I believe we are all becoming increasingly aware of the impact humans are having on our planet. You only have to turn on the news to see a piece about more extreme weather, climate change or habitat loss. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as gardeners, we have the opportunity to make a positive impact on our environment and at a local level we can really make a difference.
We all like to think that gardening is the green industry and in many ways we are, but we do have to look at some of the accepted practices and products that we use on our gardens and perhaps adapt for the future. We have started to do just this at Millbrook and really look at some of the ranges that we sell, to question how we can make changes to be more sustainable and to support our customers to do the same while still having a beautiful outdoor space.
A different way to garden
This year at Millbrook, we have taken out any indiscriminate pesticides from our range and any products that in the small print say ‘harmful to bees’. How on one hand can we promote bee-friendly plants and then on the other sell products that kill or harm bees? Some traditional gardeners may wonder how they can garden without using pesticides or sprays to protect their plants or crops, so I think we have to go back a few steps and think about gardening a bit differently.
Sort out our soil
Let’s start at ground level and sort out our soil. A healthy soil with plenty of organic material, lots of worms and other organisms will help support your plants to grow as strongly as they can, helping to protect them from pests and disease. So get mulching – a bit of gardening jargon basically meaning to put organic material on your soil every year. This can be your home-made compost or leaf mulch, manure or any soil improver. This year, I am excited to try out a new product to us – ‘Blooming Amazing’. This is an organic, British, natural soil conditioner made as a by-product from bio-mass renewable energy production. The even better news is that no-dig is all the rage. Don’t worry about digging in your mulch, just spread a 3cm layer over the ground and let the worms do the work. By mulching and not digging the earth you are actually maintaining the structure of the soil which helps plants get the nutrients and moisture they need, keeps carbon in the soil and saves time weeding – if you don’t believe me, check out Charles Dowding’s website for inspiration!
Go back to your roots
While we’re talking soil, it is really worth taking the time and trouble to make the plants roots really happy. Plant carefully, dig the hole the right depth – to the same height as the compost in the pot and water the hole well before you back fill it. I would definitely recommend using Rootgrow – this is a mycorrhizal fungi that lives in a symbiotic relationship with plants and encourages them to grow stronger roots faster that support the plant, making them more resilient to disease. Think of them as the equivalent to our friendly gut bacteria helping us digest food and keeping us healthy. I have genuinely seen anything that I have planted using Rootgrow grow faster and stronger than those where I haven’t.
Another new product I have yet to try is After Plant food, with the same friendly fungi, plus natural nutrients and microbes that benefit established plants. While your plants are getting established, remember to water them well – once the roots have grown (after at least one Winter) you should be fine to leave it to nature unless we get an extreme drought or dry period.
Right plant, right place
Next, follow the old adage – Right Plant – Right Place. There is no point trying to grow a healthy plant in conditions that don’t suit it. If you have a shady spot, look for shade-loving, woodland plants. Much as you might love lavender, it wont look so lovely after a few weeks being kept in the dark and will be much more prone to pests and disease. Similarly, it’s worth knowing your soil conditions – for example, Rhododendrons and Azaleas need acidic soil and will hate growing in alkaline, chalky soil. If your soil isn’t right for the plant, you can always try growing in a pot with the right compost and you stand a much better chance of success. Our team are always happy to help advise you on the right plant (or hopefully plants) for your garden.
Defend before attack
Ok, so you’ve done everything I suggest and still those garden pests arrive to nibble on your prize roses or carrots, what do you do next? Well firstly, wait a while and see what happens. I have found that when the aphids appear on my roses, if I wait a few days the ladybirds and the blue tits tuck in and before too long the greenfly numbers start to dwindle. They may not disappear completely, but they are back in balance and the plant is able to grow and thrive.
We are learning that plants themselves have natural defence mechanisms that put off predators. When an insect takes a bite out of your plants leaf, it releases toxins which act as a warning to other aphids to stay away, plus attracts predators to eat the aphids. In fact, some of the pest deterrents that we now sell tap into this natural plant chemistry to elicit the plants natural immune response and encourage bugs to stay away. Take a look at the new Ecofective Plant Disease Defence spray which does just this if you are finding that your plants need a little help to deter those bugs. In this range there is also a Rose Defender spray which protects roses from bugs and powdery mildew while nourishing the plant too. Worth a try I think for healthy plants and a healthier planet.
Eco-friendly bug control
Sometimes all the barriers or defences are still not enough and there are bee-friendly ways to deal with an infestation of bugs. Again from Ecofective – Bug Control spray works by physically encapsulating the bugs, making them immobile which stops them from feeding. The great thing about all of these products is that they are completely child, pet and bee safe and can be used on edible crops with no gap needed between the application and harvest.
Work with nature
In essence, most of what I have talked about is prevention rather than cure – if we look after our soil, grow healthy plants in the right situation they will be much less prone to pests and disease and we shouldn’t need to use indiscriminate pesticides. Nature is pretty amazing and over millions of years has evolved to live in balance and harmony. We need to find that balance in our gardens, rather than fight nature, work with it. You will be amazed by the results and hopefully see the benefit to wildlife and the planet too.
How to compost at home