Cactus cuttings aren’t the only plants that benefit from a bit of gravel in their soil – be liberal with the stony stuff, says Mary Lovell-smith.
ORNAMENTALS • Take cuttings of cacti by cutting off a shoot, leaving for a day or so for a skin to form over the cut (and prevent rotting when planted) before placing in pots, which should be half-full of stones, then topped with a 50:50 mix of river sand and potting mix. Do not water until the cuttings start to get very, very dry. • Pea gravel or grit, about 5-6mm diameter is helpful in allaying the effects of overwatering and consequent damping-off of seedlings or other plants in pots. Put broken china, or largish stones in the bottom, then a layer of sphagnum moss or coconut fiber, then top it off with a mix of leafmould (or compost), garden soil and grit. • Generous quantities of grit mixed into with soil in the garden also helps open up heavy soils, especially for plants that hate wet feet, such as irises and many bulbs.
EDIBLES • Tender vegetables, such as aubergines, courgettes, melons, pumpkins, peppers and tomatoes may be sown under cover – such as a sunny window sill, glasshouse, verandah and so on. They should not be sown outside in the garden (or even transplanted out) for another month or so in any but the warmest districts, as cold snaps will check for growth, or in the case of a late frost, even kill them. • Earlier sown crops might need thinning, to stop the seedlings competing for sun, water, space and so on, which will lead to poor and less healthy yields. • Give nitrogen-hungry tamarillos, strawberries and passionfruit a boost with a handful around each of blood and bone, hen or sheep pellets, or wormcasts (if you have your own worm farm). Should you have hens, use the manure from their house floor. If you have straw or (untreated) wood shavings on the floor, the whole lot can be put around established plants. However, pure chook droppings will need to be composted before applying as they are ammonia-rich and can burn the plants. • Should you see horse manure for sale on the side of the road, grab it. Not only is it nutrient rich but it also provides a lot of organic matter for your soil. As it usually contains an abundance of weed seeds, it is best composted before applying to the garden – either in a pile on its own, or in the compost heap.