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

June Garden Tips

Garden Notes for June 2019.

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 after a dry and relatively cold May.

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 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for May

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.

Many young plants that are being brought on in the greenhouse, and indeed, houseplants like orchids, enjoy misting with a fine water spray. I have found it difficult to use the hand pumped devices, often they have small reservoirs but now I have discovered that there are misting devices with battery powered pumps with a litre capacity and they are a really useful tool. Look out for them. I found mine in Dorking Lidl for £6.99.

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.

Start hardening off all those bedding plants you have bought from the Plant Sale (11th May, 10 am in the Village Hall), 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 that are kept watered, 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.

April Garden Tips

Garden Notes for April.

April is the time to get seeds going where you can give them a bit of warmth (for the chill evenings) and shelter. Sow tomatoes for outdoor growing; complete your sowings of half-hardy annuals (nicotiniana, mimulus, and antirrhinum for example).

Complete sowings of early potatoes. It is also time to sow celery for planting out in June (if you have been able to solve the problem of slugs!). A word of warning, metaldehyde (the blue slug pellets) are being banned in 2019 and will not be available from shops in future. Pellets based on ferric phosphate are an alternative. As always good hygiene, strong plants and a gardener’s eye to spot infestations are the best alternatives.

Keep up fortnightly sowings of lettuce in order to maintain a succession. Radishes can be sown. Soil should be pulled up on either side of broad beans to help keep them stable. Winter greens such as January King, Savoy cabbage and broccoli should all be sown from the middle of the month onwards.

As daffodil and other bulbs finish flowering remove the dead flowers as this prevents seed formation and diverts more energy into the growth of the bulbs.

If you want to grow exhibition size carrots, one tip is to drill the seed in small clumps along a given row with about 15 cm spacing. When the seedlings develop carefully pull out the excess and just leave a single plant to grow. That way they will grow long and straight without getting tangled in the roots of other carrots.

In the last week of April when the weather (hopefully) is warming up those of you with water gardens can start to plant up water lilies and other kinds of the hardier aquatic plants.

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.

Leave a can of water in the greenhouse to warm up before you water, this will reduce plants getting a shock from icy cold water. If you are sowing fine seeds (like nicotinia) – water the compost first. This avoids washing the seed deep into it.

Divide chives or mint if they are crowded (dispose of the roots carefully, they are invasive). You should finish planting main crop potatoes, and earth up any early growth. Frost is still a clear and present danger!

In unheated greenhouses sow Brussels sprouts, calabrese, summer cauliflower, kale and lettuce. In outdoor beds you can sow broad bean, beetroot, early carrots, chard, kohl rabi, parsnips, peas, radish, spinach, spring onion and turnips. Plant out onion sets. Peas can be started in a length of guttering in the greenhouse. When the seedlings are ready to go out, the compost will be held together by their roots and the whole row can then be slid into position.