Presented by Richard Hamlyn – Garden Centre Manager at Notcutts Garden Centre in Cranleigh

Overview:  We discussed soil and how to improve it using the various different products available to us.

We need to make sure that the pH is right as a plant can’t access nutrients if the pH is wrong, once the pH is right we can then add the right nutrients to help the plants look their best.

Remember fertilise the soil not the plant!


There are 3 main types of soil. To find out which soil you have roll a ball of soil in your hand.  If it sticks its clay, then roll into a sausage and bend into a circle – if it sticks again its loamy and if it breaks its sandy.

Clay: Holds onto its nutrients so needs less feed.  Loam: A good mix where lots will grow.  Sandy: Rubbish at retaining nutrients so needs lots of feeding!

Soil Samples: When checking soils take samples from 6 to 7 areas from 6 inches down and mix together and then test – do this twice.  A ph of 7 / 7.5 is great for lawns and most other plants.

Why does your soil need improving?  When you cultivate soil you start to ‘impoverish’ it and you use up the nutrients that are in the soil and you change its pH to be more acidic. To rectify this you need to add lime as this re-establishes the alkaline level.


Ericaceous plants – don’t need much as they like a thin nutrient poor soil.  Improve Ericaceous soil with sulphur / sulphate of iron as this increases the acidity.  Leaf mould is acidic and particularly good for rhodos etc.

Promoting Flowers – Plants need water in the previous summer for buds to form in the following year.  So mulch beds in autumn or spring to keep in moisture.

Herbaceous Borders – Mulch in autumn and sprinkle over fish, blood and bone in spring.  Lime if overworked (to rebalance the pH) and use bonemeal / mycorrhizal funghi when planting new borders in autumn / spring to help get roots established.


Moving Shrubs ­– Prune shrubs to within their root growth area.


Lawn Care – Autumn is establishment season and grass will grow outwards if raked (tillering) and scarified in autumn.  Use an autumn fertiliser – this encourages good root growth and strengthens the grass.    Spring fertilisers encourage lush growth and control moss and broad leaf weeds.


The idea is in autumn / winter to encourage root growth and in spring / summer encourage top growth.  Nutrients need to be washed into the soil in a solution for the plant to be able to access them.

Products Ingredients:

All have a NPK rating – These are the 1st tier of ingredients.

N = Nitrogen (encourages lots of growth – very good for grass)

P = Phospherous (encourages root growth)

K = Potassium (encourages fruit / flower production)

Each type of feed is the same NPK mix no matter who the producer is so buy the cheapest!  Shelf life is brilliant if the products are kept dry.

2nd Tier ingredients are nutrients such as Sulphur / Calcium / Iron – these are naturally found in soils but not compost.  Compost / peat are inert and there to hold the feeds you add to them.

3rd Tier – these ingredients are trace elements.

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Main Products

Fish, Blood and Bone – Organic feed suited for sprinkling over beds and borders in the spring.  How quickly plants show results will depend on the weather and what stage of growth the plant is in.  In spring see results in 4 weeks in summer results visible in 3-4 days.

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Bonemeal – Essential to use this product when planting to establish root growth especially for hedges and shrubs.  Autumn is a good time to feed as the soil is still warm and it is mild and damp.  Plants tend to shut down once temperature goes below 7°C.

Tomorite – Very high in potassium so good for fruits as well as hanging baskets.


Growmore – This is a general dressing for your shrubs. It’s a great nursery feed for seeds and good all round establishments of plants and under turf.

Vitax – Has everything!

Lime ­ – Great feed that reduces the acidity in soil and will green up your plants.  It will also break down clay and can help unlock nutrients in soil that has been worked for years.

Seaweed with liquid iron – use on yellowing plants.


Potash – Also use wood ash – good for roses.

Sulphate of Potash – Use in March for plums and apples

Liquid all-purpose e.g. miracle gro– use to save a lack lustre plant in spring / summer.

Sulphate of Ammonia – Instant hit of nitrogen for brassicas / veg.

Rose Fertiliser – Always use a fertiliser for Roses.  High in potash for flowers and also high in nitrogen as they are very hungry plants.  Best used in March after pruning in February and then also in July.  Can be used in autumn if planting.

Mycorrhizal Root Grow – Fungi is the food of the woodland ecosystem.  It breaks down nutrients that are in the soil and feeds it back to the plants.   You can use this product at the time of planting as it needs direct contact with the root.  Plants will establish better and will be more drought tolerant.  You can also use when moving or replanting and with sickly plants.   It will also protect new roses from ‘rose sickness’ (when planting a new rose where another rose has been).


Pest and Disease  

Insecticides  – contact products kill whatever it touches.  Systemic stay in plant for 4 – 6 weeks and kills insects feeding on plants.  Glossy leafed plants are harder to treat.

Fungicides – Newer roses such as Austin roses are more resistant to fungal problems.  As soon as roses are in leaf they should be treated every 3 weeks.  Herbaceous can be treated as soon as a problem is spotted (asters / phlox quite susceptible).

Please let us know if you would like any further information regarding anything covered here.

We are looking forward to our next training session on Roses and Clematis in the spring!