Garden Notes for October 2019.
Albert Camus the French novelist wrote that “Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower”, so enjoy the autumn splendour all around you. “Everyone should take time to sit and watch the leaves turn” (Elizabeth Lawrence). The turning of the leaves does depend, in part, on how cold the evenings become since the tree system does not turn off the supply of nutrients to the leaves until there has been a frost. So that also means that the good gardener should be on the look out for their tender plants and bring them into sheltered accommodation before being desiccated by a sharp frost. Those of you growing parsnips will relish being able to dig them after the first frost when they are at their very best.
Most houseplants will be slowing down their growth. Water and feed less frequently. Cacti, in particular, should be kept dry and frost-free during the winter, that includes yucca.
Plant out wallflowers, polyanthus, sweet williams, foxgloves and other similar biennials for a good display in the spring. Spring cabbage should be planted out while the ground is still workable, keep up a succession of winter lettuce like ‘Winter Density’. Cut remaining marrows, squashes and pumpkins. Put them away in a dry, frost-proof place. Clear away all the pea and bean haulm, then dig over the vacated ground.
Once the ground has been cleared it is a good idea to break it up. If you have heavy clay (as most of us do round here) the best way is to use a spade and to leave it with large clods that will break down over the winter with weathering. If you break the soil down too much at this time of year, it will just become a ‘pudding’ and you will have to start all over again in the spring.
After the first frosts have browned off the tops of dahlias, cut them down to within 12 cm (9″) of ground level. Mark the variety with a label, and lift the tubers so that they can be dried under cover and then stored in a frost-free place for the winter. I have tried this over the years and never have much success. It might be worthwhile just leaving them in the ground and covering the spot with chipped bark or ash, remembering to mark the spot with the name of the variety. Be warned though, if we do have a prolonged cold period in the winter you could lose the tubers in the ground as well, so you pays your money and takes your choice.
If you want early sweet peas, now is the time to start them off. For best result sow one or two seeds in rooting pots as sweet peas have an exceptionally long tap-root. Germinate the seeds in the greenhouse with gentle, consistent warmth. Once they have emerged sweet peas can be kept outside in a cold frame, only needing protection from the worst frosts by having a cover over them.