July 2020 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for July 2020.

It will soon be mid-summer and many of the earlier flowering perennials start to look rather forlorn. It may be worth your while to be ruthless and cut back foliage that is straggling. In particular, hardy geraniums, delphiniums alchemia mollis (Lady’s Mantle) should all benefit from this treatment.

July is a good time to be buying new strawberry plants, or propagate from your own runners. You should aim to replace all the strawberry plants that are 3 years or over. Remember to remove runners that are not needed.

Plant out sprouting broccoli, Calabrese, winter cauliflower, kale and Oriental greens. Place bricks or tiles under developing marrows and squashes as it helps to prevent rotting and will aid ripening.

Stake sunflowers and autumn perennials like Michaelmas daisies to help them through the time when the wind will blow. Remember to keep your mower blade raised in dry spells; allow the grass to grow to 3cm. Shade and ventilate the greenhouse.

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 crops like spring cabbage – a good variety is called “Spring Hero F1”, then there is Artic King lettuce which is an updated version of the reliable “All the Year Round” lettuce. There is a lot said about leaf greens, and one that is recommended for late summer sowing is Japanese Green Mizuma.

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.

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.

Watch out for the lily beetle. If you see any sign of damage, and apply an appropriate treatment. The beetle itself is a rather fetching shade of red, but it is their orange-red larvae that hide beneath the leaves that will do the damage.
Chris Coke

June 2020 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for June 2020.

The weather is always a good topic for gardeners, so much depends on it. Writing in the middle of May we are going through a sunny and dry spell. Early on in the month we did have some frost that caught me out and the tops of my spuds suffered. Evening temperatures should be high enough in June but keep an eye out for the younger plants if rain does not arrive fairly soon.

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 switched 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.

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 Coke

May 2020 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for May 2020.

Everything is ‘unprecedented nowadays following the lockdown, so we can’t just turn up at a garden centre. There are some locally that have websites and will take orders, Newbridge, Hilliers and Knights at Betchworth spring to mind. You may have to collect yourself or pay for a delivery charge. Putting plants outside a bit later is no bad thing. I well remember Neil Carter’s father, Ray, sowing his carrots in June in his garden at Misbrooks Cottage and commenting to me that people in Capel always sowed far too early.

May is always such a hopeful month, but don’t be fooled by all the half-hardy bedding plants that will be offered temptingly. It is not safe to plant them outdoors. Even if plants like geraniums, salvias, lobelia, marigolds and so on are not killed by a late frost, they can still receive such a severe check from cold May nights that they never completely recover to give a proper display.

But don’t let that put you off getting in stock where you can give it some protection in a cold frame or greenhouse. Use of garden fleece at night will also be just sufficient to keep off the worst falls in temperature and will help to harden off the plants in time for June when they can be planted out.

Sweet peas should be tied in regularly, especially if you are trying to grow large blooms, as you will be taking out the side shoots so that all the growth goes into the tip. They can be fertilised use one that has a low nitrogen content as too much may increase bud dropping.

Keep up succession sowings of lettuces and peas. Runner beans and zucchini should be sown early on. Because our garden is a veritable slug and snail city (we have a lovely lot of thrushes who help keep the snails under control) we generally start our runner beans in the greenhouse and plant them out at the end of the month. To give runners the best chance, sow them individually in the divided plastic trays (24 to a seed tray). Try to get the beans out before they start shooting too much and become tangled up with each other.

Lawns will need regular attention now, after their winter sleep. Keep the mower on a high setting to start with as this helps encourage growth and will keep the lawn greener during the summer months.

If you have the ground, early May is a good time to plant main crop potatoes that will be harvested in late August/early September and will keep you supplied throughout the winter. Varieties include: Arran Victory, Cara, and Nicola.

All tall flowering plants like delphinium, gladioli, even some of the carnations will need to be staked, as they really do need support when they are in full flower.

Put clean straw, or black plastic under strawberry plants to keep the berries clean and protected. You can also use the black matting for suppressing weeds leaving sufficient room for the plants. Be careful, the matting can also be a wonderful hiding place for slugs and snails and even, as I found out one year, a wonderful playground for field mice!

Chris Coke

April 2020 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for April 2020.

Clematis 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.

Plant late flowering herbaceous plants in April, 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.  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 Coke

March 2020 Garden Tips

Garden notes for March 2020

I expect like me you have often used the word ‘cloche’ to refer to a covering that you put over plants to protect them from the worst of the weather. The word is derived from the French word that normally translates into ‘bell’ in English. Victorian gardeners used bell-jar cloches and were originally made from hand blown glass. Nowadays you can get them in plastic. I used to think that they are a bit of gimmick, but it has been pointed out that the bell shape means that the surface of the cloches is always at a 90º angle to the sun, unlike the flat sided glass and plastic alternatives. This creates the optimum growing environment for plants. They are especially useful for individual plants. They might be worth a try for you as well.

Multiply your snowdrops by lifting and dividing them as soon as possible after flowering, they are best transplanted when green. It also helps encourage flowering as the clumps may become overcrowded if they are not split every 3 -4 years.

Hopefully we will get some drying weather, and the lawn will need a trim with the mower set high for the first cut. Towards the end of the month most lawns will benefit from a moss raking using a scarifier if you have a larger area to do. These can be hired from Hire Shops but you may well have to book it in advance as the weekends are popular.

Roses will need pruning towards the middle to end of the month, depending on the weather and if there are still severe frosts around. The earlier you do it, the earlier the first blooms will appear, but you can also lose all the flower buds if you do not leave at least 3 from the base stem. Give them a feed with a special rose fertiliser and they will reward you later for this generosity.

Start leeks under glass for pricking out and transplanting at the end of the month
Salad crops such as lettuce can be started for transplanting once they have established themselves. Put them into the soil that you have warmed up under cloches or fleece.

Pansies and violas can be sown now for a show later in the summer.

You should get your seed potatoes ‘chitted’, by putting them in egg trays in a frost free place and exposing them to light to get the first shoots greened up. If you are daring, plant early varieties of potato but be sure to keep an eye out for frost warnings and cover any leaf shoots before the frost comes down.

Later in the month watch out for slug and snail damage on emerging plants. This can be particularly damaging as the creatures are very hungry after the winter and are attracted to plants like delphiniums and hostas. Cuttings of delphinium can be taken and rooted in potting compost under glass to have them flowering much later than the usual June burst.

Get sets of onions for planting out as soon as the soil condition is right. When you do plant them out, protect them from Jackdaws who take delight in pulling them out and throwing them around. Field mice can also be a problem.

Chris Coke

February 2020 Garden Tips

Soil is the foundation for all plants in the garden and spending time in its preparation will bring considerable rewards. Ground that is going to be used for root crops like carrots, turnips, potato and radish should have a pH of about 7 (neutral). General fertiliser such as Growmore, or an organic alternative, should be raked in a few weeks before sowing at a rate of about 3-4 ounces per square yard.

In sheltered areas, crops such as onions, peas, lettuce and radish can be sown with suitable protection – either under cloches or heavyweight fleece.

Rhubarb clumps should be lifted and divided in February.

Tomato seed should be sown in greenhouses with appropriate heat to get them germinated.

Established herbaceous plants will benefit from a feed, ideally spread well-rotted farm yard manure, or garden compost around the plant and lightly fork it in.

Now is the time to think about your mower. If you have a standard powered mower like a Hayter you might like to know that the ‘Mower Man’ will come to your house and service it there for a reasonable price. He does not do electric mowers (sorry). Contact him either via his web site – www.themowerman.co.uk or on the phone 07832944791. I am still debating whether to invest in a robot (or auto) mowers but the installation and initial price makes me hesitate.

I’m looking at the possibility of getting LED Grow Lights to help germination on my propagator. The low light level in winter especially delays germination and makes growing strong plants more difficult. It seems to be quite complicated and I do not know all the answers. Much depends on the light wave output so that the wider the spectrum from red though to blue is quite important. The usual price factor applies so that the better the spectrum the higher the cost and whether that is worth it is another problem. Have a look on Amazon under the heading LED Grow Lights for more information.

Remember your house-plants on cold, frosty night. Keep them on the room side, not behind the curtain. Plants are most likely to die from drastic temperature changes between a heated room in the day and a frosty sill at night.

Verbenas can be difficult to raise from seed, the best way to do it is to keep one or two plants for stock, and to take cuttings about the middle of February. Just cut a tip and place it in a good rooting medium and you will be able to have several hundred cuttings from one good stock plant.

Young plants of perpetual flowering carnations should be potted on as soon as the small pots are filled with root growth. Keep the plants in a light, airy place that is cool – they do not like too much heat.

Chris Coke

January 2020 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for January 2020.

Here we go for another New Year with all its hope and possibilities to have a good growing season. It is also a Leap Year with that all important extra day at the end of February that seems to make such a difference.

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.

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. Another tip is to slice off a bit of the main root, leave it exposed for 2 or 3 frosts and then pot it up and move it into a cool greenhouse. This will make it start to produce some tender sticks of rhubarb for you to enjoy in March.

When 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.

Remember, even if we do get a few mild days towards the end of the month that any seeds that are sown need a constant temperature to start them off, at least 8 to 10 degrees Centigrade, so do not be tempted to sow outdoors, as temperatures drop well below these levels at night time, even when it is mild.

To get the best onions for the Summer Show (Saturday August 15 2020, this year – make a note!) apart from starting the first sowings this month, you should give a good dressing of wood ash on the site of the bed that you will use, since they really like potash. For the keen gardener, sow your onion seeds as early as possible in good compost on a propagator to get them started.

Towards the middle of the month, start to make preparations for taking chrysanthemum cuttings. If you have a cold frame make sure it is ready and make up the necessary soil. A good mixture is two parts loam, one part peat, and one part sand to ensure good drainage. Any pots or boxes should be cleaned and the chrysanthemum stools brought in to start them growing sturdy cuttings.

Chris Coke

December Garden Tips

Garden Notes for December 2019.

There have been quite a few berries on the holly and lots of food because of the open autumn we have had this year, despite the recent rain. Some people say that it is a sign of severe winter to come, and the odds must be shortening since we have not had a really bad one like 1961/62, or in 1947 but the fact of the matter is that a good crop of berries only tells you that we had a good spring and early summer. So, who knows what will happen? However, one thing we can be sure of is that the migrant fieldfares, redwings and other berry loving birds will soon be descending to feast on the holly trees. So, if you want some decorations for Christmas cut a few branches in early December and store them in a cool, frost-free place and they will last for at least 3 weeks.

Use this quiet time to plan for the growing season, and get your seed orders in early to make sure you get the variety of seed you want, since shortages do occur and the suppliers deal on a first come, first served basis.

Keep an eye on your garden tools, especially the machinery and cutting tools which can be serviced and/or sharpened by specialists.

Large flowered clematis, like Clematis jackmanii and the many hybrids from it, should be pruned towards the end of the month. They can be cut back quite severely. Prune back to good, well developed buds.

If you are planning to sow hardy annuals in the spring, they will benefit from an early preparation of the area. So long as the soil is in reasonably good heart it is best not to put any fertiliser, since annuals do best in a soil that is not too rich.

When picking Brussels sprouts keep the tops, and only use the best when all the sprouts have been harvested. Some of the winter broccoli may be starting to form their curds. Turn in the leaves to protect the curd from frost, and cut regularly as once they have reached their full development the curds soon begin to open and will spoil.

A very happy and peaceful Christmas to you all.

 

Chris Coke

November Garden Tips

Garden Notes for November 2019.

Prepare for the spring by digging and manuring the vegetable patch in November. Remember to keep a 3-year rotation so that potatoes (for example) are not planted in the same area two years running.

Remember to get your tulips planted before the end of the month. Try layer planting of tulips in containers. Do this by planting the later flowering varieties first, cover them with about an inch to 2″ of compost and then plant earlier varieties. A typical 12″ diameter container can take up to 40 bulbs in order to get a good display that lasts several weeks if this technique is used.

Watch out for slugs even as the autumn starts to turn to winter. We usually look out for them in the spring, but they can still do considerable damage shoots of delphiniums and campanulas at this time before the hard frosts start.

If you are planting a new tree, put a mulch mat around it or mulch with garden compost. The tree will root much better.

We have had quite good growing weather, and many of the evergreens and hardy trees will have made lush growth. Where possible prune the excess growth back before the winter storms set in, otherwise they will be vulnerable. The main pruning will still need to be done in the spring.

November is the best month for planting bare root roses.

After the first frost has blackened dahlias, cut the tops back to about 4 – 6″ and lay the stems over the plants for about a week. This allows the tubers to ripen and harden. When the weather is fine, dig them up and turn the plants upside down to allow any moisture to drain off from the hollow stems and crowns. Store them in a frost-free place where it is cool and dry.

If you have a sheltered and well drained plot, now is the time to sow winter broad beans such as Aquadulce. Early broad beans often escape the blackfly attacks on the growth tips of the plant in spring.

Provided the weather is suitable keep digging the ground for good crops next year. Where possible double dig in farm yard manure, or well rotted compost from your own compost bin.

Chris Coke

October Garden Tips

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.

Chris Coke