Go and grow eco

A vegetable garden.
A vegetable garden.

If your planting is attracting bees, butterflies and other wildlife, your shed is devoid of pesticides and your fruit and veg are strictly organic, then you are already heading along the right road to eco-friendliness.

But follow these 10 simple tips and you could get even further, even faster.

A Generic Photo of wildflowers. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

A Generic Photo of wildflowers. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

1. Plant bright flowers such as candytuft, sunflowers and marigolds, to encourage beneficial insects like ladybirds and lacewings. These will eat aphids such as blackfly, which can decimate your flowers and crops. Bluebells, cowslips, foxgloves and primroses are all wildflowers to add colour and beauty to any garden. Buy flowers that will bloom as late into the autumn as possible, to allow more beneficial bugs and bees plenty of time to pollinate.

2. Invest in a water butt. Even better, blend it in with your garden scheme by building a wooden casing around it and painting it, suggests DIY power tool experts Dremel (www.dremel.co.uk). Alternatively, buy an old wine barrel as an attractive alternative and customise it so you can fill a watering can. Wooden water butts need to stand above ground level, allowing the wood to breathe from beneath.

3. Create your own makeshift mulch. If you have collected leaves to make leaf mould over the years, this will act as a great mulch in spring. Alternatively, use compost, bark or garden clippings which have been shredded.

4. Consider ‘companion planting’ to ward off predators. Many plant combinations mask each other with scent. The smell of Tagetes (French marigolds) will deter whitefly, while garlic and other alliums have been used as companions to keep pests at bay. Trailing nasturtiums repel woolly aphids, while bugle extract repels cabbage white caterpillars. In a similar way, leeks repel carrot flies, okra shields peppers from wind, while tall crops provide a canopy for short ones, such as lettuce and spinach, which prefer partial shade in the heat.

A Generic Photo of wildflowers. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

A Generic Photo of wildflowers. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

5. Recycle everyday packaging to use in your garden. Plastic cartons which have held pre-packed veg can be adapted as seed trays, yoghurt pots which have been thoroughly cleaned can be used to raise seedlings and larger plastic bottles with the bottoms cut off can work as makeshift cloches around young vulnerable plants. Large wooden crates can be used to store fruit and veg later on in the season.

6. Set up a worm compost bin if you only have a small space, and make a home for some small, red tiger worms, which you can buy. Use a wooden box with holes and a lid for a worm compost bin., add a layer of moist, shredded newspaper and soil for their bedding, then feed them once a week with vegetable peelings wrapped in newspaper or paper towels. Every two or three months, the rich, fine compost will be ready to use.

7. Use solar power to light the path to your front door. Solar lights fixed into the ground store energy at low cost in the daytime and light the way to your front door in the dark. Cut niches into your paving stones by using a compact saw or plant them either side of your path in the garden borders.

8. Make a compost bin if you don’t already have one. To make a simple wooden compost bin simply cut wooden slats to size and screw them together at right angles. Sand down any sharp edges or splintered wood, then prepare your compost by layering grass cuttings, leaves and natural waste from your kitchen (such as paper, cardboard and vegetable peelings) and turn regularly. Once the waste has rotted, it should be an ideal supply to mix with your garden top soil.

A Generic Photo of compost pile. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

A Generic Photo of compost pile. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

9. Charge battery-powered equipment the smart way. If your garden tools are battery-powered, bear in mind that the prices charged for electricity may vary at different times of the day and night. Once you have the details you can start saving money by charging batteries during off-peak hours. Additionally, lithium-ion batteries retain their charge even if they haven’t been used for some time.

10. Minimise your non-permeable hard landscaping, such as pavers set in concrete. Create boundaries with hedging rather than fencing if you can.

Although they don’t generally appear until April, these fragile-looking bulbs with nodding, bell-shaped heads of white or purple, intricately marked with shaded squares, are now widely available in full bloom in garden centres, so if you haven’t planted any already you might want to treat yourself to a pot of them for spring. In fact, the flowers can be admired easily when grown in a pot, with the container placed on a low wall or table. The bulbs should be planted immediately after purchase in the autumn to stop them drying out. They like moist soil, so use loam-based, moisture-retentive compost, planting the bulbs 6cm deep and 3-4cm apart. They look good in groups in the centre of small containers and can also be matched with dwarf narcissi and specie crocus in shallow pans oversown with grass to create a mini meadow in a bowl. If you want to naturalise them in your garden, you’ll need to put them in full sun in a damp situation that doesn’t dry out in summer. When planting them in open ground, plant them 10cm deep and 5cm apart.

If you love its crunchy texture in salads, use it to accompany hearty cheeses, or just add it to soups and casseroles, then it’s time to start celery seeds off in a greenhouse (or anywhere you can maintain a temperature of 15C).

A Generic Photo of celery. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

A Generic Photo of celery. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

Use a seed tray or modular tray, sowing the seeds on the surface of the compost as they need light to germinate. Cover them lightly with vermiculite or put a sheet of glass on top of the tray. Mist the seeds with a hand spray and they should germinate in a couple of weeks.

Keep them frost-free and the compost moist and pull out any weak plants, or those with spotted foliage. The rest can be grown on until they have four to six leaves, at which point you need to gradually harden them off in May and June before planting them out after all danger of frost has passed. They are best grown in a vegetable patch in an open site with a fertile soil that holds moisture well. Water them in well and cover them with horticultural fleece at night for the first week or so. Water once to twice a week after planting and protect them from slugs.

To save a lot of time and trouble, go for a self-blanching variety such as ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Victoria’.

What to do this week

Replace and replenish mulches around the base of trees, shrubs and climbers.

Move shrubs which have outgrown their space to a new location.

A Generic Photo of a bee. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

A Generic Photo of a bee. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

Clip overgrown ivy on walls and fences.

Plant out newly purchased container-grown trees, shrubs and climbers.

Sow hardy annual flowers such as sweet peas.

Deadhead spring-flowering bulbs once they are past their best.

Mend damaged areas on the lawn and re-seed or overseed bare or thin patches.

Dig in bulky organic matter in areas where you are to grow beans.

Prick out seedlings of vegetables such as greenhouse tomatoes and lettuce sown under heat last month.

Remove pond netting to stop growing marginal plants becoming entangled.

Take basal cuttings from perennial border flowers such as delphiniums, lupins and cranesbill geraniums, putting five around the edge of a 10cm (4in) pot filled with seed compost, water lightly and place in a heated propagator at 16C (60F), or slip inside a plastic bag and keep on a shady windowsill indoors.

A Generic Photo of Fritillaria meleagris. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

A Generic Photo of Fritillaria meleagris. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.