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Hydrangeas are flowering shrubs with colourful globe-shaped blooms. They are native to Asia and the Americas. They were first cultivated in Japan.

Although they occur in 75 species, your common hydrangeas are more likely to have come from the more common six species; smooth, big leaf, panicle, climbing, oak leaf and mountain.

Hydrangeas differ in both leaves and flowers. Some hydrangeas produce flat or conical blooms while others are rounded. Oak leafs have their leaves lobbed like those of an oak tree. Other hydrangeas have oval leaves.                                                                                                                 

Types of hydrangeas

Big leaf hydrangeas


Botanically known as Hydrangea macrophylla. These are the common types of Hydrangeas.

They are also known as French hydrangeas. They have large leaves and occur in several cultivars but the common ones are mop head (H. macrophylla and lacep (H.macropylla normadis).

The main difference between the Mop head and the lacep hydrangeas is that the mop head has rounded flowerheads while the lacep flower head appear flattened. The mop head flowers tend to last longer -almost six months compared to those of lacep. Besides even though both occur in pink, blue, and sometimes white flowers, the less common lacep tends to attract pollinators and therefore are good for wildlife gardening.


Panicle hydrangeas(H.paniculata)



Panicle Hydrangeas are the easiest to grow of all hydrangeas. Distinguished by their conical flower clusters which are huge football sized blooms, the flowers are hardy and pretty. Panicle hydrangeas change their hues from green to white to lilac to pink in the fall and finally to brown.

Smooth hydrangeas

They are also known as Wild hydrangeas. In cooler areas, smooth hydrangeas are planted as substitutes for the mop head cultivars. Its identity is the flowers clusters. They are giant white, blue, pink or green. The leaves are deep green and heart shaped. The leaves turn yellow in fall.  They are fast growing. Due to their spreading nature, they are ideal for erosion control.


Oak leaf Hydrangea




It’s lobed leaves resemble those of the oak trees hence the name. The leaves turn bronze to red to purple or bright red. In summer, oakleaf hydrangeas burst into an elongated, conical clusters of white flowers which later turn into pink or red. Oak leafs prefer shade but will survive hot seasons.


Climbing Hydrangeas (H. petiolaris).


This hydrangea is distinct because it trails through aerial rootlets that cling to surfaces and clings to walls and pergolas. It can be used to aesthetically frame windows creating a romantic façade with its large ,white flattened flowers. Its blooms are similar to those of lacep hydrangeas.

Although a slow grower at first, and takes time to establish, it rapidly takes off and may need to be controlled. You need to prune out crossing branches to prevent bruises occurring from regular rubbing against each other. Such bruises are entry points for diseases.

Mountain Hydrangeas (H.micropylla serrata)

If you live in cold areas, this is the hydrangea to go plant. Their tolerance for cold conditions is attributed to their cold native ranges of Korea and Japan mountain regions. Although their flowers may be small, their saving is the fact that they are constantly in bloom. Like the lacep they have flattened flowers.

How to feed your hydrangeas

The best food for hydrangeas is cow manure. It contains lots of humus like grass and plant leaves. Cow manure is also naturally acidic and does not increase the PH of the soil. It enriches the soil with natural humus.

Fertilizers for hydrangea

There exist in the market commercial fertilizers formulated to meet the nutritional needs of hydrangea plants. You are advised to use organic products fpr long term results.



 Avoid this as it makes hydrangea less hardy.

Newly planted hydrangeas should not even be fertilized. Deny them feeding to enable t development of a well branched, well developed root system that enables them to actively search for nutrients. A deep root system is also the best defense against drought conditions.

Fertilizing potted hydrangeas

Potted plants have a limited space for root development. They therefore need regular feeding to meet their nutritional needs. Potted hydrangeas can be served with the same fertilizers like those of Camelia and rhododendron. You can also use nettle manure. Thin this manure with water to a ratio of 1:5 and apply.

Watering hydrangeas

Hydrangea require fertile well drained moist soil. Their leaves are large and thin and therefore they lose moisture very quickly. In the dry season, it is not uncommon to have to water them twice a day.

Hydrangea flower colours

In hydrangeas the colour of the blooms is affected by the amount of aluminum salt in the soil. Most soils contain large quantities of aluminum. However, in alkaline soils, the aluminum is “tied up” chemically and plants cannot use it. When the soil is acidic or neutral-with PH ranging from 6.2 to 7.0, the flowers will be pink. Truly acidic soil with a PH of 4.5 to 6.2   will produce mauve -coloured flowers.

If you want to make your soil more alkali to produce pinker flowers, add limestone to your soil. To get a soil that is more acidic and therefore give you bluer flowers, water the soil with a solution of 1 ounce of iron sulphate to 1 gallon of water and apply it six times at 10-day intervals prior to opening of blooms. Please be aware that the goal is to enhance the colour and not to change. Attempts to change colour say from pink to blue while the plant is in flower will give you a muddied plant with an identified colour.

It should be noted that these changes in flower colour are mostly  for the big leaf hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas come into their glory between March and May-and retain the colour for long periods as long as they are given the right conditions; ample indirect sun and a moisture-laden soil.

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For many boys who grew up in the countryside, having pets was almost a rite of passage.  You were not somebody until you could point to your rabbit. You couldn’t sit in the council of boys until you had pigeons, a dog or a fowl.

How Children Benefit from Having Pets?

This possession of pets taught us responsibilities to no end; your rabbits had to feed. So after school one had to forage for weeds. Your dog needed to be safely kept-so one had to put up a kennel.

Pets can enrich a child’s life. But they both need to learn how to treat each other and require supervision.

For children, having pets can teach them empathy and concern. Pets can help children learn to love and trust others.  If you have a dog and you trust it enough to feel safe before it, you certainly are trusting. 

As children play with pets, they engage in physical activity. This becomes a fun way to make exercise a part of their lifestyle.

The love and care for other living things can be nurtured through having pets. Over the pet’s lifecycle, child minders can teach children various aspects of life processes; birth, illness, death.


How to Choose a Pet for Your Child

 Small breeds of dogs or puppies or kittens may not always be the best for your younglings. Rather go for a big adult dog or cat that can tolerate active playing and handling.

It is better to have a veterinarian check and give the pet a clean bill of health rather than purchase a dog or cat that can risk infecting your child. Does your child or anybody else in the family suffer allergies related to suggested pets?

At home the onus falls on the adult to manage the interaction between the pets and children.

For a dog, the child shouldn’t be the only person holding the leash. Rather show him how a leash is held by holding it together.  Even for small pets like kittens do show the child how to hold or carry them. Train your children to never run from a dog; neither should your dogs chase children around. Dogs, being chasers, will have their predator/prey instincts prompted by a screaming, running child

Children have a knack to poke, hit or grab animals. This can not only provoke an attack, but can harm small animals. Dangling of fingers, legs or hands before pets in attack games should be firmly discouraged.

A brooding animal is sensitive. Children should be kept away from a pet’s young brood as they get defensive and could attack if they feel the young ones are at risk. When an animals is eating, sleeping or starts to hiss or growling, children should keep their distance.



Practice Good Hygiene

Hygiene is critical in the care of pets for your children. Children should stay away from litter boxes or feeding bowls. Pets’ feces can be highly contagious. A through washing of hands should be done after every playful activity with the pets.

When children are playing with pets, be on the lookout for any bites or scratches. These should be attended to immediately-if need be by a doctor. Your pet must have a time to rest. Often, children will want to play with the animals in rotation without knowing that the animal gets fatigued. A quite place away from children can help it rejuvenate and avoid being irritable.

Even though you bought the pet for your child, the pet remains your responsibility. The child can help with pet care but that is just how far it goes. He will feed the dog and water it, but you have to measure the food. He can walk the dog, but only in your company. Children are better off with small, safe and simple tasks done under your supervision






It is the season of lawn troubles!

 Whenever there are drought conditions, lawns planted without consideration reveal themselves spectacularly. And even more, poorly maintained lawns announce themselves unhindered, bearing the ugly truth; that your lawn could have done with a little more care! Unfortunately, a good lawn can’t be faked. You either have a topnotch lawn or your lawn is  “a has been”

This leads gardens to having a fickle relationship with lawns. It’s a joy and pride to have a lawn on which you can laze out in the afternoon Sun, but quite another when the costs of maintenance rear their ugly head.

A good lawn begins with the basics. Choose an appropriate grass type, good ground preparation and sound maintenance practices. If you practice these, you will be rewarded with a lush green lawn against which other garden plants will form a breathtaking tapestry of floral and foliage colour.


Choosing a grass type

This is the most interesting part of lawn growing. And it never ceases to amaze how homeowners are taken in by “the grass I saw somewhere”.  All things being constant, the grass you saw somewhere may be fit for your place, but it is not always so! The grass you choose depends on three key considerations:

Utility-refers to the end use you need a lawn for. Is it for outdoor entertainment, a playground for children for a sports ground

Resilience. The ability of a given grass to withstand adverse conditions is its resilience. These adverse conditions could be climatic, pest and diseases or rough usage.

Maintenance refers to the activities undertaken to keep its beauty and health. These include mowing, weeding, water requirements and feeding.


For grass growing, the following varieties are grown in east Africa Kikuyu grass

Kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum)syn Cenchrus clandestinus

Indigenous to Kenya, it has thick blades and is bright green.  Kikuyu grass was first properly identified and described in 1903 by Emilio Chiovenda in Kiamba area of Kiambu county, an area settled by the Kikuyu community, from which it derives its name. 

It grows rapidly. It is cheaper and more drought tolerant. You can use it as fodder for your livestock. For wildlife gardeners, Kikuyu grass is ideal as it provides food for many bird species including the widowbird.

Kikuyu grass is a popular grass that is to be found in Australia, New Zealand , Southern California and South Africa where it dominates homes and golf courses.

Preferred for  home, playgrounds and heavily used public spaces.


Pemba grass

Also known as St Augustine or Buffalo grass.  It grows naturally in North America. It has broad green leaves, much wider than paspalum. It is low growing and the blades are curly.

It is highly adapted to low rainfall areas and withstand cold seasons.

It East Africa, it is a popular lawn grass in the Coastal areas due to prevalent warm conditions.



For many years, paspalum dominated lawns in Kenya and east Africa until it was displaced by Zimbabwe grass. Paspalum has thick blades with dark green colour.  Even though it establishes slowly, it tolerates adverse conditions like shade and wet soils. It is almost weed resistant and grows in sunshine and partial shade. If you garden has lots of trees but clear canopies openings, you can use paspalum under them.


Cape royal

It is a fine , thin and narrow leafed grass that forms a tick spongy mat. It tolerates sandy soils and has rapid regrowth. It is quite tolerant to extreme weather including drought and heat. It is a creeping grass that can grow in light shade and full sun. It is ideal for high traffic areas, homes and playing fields.

Zimbabwe grass

It is similar to paspalum but has thin fine blades and sprigs/stems/. It is fast growing and soon colonizes a given area. Its greatest advantage is that it thrives well in both full sun and dense shade.


Ground preparation

Having settled on a grass type, the next item is to prepare the ground . A false step here will result in poo quality lawn, which may necessitate a repeat job, with the attendant costs and inconveniences.

Initial digging must be deep   preferably 150mm to remove all weeds and deleterious materials. In this soil incorporate compost or manure to a depth of 1 inch and work this into a fine tilth.

For heavy soils such as clay, you can sprinkle 250g of sand per square meter to improve drainage.

Red Soil

Red soil is good for lawn establishment because you can use it to backfill your garden to the desired level, or if the underlying ground is poor. However it is not a must you add red soil if your ground is relatively fine.


Whatever soil you have the important thing is to enrich it enough to support lawn growth.

Rake your ground well to the desired slope. It is recommended that water should drain away from the house.

Lawns can be sown from seeds, cuttings (sprigs) or sods (carpets). Normally grass is planted from sprigs due to faster establishment. Each grass stem is planted at a depth of 1 inch and firmed up.  Water immediately after planting.


A newly planted lawn should be watered daily  until it establishes. Then cut down the watering to twice a week.

For mature lawns mowing should be done every other week during the rains. Cutting height varies with grass type but generally do not cut more than 1 and half inches off. . If you cut too low, the soil will be exposed and weeds will invade. Cutting high is recommended as because taller grass grows deeper roots, which better withstands drought and out competes weeds. Also taller grass looks thicker.

Top dressing

This is done annually and it involves applying a thin quarter inch layer of  a mixture of sand ,compost, DAP and bone meal to the lawn to give it a head start against weeds and pests.

The top dressing matter is mixed in the ratio of  4 parts sand,1 part well-rotted compost, DAP and bone meal which is sieved and then spread over the lawn.

Whenever lawn challenges arise avoid the temptation to blast your lawn with chemicals.  Though weeds, pest and diseases may occur, they are a symptom of a bigger problem. A few weeds in the lawn are perfectly normal. But a particular weed is overtaking your grass is a sign that your lawn is not competitive to choke out the weeds.

A lawn appears healthy when it has no weeds, apparently. But in reality, a lawn has no weeds because it is healthy.

Oxalis is major headache for Kenyan lawns. It pulls nitrogen from the air and appears where grass is sparse and soil is low in nitrogen. Dig up rather soil to remove it and feed the soil with compost to increase soil fertility. Replant the bare patches. Remember vigorous turf is the best weed control.

















It has been a trying season for garden owners. Parched lawns, drooping shrubs and dead filler plants  are the awful sight that you around town.

The rains have delayed have resulted in drought conditions. Gardeners are now forced to choose what to save and what to sacrifice in the garden.


 With limited water, gardens are relegated to the rear in terms of water needs. The result is that in a few weeks the scorching heat will leave our gardens fried dry. And come the rainy season- in April - homeowners will be out on the prowl to replace died out plants.

Yet this need not be the case. You can avoid the gardening sorrows associated with drought if you drought-proof your garden.  By using the techniques outlined below, you can wriggle through drought with your garden still thriving.

Use Indigenous Plants

The easiest way to drought-proof your garden is at the planting stage. Here choose plants that are indigenous to the locality. Indigenous plants are those plants that occur naturally in your local area and have adapted   to the local environmental conditions. As a result they carry themselves through the seasons with less tending-after all they have survived it all; the changing seasons, the severest of droughts and the human impact.  An added advantage of indigenous plants is that they provide food sources and habitats for local fauna; insects, birds and rodents. Though some plants may not be originally indigenous to your area, they nevertheless may have come from areas around the globe with similar environmental conditions as your area.  Such will easily blend in and exert less demand on resources including water.


Plant zoning

Plants differ in their water requirements. Some plants require less water than others. Group plants with similar water needs together. This zoning will ensure that watering is done separately and that no plant receives more than it really needs. An impatiens or Iresine herbastii  lumped together with day lilies or succulents may upon showing signs of water stress trigger a wholesale hosing of a border which may not be necessary.

Plant location and Mulching

Position plants in the garden according to their requirements. Plants that require shade will need frequent watering when grown in full sun thereby using more water than they would otherwise need.

Again note that plants that are healthy and vibrant require less water than sickly ones. You can nourish your garden by incorporating lots compost in the soil. Compost not only feeds the soil with nutrients but also helps in water retention.

Apply mulch to your beds to help reduce water evaporation. Mulch also helps control weeds which use up water meant for your plants. As it decomposes, it breaks down into organic matter that attracts micro organisms, which burrow it into the soil-improving, the soil structure.

Plant drought tolerant

These are plants which by nature are adapted to dry conditions. These drought tolerant plants have certain adaptations that help cushion them against water loss. Such adaptations range from reduces leaf size like lavenders, aromatic oils in rosemary and thyme and grey leaves in for wild olives. Then there are the traditional water savers in garden. Plants like Agapanthus, bouganivilleas, bromeliads, succulents, agaves and cactuses thrive with bare watering. By planting these types of plants you will be assured of less water demand upfront.

All around Nairobi, Bougainvilleas are thriving unpertubed by the drought conditions.

Trenched Beds

When growing vegetables, it is advisable to use trenched beds. Here trenches are dug and under laid with organic matter. The trench is then topped up with soil. This bed system is self contained as little water and nutrients leach out and trenches allow for water harvesting.

Harvest water

While we hope to cope with the drought, harvesting your water during the rains could make your  situation more bearable. If only many households could harness and harvest this water channeling it into tanks, pans  and ponds , many of our gardens wouldn’t be in such a sorry state during this dry spell –and the water bill wouldn’t be such  an irritating expense after all.

Responsible watering

Finally practice responsible watering. A lot of the watering is done casually- alight sprinkling to arouse plants. This shallow watering has most of the water evaporating. Watering should be sustained so that the roots are deep drenched. It is better to water less often but deeply than to routinely water shallowly. Deep watering encourages deeper root development which in turn helps the plant scour for water and nutrients underneath.

If you water shallowly, the roots will come up to the surface to look for water. During drought, these exposed roots will



Traditional clay pots loose moisture through the porous surfaces. One way to keep them moist is to do double planting. Install the plant in a plastic pot, then place in inside a clay pot. There will be less evaporation.

If you apply these approaches   your garden will survive the dry season unscathed.






If you want to be remembered, build in stone, write a book or plant a tree!

For all my primary school years, we only had two head teachers. But I knew of a third, who had left long before I was born. The giant gum trees that ringed the school were his legacy. Whether there were others before or immediately after him, I do not know. But he is the only one whom I had never met but remember because his name was repeatedly mentioned in relations to the trees. He planted a tree!

The best time to plant a tree was yesterday. The next best opportunity is today. The golden rule with trees is to plant them small and soon.

As the largest and most prominent of all garden plants, trees establish the basic, long term frame work of the garden. They are slow but cheap and easy to establish.  If you change your mind about a particular tree, you can always chop it down. A decades old tree can be felled in a couple of minutes.


Given their unique forms, flower and foliage colour, trees influence the selection of other plants in the garden. For instance if you cant do without the  hot flushes of the    Nandi flame, its likely that you will pick other plants whose colours temper  it down. Similarly the showy foliage of the candlenut tree (Aurea molluca )can be a determining factor as to what other plants to use.

Trees occur in almost every region of the world. As such, ample varieties exist to suit any garden site on earth.

What are trees?

Trees can broadly be defined as long-lived woody perennial plants. They can be deciduous or evergreen usually with a single stem although some do have 2 or 3 stems. Trees differ from shrubs in that while shrubs have many stems that branch from below or near the ground, most trees will have one stem. Trees vary in sizes, from cultivars of 1m to tall trees of 90m high.

Most trees are flowering and bear their seeds in an ovary, a protective chamber that that forms part of the fruit when seeds ripen. This group is known as Angiosperms. Some trees like Conifers produce seed that is partially covered by tissues from the parent plant. These are Gymnosperms.  In other words the former have their seeds covered while the latter have naked seeds.

Tree Shapes and Sizes

Tree shapes vary greatly. We have   spreading, conical , columnar or rounded trees.  Weeping trees appear graceful, whereas   tall narrow trees give a formal appearance. For a relaxed informal setting, the trees to plant would  ideally be open and spreading.  The cypress family will give you strong and sculptural trees.

But it is one thing to like a tree, and quite another to know if it is the right tree for your space. It pays to note which tree types grow well in your neighbourhood. Clay soils, dry sand and stony soils all have suitable species. Most trees will grow in average soil, but a coastal tree grown in a highland area will struggle to survive. This explains the pitiful shape of Ashoka trees that dot Nairobi gardens while in Mombasa they are spectacularly huge.

In choosing trees take note of its size at maturity and growth habits. A rubber tree will overwhelm a small garden and its root system will cause trouble to nearby plants. Yet in another space it would great and help hold the soil.

Ornamental features of trees

Many trees have attractive flowers with a wide range in colour.  A gardener looking for flowering trees will be spoilt for choice from the small clustered blooms  to large single flowers .

Trees leaves are also a major ornament. Tree leaf colour occurs in  green, yellow, purple and various hues and when used properly can complement other plants in the garden. For texture, tree leaves can be glossy, wooly or hairy which creates further   interest in the garden.

Using trees in your garden

An important use of trees in the garden is for wind breaking or as sound barriers. On more than one occasion, I have visited places where winds were strong enough as to interfere with outdoor conversation. In urban settings, traffic noise can be a major nuisance. In both cases, mass planting of windbreakers or sound barrier species will be a priority.

In most gardens trees are grown as specimen plants, standing out in the lawn or under planted with groundcovers. For year round effect, have different types that keep coming into season at different times showing off arresting flower colour or decorative foliage.

You can also use trees to frame or screen out a view. While you cannot control what your neighbor does on their balcony, you can ensure yourself some privacy by screening your property with trees. Some trees are especially good for your                                                                                                                                                                                   farm. Agroforestry trees add nutrients to the soil and provide fodder for livestock.

For wildlife gardening enthusiasts trees are a sure bet to attract birds, bees, butterflies ,squirrels and other small animals that hang around  them.

 Planting your trees

There are a few unbreakable rules about planting trees. First the planting hole must be wider than the root ball. Most tree roots grow at 60 degrees, so you are better of with a wider whole than necessarily a very deep hole. Dig a hole 2-4 times wide than the rootball and 1 and half times as deep. Add organic matter to the base. Nail the stake off –centre . Plant the tree, backfilling with soil and organic matter. Always ensure the level at which the soil was in the planting bag is the same level at planting. If you plant shallowly you risk exposing the roots and your tree will be constantly required watering. If you plant too deep, the buried part of the stem may start rotting under the soil.

Firm up the tree with your foot to remove air bubbles so that the tree won’t lean sideways after watering. Secure the tree to the stake and mulch if you can. Water newly planted trees regularly but not everyday, until they are established.

Site your trees away from utilities like pipes, power lines, drains, walls and buildings as the roots or branches can cause damages.

 Given good soil and the right climate, your trees can live for decades, some even for centuries.

And you will be remembered!













What is the big deal anyway? Why not just mulch, given the immense benefits of mulching? And what is mulch anyway?

Mulch is any layer of material applied or spread over the surface around or amidst plants or over a plain ground.

  • There are several advantages of using mulch;
  • Conserves moisture, which leads to deep and infrequent watering.
  • Eliminates drying out of shallow root plants 
  • Adds nutrients to the soil
  • Improves soil structure
  • Encourages growth of soil microorganism
  • Can be aesthetically pleasant especially for landscaped areas


What to consider in selecting mulching material

It should be readily available


Stays in place-not moved by wind

Adds organic matter to the soil.

It is free from weeds, pests and diseases.


The healthiest plants are those that get consistent supply of moisture and nutrients. Here is where mulch becomes invaluable. Exposed to water and heat, mulch start to break down releasing nutrients to plant roots earthworms  and soil organisms.  You need to weed before applying mulch as chances are that prevailing weed may breakthough the mulch layer.

How To Apply Mulch

The question of how thick your mulch layer should be has always generated debate among gardeners. The thickness of a mulch layer depends on the size of its particles. Large sized particle mulches like straw, hay and tree barks can be laid up to 10 cm high. These leave large air spaces that can have breakthrough weeds if you apply them too lightly.

For smaller sized particle mulch, a much thin layer is recommended. Compost, pebbles and pumice leave little room among them and therefore should be no higher than 6 cm. Otherwise you risk reducing the amount of oxygen supplied to plant roots.

In all cases, leave a space of 6 cm between your mulch a the  stem of your tree or shrub. Having the mulch touch the tree stem can lead to stem rot due to water and moisture.

Types of Mulch


This is the best mulching material. Compost is organic matter that is well rotten. It is good because it enriches the soil with nutrients, improves the soil structure and drainage. It promotes growth of worms and other beneficial soil microorganism that improve the soil. In addition, compost minimizes evaporation and conditions the soil. You can easily make it own your own too.

Compost can be used in all situations; flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, pots and around trees and shrubs.

Grass clippings

Some gardeners prefer to use grass clippings from lawn mowing in flowerbeds as mulch. Others would rather leave the clippings on the lawn to shed it. Whatever ways you apply them, grass clippings make great mulch. They are high in nitrogen and make good feeding mulch.  When combined with shredded leaf or untreated saw dust, they improve the soil structure due to the carbon content in leaves.

The only drawback of grass clippings is that if applied too thickly they decay into a slimy pulp. During periods of intense heat, this slimy pulp can get hot and burn plants. Avoid the temptation to use all the clippings at once. You can pile your  clippings and successively add onto the mulch as it decomposes. Apply this mulch lightly at no more than 2 cm thick.

Use under fruit trees, vegetable gardens and flowerbeds.


Sawdust may be plenty and cheap but I have never been fond of it. You can use it fresh from the sawmill as it is highly acidic. Ideally sawdust should be piled out in the rain for a year so that rains and natural decomposition wash out the high acidity.

Apply sawdust only to a depth of 5 cm.

Sawdust mulch is preferred for acid loving plants like blueberries, rhododendron. This mulch is also good for soil that is too basic and needs to be acidified.

Bark and wood chips

A good mulch material as it breaks down slowly therefore avoiding the need for replenishing. The large pieces of bark allow for air and water to reach the ground. Wood chips are sourced from areas where tree felling has been done. For effective results, underlay your bark or wood chips mulch with compost first. Bark is more often viewd as decorative as it breaks doen slowly. These mulch is ideal mostly for trees and shrubs  as it helps conserve moisture  and adds interest due to the different bark colours that may be present.

Bark and wood chips can reduce the amount of nitrogen available to plants. This happens when bacteria has you notice to take nitrogen from  the soil and use it to break down the bark and wood chips. If you notice yellowing of your plants, your bark mulch could be the culprit.

If the size of the bark or wood chips is small apply up to 2 inches. For large sizes a thickness of up to 10 cm is recommended.


These are ideal for cold areas. They absorb the heat during the day and release it at night. They are stable as they cannot be blown away. Since they are inert, they don’t take nitrogen from the soil to decompose.. You can choose coarse or fined textured material and some can be coloured to blend with the home.

The main disadvantage with these materials is that with time, they tend to get ‘’lost’’ in the soil and need more topping up. Rock pieces from limetone areas may raise the PH of the soil and therefore affect the performance of rhododendrons, blueberries and other acid loving plants. The fact that this material does not contribute to soil enrichment is a major disadvantage.

All of this materials which are mostly small in nature, should be applied to the thickness of 5 cm only.

The mulch materials are best used in driveways, rock gardens, around trees walkways and in steps.


Hay is good because it has high nitrogen levels and trace elements. When it decomposes it adds nutrients to the soil. Hay also improves soil structure as it is broken down and worked on by soil bacteria. It is relatively weed free unlike grass clippings.

Hay is primarily sold as fodder for animals and therefore applying it as mulch can be an expensive affair. It can also be carried away by wind.

Apply hay mulch to a depth of 10cm. It will eventually settle to half the thickness and may need to be topped up as it decomposes

Use hay mulch for hungry plants like roses and in vegetable gardens


Newspapers are rarely used on their own as mulch. Rather, layers of wet newspapers, with holes punched in, are laid on the ground and grass clippings, compost or leaves laid on top. Holes allow for water to seep into the ground. 

Newspapers conserve moisture, are easy to undertake and suppresses weeds.  Unless you use it in conjunction with other mulching material, it is ineffective alone. If applied too thickly this mulch can hinder water and air from getting to the soil and decomposition will be slowed

Newspaper mulch can be used in vegetable gardens, around trees and in flowerbeds.

Rubber mulch

The key advantage of using rubber is that it prevents old tires and rubber from going to the dump sites. Rubber is hardly enough to be used on walkways, playgrounds and drive ways. Rubber can be decorative as it comes   in a range of colours. Rubber does not add any benefit to the soil like other organic mulch.

Standard rubber mulch is never beyond 10 cm.

Applicable only on driveways, walkways and playgrounds.



Many gardeners desire to transition from gardening that involves use of chemical inputs to purely organic gardening.

Where the rubber meets the road is how to exactly go about it. Your garden will not be classified as organic if any chemicals in any form are used-no matter how selectively applied. It is better to transition to organic garden in one fell swoop and face of the resulting difficulties in one season rather than spread them over a number of seasons. While the basic techniques of sowing, planting and cropping as the same as for chemical gardening,, the main difference is the soil chemistry which affects growth mechanism and in the pest and disease control.. It is here that challenges will arise.

The natural cycle

Organic growing relies on the interaction of soil microorganism and other plants to convert organic fertilizer into suitable plant food. In chemical growing soluble fertilizers dissolve quickly into solution and are absorbed by the plant through the sap. When you extensively use chemical fertilizers on the soil, the end up killing off beneficial micro-organisms resulting into inability to convert the organic products into plant food.

Going Organic

Firstly feed the soil instead of the plant. Enrich your soil with plenty of organic matter like compost, manure, green manure or other organic alternatives. This will improve drainage and water holding capacity, creating a crumbly, oxygen rich medium that tiny roots can easily penetrate and create a home for countless soil organisms. From bacteria to earthworms they all live in harmony producing ideal conditions for plant growth. They also work on organic and mineral food sources –releasing them as and when needed. This way you grow a strong healthy plant . Transitioning If your soil has been subjected to chemical fertilizers without addition of organic manure, it will be lacking in life giving humus which replaces essential trace elements.

From an organic view the soil will not be in a good fertile condition. It is scientifically proven that healthy plants are more resistant to pests and diseases. During the first year of transition therefore emphasis must be laid on raising the soil health to a level to produce these more resistant plants. This can be achieved by addition of organic matter to produce the correct soil structure and the feeding of the soil with organic fertilizers such as sea weed products.

In an organic garden, emphasis is laid on control of pests by natural predators. Obviously in plots where chemicals have been used, it is likely the predators as well as the pests will have been killed since chemicals are not selective. For a while the plants will be highly vulnerable, until the soil fertility has been raised and predator populations have re-established themselves. To attract predators grow plants to which these organisms are attracted. You can also leave part of the garden fallow to serve as breeding and shelter space for the predators.


Three to four weeks prior to planting, apply a dressing of 250g/m of calcified sea weed and rake it into the surface of the soil. Calcified sea weed is used as it reacts faster than sea weed meal even though it doesn’t contain nitrogen. For soil deficient in nitrogen , dried blood, fish or bone will be needed. Calcified sea weed releases its nutrients over a period so a single dressing is adequate. However for uniform growth throught the season spray a foliar mix of liquid seaweed.

During the growing period of plants, add organic matter to the soil in the form of mulch. These could include; grass cuttings, well-rotted compost or animal manure. Place about 4 sheets of newspapers between the rows of plants or around shrubs and bushes to act as weed suppressants. Then cover this with 3-4 inches of 8-10cm layer of mulch. This will rejuvenate the soil life and by the end of the season will have broken down and enriched the top later of the soil with organic matter.

Pest control

In the first control of pests and diseases will mostly rely on vigilance. And the acceptance of non-toxic products until a natural pest resistance is reached. At onset of trouble take action to minimize widespread break out. A few pests can soon become an infestation. Any diseased plant or wood must be cut off immediately. And in buying seeds, get certified seeds and plants to avoid importing trouble into your garden. In gardening the sign of one pest may not necessarily be the cause. Aunts can be possibly the cause of an aphid attack.

Generally nontoxic control to the gardener include use of soaps, companion planting and natural predators. Sometimes the only way to save a crop is to prevent please outbreak in the first place. Carrots should not be planted in some areas without protection from carrot root fly. Meanwhile in the garden the best way to protect the crop is to build a physical barrier to prevent the fly from reaching the plant. This is also true for rabbits, pigeons and deer.

Organic gardening is most cherished from the vegetable aspect due to the health food concerns. Once you adapt to organic gardening, you will become aware of the holistic gardening experience where the garden is transformed into a living community. You then become aware that not everything that crawl or moves in the garden is an enemy. While birds can be destructive, they can also be of great benefit and the little damage they do may be a small price to pay for their presence

Friends In the Garden

Birds –eat aphids, insects

Centipedes- feed on mites, insects slugs

Frogs and toads-Feed on slugs insects, wood lice caterpillar, flies

Ground bettle- Feed on insects, eggs eelworms and larvae

Hedgehog –Eats slugs and mice Hoverfly-its larvae feeds on aphids Lacewing-larvae feeds on aphids

Ladybird-adult and young feeds on aphids Spiders-webs catch aphids and other insects



Among the most useful plants in gardening is the lavender. Besides being a much cherished herb with a culinary reputation, lavender is applicable in a variety of uses within the garden.

However to efficiently apply lavender in your garden it is important to know which variety is suitable for whatever design function you wish to achieve. This beloved shrub has over 25 species and many more cultivars.


 Choosing Lavender

If your desire is have lavender  for clipping into low neat hedges in small gardens, go for small varieties  like the Spanish  lavender or French lavender (L. dentatta)

Spanish lavender (L.stoechas)

It is a compact bushy shrub,  with linear-grey-green leaves ,long fragrant dark purple flowers. The spikes are dense, ovoid, oblong spikes.

French lavender (L.dentatta)

Spreading bushy shrub  with linear oblong, scalloped dark green leaves. It has long unbranched stalks that produce dense spikes.

For bigger, robust borders, pyramid or ball- use strong growing tall varieties like English lavender (L. angustifolia) and Dutch lavender. Of course neat compact hedges with flat tops and straight lines sustained trimming is needed. Naturally   with such trimming you will not het flowers. In a natural free flowing garden your lavender may be more relaxed and probably even overflow into the path.

L. angustifolia

Compact bush shrub with linear grey -green leaves. Its long branched stalks produce fragrant, pale to deep purple flowers in dense spikes.

One key advantage is their hardiness. Originally from the dry, sunny and rocky regions of N. Africa, Asia, India and Canary Island lavenders are drought tolerant and therefore useful for water wise garden.

How to Grow your lavender Hedge

Lavender is an easy plant to propagate. Rather than purchase tens of lavenders plants for a hedge at a princely sum, you can propagate your plants in a quick and easy manner from one bush or cutting from a friend.

Here is how to do it

  1. Choose a healthy bush or shrub that has non flowering spikes. Cut off the 5-10 cm pieces of spikes. 
  2. Remove all leaves that are at the lower side that would be underneath the soil.
  3. Make a potting mix from free draining  top soil mixed with sand and place in a container
  4. Insert the pieces of sticks into the soil and firm them up.
  5. Water lightly. Keep moist in a warm sunny place.
  6. As soon as slips have rooted move them to individual container full of rich soil mix.
  7. Transplant as soon as roots start showing through holes



How often should lavender hedge be pruned? Regular pruning or clipping is desirable, as if left untamed, lavender will become woody and bare of foliage at the base. Once a lavender becomes leggy, new flower buds rarely emerge from the old wood.

Lavender is best pruned after flowering. Cut it back by 1/3 and see it flower in the next 4-5 weeks.


Soil mix

Grow lavender in moderately fertile well drained soil in full sun. Lavenders are ideal for wildlife gardening. The flagrant tubular flowers have a very high nectar content which attracts bees.


Pests and diseases

Lavenders are susceptible to   honey fungus, Froghoppers, and grey mold (Botrytis).


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There was a time fruit trees were in vogue. Then landscapers, facing space constraints, opted for the now common one or two fruit trees stacked in a corner of the property.

But now, thanks to improvement in plant propagation techniques, growing fruits is now trendy again. Even with small urban plots, varieties exist that can fit even the smallest of spaces –including pots.


How to grow fruit trees

With fruits you kill two birds with one stone. Not only are fruit trees a beautiful addition to your landscape, but they will supply you with bountiful fresh fruits. And nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction when you pluck sun ripened juicy fruits grown by your own hand.

All you need to grow fruits is a good understanding of the climate of your area, and space available for fruit growing. Most fruits require a sunny position and well drained soils. Paw paws, Mangoes, and Bananas are hot season fruits .They thrive well in hot areas.

On the other hands deciduous trees like peaches, apples, pears apricots plums and nectarines do very well in cold areas of Limuru and Nyandarua.


Size of space

Space is a major consideration when selecting fruit trees especially in urban landscapes. For small spaces go for dwarf and semi dwarf varieties. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) has done tremendous work in development of fast maturing an small sized trees that can grow even in containers on your balcony. In contrast, the standard fruit tree grows to 25-30 feet (7-9 m tall). Even though the latter have plentiful of fruits, they require a sizeable yard


If there is one thing you need to know about your fruit tree, is whether it is self-pollinating or it has to have similar trees in the neighborhood for pollination to occur. It is not always easy to tell if a tree is self-pollinating. At the nursery ask questions about pollination. If not check your locality to see if similar trees exist that may pollinate your trees.

Planting fruit trees

Once you brought your fruit tree home, plant it out just like you would for any tree. Space the trees amply to encourage enough air circulation. This prevents emergence of fungal diseases that thrive ibn damp environments. Again, crowding the trees causes them to shade each other-resulting into low fruit yield.

For grafted trees like mangoes, apples and peaches, always ensure the grafting joint is above the ground. Placing it in the soil will have the mother stock sprouting and making amess of your efforts. Always ensure that the soil level at planting is at the same point as it was in the bag. Tree stems when inserted in the soil start rotting away eventually leading to tree death.


Mulching is essential for fruit trees. The trees main roots occur in the top 30-40cm range of the soil. In this area, roots from weeds and other plants compete for water and nutrients. A mulch of fir bark, moss or shells will act as an attractive covering to protect or inhibit weed growth, keeping moisture in and heat out. Always spread your mulch within drip line and away from the tree’s base.


A healthy vibrant tree will give you abundant fruits. Feed your tree with organic compost or manure. A fruit tree needs strong roots that will support heavy foliage and fruits.  Remember on average, 12000 leaves feed one fruit. A fruit tree also needs to be strong enough to resist pest and diseases that alter fruit taste and reduce harvest. You can boost your organic feeding by addition of 3:3:2 fertilizers. This implies the fertilizer has 3 parts of nitrogen to foster leaf growth, 3 parts of  in phosphorous for  root growth and 2 parts of potassium for  flower, fruit formation and strong stem cell structure .Potassium also helps in resistance to pests and diseases.



New trees will need more watering than established ones. Newly planted trees should be watered deeply once a week. In the cold season watering should be twice a month. Occasionally it may be necessary to dig down the soil using a small trowel to see how well the water has penetrated.

Pruning Fruit trees

Left alone, a tree will not produce wonderful fruits. They need to be managed to reap the maximum harvest and quality. Fruit trees require pruning to provide new year growth-upon which new fruit will form. Prune using the semi pyramid system that does not expose the tree to sun burn. Peaches, apples, cherries and plums require little pruning. Pruning is one aspect where you may seek help the first time you need to do it.

Thinning fruit trees

Once your trees start loading fruits, you may need to thin them out . Too much fruit may overload the tree resulting in feeding stress and resultant poor quality fruit. I have also seen tree branches brought down by the weight of fruits. Keep your fruits about to 1 fruit for every 12 cm   length of fruit bearing shoots. Apples, plums and apricots need twice the amount for every 12 cm.


Harvesting Fruit trees

When the fruits of your labour are ready, you can use simple harvesting techniques. You will need a straw basket or a net.

For low hanging fruits on mangoes and apples simply pick them off and drop in the basket.  You can also gently shake the trees to have the fruits drop into the basket.

For high level fruits, a net held by two other people will do. As you shake the fruit tree, the net is held spread out underneath the branch. Fruits drop right into the net.


Pruning off the fruit is another way to harvest fruits. Simply cut off the fruit using secateurs.

You can also twist and pull off each fruit for pomegranates which are hard to come off the tree.

Once the fruit harvesting is done, inspect each fruit for bruises, pests or rot. Discard the bad ones into the compost heap.


In harvesting your fruits, don’t be selfish. Leave some for birds and other foraging organisms.


Succulents In Your Garden

Why are people obsessed with succulents? One reader recently posed on Quora.

There can be no better explanation for Succulent’s popularity among gardeners than this question.  Succulent lovers tend to go overboard with their love for this group of plants.  Before I even knew what succulents are, I had already come across Succulenta Society Of Kenya.  In virtually all media forums hundreds of groups exist dedicated to succulents alone.


What are succulents?

Succulents are plants characterized by thick, fleshy, leaves, stems or roots that store water. They occur in a range of habitats from deserts, semi deserts, cold alpine climates to semi temperate and subtropical climates to rainforests.

                      Echeheveria destetiana       Aloe arborescens                             Kalanchoe thysiflora         Cabrobotus acinaformis

Succulents are loosely grouped as stem succulents, leaf succulents or root succulents.

Stem succulents

This group consists mainly of cacti. They have swollen, moisture retaining stems that can be columnar, oval or spherical in shape. Some are pendent (hanging), climbing or tree like in habit.   

Cactii originate in North, Central or South America. They have areoles, their unique growing points which are shielded by spines. Most cacti lack foliage which limits water loss. An exception is pereskia which does have leaves. On the stems of cacti will be found longitudinally arranged ribs. These ribs expand and contract depending on water volume in the stems.  From the areoles, new growth, flowers and spines emerge. Modified cactus spines are actually leaves-reared as radials along the edge of the areoles or centrals-from the centre of the areoles.

They condense moisture which drops to the base of the plant’s roots.

Other cacti like Melacactus have a cephalium. This is a terminal head like woody structure.  The cephalium produces wooly spines and flowers-which stop any more vegetative growth.  Some cacti genera have a lateral cephalium which allows growth in height to continue. Such a cephalium is referred to as pseudocephalium.


Leaf Succulents

You can tell a leaf succulent just by looking. The leaves are fleshy,waxy or gloss in texture . They are also varied in shape although many of the leaves are small.

Leaf succulents have adapted to their environment in a number of ways.

  1. Leaves have a limited number of pores to lessen water loss through transpiration. They also remain closed during the day.
  2. Many species have opaque areas at the tip of the leaves. This helps to diffuse sun’s rays
  3. Leaves have water storage tissues which swell and shrink depending on their water content. During severe drought, the leaves will drop away.
  4. Many succulents have their leaves forming tight rossettes borne on short stems. This minimizes moisture loss from the soil beneath the plant and the plant itself.


Root Succulents

In harsh climates or areas of poor and thin soils root succulents will be found. With swollen roots hidden below the ground. Root succulents develop from a normal root system but some emerge from tubers. When good conditions prevail, many root succulents will have their stem or root emerge.

Caudiciform succulents

Certain species like adenium, euphorbia and pachypodium have a roots stock that may grow to a larger size emerging above ground to form rounded slightly flattened, bottle shaped or tree like growth. This is known as a caudex. The caudex is swollen base formed at the junction of root and stem above ground.


Succulents In Your Garden

In the garden succulents can be applied in a variety of ways. Locally succulents are popular as rock gardens and xeriscape gardens. They provide unique forms and shapes that make rock gardens a prized garden feature in urban landscape.

Succulents also make spectacular indoor displays. Planted in containers and grouped artistically, succulents’ flowers, foliage and unusual form, make for eye-catching display on patios, terraces and balconies.


Cultivation requirements for succulents

Outdoors observe minimum temperatures of 10c. In containers use potting soil consisting of 2 parts composts, 2 parts grit/pumice and  slow release fertilizer, in full sun.  Humidity should be at the lowest although rain forest epiphytes require high humidity. You don’t need to water your succulents but apply slow-release fertilizer.


How to propagate succents

Succulents are easily propagated through division, seed, root attached to it, stem cutting and leaf cutting.

Divide the root stock into section ensuring that each section does have a root attached to it. This should be done on clump forming species as soon as new growth emerges. This will have each divided part with new healthy shoot, roots or bud

The leaf cutting involves cutting off a leaf like or columnar cacti into a length of 5-10 cm each with a potting mixture of peat and sand and placed in indirect light above 21C .

Seeds sowed should be sown in standard seed compost. Cover with twice their depth and kept moist in indirect sunlight. Once they germinate introduce lighter and air. Dumping off can be a problem so it is advisable to apply fungicides. Pick out large seedlings and transplant.


Stem Cuttings

Simply cut stems into sections 5-10 cm long Insert them into a potting mix.


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