important. Multipurpose compost made from peat or peat-free alternatives is only really suitable for growing plants for a year or less, making it ideal for hanging baskets and bedding plants. After a growing season, multipurpose composts tend to lose their structure and all nutrients are completely depleted. For plants growing long term in containers such as shrubs and fruit bushes it is best to use a loam-based compost such as John Innes. However, the quality of these composts can also vary and the structure can be very heavy. What I find best is to mix multipurpose and loam-based compost together in equal quantities which produces a good-structured compost that retains moisture and nutrients for longer.

By top dressing the pots every spring it encourages new root grow and feeds the plants as they start into growth – whenever that might be this year!

Blackberry pruning

Blackberries and other hybrid berries such as Tayberry and Loganberry are very easy to grow and produce a good crop of large berries in late summer and early autumn. They are ideal for growing on a wall or fence where they can be trained along wires. Fortunately, most of the modern hybrids are thornless which make pruning and picking the fruits much easier. Pruning is simple, but needs to be done on an annual basis by cutting out the old, long woody stems that produced clusters of fruit last year. These old stems need to be cut back to as near to ground level as possible. The younger, long stems that grew last summer can then be tied to the support and it is on this growth that flowers and berries will develop this summer.

Jobs for the week

The soil is still very wet, so avoid trampling on the garden unless you have to. During dryer spells lightly forking the soil surface of borders and veg plots will help with drainage.

If you want to lift and divide some established clumps of snowdrops, the traditional time to do this is after flowering. Alternatively, wait a few more weeks until the foliage starts to turn yellow and die back.

Young strawberry plants can be potted into larger containers or hanging baskets to provide a crop during the summer.

If you have a gardening question for Martin Fish please email him at martin@flowershow.org.uk and we’ll print a selection of questions and answers for readers to share. Or, write to Ackrill Media Group, 1 Cardale Park, Harrogate and we’ll pass on your question