October 2021 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for October 2021

“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.

Chris

September 2021 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for September 2021.

Watering plants is always a good topic of discussion. It is either too dry or it’s too wet. The essential thing is to try to get the right balance. When it is dry the closable leaf pores on plants (technically called ‘stomata’) shut down and slow down the process of photosynthesis. When there is enough water the stomata open, transpiration takes place, allowing the air containing carbon dioxide to go into the plant, which, together with sunlight, powers the reaction of water and carbon dioxide to make the sugars that are the plant’s energy source and building blocks. Watering keeps the stomata open in dry spells. As a rule of thumb one square metre of vegetation draws the equivalent of an inch of rainfall every day. Growth of plants in the summer normally requires additional irrigation. There are now numerous automatic systems that can be put in – especially for containers and hanging baskets.

The start of autumn means that many plants are producing seed heads, which we normally ‘dead head’ to keep the succession of flowers going. At this time it might be worth keeping them. With the cost of seed increasing year on year (the average cost is now around £2 per packet, and can be a lot more) it might be worthwhile considering saving some seed head for sowing. Flowers like Sweet William, Love-in-Mist (Nigella), Cosmos, or vegetables like Runner Beans, can be harvested just before the seed pod has fully dried. Use brown paper bags to hang the seed head upside down and store in a dry place. Remember to label the variety, and then when it is all nice and brown shake out the seed and you have saved yourself pounds for a few minutes work. Unfortunately the lovely hybrids that abound now will not breed true and you will have to rely on the expertise of the professional for that, but if you don’t mind a variety of colour in your Sweet William and so on it is fine.

Whilst the desirable seed heads should be kept, do watch out for all the weeds making sure that they survive. Milk Thistle, Shepherd’s Purse, Plantain and Groundsel- the list is endless, all should be removed before the flower has had time to set seed. I have been having a purge on Shepherd’s Purse that became rampant last year. It seems that no sooner than I have collected another bunch than an equal amount appears on another part of the vegetable garden. In a bit of land where I have a few fruiting trees there has been a huge crop of the weed called ‘henbane’ I have learnt my lesson in the past and have strimmed the area several times to stop the flower heads developing. It may keep them down but there are years of dormant seed just waiting for next spring and it will all start over again.
September is the best month to plant daffodils outside, so make sure you have ordered your new supplies. New varieties are always being offered, like ‘Easter Bonnet’ which has a white perianth and large pink cup. Then there is another one called ‘Petit Four’ which has an unusual cup that opens out into a ball of apricot.

Carrots should be lifted and stored before the roots start to split, which they will do very quickly once the heavy autumnal rains begin. Tomatoes should be cleared from the greenhouse so that it can be prepared for autumn and winter flowers. Onions should be dried and ripened off. In our uncertain weather it is a good idea to put them into a greenhouse or bench where there is plenty of air circulating before tying them up into ropes. Alternatively, use the mesh bags that are used in grocery stores. They need to be kept in the light and to have plenty of air round them, unlike potatoes that need to be stored in thick paper sacks with the light excluded.

Chris

August 2021 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for August 2021.

Laurel is a very useful plant but it is very vigorous and August is the month to keep it neat by trimming your laurel hedge. Some gardeners say that the laurel hedge should be trimmed using secaturs only. This does give a much improved finish, if you have the time. Using shears is much quicker and does not substantially make much difference. If you can allow your compost more than 2 years to compost, then put your laurel trimmings on to it. If, like me, you can only keep the compost heap for a matter of months, it is better to get rid of the laurel leaves since they take a long time to decompose due to their waxy surface.

Dahlias are supposed to be making a come back, having been rejected as being too gaudy. I have always liked them, and wish that I could grow specimens. To even have a chance to have the large blooms, now is the time to make sure that you disbud them, only one flower being kept on each stem. Dahlias will also need to be tied in as their stems become very heavy with the foliage and bloom and are easily broken by gusts of wind.

Cut out old raspberry canes that have fruited this year. Cut them down to ground level and retain only six or seven of the strongest new canes on each plant for fruiting next year. Overcrowding of the canes can lead to a higher incidence of disease.

Spring cabbage can be sown in the middle of the month; good varieties are Pixie, Flower of Spring or Wheeler’s Imperial. Onions that are reaching maturity should have their stems bent over and the bulbs partially lifted with a fork to encourage full ripening. Well ripened bulbs are much more likely to keep right through the winter.

If you have experienced an attack of potato blight, remember that outdoor tomatoes are vulnerable. In the past there were sprays but now it is impossible to get them so the best thing is to remove the affected foliage and burn it as soon as possible.

Planting up strawberry runners in the later part of August will help provide a good crop next year. If you are buying plants in, make sure that they are certified virus-free stock, as strawberries are very prone to virus disease.

Towards the end of the month, rambler roses that have finished flowering should be pruned. Disentangle the growth from the trellis (use gloves for this!) and cut out all the stems that have carried flowers. It is much easier to do this if you untie all the stems before you start the pruning. All the new stems made this year should be retained and tied back into place. You will really appreciate all the work you have done when they flower next year.

Plant Madonna lilies now, with not more than 2″ of soil above each bulb. Order lilies for autumn delivery. Tiger lilies and some hybrids produce bulbils between the leaves and the stem. Gather the bulbils when they fall at a touch and plant them in a deep seed box, about 2″ apart.

Keep shrubs tidy by dead heading. Especially roses, but do not apply rose fertiliser after the end of July, this avoids late soft growth which will not mature before winter.

Chris

July 2021 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for July 2021.

When roses have come to the end of their first glorious flush of blooms, try to give them a feed of a complete fertilizer as this will help with the second lot of blooms. Don’t forget to dead head them as well. Outdoor chrysanthemums will also need a feed, one with a high potash content to help the flowering process.

Early crops of new potatoes, early peas and broad beans will soon be finishing, make sure to clear away the top growth as soon as possible to make room for catchcrops such as the round carrots and beetroot. I have been planting radish in raised beds with a high compost ratio and have had lovely juicy radish within 5 to 6 weeks from sowing, just the thing to have a with a crisp lettuce cut from the garden.

Complete leek planting as soon as possible. Sow swede by the middle of the month. Lift shallots when their foliage has yellowed and turned over. Make sure to dry them out completely before storing.

Any flower heads that appear on spring-sown parsley should be removed as soon as possible as they will prevent leaf production which is what you want.

Dahlias need to be disbudded if you want top quality blooms. Keep an eye on them and feed with a fertiliser, as they are very hungry feeders.

If you have a problem with greenhouse ventilation that means you have to leave the main door open, and, as a result, you have unwanted visitors like sparrows and cats dust bathing in the soil, or attacking the plants, try putting up a door insect screen. They cost about £13 and are effective.

Early in the month dig up and divide dwarf and intermediate bearded irises if they have been undisturbed for 3 or more years. Tall bearded irises should be treated in a similar way towards the end of the month.

The best time for propagating many shrubs is at the back end of July. Cuttings of half ripened wood of shrubs like forsythia, ribes, escallonia and weigela can all be taken. Pull off the shoots with a heel of older wood, trim it neatly with a sharp knife and insert them into a box with sandy soil. Shade from bright sunshine, and next year you will have a whole lot more shrubs.

Do not cut the lawn too low, and wait for it to have sufficient length to provide a cut. Keep lawn edges trimmed.

Chris

June 2021 Garden Tips

Garden notes for June 2021

The pace of gardening really hots up in June, but it is still necessary to keep an eye on what the weather holds in store for us.

Frost susceptible, fast growing plants like dahlias, courgettes and so on should be put into their final homes assuming that there is no ground frost forecast. If it has been very dry, make sure that they have a good drink before and after planting them out. But don’t water them all the time. Give the roots time to settle down and then water (if necessary, and allowed) about once a week with a thorough soaking, preferably in the evening or early morning before the sun has got its full power switch on.

Hedges need regular attention now, and should be kept in shape, otherwise they can so easily get away from you making the task so much more difficult. Grass needs to be mown, but keep the cutter bar on a high level and the lawn will look greener for much longer. Do not put sprinklers on lawns, even if they do turn a dusty brown, as soon as the rain comes back they will recover with surprising speed. If you do water the lawn you are wasting a precious resource to no real effect.
On the subject of watering, make sure that your hose connections are working properly. Overtime the usual plastic based connectors become worn and/or damaged and should be replaced. I was looking for such a replacement and branded products in Garden Centres can be expensive. I found perfectly adequate ones in Lidl at a tenth of the price.

In the vegetable plot, make sure potatoes are kept ridged up, otherwise the tubers get exposed and ruined. Late Savoy cabbage can be sown now – use a variety like ‘Ormskirk’. Winter cabbage like January King should be planted out now. Leeks should be planted out using a dibber to make a hole about 6 to 8″ deep, and then water it in well.

Continue to make successional sowings of lettuce. Ones like ‘Tom Thumb’ ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Mini Green’ are fast growing, and the right size for many people. Webbs Wonderful is superb but rather large.

Early tomatoes should be ripening fast and the fruits should be picked regularly.

Roses are at their best towards the end of the month. It helps to keep them cut regularly and feed with a potash feed to keep them blooming longer. If you want to have specimen blooms it is advised to take out the side shoots carefully, as well as the smaller buds, leaving just one strong one at the end of the stem. Keep an eye out for pests and disease. Keep mildew at bay by regular spraying.

Suckers that sprout up from the base of damson and plum trees can become troublesome unless dealt with early on, so dig them out and burn the resulting twigs.

As alpine plants finish flowering, trim them back to keep the plants neat and compact. It will also encourage them to make good growth for next spring. Any gaps or vacant spots in the rock garden can be planted with summer flowering annuals or bedding plants to maintain the overall colour. Towards the end of the month cuttings can be taken from the alpine stock to increase the number of plants. Root the cuttings in a sandy compost.

Chris

May 2021 Garden Tips

Garden notes for May 2021

There is so much preparation to be done in May that it is easy to get carried away and be tempted to plant out too early. Garden Centres love this, as you will almost always have to go back and buy replacements for the plants that have died from the unpredictable ground and air frosts that can strike at any time during May.

One plant that can be put out, provided it is in a reasonably sheltered spot, is the outdoor flowering chrysanthemum. Possibly in this day of minimalism, stripped wood floors and stark furniture, the chrysanthemum may be regarded as being too gaudy. I love them. With care they reward you with so many beautiful flowers when everyone else is just going over. So plant these beauties now, make sure to plant them firmly and to make certain that the ball of soil rests at the bottom of the hole you have dug to put it in. Put a stake with each plant

Early Brussels sprouts can be planted out, and it is these that usually produce the best sprouts. Make sure to give them space, just under a metre (3′ in the old days), this way you will get a better crop. The space need not be wasted as you can inter-crop with early hearting cabbage, or early cauliflowers that will be harvested before the sprouts take up all the room. In May you should keeping sowing small quantities of lettuce for successional cropping. As the daytime temperatures increase in the summer it is more difficult to get good germination. It may be wise to invest in John Innes sowing compost. It is much more expensive than ordinary multi-purpose compost but you only have to use a small amount to start the seedlings and germination is considerably enhanced.

Start hardening off all those bedding plants you have bought from the internet or garden centre, by keeping them under a cold frame, or putting them out during the day and putting them back under shelter at night. Keep an eye out for watering, it is easy for them to become dried out in patches, especially if there is a wind blowing. Equally, do not over water, which can be just as bad, if not worse.

May is the time to sow hardy biennials – such as Sweet William, Canterbury bells, and Wallflowers. Sowing runner beans and French beans at the start of the month under glass gives them a good start and helps protect the young plant from the ravishes of slugs and snails. Don’t forget to sow the marrows and zuccini at the start of the month.

As alpine plants in the rock garden finish flowering, trim back the growth to keep the plants neat and compact. By doing this you will encourage them to make good growth for flowering next spring. In the same way flowering shrubs like philadelphus, deutzias and escallonias can be pruned as soon as their flowers fade to encourage new growth.

Chris

April 2021 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for April 2021.

I know that all the gardener advice is to cover over a patch of ground to warm up the soil and I should have done it a lot more than I have in the past. This season I did remember and have used a cheap polythene cloche that extends for about 10 metres. You can tell when the soil is warm enough when all the weeds start sprouting under it. As well as warming the soil it has also stopped it getting sodden with rain. The result is that I can really start salad crops like lettuce, radish and carrots this month, after getting rid of the weeds under the cloche.

Clematis varieties are popular. They are members of the Ranunculae, which are named after ‘Rana’ (the frog) and demand a cool moist root run. When planting remember that they need shade at the base so it is a good idea to put a piece of stone or paving over the top after you have planted them out.

April is the time to plant late flowering herbaceous plants such as kniphofias and michelmas daisies (Aster novi-belgii). Old clumps of taller rudbekias, helianthuses, monardas and heleniums will benefit from being split up in April since this will revitalise them, especially if they have been producing smaller flowers and losing their lower leaves in the previous season.

Plant onion sets and keep up a succession of salad crop sowings as the weather warms up towards the end of the month. April is the time to sow late summer cauliflower. If frost is forecast, cover up any potato foliage that might be showing. Make sowings of winter cabbage, purple-sprouting and spring-heading broccoli.

Don’t forget herbs. You can sow dill, fennel, hyssop, marjoram, rue and thyme. Parsley should be sown, allow time for it to germinate. Old fashioned gardeners used to keep a little bit of seed in a waistcoat pocket with a hole so it fell out as they gardened! (So they tell me).

If you have sweet peas they should be planted out now. If you are going to try and grow the larger specimens as cordons, start restricting growth by removing all tendrils and side shoots and remember to support them otherwise the slugs and snails will have a feast.

Towards the end of the month, if we have had dry weather, start to thin out salad crops like carrot. One tip is to water the row the night before so that it is easier to pull the roots out the next day.

Camellias will benefit from a top dressing of leaf mould. Remember to prune early flowering shrubs like berberis, forsythia, and spiraea immediately after flowering.

Do remember that early morning frosts are a real danger all through April and May, it is not until June, (and even then it can be a bit dicey for the first week!) that it is safe to put out any vulnerable plants – unless you can protect them at night.

Chris

March 2021 Garden Tips

Garden notes for March 2021

After all the rain we have been having this winter and the consequences of the lockdown due to the pandemic I am hoping that we will all be able to get outside and start to garden in March. The miracle of all the early plants coming up, the crocuses, the daffodils, and primulas will all have started and continue to give us colour in the garden and eternal hope for the future.

Snowdrops that have stopped blooming should be lifted and divided as soon as possible. Unlike other bulbs they should be multiplied whilst their leaves are still green. It is a good idea to do this at least once every 3 or 4 years as the bulbs may become too closely packed together to give a good show the following year if it is not done.

In order to give the best germination of any seeds that you want to start, make sure that the soil, or seed compost, you use is as warm as possible. So put out cloches over the area in the garden where you intend to start early crops. Do this at least a week or so before sowing in order to warm the ground. Equally, if you are using a seed compost, bring it in to a shed or greenhouse before making up the pots or seed trays so that it has been thoroughly warmed through. Most seeds need a soil temperature of at least 10ºC (50ºF), and do better if it is about 15ºC. This is a very general rule of thumb, and there are many differences for different species, but it is true for a lot of the plants we grow.

Look out for drying winds and sunny days of March and try to get on the garden as soon as possible after that, because it is almost certain that rain will follow and you will not be able to do anything. It is all very well to give this advice for those who are able to follow the weather, but very difficult for the weekend gardener! Our clay is a very fertile medium if you can manage it properly. Over time the addition of humus from garden compost, farmyard manure and so on will help but it is a long term and continuing process.

Towards the middle or end of March, depending on the temperature, you should prune roses. If you want large blooms, prune severely, cutting all strong young growths back to 3 or 4 buds from where growth started last spring. For general garden purposes leave 5 or 6 buds. This allows for re-growth should any late frosts nip off the earliest growth.

Make sure that your garden mowing equipment is serviced and ready for use as the weather improves and the grass starts to get back to growing.

Sweet peas that have been growing in pots should be hardened off for planting out in April.

Dahlia tubers should be started off in gentle heat to get the shoots that will form the plants for growing on.

Good Friday (April 2nd this year) is traditionally the day that potatoes are planted out. If there is good weather a week or so before Good Friday, there is no reason why it can’t be done earlier. Put in First Earlies and be sure to earth them up as they push their leaves up through the soil.

Chris

February 2021 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for February 2021

In the middle of January as I write these notes, spring and plant growth seems a long way off. When we had the first lockdown last year the weather was remarkably good. This winter is not the same and does not encourage much gardening activity with frequent showers and cold nights, but this will change soon, hopefully. More and more people are discovering the benefits of growing crops in containers, since these will provide shelter and warm up the soil quicker than in the garden. In addition there are increasing numbers of crops being developed specifically for growing on the patio.

In February, if you have well sheltered places why not try some early broad beans, spaced at 20 cm. Young carrots are one of the joys of the garden, try sowing some ‘Early Nantes’ or ‘Amsterdam Forcing’. All the big seed-houses do packs of salad leaves, and these can be grown after starting under glass, since they need a bit more heat than the other crops I have mentioned. Mini-lettuces like ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Tom Thumb’ may also be started and planted out at 15cm spacing when the plants have developed a bit more.

All these seedlings will need to be protected from frosts – use garden fleece as required, but always allow plenty of air to circulate to stop fungal attack such as botrytis which will cause damping off.

Think about getting seed potatoes in February. There is a wide range to choose from. First earlies like ‘Lady Christie’ do well here, although to get the fuller flavour of second earlies is always nice – try ‘Nadine’ or one I particularly like ‘Charlotte’. When you get them put them in a cool frost free place with lights. Use the large egg tray to get the seed potatoes ‘chitted’ – where the potato ‘eye’ starts to get green and gives it a good start when they can be planted in the soil.

Towards the end of February, start of March, bush roses should be pruned. Use sharp secateurs. Cuts should not be more than 5mm above a bud, and should slope away from it. Prune die-back to healthy wood. Remove all dead, diseased stems and burn them. Trace suckers back to the roots from which they are growing and pull them away. Always wear protective gloves, the scratches from rose thorns can be nasty. Other pruning to do this month include raspberry canes. It’s your last chance to cut autumn-fruiting raspberry cans to the ground which will stimulate new canes to fruit in the autumn. On the other hand leave plum, cherry and apricot trees until the summer as pruning in the cold months is likely to make them susceptible to Silver Leaf disease

That reminds me, everyone, but especially all gardeners, should make sure that they keep their tetanus inoculation up-to-date. It should be done at least once every 10 years. It is available on the NHS and it really is important to be safe rather than sorry.

Lawns will start growing soon, so make sure that your garden machinery has been serviced and is ready to go when you are. On a wet day check your garden tools are clean and ready for use.

Chris

January 2021 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for January 2021.

This is the time of year when houseplants are most appreciated. Azaleas, cineraria and cyclamen will all help to cheer things up. Do not over water, and most of these plants like cool conditions.

January is a good time to order gladioli corms from reputable suppliers. Sweet peas can be germinated under glass with some heat. Plan spring planting programme for flowers. Complete digging beds and borders to be used for annuals when the weather is suitable. Do not disturb soil when it is frosty.

When your seeds arrive from the supplier keep them in a cool dry place until required. Protect pea seeds in particular because mice love them, and they have already got into our garden shed where they have started on anything that they can reach. Remember paper is no barrier to sharp teeth, and makes lovely nesting material.
Rhubarb can be forced using an upturned bucket or tub. This should be covered with garden fleece to keep off any frost.

It is wise to get your seed potatoes now when there is a plentiful supply, but popular varieties soon get sold fast with the result that you end up with the less well known types. When the seed potatoes arrive, keep them in a frost-free place and stand the tubers, eye-end uppermost, in shallow boxes. If you can get large egg trays these are ideal for keeping the tubers upright and just separated to prevent any infection spreading.

You may want to think of biological pest control. There have been huge developments and you can get natural solutions to pests such as vine weevil and whitefly. In fact there are over 10 different pests and diseases that can be controlled in this way.

Start the first sowings of onion seeds this month. Also give a good dressing of wood ash on the site of the bed that you will use, since they really like potash. If the weather is suitable, shallots can be planted on well drained soil, or plant them individually in 3 inch pots.

Chris