October 2020 Garden Tips

Garden notes for October 2020.

One of the great satisfactions of gardening is the ability to make your own plants from propagation. With autumn drawing on, make sure you get your cuttings sorted out earlier on in the month. Plants like fuchsias, geraniums and so on should be potted up and put somewhere safe before the frosts begin. Cuttings of alpines that have been done earlier should either be planted out where they are to grow, or potted on and kept in a frame until the spring. If you are keeping them in pots, it is best to plunge the pots to their rims in sand, ashes or soil. (Don’t forget to protect them from slug and snail predation!)

Lettuce seedlings can be planted in cold frames to give winter supplies. The frames should be ventilated freely when the weather is mild as they are prone to mildew attack.

It is always tempting to hang on to the summer flowering plants ‘for a few more days’, but if you want your spring flowers to bloom you really need to chuck out the old and put in the new. The reason for this is that spring bedding plants need to have time to get established before the winter weather sets in, otherwise they will not do as well.

If you are going to plant new fruit trees and shrubs, the best time is in November, but October is the time to prepare the site. The soil should be well dug and manured, this will be much more difficult in November.

Towards the end of the month strawberry beds should be tidied up. Remove all dead, diseased or damaged foliage, as well as the weeds.

The herbaceous border should be tidied up. Some people say that it should be left alone as the old stems protect the new growth, forgetting that they also harbour all the pests and diseases as well. I think it is better to cut back the top growth, and clean up the borders. It also allows the soil round the clumps to be lightly forked over. In addition the more vigorous plants can be lifted and divided to make room for other plants as well as helping others start their borders with the left overs.

When frost has browned the tops dahlias, cut them down to 9″ above the soil. Tie a label to identify the variety, then lift the tubers carefully and dry them off in a greenhouse for a few days before finally storing them in a cool frost proof place.

It is not often that I come across a garden tool that I had not heard of before. Recently I discovered the “Hori-Hori” which when translated from the Japanese means ‘dig-dig’. Essentially it is a steel blade with one sharp edge and the other with a shorter or serrated edge. It is fantastic for doing precision weeding, planting out, cutting back or just for killing slugs! There are a couple of suppliers (apart from Amazon, of course). I got mine from a company that has its UK base in Dorset and is called Niwaki. It is something to consider as an unusual Christmas or birthday present for a keen gardener.

Good gardening!
Chris

September 2020 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for September 2020.

As John Keats so famously wrote about autumn being the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness/ close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”, September sees the time when crops are harvested and stored for the winter months that are to come. Carrots should be lifted and stored before the roots start to split, which they will do very quickly once the heavy autumn rains begin. For the same reason, beetroot are better lifted and stored this month. Looking forward to next year, spring cabbage should be planted now. Remember to firm the soil around each plant after planting. Lettuce can also be sown now in a cold frame, or greenhouse. Varieties to choose include ‘Winter Density’, ‘All the Year Round’ and ‘May Queen’.

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. With the cost of seed increasing year on year (the average cost is now over £3 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. One tip is to look out for Garden Centres having a seed sale, there are bargains to be had, with cuts up to 75%, when they are sufficiently desperate to make room for the new stock.

The growth of rampant climbers like some of the clematis (remember to check) wisteria and climbing roses can be cut back in the middle of September.

Regards
Chris

August 2020 Garden Tips

Garden Notes for August 2020.

Shrubs like deutzia, philadelphus and weigela – or any that have been flowering through June, July and early August, should be pruned now, or as soon as they have finished flowering. Shorten any exceptionally long shoots above the bud, then remove about one-third of the oldest stems. Now is the time to prune Rambler roses, when they have stopped flowering. Prune all stems that have flowered to ground level, train and tie in new shoots.

On other shrubs with new shoots showing, it is ideal to take cuttings during August. Choose sturdy, half mature side shoots and make a straight cut below the joint. Remove any leaves from the lower half of the cutting. Dip the bottom into hormone rooting powder and insert round the side of a pot filled with a suitable cutting compost. By spring, the plants should have rooted.

Thoughts should also be turning to winter and the need for winter flowering pansies means that they should be pricked out, as well as any of the other plants for early spring like wall flowers. Spring cabbage should be sown during August into a prepared bed, with sufficient moisture to allow easy germination. Winter lettuce that can be carried on under some protection should also be germinated now. Take care to keep the seed in a cool place and germination is very slow if the ambient temperature is over 20 Centigrade.

Earwigs can cause havoc amongst dahlias around this time. Traps made by using an upturned seed pot stuffed with dried grass or straw and placed on top of a bamboo cane about a metre long near the dahlias, will attract the insects and they can then be disposed of away from the plants.

If you see ants busily climbing stems of runner beans or other plants you can be sure that there is an infestation of one of the aphids – they are like cows to humans, and the ants ‘milk’ the aphis. Use your preferred insect killer method to control the infestation. I once had a whole crop of nasturtiums destroyed by blackfly because I did not try to control them.

Remember to order your bulbs for Christmas flowering, and start to get ready for the spring.

Keep a careful watch for potato blight. Cut off affected haulm and destroy it, don’t compost it.
Regards
Chris

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