October/November 2017

Saving Bean Seeds    It’s rather late to suggest you save Broad Bean seeds which I always do, but now it’s the time to save Runner Bean seeds.   So, don’t rush into clearing them away; leave a few plants at one end of a row to produce next year’s seed.   When the pods are going brown and withered I collect them to dry off in the greenhouse making sure I do this before any hard frost.   Finally, I separate the seeds, discarding any that look damaged, and store them in a paper bag in a cool, dry cupboard in our utility room ready for sowing next May.

Lawn Care   Now is an ideal time to repair and improve existing lawns.   Grass growth is slowing so you can reduce the frequency of mowing but try to keep the lawn clear of fallen leaves.  General maintenance can include: spiking with an aerator or fork, removal of any perennial weeds and applying an autumn fertiliser.  Many of the DIY stores and Garden Centres have offers on autumn fertilisers at the moment.   Finally, remember to keep off the grass when it is frozen; walking on frozen grass not only weakens and turns it black, but the damage makes it more susceptible to disease.

Potatoes   It has been a splendid year for potatoes; I’ve grown three varieties: Charlotte (a first early) Cara (main crop) and Ratte (salad).   I bought them in late February and chitted them on trays in my cool greenhouse.   I planted Charlotte in mid-March and the Cara and Ratte in mid-April.   I used Clive Bevan’s tip again from a talk back in 2008; having dug a spade depth trench, I planted the tubers in a few inches of grass cuttings on top of garden compost to help develop a clean crop.   All were growing well by mid-May so I earthed them up.   Both Charlotte and Ratte have been prolific, and we particularly enjoy Ratte which is delicious and such an easy scraper.   However, having watched Monty Don on BBC Gardener’s World in early September, I checked the Cara, and there were definitely signs of blight on the abundant foliage.  So, I spent a whole afternoon cutting the extensive growth back to ground level and, taking his advice, will not attempt to lift the crop for at least three weeks to avoid spreading the disease to the tubers, I hope.

 July/August 2017

Ponds   Ponds need topping up regularly as water evaporates, and there is little rain to replace it in Summer months.  While we don’t expect a hose-pipe ban this year, you can continue topping up ponds that have fish in them even when a hose-pipe ban is in force.   Last year, I recommended a product called EcoSure Pond Clear, marketed by Unwins.   While it doesn’t completely solve the problem, it does appear to reduce the rate of growth.   However, I then noticed that the water in some of the ponds where I play golf was a blue-green colour and so I asked the green-keeper about it.   He uses a dye which inhibits sunlight from reaching the bottom of the ponds and so reduces blanket weed growth.  I’ve tried a similar product from NTLABS called Aquaclear and it certainly stops growth from the deeper parts of my pond, although I still need to rake out the weed around the marginal plants in the shallow parts. 

Prune Early-flowering Shrubs   If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to prune early-flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus, Weigela and Ribes.   Cut back flowered growth to a strong lower shoot and thin out up to a fifth of the older, woody stems.   Or if they have grown into substantial bushes over six feet high, get your hedge-trimmer out.   Amazingly, they seem to tolerate harsh action and recover to flower well the following year. 

Lily Beetle   All my lilies have done well this year with a good succession of colour and scent from the various varieties I have bought over the years.   I haven’t seen a single scarlet lily beetle, perhaps I’m tempting fate, but I have checked the plants almost daily.  They are a nasty pest as firstly, the adults are difficult to kill and need to be crushed and, secondly, the larvae protect themselves from predators by hiding in their own poo!   So, getting rid of them is an unpleasant task but essential if the flowers and foliage are to stay hole free.

February/March 2017

Sow Sweet Peas  If you have already sown sweet peas, you really need to get it done in early February.  I recommend using “root trainers” as the roots grow quicker that the shoots and need the extra depth to branch out well once the tap root reaches the bottom.  I plant two seeds to a “root trainer“ module and pinch the shoots out when they are a few inches high to encourage branching.  If they are growing fast and it still is too cold to plant them out, you can repot them but, for the same reason above, you need to use long thin pots.  Although I haven’t had a problem in my greenhouse, apparently, mice love the growing shoots of sweet peas, so be sure to protect them from these rodents.

Plant Out Used Bulbs  When they have finished flowering, forced Hyacinths and other bulbs you have enjoyed indoors can be planted out. Remove the spent flower heads to prevent seed production and feed them with a high potash fertiliser to help build up next year’s flower buds. In fact, it is worth feeding all outside bulbs regularly until the foliage has died back.

Clean-up Herbaceous Plants  As the weather starts to warm up and new shoots appear, it’s a good time to clean up herbaceous plants that have been protected from frost by dead foliage and other debris.  Cut away all dead stems, clean out leaves, weeds and other rubbish and lightly fork over the soil around the plants to introduce some air and a little fertiliser such as bone meal but, if you have a dog, make sure you bury the bone meal well or you may find the border will get dug over again!  Plants that have developed into large overgrown clumps can be lifted and replanted discarding the old worn-out parts.  However, remember that Pyrethrums and Bearded Iris should not be lifted now but left until July after they have flowered.

October/November 2016

Lifting and Storing Dahlias  Free plants from any supports and cut down the top growth to about 4 inches from ground level.  It’s a good idea to label the plants at this stage, as it’s easy to forget once they are in a heap after lifting.  Dig carefully around the plants with a garden fork taking care not to damage the tubers.  Lift the tubers and shake off surplus soil; you can rinse them to remove the last of the soil.  Turn the tubers and remaining stems upside down so that any remaining moisture can drain out.  Leave them for at last two weeks to dry out before turning them back the right way up and storing them in boxes of relatively dry compost with their crowns just above the surface; this is where next year’s buds will form and it mustn’t get too wet as this could cause them to rot. Finally, keep them in a cool, but frost-free place until the Spring.

Care for Containers  Clear out summer plants from containers and hanging baskets.  If you are replanting containers with winter plants, make sure the drain holes are clear and raise the containers off the ground on feet or small stones. This helps to ensure that the compost doesn’t become saturated with the risk that it might freeze and damage the plants roots.

Fibrous Rooted Begonias  For many years, I purchased 150 plug plants from a mail-order nursery and potted them into 3 inch pots to grow on in the greenhouse until, when the risk of frost had passed, planting them out in a curved border beside my main lawn in alternating colour groups of about 10 plants.  Apart from using valuable space in a greenhouse, it was a lot of effort and took time keeping them well watered for several weeks.  However, a couple of years ago, I saw the light and used my membership card to get a discount on trays of plants from Rutland Water Garden Nursery in early May.  They have proved to be excellent plants and have given a very colourful display right through until the first winter frost.  What’s more, before the first frost last year, I dug up half a dozen and planted them in 6 inch pots to over-winter in a greenhouse which I only heat to about 6 degrees.  They came through the winter without a problem and have thrived in containers with fuchsias, geraniums and other plants throughout this year.  I will certainly try keeping a few of this year’s plants when the time comes in early November.

Pot up Hippeastrums  If you want a hippeastrum (aka Amaryllis) to flower at Christmas, start them into growth now.  Pot up and water the bulb and keep it in a warm spot; you can give them a good start in the airing cupboard, but check them regularly or they will get to a foot high before you know it.  Above a radiator, a place most house plants hate, is also good.  On a sunny windowsill, they need turning daily to keep them straight.

July and August 2016

Ponds Ponds need topping up regularly as water evaporates, and there is little rain to replace it. While we don’t expect a hose-pipe ban this year, you can continue topping up ponds that have fish in them even when a hose-pipe ban is in force. Try to remove any dead vegetation or leaves as these add to the nutrient content of the water and so encourage algae and blanket weed growth. If you have this problem, I recommend a new product called EcoSure Pond Clear, marketed by Unwins. While I don’t think it will completely solve the problem, it does appear to be controlling the growth as I am not having to rake out blanket weed anything like as often as I was.

Lift and Split Flag Irises Flag irises tend to reduce, or even stop flowering – particularly at the centre of a clump – when they have been left alone for a number of years. When this starts to occur, lift the rhizomes and split them into smaller sections retaining just the healthier outer portions. Before replanting, prepare the bed well with some grit to improve drainage and cut back the foliage on each new plant in a half diagonal across the fan of leaves to reduce stress until the roots have re-established themselves. When replanting, make sure that the rhizome is set at soil level and only partially covered – they flower poorly if planted too deep. If you are on a windy site, peg the rhizomes down with wire loops to keep them upright.

Trim Hedges Most hedges can be given a final trim towards the end of August, as growth will be reducing. Conifers may need another cut later. The key point about conifer hedges is that you should never let them get beyond the height and width you want, as they won’t regrow if cut back hard into old wood. The only exceptions are yew and, although not a conifer, laurel which will regrow even when cut back very hard.

May and June 2016

Hanging Baskets  There is still time to plant up hanging baskets, but beware of any cold or windy days.  Although it can be a chore, if you don’t have a greenhouse, it is safer to sit the baskets on buckets outside and bring them in at night until mid to late May when the risk of frosts should be over; bringing them in for a couple of weeks also helps harden off the more tender plants that have probably been grown in the rather “soft” conditions.

Plant Supports  May is a good month to check on or insert supports, such as twigs, flower frames and plant rings for clump-forming perennials so that the plants can grow through them in a natural manner.  This helps avoid wind damage and bunching, and the supports are soon hidden by the growing plants.

Sow Vegetables  Hopefully the weather is now warming up, so it’s the time to get on sowing: beetroot, brussel sprouts, carrots, leeks, lettuces, spring onions, onion sets, peas, spinach beet, summer cabbage, turnips and broad beans if you didn’t sow them earlier.  However, wait until late May to sow parsnips (they germinate better when the soil is drier and warmer), French and runner beans (their fast-growing, tender shoots can be cut down by a late frost); however, if you have some cloches to protect them, a few early sowings will bring an earlier harvest.

Control Pests  From now on, keep checking plants in the greenhouse or cold frame for pests such as aphids, whitefly and red spider mite.  With the temperature rising and longer daylight, they can multiply very rapidly into an infestation that becomes impossible to control.  Prevention is better than cure so in the greenhouse consider introducing biological controls as soon as the temperature is high enough to sustain them (most need a minimum of 10ºC).  For aphids Lacewing larvae are very effective, while Encarsia (a miniature wasp that doesn’t bite!) attacks the whitefly larvae, and red spider mite are controlled by Phytoseiulus which is itself a mite.  These controls are available from Defenders Ltd, Just Green Ltd and a number of other suppliers.

Pinching Out  It really is important to pinch put the growing tips of fast growing plants such as fuchsias and geraniums, and bedding plants such as busy lizzies, to encourage bushy growth.  You may well be pinching out flower buds but, if you don’t, the plants will later become leggy and not flower so well.  On some fuchsias, I do this at least three times about three weeks apart.

February and March

Caring for Spring Bulbs   After Spring bulbs have flowered, it is tempting to cut down or knot the foliage when it looks untidy.  But don’t do it as these leaves are the source of food for the bulbs to absorb and grow on for next year’s flowering.  The RHS experts at Wisley recommend leaving foliage for at least six weeks after the flowers have died before cutting back or mowing over them.  However, do cut or snap off the dead flower heads of large daffodils, tulips and hyacinths as, being mainly hybrids, they will not seed satisfactorily.  That is not true of snowdrops and snake-head fritillaries which, in good conditions will seed and multiply so leave them to drop seed.  While Fritillaria Imperialis readily produces seed, it takes up to seven years to develop into a new flowering bulb so cut them off too.  Also, now is the time to feed bulbs before they fully emerge and flower as new bulbs and offshoots will already be forming under the ground.  The RHS recommend a slow-release fertiliser such as Vitax Q4.

Cherry Tomato Varieties  Gardening Which (Jan/Feb 16 issue) has an intriguing article comparing some eighteen varieties of Cherry Tomatoes as, after thirty years, “Gardener’s Delight” is no longer one of their favoured “Best Buys.”  Their new recommended “Best Buys” are: “Suncherry Premium” reported to have superb flavour although expensive at £3.50 for 12 seeds from Plants of Distinction, “Rosella” reported as a heavy cropper at £1.55 for 10 seeds from Nicky’s Nursery, “Santonio” reported to have a good taste at £2.99 for 6 seeds from Thomson & Morgan (so also expensive) and “Sunlemon” reported to be fully flavoured at £3.25 for 10 seeds from Mr Fothergill’s

Prune Late Flowering Shrubs  It’s time to prune Buddleia Davidii (the Butterfly Bush), Ceanothus Burkwoodii (the deciduous ceanothus), hardy Fuchsias, Santolina, Lavatera and Leicesteria (the Nutmeg Bush).  All of these flower best on growth made in Spring.  You can be brutal and cut back to just one or two buds or shoots on each stem.  If you want to increase the size of a plant, then prune the thinner branches hard but only lightly prune back some of the thicker ones.  When complete, give them a feed of organic fertiliser and mulch around the base to stop weeds competing with them.

November and December

Prune Climbing Roses  We normally associate rose pruning with the spring when bush varieties are pruned, but many experts including those at Gardening Which recommend pruning climbing roses in the autumn or winter.  They suggest that you tie in any new long shoots and pull them down towards the horizontal as that will encourage better flowering next spring.  Then shorten side shoots growing off the main framework by about a third and remove any weak or dead growth.

Insulate the Greenhouse  I purchased a roll of bubble wrap many years ago and carefully cut sections of it to fit the roof and sides of my two greenhouses; I always remove the roof sections and the South and West sides every spring and replace them with green mesh shading.  I checked the stored bubble wrap the other day, and it is still in good condition.  After removing the shading and cleaning up all the remaining debris from tomatoes, cucumbers etc., I fired a couple of smoke candles to kill off any aphids which might otherwise hibernate.  The bubble wrap is back in place and I’m ready to move vulnerable plants back inside as soon as we get warning of a ground frost.

Blackcurrants  If you are planting new blackcurrant bushes, remember that they are an exception to the normal rule of planting at the same height as they were propagated.  Set them about 3 to 4 inches lower as this encourages new growth from the base; newly planted bushes should then be pruned to about 4 inches from ground level to ensure strong growth for fruiting in future.  Pruning of established fruiting bushes should be put off until most leaves have fallen, partly because it is then easier to see which of the old stems to remove (take out about a third) and partly because, when the foliage dies back naturally, the plant uses this process to manufacture some of its food.

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