Category Archives: Caring For Your Garden Tools

Autumn Pruning – some Questions and Answers


Plews Weekend Blog

Our regular blog has moved back to the website – or more precisely moved onto the new website!

you can find it here –

We’re still sorting out a few wrinkles but  you shouldnt have any problems still following the blog; if you do please drop us an email and we’ll do our best to sort it.

To celebrate our new website, there’ll be a special offer in the October monthly e-newsletter; you can sign up and find out what it is on the website:

Your feedback is appreciated

Marie, Nathan and all the Team at Plews Garden Design

Resolving Your Gardening Issues

Plews Garden Design Team including Sharpe

Plews Garden Design Team including Sharpe


The Garden in Winter: digging

roughly dug soil

roughly dug soil

“To dig one’s own spade into one’s own earth! Has life anything better to offer than this?” (Beverley Nichols)

January is the digging month, or so the saying goes. But why has it got that reputation? Why do we try and dig the soil in a cold, wet, snowy month?

Perhaps the digging, working in and on the garden, is a celebration in itself, an acknowledgment that the days are getting longer now the Winter Solstice has passed (in the northern hemisphere anyway). Any small ray of sunshine, especially when it’s frosty, is a greater pleasure than in the summer, when we expect warmth.

The sun, casting low shadows through bare branches, shows us a different aspect of the garden, so long as we take the time to stop and look. Gardeners have time to stop and look when it’s January. Come March, unfinished digging takes on a manic bent as indoor seedlings grow apace, threatening to be ready for transplanting before the soil has become a fine tilth. But in January, there’s time a plenty to watch the Robin hopping ever nearer, wondering if a worm has been brought to the surface by the spade. There’s time to do the digging that you didn’t have time for in the late autumn.

tools lined up in potting shed

garden tools lined up in potting shed

Ideally the flower borders and vegetable beds were covered with organic mulch in the autumn so there was no bare soil. But if your soil isn’t perfect yet, then leaving that heavy clay exposed to the winter elements may be useful. In January the clods of clay soil can be roughly turned, knowing there will be a frost in a day or two, helping to break down the lumps into more manageable, friable soil. Add plenty of organic matter (OM), and if the soil is very heavy clay, add some grit as well, to help open it out and improve drainage. Too much wet is not so good for clay, as it soaks up the water like a sponge. Certainly if you have clay soil so wet it sticks to your spade like glue and looks like the stuff you used in pottery class then digging is forbidden until its drier.

Of course you may garden on a sandy soil. The winter rains will wash through your soil without any problem but they’re washing away precious nutrients at the same time. Adding lots of homemade compost will help with water retention. Sandier soils are often dug in the spring, but sometimes you run out of time with seeds to sow as well, so winter digging to incorporate organic matter is a worthwhile activity. Adding homemade or bought compost (both of these are OM) to the soil adds nutrients and increases worm & micro-organism activity. As well as facilitating water retention compost helps to lock the nutrients in to the soil so the plants can more easily access them. The options are to dig the OM into the soil at root level or to lightly fork it into the top layer of soil and let the worms and micro-organisms do the work for you.

Too much water and most plants will drown and die (unless they’re specially adapted like water lilies, for example). Plant death has been one result of the havoc caused by the many floods in 2012. Major flooding aside, you may, like some of our clients, garden in a high water table area, where the normal winter rains bring a period of standing water to your garden. This is where the ground has become so sodden that the water is unable to drain away.

water logged soil

water logged soil

A frequent problem in gardens with heavy clay soil, it can be resolved. A heavy clay soil will stick to your wellies when it’s wet and in a dry spring and summer it cracks. Add lots of OM and grit as an absolute minimum. We also suggest raised beds as being useful in these situations, as can terracing the garden if you’re on a slope. Extreme measures may mean incorporating land drains. Another solution is to grow plants which cope with and thrive in these conditions, although, truth be told, we find most clients prefer us to improve the growing conditions so they can enjoy a range of plants.

On a more prosaic note, may be digging in the garden has more to do with needing exercise to keep warm, if you have to be outside anyway; pruning is a more stationary task. Or perhaps in these modern times perhaps the digging is to use up calories we gained over the recent festivities. How many calories you burn depends, among other things, on your weight and whether the digging is ‘heavy’ or light’. As an example, at Plews, in an hour’s heavy digging, lightweight Marie would burn about 400 calories, whereas as larger, weight-training Nathan would use over 800. Both the workers would require chocolate biscuits from our nice clients though…

Resolving your gardening issues: Plews Garden Design: inspirational ideas; flexible solutions

For more on Winter Gardens and Gardening, why not take a look at our eBook? There’s a special January offer about this in our E-newsletter, you can sign up on the website or send us an email.

tools deckchair WP



In Your Winter Garden


We admit it – this is a bit of an advert – but if you’re wondering what to buy someone for Christmas or whether you’d like a little extra in your Christmas stocking, this may just be the answer…

“In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” is a book for you to read from cover to cover or dip into as the mood takes you. With seasonal gardening tips, ideas and ‘how to’ hints; planting design ideas; gardening anecdotes; plenty of photographs and some original illustrations all to inspire you into enjoying your winter garden.

Downloads are available for kindle, iPad, & PC and more on Smashwords and Amazon

Jack Frost and Plews

cover illustration “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” by Lucy Waterfield

Caring For Your Garden Tools (Part 2)


Picking straight up from part one!

Spades, forks, hoes

Check the hand grip and blade aren’t coming loose from the handle; and tighten if necessary.
Clean blade, handle and grip, with wire brush and rag dampened with soapy water. Wooden parts should not be over wet as this can cause swelling and then splitting when drying out; especially if the wood hasn’t been oiled on a regular basis.

Blunt blades and tines (or prongs of the fork) can be sharpened as described above; hoes should only have the top edge sharpened.

Although there are more spades with plastic or composite handles, most still have a wooden handle, even where the grip may be plastic. Wooden handles and grips, once cleaned and dried, benefit from the application of linseed oil to keep them from drying out and the wood from splitting. If it is sometime since they were last oiled two coats may be needed. Rub on linseed oil with a rag; allow it to be absorbed before applying a second coat.

Hand push mowers

A brief mention, as these are slowly becoming popular as an alternative for house owners with small lawns.

As before, check that no parts are loose that shouldn’t be; tighten where necessary. Check that moving parts – ie blades do move as they should, if they’re sticking, see if cleaning away debris resolves the problem. Clean with wire brush and scraper so no remnants of dead grass are present; wipe down with soapy water.

Using spray oil if it’s then easier to reach all the metal blades, lightly oil.

If your mower wasn’t cutting as well as it should, it may be blunt blades or it may be that the blades need to be adjusted to a different height. You should have had instructions for this with the machine.

Sharpening is usually best done by your local service people unless you’re confident enough to take things apart and put back together again. If you want to give it a go, sharpen with whetstone, on the bevelled edge of the blade, remembering to apply oil with rag.

Next Time we will be dealing with Power Tools!

And don’t forget if you have more questions don’t be shy to  drop us an email 🙂

Caring For Your Garden Tools (Part 1)


Ever tried to prune a rose with blunt secateurs – unsuccessful? Take the hint and look to sharpening your tools now; a good way to get something done in the garden whilst being inside the potting shed next to the heater!

Firstly gather together tools and cleaning/ sharpening equipment.

Cleaning/ sharpening equipment:

A selection of cleanish rags, including cloth for wiping your hands; general purpose oil; boiled linseed oil; ‘drip tray’ (for when you’re getting oil onto rag); stiff brush; wire brush/ rust scraper; sharpening stone/ whetstone; soapy water; bucket or container for used rags/ rust/ dirt  to be dropped into; WD40 or similar may be useful too.

Most of the equipment you probably already have in your shed or can be obtained from your local hardware or diy store or garden centre.

we’ll first start with some of the basic tools most of you would be using around your garden

Secateurs, loppers, shears, etc:

Check the springs and screws are all present and still working. If stiff, they made need rust removing and some oil applying as with blade (below).

Look at the blade; badly damaged or worn blades should be replaced. All moving parts need to be checked for wear; for many tools there will be spares available, check with the manufacturer.

Blunt blades may be sharpened with a fine metal file. First remove any rust with a wire brush and wipe over with an oily rag; use general-purpose oil. Then, adding a few drops of general-purpose lubricating oil, push the sharpening stone forwards and to the side against the blade, exerting a little downward pressure. Depending on which tool you’re sharpening it may be easier to move the whetstone rather than the tool. On bypass secateurs only sharpen the outside blade. Finish off by wiping over the blade with an oily rag.

Clean the handle of dirt by wiping with soapy water and drying before storing.

Next Time we’ll be looking at Spades, Forks, Hoes and Hand push Mowers!