Alice Whitehead shares seven ways to maximise your garden during lockdown without buying anything in...
Take stem cuttings
Spring is the ideal time to double-up on your plants and take softwood cuttings. This is the fleshy green growth on hardy and tender perennials such as penstemon, pelargonium, salvia, petunia, verbena and buddleia.
Using sharp secateurs, gently snip a 10cm length of stem (the morning is the best time to do this), and use a knife to trim just below the leaf joint.
Take off the lower leaves and make a hole with a pencil in a pot of peat-free compost, mixed with vermiculite. Drop your cutting into the hole and firm in.
Cover loosely with a plastic bag to encourage growth but allow air to circulate. Herbs cuttings also root easily in water.
Pot up your cuttings when they have a good nest of roots.
Learn how to take other types of cuttings:
A super-speedy way to get more plants is to divide them at the root ball. If a plant flowers after Midsummer’s Day it can be divided in spring – so give it a go with plants such as aster, phloxes, primulas and heucheras.
Sometimes you can dig the plant up and separate distinct parts with your hands, but with more fibrous roots you’ll need to slice with a spade.
Check you have healthy buds and roots on each section first. Discard any damaged or diseased parts and replant at the same depth. Water well for the first few months, until they settle into their new home.
Turn trash into treasures
Swap plastic pots and plant markers for DIY alternatives. Discarded cutlery, clothes pegs, wine corks and old toys can be repurposed in the garden as plant markers.
Cut strips of metal from old drinks cans and etch the names of your seedlings with a biro (you’ll need to write backwards on the outside, so it appears the right way around on the inside). Or collect thick twigs and shave off sections with a knife so you can write names with a marker pen.
An old chair, chest of drawers, teapot, or even old clothes, can be packed with peat-free compost and upcycled as garden planters to grow vegetables or flowers. Just make sure any container has drainage holes.
Make your own fertilisers
Here are some quick plant pick-me-ups to make at home.
Coffee grounds can add nitrogen to the soil, so sprinkle below acid-loving plants such as hydrangeas or blueberries.
Grass clippings make an excellent mulch – to keep weeds down and soil moist – if applied thinly below plants.
Banana peels are packed with potassium, calcium and phosphorus, which plants love. Chop into small chunks and dig into the soil around your plants.
You can also dry crushed eggshells in the oven and sprinkle them around your roses.
Grow your store cupboard!
Dried peas, beans, lentils and herbs and spices such as mustard, fennel and coriander can all be grown as microgreens.
Started off on the windowsill and snipped at baby leaf stage, they can offer up to five times more nutrients than mature plants.
Pre-soak your seeds in water for 24 hours before sowing for faster germination, then sprinkle on to seed trays of peat-free compost and cover with a thin layer.
You can snip the stalks and leaves when they’re around two inches high, in as little as six days.
Split supermarket herbs
Don’t bin tired supermarket herbs – bring them back to life! Herbs grown for supermarkets are essentially lots of tiny seedlings all bunched together in one pot.
By splitting them and potting them up separately, you can get new herbs for free.
Take off most of the leaves, so the plant puts its energy into root growth, and repot into small pots of peat-free compost, keeping the compost moist. Once the roots appear at the base of the pot you can transfer into a larger one.
Grow from kitchen scraps
Vegetable leftovers can be given a second lease of life with a little know-how – and it’s a great project to do with the kids. Lettuce and celery bases and carrot tops can all be re-sprouted for leaves if you place them in a shallow dish of water.
Just remember that parsnip leaves are not edible. Spring onion and leek bases can also be popped into a jam jar of water to grow new roots. These can be potted up into compost to grow again. And, of course, we often forget that ginger roots are just that – roots! These can be buried in compost to grow again.