Grow Citrus

One of the highlights of a Mediterranean holiday is seeing the groves of citrus trees laden with fruit and redolent with the fabulous citrus flower fragrance. It’s natural to want to recreate some of that when you get back home and it’s not difficult if you have a sunny window, greenhouse or conservatory.

Kumquats are little oranges, they can be eaten whole, preserved in syrup or just enjoyed for their decorative value. Of all the citrus they make the best looking plants with glossy foliage and a tidy habit. Lemons are remarkable in that they too will bear fruit in the UK and they have a natural resistance to chilly weather (they don’t much like frost though).

The best time to buy a citrus plant is in the Spring so that it has a season to acclimatise to your garden before the Winter. Citrus plants like fresh air, so as soon as the frosts have finished get your citrus plant outdoors in a sheltered place away from cold winds. Where should you citrus spend the cold dark days?…..a conservatory is the best option, they’ll often flower in the Winter and the fragrance makes a conservatory very special. Indoors, near patio doors would be good, they have to have good light and frost protection. A heated greenhouse would also work well but try and get some ventilation going as citrus don’t like stagnant air.

During the Winter period citrus plants do not need much water, keep them on the dry side. In the growing season – roughly defined as during British Summer Time wait until your plant is getting dry before giving a good drink, don’t keep them soggy wet, they don’t like that, try and emulate mediterranean condtions. Rainwater is by far the best for citrus, it has no lime in it and will tend to keep the compost from getting too alkaline. If you have to use our local tap water add a liquid feed for Ericaceous plants, that will counteract the lime.

Now and again (every year or two) citrus will need to be potted on, this re-invigorates them and keeps the root system healthy – it also keeps the pot in balance with the branches and helps prevent blowing over in the wind. You can get a special compost for citrus, that works very well but you can also make your own by mixing John Innes No2 or 3 with some horticultural sand about 1/3 by volume of sand should be about right. Make sure the bottome of the pot has crocks to get good drainage.

To keep plants healthy it’s worth refeshing the top of the compost at the beginning of the growing season and if the plant looks like it needs a boost whilst growing. Simply remove and lose compost, perhaps scratch a little with a trowel but don’t damage the roots, then top up with good fresh compost, John Innes No3 will work well.

Feed your citrus during the growing season with any good liquid or granular feed, follow the instructions carefully. Foliar feed can be very effective and quick acting but don’t use it until the new leaves are about half grown as they are delicate.

Pruning needs are minimal, if you have to prune for shape or size it’s best done when the plant is in spring growth. Deadwood can be removed at any time as it may encourage rot.

Young plants may flower freely and set too many fruits, for the sake of the plant limit the amount of fruits to one per cluster of flowers, better to get a few real quality fruits than a lot that don’t develop fully and sap the plants strength.

Watch out for red spider mite and scale insect. The RHS has very complete information about the pests and keeps up-to-date with chemicals that are available. Red Spider Mite:
Scale Insect:

Citrus are fun to grow and not difficult once you get an understanding of their needs.

Grow Potatoes in pots

Potatoes are easy to grow, and great fun even in a small garden

The principle is you simply plant one tuber and a couple of months later you get dozens. Any variety will do fine in pots but it makes sense to grow earlies because they will crop quickly and they’ll avoid the possibility of potato blight.

Buy seed potato tubers in February. Chit them in a well lit frost free area – a bedroom is fine. Chtting is a fancy term for standing them sprouty end uppermost in a single layer in light. If you don’t have time or can’t be arsed to do it then it’s not essential, don’t be put off. It does get them off to a good start though.

Plant them outside in April, or March in a frost-free greenhouse or porch.

Use a pot of at least 12″ diameter. Black plastic pots may not look the best, but do the job perfectly well and they are easy to find. Any container will do as long as it can drain and won’t fall apart before you harvet your crop.

Half fill the pot/bag/whatever with multi-purpose compost, if it’s cheaper use grow bag contents. I’d recommend using a peat free compost, New Horizon seems to be the best at present and spuds love it.

Bury a seed potato just below the surface of the compost, in a large pot plant three, in a stonking, monster pot use five

As shoots grow, almost cover them with more compost until the pot is full.

Cover the young plants with fleece at night through April and May if frosts are forecast. While the shoots are below the top of the pot you can place carboard but remember to take it off in the morning!

Water regularly to keep the compost moist but not wet. Starting in June, feed regularly with a general-purpose, tomato fertilizer or organic equivalent.

As the weather warms up they’ll grow amazingly quickly, make sure they are in full sun if possible and water daily.

By late June or early July your potatoes should be ready. Have a little feel to check they are a decent size, if they are just tip the whole lot out on a sheet of plastic and gather the bounty. Pur spent compost on the garden or re-invigorate with John Innes base and use again.

Planting tips
Use proper ‘seed’ tubers rather than eaters that have gone sprouty. Good results are much more likely if you start with virus free seed spuds.

Try and find somewhere that you can buy just the number of tubers you need – don’t be tempted to plant too many in your containers

Potato varieties

The best choice for growing in pots are early varieties, which produce eating-sized tubers in early summer. They generally have less top growth, so make neater container subjects. Try: ‘Accent’ ‘Lady Christl’ ‘Rocket’ ‘Swift’ ‘Red Duke of York’

Baby earlies, such as the red-skinned salad variety ‘Mimi’ have been bred to produce lots of cherry-tomato-sized tubers for cooking and eating whole. A pot a great place to grow such tiny tubers.

Salad potatoes
Second earlies crop a few weeks later than earlies. Many are salad varieties, which have a waxy texture and are good boiled to eat hot or cold. Try: ‘Maris Peer’ ‘Charlotte’ ‘Roseval’ ‘Anya’ (an interesting newcomer – a cross ‘Désirée’ and tasty ‘Pink Fir Apple’.

Later varieties
Don’t bother with the late ones, they’ll get blight

Potato blight
Grow Sarpo varieties to avoid blight – Sarpo ‘Axona’ is a good one.
Keep the foliage dry by watering the compost only.
Pick off infected leaves.
When a plant is badly affected, cut off the top growth and burn or bin it – don’t compost it. If the tubers are unaffected, they can be eaten.
Grow early varieties – these can be started early and harvested before mid-July when blight becomes a problem.

Grow Pinks

Pinks are so popular we thought we should give some information about how to grow them.

They are hardy plants that like a sunny well drained position, they require very little care and attention yet provide you with a splendid show of fragrant flowers throughout the summer. Pinks don’t have to be grown in the garden they also make brilliant patio plants, and can be grown in any type of container, window boxes hanging baskets, and pots – this is an ideal way to grow them if you are on heavy soil.

Planting: Allow 12″ – 15″ between each plant. Pinks can be planted at any time during the year, if you are Spring planting, do so after the worst of the winter weather has gone – remember it is the wet they don’t like! they don’t mind the cold, depending on the variety you can expect to see flowers starting in April.

If planting in the Summer, ensure you maintain watering until the plants have become established – but don’t be over do it, even in the summer you can rot their roots off. Autumn planting, plant no later than October, and after that time keep plants in a cold frame / greenhouse to protect them from the worst of the winter weather until Spring.
Once established they need no protection as long as the drainage is good.

Soil conditions: Pinks are fairly tolerant to most garden soils, ideally a PH level of about 6 is ideal, they prefer alkaline to acidic, but they must have good drainage. On clay or poorly drained soil, add some grit into the soil where you are planting them. This will help prevent their roots getting too much moisture around them and possibly causing root rot during heavy wet weather. Beware during the summer months they can dry out incredibly quickly, so extra watering during very hot dry spells is recommended, this also encourages them to continue flowering (depending on the variety).

Compost: If you are growing Pinks in pots good quality John Innes compost will give the best results. Make sure the pot is well crocked for drainage.

Flowering: Flowers can start from as early as April, and continue through to the autumn. Simple deadheading in the summer months will encourage more flowers. When the flowering stem has finished flowering, cut back into the centre of the plant. This will produce a much tidier and bushy plant.

Feeding: Start feeding soon after planting into pots and continue throughout the flowering season. In the soil plants need less feeding – general liquid feed such as Phostrogen is satisfactory.

Winter Care: All garden pinks are hardy. In the autumn tidy each plant up, removing any dead leaves, cut back any untidy or scruffy parts, this will give the plant shape and make it bush-out from the base. During the winter months you may notice a purple mottling on some of the leaves, this is quite common and will not harm the plant.

And again we will mention Pinks DO NOT like to be water-logged, this causes root-rot, so consider container growing if your garden soil is heavy and inclined to being very wet in winter.