Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Pruning Wisteria, Cropping Strawberries and Storing Fresh Herbs

Now is the time to prune Wisteria to ensure you have plenty of flowers next spring. First, tie in any new shoots to extend the existing network of branches or to fill in gaps, then using sharp secateurs, shorten this years growth to about 30cm. This restricts growth and improves circulation allowing any sun we may have to ripen the young stems, helping the formation of buds. With the weather as it is, a handful of sulphate of potash scattered round the base of the plant will help ripening too. In late Feburary or early March next year, these shoots should be cut back again to only 2.5-5cm long or two or three plump buds these will flower later in the spring. Though I have never tried it, some suggest that pruning only once as you would in February; perhaps you would like to experiment?

At this time of year, strawberries are producing ‘runners‘ as the plant finishes cropping, it’s their natural means of propagation, providing plenty of plants for free. Take four or five runners from healthy, high cropping plants and peg a small plantlet into a 3″ pot buried level with the ground, filled with Multipurpose or John Innes no 3 compost using a U shaped piece of bent wire about 4″ long at the base to hold them in place. Straightened out paper clips are ideal. Keep the plantlets well watered, after about six weeks, when they have rooted, detach the plantlet from the parent and re-plant in a new bed. Aim to have three productive beds as cropping decreases as plants age.

You can continue the pleasure of enjoying fresh herbs by storing some ready for use in winter. There are several ways to do this, all of them simple and easy to do. Only use material that’s fresh and disease free, the best time to collect is early in morning on a dry day when they’re filled with essential oils. Soft leafed herbs like Chives and Parsley can be frozen in the ice cube tray, chopping parsley before freezing as it is impossible to do it afterwards. All you then have to do is to take out an ice cube and pop it into the casserole or put ice cubes into a sieve and let them melt before adding the parsley to sauce. Herbs like ‘bay’ and sage can be dried in small bunches in the airing cupboard or placed on kitchen towel and dried for a couple of minutes in the microwave, check them every 30 seconds to make sure that they aren‘t overdone. The dried leaves should then be picked from the stems and stored in sealed jars in the dark to keep their flavour. You can also use sprigs and leaves to flavour bottles of olive oil, which make wonderful ‘home made‘ presents. Put the herbs in bottles or jars, cover them with oil and leave on a sunny windowsill for at least two weeks, shaking the bottle regularly to mix the oils.

Happy gardening –and eating!