Alan Titchmarsh | B&Q

Alan's expert tips

Creating a modern garden

Go for more geometric forms and symmetry. Combine these with neutral colours, a few different textures such as stone, slate and natural wood for a modern garden style. Add some simple yet stylish foliage plants for a truly contemporary feel.

Lilies

Lilies love to be grown in containers. Position them so their roots are in moist shade and the top growth is in the sun. You’ll need to support your taller varieties of lilies with canes. This is because the flowers are so large and heavy, they make the stems bend over. It’s best to support them before any buds start to appear.

Plant a fruit tree

Fruit trees offer an extra dimension to a plot and you might need less space than you think to grow one. They are productive, great for wildlife and can be very beautiful. Dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the pot supplied with your tree, setting the soil aside. Combine one third of the saved soil with an equal amount of good quality compost.

Fill the bottom half of the hole with your mixture of compost and soil and firm down gently. Remove the plant pot and stand the tree in the hole – the soil mark on the trunk should be at ground level. Step back and check the tree is vertical from all directions. Backfill the hole with more of the same compost mix, firming the soil down around the tree roots as you go. Leave a slight depression in the compost around the trunk to make watering easier and more effective. Drive a strong stake into the ground at an angle of 45 degees near to the tree (but avoiding the roots) and fasten the tree securely to the stake using a tree tie. Mulch around the trunk with shredded bark or wood chip.

Get fast results

As any gardener will tell you, you just can’t rush things - but that’s not really much help when kids want fast results, expecting to see their seeds start to sprout in double quick time! So, aim for rapid results, especially for young children, by giving them fast cropping plants to grow such as mustard and cress, or one of the large range of quick sprouting seeds that have become widely available recently such as black-eyed peas, mung beans (better known as bean-sprouts) and wheatgrass.

All ready to eat in a few days, they make great additions to salads and sandwiches. Let your kids get involved in the preparation of the food they’ve grown too. They’ll be more willing to eat something they’ve created.

Basket care

The secret to successful hanging baskets is regular watering and feeding. Hanging baskets dry out much more quickly than other containers.

You will need to water them at least daily, and often twice a day at the height of summer. Feeding is also extremely important. The average planter or basket contains only a small amount of compost relative to the amount of plant growth it supports, and nutrients will quickly become depleted. Apply dilute liquid feed once a week.

Pruning

Your roses will need major pruning in late winter or early spring, when they’re first starting to send out new growth, which is usually little red buds that will eventually turn into new stems or leaves. When you are pruning remember that it’s important to make a 45-degree cut a quarter of an inch above an outward facing bud. This will ensure that the new growth will be directed up and away from the centre of the bush, allowing for better air circulation.

Frost

Control the conditions: It’s very tempting to start sowing early, but frost can wipe out a crop. Protect seedlings in the ground using plastic cloches or fleece tunnels, and never sow when the ground is too wet.

Seeds

Your soil needs to be well drained and well fed, so mix in some organic soil improver to ensure that it’s rich and mellow – ideal for seed sowing and planting. You also have to make sure that your soil isn’t full of lumps. The best way to do this is to break it down with a fork, so your precious seedlings don’t come up against any obstacles while trying to grow. Rake it level before sowing seeds.

When to mow

Start in spring, but don’t cut too short for the first few weeks. Lower the mower’s cutting blade as growing begins in earnest. Mow once a week – weather permitting - until the grass slows down in autumn.

Feed and water - use a specialised lawn feed to avoid depleting the nutrients in the soil. Give at least one feed in spring and another in autumn. Watering is also important in long dry spells, if your lawn is newly laid. Don’t waste water on established lawns – they will soon recover after dry spells once the first shower of rain arrives.

How to prune shrubs & trees

Pruning is an important but generally a straightforward garden task. Trees, shrubs or hedges which have grown too large for their allotted space need to be controlled, dead or diseased parts of plants must be removed, and flowering or fruiting plants will often be more productive if they are pruned the right way.

The best time to prune is often during the plant’s dormant period, which is usually from late autumn to early spring. However, pruning should be done throughout the year as needed.