Roof Gardens and Balcony Maintenance

Posted by Sasha Kirey On 6:22 PM
Keeping the balcony or roof garden in a good condition will enhance your enjoyment of it. You need to consider the structure, the plants, and the fixtures and fittings. The big advantage of the balcony and roof garden over the ground-level variety is that many of the back-breaking routine tasks, such as digging, are simply not necessary. However, other jobs are unique to these areas and mustn't be neglected.

Plants

In general, the plants will need weeding only if any seedlings happen to appear, and pruning only to keep them healthy and in shape. If any are tied against a wall, check the wires and nails periodically, to make sure they are not pulling away, and tie in new shoots. Occasionally, especially if the plants are protected from the rain, wipe any build-up of dust from the leaves; if dust is allowed to remain, it will interfere with photosynthesis, and the growth of the plant will be slower. As a matter of routine, remove dead leaves from the plants before they begin to rot.

Floor Surfaces

The balcony is probably the easiest to maintain, because, by its very nature as an extended part of the living area, it is usually easy to sweep clean or wash down.

Decking will need to be brushed with a stiff brush to remove any algae; then treat with an algae killer. In addition, treat softwood decks with a preservative every year.

Wash tiles periodically to reduce any build-up of algae; relay any tiles that work loose before they crack.

Concrete tends to suffer most damage from small cracks. If you overlook or ignore these, the action of the weather, or a stray seedling that grows in the crack, can enlarge it and cause considerable damage. Chip away loose material and repair the hole with a stiff mixture of concrete containing an adhesive.

Regularly rake any gravel level; it should not need any other attention.


Seating


Bring the cushions from upholstered furniture inside during wet or cold weather and clean them according to the instructions. Wash plastic frames with a detergent solution periodically to remove the water marks left by rain.

Metal furniture can be left outside but it will need a scrub in spring with a detergent solution, to remove the dust and deposits of the winter. It will benefit from a new coat of weather-resistant paint every two or three years.

Treat softwood timber seating with a preservative or new coat of varnish every year. Hardwoods, Such as teak, do not need preservative. A rub over with white spirit, soap and water and, finally, teak oil will protect them for the year.

Containers

Most containers will need little maintenance. Weathering tends to enhance their appearance rather than detract from it. Any that have been painted may need another coat, and reconstituted stone containers may need to be brushed down.

Roof Garden Containers
Trellises and Pergolas

Particularly where the trellis has been erected as a windbreak, the means of support will need regular checking to make sure it is still rigidly in place. The bottoms of posts are prone to rot. Treat them with preservative but, as many wood treatments are toxic to plants, it is usually better to detach the plants from their supports, and protect them before you begin applying the preservative.

Railings

Rub these down and repaint them with a weather-resistant paint when they show signs of damage.

Electrical Fittings

If electricity has been connected to the roof garden, for lights or a pond pump, it should be checked every year for signs of wear; this is best done by a qualified electrician, who can replace any damaged cables or connections.

Resources:

Green Roofing - Guide to green roofs.

How to Plant in Garden Paving

Posted by Sasha Kirey On 11:59 AM
Whether the paving is a path or a patio, it will look much less stark, especially when it is new, if a few small, low-growing plants are added in among the slabs to soften and blur the edges.

Softening Edges
There is no reason why a paved area has to be a barren, plantless desert, unless it is by choice. By taking up the occasional paving slab or brick, or by scraping back the gravel, it is possible to add small plants that will grow only slowly and withstand being stepped on occasionally. Such plants work well to blend the hard surface into the garden, by integrating the two. This is especially desirable when the paving is new and clean, with sharp, well-defined edges. Long before the slabs begin to look weathered, the plants will have grown to give a much softer appearance to the area. Low-growing thymes are extremely effective at this, because, if they are walked on, the damaged leaves release oils that evaporate to give off their distinctive fragrance. For purely practical purposes, it may be useful to plant an ant-repellent such as pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) near to a doorway if ants are known to be a problem, rather than use a chemical.

As with any other planting scheme, the plants should be chosen to match the situation as closely as possible, with the sun-lovers in the hot areas, and the moisture-lovers in shadier parts.

Planting in paving



Planting Steps:

1. Chisel out a few planting crevices if the paving is cemented, or clear out some of the old soil. Remove to a depth of at least 5cm (2in).

2. Fill the holes with a loam-based compost leaving space to plant.

3. Use small plants, seedlings or recently rooted cuttings. Tease away most of the soil to make insertion easier Trickle more compost around the roots after planting. Firm gently and remove pockets of air.

4. Water carefully. A fine mist from a compression sprayer is less likely to wash away soil than a watering can. Water regularly but avoid a forceful jet of water until the plants are established.


Resources

House and Garden Directory

Home Improvement Construction

Green Building Directory

How to Plant Ground Cover

Posted by Sasha Kirey On 1:46 AM
Plants which do not exceed 45cm (18in) in height are often referred to as "ground cover", particularly when they have a spreading habit and can be used as a means of softening and disguising hard edges or straight lines.

Low-maintenance Solutions

Low-growing and ground-covering plants are useful for the city front garden in a number of ways, both in the garden and around its edges. They are ideal for softening the edges of a path when they are allowed to grow partly on to the hard surface, and they can be dotted in planting holes left among the slabs, to break up a large expanse of paving. If you have borders in the front garden, ground-cover plants fill and soften the front of the border and will soon fill all gaps. This, in turn, helps to suppress weeds, because, in common with most other seedlings, weeds need light to grow. Eliminating the need to cultivate the soil to get rid of weeds will also help prevent more weeds from appearing, as no more seeds are brought to the surface. Thus ground cover is ideal for the city garden, as it is low-maintenance.

Another bonus is that a covering of leaves over the surface of the soil reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation on a warm or windy day. The soil is kept moist and the amount of water needed to keep the other plants alive is reduced.

Many of the plants used as ground cover are quite tough, and require little in the way of maintenance after planting. Hypericum calycinum, for instance, simply needs annual clipping with a strimmer (string-line trimmer), to reduce the height and encourage bushiness. Other than that, an annual feed will suffice for it to thrive.

Thus, when the amount of time available for maintenance is limited, as it often is for city gardens, using a low covering of plants can reduce the necessary work quite considerably, while still providing a welcoming entrance to your home.


Planting Ground Cover

1. To plant ground cover; clear the ground of weeds first. Annual weeds can be hoed off or killed with a herbicide. Some perennial weeds will have to be dug out by hand.

2. Fork in as much rotted manure or garden compost as you can spare, then apply a slow-release or controlled-release fertilizer and rake it in lightly.

3. Unless your ground cover spreads by underground stems it is best to plant through a mulching sheet to control weeds while the plants are becoming established. Cut a cross where the plant is to be positioned.

4. Plant in staggered rows, planting small plants through the slits with a trowel. Water thoroughly after planting and in dry weather throughout the first year

5. Until the plants have grown together you may want to use a decorative mulch such as chipped bark to improve the appearance.


Resources:


How to Plant for a Miniature Kitchen Garden

Posted by Sasha Kirey On 9:05 PM
Vegetable-growing isn't the first project that springs to mind for the balcony or roof gardener, but, in fact, there is a lot of scope for making the most of even a tiny gardening space to produce fruit, vegetables and herbs for the table. The taste of food brought in and eaten fresh from the garden is better than any bought from the shops, and, even in a small area, there are plenty of varieties that can be grown.

Dwarf Varieties

Many fruit varieties are available on a dwarfing rootstock, which keeps them small, and they can be grown in containers, either as normally shaped trees, or as single-stemmed cordons. Against a warm wall, fan-shaped peaches, nectarines and cherries will thrive, as will grapes, which can also be grown over a pergola.

A new generation of "mini-vegetables" have been bred that are aimed at the smaller growing area and designed to be harvested and eaten while they are still small and tender. Tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines (eggplants) and peppers will all thrive in containers, as long as they are sheltered.

Herbs, particularly the more ornamental ones, such as purple basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Dark Opal') and variegated sages and mints, are decorative as well as useful. Edible flowers, such as nasturtiums, pot marigolds and borage, can be added to salads or frozen into ice cubes to add to summer drinks.

The main requirements for a successful crop are sunshine, water, food and shelter from cold winds. Sun is needed to ripen the fruit and keep the more tender crops, such as courgettes (zucchini), aubergines and peaches, at a warm enough temperature. Most edible plants need a lot of water. This is especially important for plants such as tomatoes, whose fruit has a high water content when ripe.

Edible plants may also need a soil or compost (soil mix) which is rich in organic matter or fertilizer, to provide the nutrients for their rapid growth, although the amount needed does vary from variety to variety, with lettuces being far more dependent on water than food, for example. For this reason, a crop of tomatoes in a grow-bag can be followed the next year by a crop of lettuce and radishes grown in the same bag.

Miniature Kitchen Garden


1. Not many of us have the space or time to maintain a kitchen garden, but this table-top selection will allow you to grow all the essentials. Place crocks in the bottom of terracotta pots for drainage. Plants with well-developed root systems, such as this marigold, will benefit from planting in a larger pot.

2. Pots of basil and other herbs are available from garden centres and many supermarkets. They can be potted on successfully to provide fresh herbs throughout the season. You may be able to divide a single plant into two or more pots when repotting.

3. Nasturtiums flower better in poor soil, and once planted should be left to their own devices. Give them a little water but no plant food or you will get lots of leaves and no flowers.

4. Additional plants to grow might include miniature tomato and strawberry plants. They need larger pots to allow for root development. Line a tray with a thick plastic sheet and cover with clay granules. These retain moisture and create a damp microclimate for the plants.

Additional Resources: