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

September Garden Tips

Garden Notes for September 2019.

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’ and I have had to call in help to cut it down before it all goes to seed. Not to say the brambles who are threatening to take over. I have had a battle royal with one set that have climbed three metres and want to take over one of the apple trees.

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 Coke

August Garden Tips

Garden Notes for August 2019.

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 compete in the Summer Show (this year to be held on Saturday 17 August). To even have a chance, 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. It used to be possible to spray affected plants but that is no longer an option so, remove the affected foliage as soon as possible. Make sure that diseased leaves are disposed of as far away as possible at the tip or with collected garden waste. Do not put them on your own compost heap to minimise the spores over wintering and coming back to bite you!

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.

July Garden Tips

Garden Notes for July 2019

Some of the earlier crops, like early potatoes, broad beans, and early peas will be finishing soon and it is best to get them cleared away for catch crops such as carrots or globe beetroot. I remember Ray Carter telling me years ago when we were very new to the village that “People are too keen to get early crops in Capel. It’s always best hereabouts to sow late and crop in the autumn as the soil is so cold.” I never learn, and this season has shown once again just how slow the soil is to warm up, many of our plants have grown so slowly in May that it is a wonder that they have grown enough to be put out in June. If you are thinking of sowing a late crop of carrots, a wonderful tip I was given a few years ago is to make sure that the row is watered 4 days after sowing. It works wonders for good germination.

July is the last time to cut back hydrangeas after flowering (they are called ‘hortensias’ in France, which I rather like). The reason for this is that they will not have sufficient time to make new growth for next year’s flowering. The early flowering ‘Montana’ clematis can be pruned in July. Thin out overcrowded stems and cut back where necessary to keep the plant within bounds. Drastic pruning is not desirable.

Tuberous rooted begonias should be disbudded if you want to have those big flower heads. It is the small side buds that need to be removed, leaving the large central flower to develop.

Don’t forget to keep the container grown plants watered and fed at least once a month with a soluble feed. Remove dead heads to encourage continued blossom. Roses will benefit from a sprinkle of a specialist rose fertiliser, preferably with a high potash content to encourage a second flush of blooms.

Tomatoes should be stopped after 5 trusses have set. If the bottom leaves start to turn yellow it is better to remove them and let the trusses develop in the sunshine. Keep an eye out for any sign of mildew and take appropriate action The same goes for potatoes. If there is a bad attack towards the end of the month and it is too early to harvest it is better to remove the haulm and burn it safely, or take it to be re-cycled.

Pears and plums will repay careful thinning. Take care with your dahlias and keep disbudding and feeding so that you have a good choice to enter the Flower Show.

Chris