Category: Monthly Top ten gardening tips


IMG_7289The nights are squeezing the light of day, despite sunshine there’s a chill in the air, and mornings are often shrouded in mist and fog. October marks the real onset of autumn, I think – here are a few important things to do in the garden this month.

1. Leaf litter pick

Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly, including rose leaves, to prevent diseases such as black spot from over-wintering – don’t compost these leaves. Create compost bins for collecting fallen leaves and dead plant material or a separate ‘Leaf mould’ bin if you want to create this wonderful material – stuffing leaves in black plastic bags is another option.

Using black bags for leaf mould making

Using black bags for leaf mould making

 

2. Cut backs

Cut down stalks of perennials that have died down, unless they have some winter or wildlife merit. Clear overhanging plants away from pathways and prune climbing roses and rambling roses once they’ve finished flowering, tying in the stems before autumn winds cause damage.

3. Parting is such sweet sorrow

Divide herbaceous perennials and rhubarb crowns. This is also the time to move trees and shrubs, and plant hedges.

Dividing rhubarb crowns as well as herbaceous perennials can be done safely now

Dividing rhubarb crowns as well as herbaceous perennials can be done safely now

 

4. Come in out of the cold

Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse or other frost-free place. Lift Dahlias and Begonia tubers and Gladiolus corms to store in the dry (removing the dead leaves before storing them). Cannas, Pelargoniums/Geraniums and fuchsias can also be lifted before any proper frost. Trim back soft growth on geraniums and fuchsias, potting them into multi-purpose compost and keeping them barely moist over the winter in a cool frost-free place.

5. Food – strip, store and plant

Strip: Apples, pears, grapes and nuts can all be harvested as can squashes and pumpkins before the first frosts. Finish harvesting beans and peas and once finished cut the plant away at ground level, leaving the roots in the soil as these have nodules on them that have fixed nitrogen from the air and will slowly release this as the roots break down. Any plants with green tomatoes or peppers remaining can be hung upside down indoors to ripen.

Store: Check over any  stored onions, garlic and potatoes and remove any rotten ones immediately. Try to improve air flow around your stored veg to prevent rot e.g use onion bags or hessian sacks.

Plant: spring cabbages, garlic bulbs and onion sets. Reuse old grow bags by cutting off the top and sowing late salad crops – cropping can be extended into winter if grown under glass or a cloche. Autumn is an ideal time to plant bare root fruit trees – alternatively order fruit trees now in preparation for spring planting.

Careful storage of apples will give you a supply well into winter

Careful storage of apples will give you a supply well into winter

 

6. Sourcing seeds

Collect seed heads from perennials, alpines, trees and shrubs. Order seeds for next year.

Save money by saving seed

Save money by saving seed

 

7. Spring loaded

Plant spring bedding such as wallflowers, Bellis, Primulas and winter pansies. Now is the ideal time to plant Clematis. Finish planting spring bulbs such as Narcissi and Crocuses – Tulips can wait until November.

 

8  Grassy act

Finish off essential lawn maintenance to avoid water logging and compaction over winter (see September tips for more detail).  Fresh turf can still be laid now – Autumn rains (assuming we have some) should ensure the turf settles in.

9. Odds and …..

Remove netting from fruit cages to allow birds to feed on any pests and invest in bird baths and bird feeders if you don’t have them – the birds you support will help you keep pest numbers down.  If you haven’t already done so, turf out the last of the tomatoes, cucumbers etc. from the Greenhouse and clean and disinfect it. This will allow more light in and prevent pests and diseases over-wintering. Set up your greenhouse heater if you have one in case of early frosts. Empty and if possible clean out water butts and let the autumn rains refill them. Maybe install a new water butt ready for next year? Check tree ties and loosen if they are too tight around growing stems – and add stakes and support for young trees and shrubs to avoid them being ‘wind rocked’ during the winter.

Check and install tree ties and support for young trees and shrubs

Check and install tree ties and support for young trees and shrubs

 

10. …Sods

Prepare your soil for next year – start digging in leaf mould, compost, manure and as much organic matter as you can lay your hands on to replace the goodness in it, though if your soil is on the sandy side, like mine, richer material like compost and manure is probably best left until the Spring when it’s nutrients are needed and they will not have leached away in the winter wet. However, if your soil is heavy, then pile it in now! It can be left in a pretty rough state over the winter when the elements will break the clods down, making spring planting that much easier.

Old School Gardener

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Now's the time to harvest blackberries- though I've been doing this for couple of weeks already!

Now’s the time to harvest blackberries- though I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks already!

With the new month comes the beginning of autumn – meteorologically speaking. September ‘usually’ brings generally cooler and windier conditions than August, and the daylight hours are noticeably shorter. It is the time to reap the remainder of your summer harvest in the veg and fruit garden (and begin with the autumn crops) and for gently coaxing the last few colourful blooms from your summer flowers. It can be a time of special interest if you have grasses that turn to a golden brown and which combine well with ‘prairie’ style plants that bloom on into autumn along with Asters, Sedum and so on. It’s also a time of transition, as you bid farewell to this years growth and begin to prepare for next year with seed collecting, planting, propagation, lawn care and general tidying up. Here are my top ten tips for September in the garden.

1. Continue harvesting fruit and veg

Especially autumn raspberries, plums, blackberries, the first apples and vegetables such as main crop potatoes. If you haven’t already done so, start thinking about storage (including freezing) of some of these for winter use. Root vegetables should be stored in a cool, dark and dry place. Leave parsnips in the ground for now, as they taste better after being frosted. Onions and shallots should be lifted (but do not bend them over at the neck as they won’t store as well) – if the weather is not wet leave them to dry on the soil, otherwise bring them into a dry shed. Any outdoor tomatoes (including green ones) should be picked before the first frost and brought indoors to ripen (placing them next to a banana will accelerate the process). Or you can remove a branch with them still attached and place the whole truss in a greenhouse or on a warm windowsill.

2. Careful watering

Be selective in watering new plants, those that are still looking green or are flowering or have fruit and veg you have yet to harvest. At the same time start to reduce the amount of water you give house plants. And make sure that established Camellias, Rhododendrons and Hydrangeas are well watered in dry periods, otherwise they won’t produce the buds that will form next year’s flowers. Ensure trees or shrubs planted in the last couple of years on lawns or in areas of rough grass have a circle of clear earth around them – this should be kept clear of grass which could prevent essential moisture getting through. Mulching with bark or compost will also help.

3. Collect and where appropriate, sow seed

Save seed from perennials and hardy annuals to get a start on next year. Continue to sow over – wintering veg seeds such as spinach, turnip, lettuce and onions.

Keep your cabbages covered

Keep your cabbages covered

4. Net work

Put nets over ponds before leaf fall gets underway, to prevent a build up of leaf litter and nutrients in the water and also cover vulnerable Brassica crops with bird-proof netting.

5. Greenhouse switcheroo

Once you’ve finished with your greenhouse for tomatoes, cucumbers etc. give it a good clean out (and cold frames too). Prepare it for over – wintering tender plants you want to bring inside such as Fuchsia or Pelargoniums before the first frosts. It’s worth insulating it with ‘bubble wrap’ as well as providing a form of heat to ensure the temperature never falls below 5 – 10 degrees C. After the first frost, lift Cannas and Dahlias and after removing the top growth, washing off the roots and drying them, store the tubers in a sandy compost mix in a greenhouse or other frost – free place. Alternatively, if they have been planted in a sheltered spot where frost, cold or wet conditions are rare you can try to leave them in the ground – but cover them with straw, bracken or a mulch of compost.

Save seed from plants like Echinops

Save seed from plants like Echinops

6. Nature nurture

Clean out bird baths and keep them topped up with water. Continue to put out small bird food (avoid peanuts and other larger stuff which is a risk to baby birds in the continuing breeding season). Resist the temptation to remove seed heads from plants such as Sunflowers, as they provide a useful source of food for birds (of course you can still remove some seed for your own use). Put a pile of twigs or logs in a quiet corner of the garden and this will become home to lots of wildlife – and perhaps make a natural feature of this area with primroses, ferns etc. Consider making or buying other wildlife ‘hibernation stations’ for hedgehogs, insects and other critters.

7. Prolonging the show

Continue with dead – heading and weeding so that you extend the flowering season and ensure soil nutrients and moisture benefit your plants and not the weeds.

8. Propagate, plant and prepare

Divide any large clumps of perennials or alpines. Most plants can be separated into many smaller pieces which can all be replanted (or given away) – discard the old centre of the clump. Buy and plant spring-flowering bulbs – Narcissus, Crocus, Muscari and Scilla especially, but wait a couple,of months before you plant Tulips. September is also a good time to plant out container – grown shrubs, trees, fruit bushes and perennials. Always soak the containers well before taking the plant out and fill the new hole with water before putting the plant in its new home (having ‘teased out’ the roots if it’s pot bound). Plant out new spring bedding such as Wallflowers, Primula and Bellis. Now is your last chance to put in new strawberry plants and pot up any rooted runners. Remove any canes that have fruited from summer fruiting raspberries and tie in the new canes, if you haven’t already done so.

dividing perennials

Divide perennials

9. Improve your soil

Sow green manures where the soil used for food growing would otherwise be bare over winter. If your soil is heavy clay, start digging it over now whilst it is still relatively dry. Add plenty of organic matter to improve the quality, and pea shingle to improve the drainage. It can be left over the winter when the cold will break the lumps down, making spring planting easier. Keep your production of compost and leaf mould going from the tidying up you are starting now. For compost, remember the rule of mixing 50% ‘green’ material and 50% ‘brown’ (including shredded paper and cardboard).

10. Lawn care

September is the ideal time for lawn repairs and renovation. First raise the height of the mower and mow less often. You can sow or turf a new lawn or repair bald patches or broken edges in an existing one. It is a good time to scarify (either with a long tined/spring rake or powered scarifier to remove the thatch and other debris) and aerate (by making holes all over the lawn with a fork or powered aerator). Then brush in, or spread with the back of a rake, sieved compost/loam/sand (depending on your ground conditions) and you can also add an autumn lawn feed (one high in phosphate to help root development). This can all be hard work, but you’ll notice the improved look of the lawn next year! If you have large areas of lawn, you could prioritise this work for an area that’s especially visible or near the house, or perhaps rotate around different areas of grass so that you give each one a periodic ‘facelift’ once every two – three years.

Old School Gardener

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Relax, it's summer...picture by Merv French

Relax, it’s summer…picture by Merv French

August can be a bit of a ‘graveyard’ month – few things are looking good in the garden as the first flushes of growth on many plants have died or been pruned away and there’s not much (yet) to replace them. It can be one of the hottest, driest months in the UK, too, making watering essential – and this could be a problem if you’re on holiday and don’t have friends or neighbours (or an automatic watering system) to do it for you. So this month’s tips are mainly about harvesting, maintaining colour and interest, pruning and propagating new plants – and of course, watering!

1. Prune now for next year’s fruit and flowers

To encourage flowering or fruiting shoots, prune early flowering shrubs if not already done so and also trim back the new straggly stems of Wisteria to about 5 or 6 buds above the joint with the main stem – this will encourage energy to go into forming new flowering spurs. Do the same for fan or other trained fruit like plums, cherries a etc. Cut out the old fruiting stems of summer raspberries to encourage the new stems to grow and tie these in as you go to stop them rocking around too much. Sever, lift and pot up strawberry runners if you want to replace old plants or expand your strawberry bed. Trim back your lavender once it has finished flowering, to stop it growing leggy (but just the tops- don’t cut into old, woody stems).

2. Cut out the dead or diseased

Dead head and ‘dead leaf’ perennials and annuals to prolong flowering as long as possible and keep plants looking tidy. Cut back herbs (Chives, Chervil, Fennel, Marjoram etc.) to encourage a new flush of tasty leaves that you can harvest before the first frost. Dry or freeze your herbs to use in the kitchen later on or sow some in pots that you can bring inside later in the year.  Look out for symptoms of Clematis Wilt such as wilting leaves and black discolouration on the leaves and stems of your Clematis. Cut out any infected plant material and dispose of it in your household waste.

Clematis wilt

Clematis wilt

3. Water when necessary

Containers, hanging baskets and new plants in particular need a regular water and some will need to be fed too. Ideally use stored rainwater or ‘grey water’ (recycled from household washing, but only that without soap and detergents etc.). Keep ponds, bog gardens and water features topped up. Particularly thirsty plants include:

  • Phlox

  • Aster

  • Persicaria

  • Aconitum

  • Helenium

  • Monarda

4. Mulch

To conserve moisture in the soil around plants use a mulch of organic material. An easy option is grass clippings –  put these on a plastic sheet and leave for a day in the sunshine. Turn the pile of clippings and leave for another day, or until they have turned brown. Spread the mulch round each plant, but avoid covering the crown as you might encourage it to rot. As mulch attracts slugs avoid those plants that these pests enjoy – Hostas, Delphiniums etc. Check that any mulch applied earlier hasn’t decomposed and add more as needed. Ideally, spread a mid-season layer of compost or manure – this will act to conserve moisture and feed the plants too.

Harvest Sweet corn this month

Harvest Sweet corn this month

5. Harvest home

Pick vegetables such as Sweet Corn. Pinch out the top of tomato plants to concentrate the growth into the fruit that has already formed. Aim to leave 5 or 6 trusses of fruit per plant. If you’re going away ask a neighbour / friend to pick your flowers, salad and veg to prevent everything running to seed in your absence.

6. Last chance saloon 

In the early part of the month sow your last veg for autumn/ winter harvesting (e.g chard or spinach). You can also sow salad leaves under cover in warmer areas. And sow green manures in ground that is going to be left vacant for a few months so as to help maintain nutrient levels and to keep weeds down.

7. Think seeds

Gather seeds from plants you want to propagate in this way and store them/ seed heads in paper bags if it’s not yet ripe. And why not allow some self seeding in some areas? Mow wild flower meadows to allow seeds to spread for next year.

Divide Bearded irises to give the divisions time to establish

Divide Bearded irises to give the divisions time to establish

8. Divide to multiply 

If the weather and soil conditions allow, start dividing perennials, perhaps beginning with bearded Irises. Either replant the divisions in the garden or pot them up for later sales/swaps/gifts.

9. Cut to grow 

Take cuttings, an excellent way of increasing your woody and semi-woody plants like fuchsias and pelargoniums. Choose a healthy shoot and cut the top six inches, then remove all but the topmost leaves. For insurance, dip in a little rooting powder and place in moist compost. Keep them in a cold greenhouse from September and plant them in their positions next spring, when there is not much chance of heavy frost.

August is a good time for taking Fuchsia cuttings

August is a good time for taking Fuchsia cuttings

10. Enjoy and inspect

Spend a good amount of time in the garden enjoying it – asleep, with friends or just admiring what you and mother nature have created! And while you’re at it make notes / take photos of your borders etc. to identify any problem areas that need sorting out for next year; overcrowded groups of plants, gaps, areas lacking colour or interest, weak looking plants etc. And it’s also important to record good plant combinations you might want to repeat – or just take pictures of those good looking areas for the record.

Old School Gardener

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As flowers go over be sure to deadhead regularly where appropriate to encourage longer flowering on into the Autumn and generally prevent the garden from looking frazzled and messy.

Collect seed pods for those plants that you’re planning to re-seed, and those that you don’t want to reseed themselves.

Prune back your pleached fruit trees, leaving 3 or 4 leaves on each sideshoot.  If any of your other fruit trees need pruning, do this immediately after you have harvested.

Trim back your lavender once it has finished flowering, to stop it growing leggy.

Although weeds will be growing more slowly than in the spring, it’s an idea to continue to hoe the soil to keep them down. This should be done in warm, dry conditions to ensure any weed seedlings left on the surface dehydrate and die.

If you’re going away ask a neighbour / willing family member to pick your flowers, salad and veg to prevent everything running to seed in your absence.

Now is the time to look at your borders and note any gaps / congestion that you’ll want to rectify later in the season when everything has gone over, ahead of next year. And start your shopping list for Autumn bulbs.

And of course, at this time of year, watering is key. Keep on top of this daily, making sure you water in the morning or late afternoon-evening to prevent the heat evaporating all the water before it reaches the plant roots.

Grow Your Own

Flowers
Support your dahlias, lilies and gladioli with stakes and flower rings to ensure the weight of their beautiful flower doesn’t cause their stems to break.

Chrysanths will benefit from being pinched or sheared back, encouraging more growth and flowers.

Keep picking your cut flowers to encourage more blooms and a longer flowering season.

Towards the end of August you can start planning next year’s colour by sowing your hardy annuals.

Grow Your Own

Veg and Salad

Plant out your leeks and brassicas if you haven’t already, and you can also squeeze in a final sowing of spinach and chard in the first couple of weeks of August.

Sow salad leaves under cover, or out in the open if in warmer parts of the UK.


Herbs 
Sow Basil,  Marjoram, Borage, Chervil, Chives, Coriander, Dill, Parsley in pots outside, to make moving them indoors as easy as possible in the late autumn

Fruit
Transplant strawberry runners to a new position.

Ensure that your fruit crops aren’t pinched by the birds by covering with netting, ensuring the netting stands well clear of the fruit.

Harvesting Food – What you could be picking and eating this time next year, or – if you’re an old hand – already are 

– See more at: http://www.sarahraven.com/august-in-the-garden#sthash.xPIdXOO2.dpuf

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Carrot harvest via vegetables matter blogspotAs the heat (hopefully) builds, July’s the time to ease off and work smarter, not harder in the garden, and actually take time to enjoy it!

1. Food, glorious food…

  • Get a bumper vegetable harvest – now’s the time to reap a lot of what you’ve sown, but there’s still time to plant extra crops – like carrots
  • Pick courgettes before they become marrows
  • Sow chard for a winter crop
  • Summer prune redcurrants and gooseberries once the crop has been picked (or do it at the same time)
  • Keep an eye on the watering and try to do this early or late in the day to avoid evaporation during hot spells
  • Keep on top of the weeding in your food crops

2. Extend your flowering season

Now we’re in July your garden maybe just past its peak, so take some action to prolong the flowering value of some plants:

  • Cut back early-flowering perennials to the ground and they will send up fresh leaves and maybe even the bonus of some extra late-summer flowers (e.g Geraniums, Nepeta)
  • Give them a boost after pruning with a good soak of water and some tomato feed
  • Exploit plants’ desperate need to set seed by removing blooms as they fade. This will encourage them to produce more flowers to replace them
  • Remember that plants in containers are dependent on you for their water as they’ll get little benefit from any rain. Give them a good soak at least once a day in sunny weather

    Early flowerign perennila slike Oriental poppies can be cut back hard to encourage new foliage and some will also flower again

    Early flowering perennials like Oriental poppies can be cut back hard to encourage new foliage – and some will also flower again.

3.   Look after your pond

  • Look out for any yellowing leaves on water lilies and other water plants and remove them promptly- allowing them to fall off and rot in the water will decrease water quality and encourage algal ‘blooms’
  • Remove blanket weed with a net or rake to let oxygen into your pond. Remember to give aquatic life a chance to get back to the water by piling the weed next to the pond for a day. Add a football-sized net of straw to your pond (you can use old tights or stockings) to reduce the nitrogen levels if  blanket weed is a continuous problem
  • Top up water levels. Water can evaporate rapidly from water features and ponds in the height of summer, so top them up if the water level drops significantly. Fresh rainwater from a water butt is best – chemicals in tap water can affect the nutrient balance in the pond

    Water the greenhouse early or late in the day

    Water the greenhouse early or late in the day

4. Stay watchful in the greenhouse

  • Check plants daily, and once again, water first thing in the morning or in the evening to reduce water loss through evaporation
  • Harden off and plant out any plug plants that you have been growing on
  • Damp down your greenhouse on hot days to increase humidity and deter red spider mites; placing a bucket or watering can of water inside can help to maintain humidity
  • Open vents and doors daily to provide adequate ventilation
  • Use blinds or apply shade paint to prevent the greenhouse from over-heating in sunny weather

    Relax (note the old pallet turned into a stylish lounger) and plan ahead...

    Relax (note the old pallet turned into a stylish lounger) and plan ahead…

5. Relax in your Deck/armchair and…

  • Order catalogues for next year’s spring-flowering bulbs
  • Order perennial plants online now ready for autumn delivery
  • Think about which bulbs you would like for next spring – now is the time to order ready for autumn planting
  • Make a note of your garden’s pros and cons at this time of year to remind you of any changes that you need to make for next year – and take photos so that you can accurately see what it looks like once things have died down
  • Have a leisurely walk around the garden and use string of different colours tied to the stems of plants you are marking out for removal, division etc.
Encourage pest predators like hoverflies by attractive plantings and think about creating winter habitats now

Encourage pest predators like hoverflies by attractive plantings and think about creating winter homes for them now

6. Strengthen your alliance with nature for pest and disease control…

  • Look after your aphid eaters – ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings feast on greenfly and blackfly so it is worth protecting them by avoiding pesticides which will kill them as well as the pests. And why not take steps now to prepare suitable winter habitats for these and other ‘gardeners’ friends’ – e.g. bug hotels, timber piles, areas of long or rough grass or nettles etc.
  • Look for aphids on the underside of leaves – rub them off by hand or spray with an organic insecticide to prevent them multiplying
  • Keep an eye out for scarlet lily beetles on your lilies – remove and crush any you see. Also check for the sticky brown larvae on the underside of leaves
  • If your plants are wilting for no obvious reason then check for vine weevils by tipping your plants out of their pots and looking for ‘C’ shaped creamy maggots amongst the roots – treat with nematodes if vine weevils are spotted
  • Tidy up fallen leaves, flowers and compost – this will prevent potential pest and disease problems

7. Stop plants drying out

  • For recently planted large shrubs or trees, leave a hose trickling around the base for an hour. The same goes for established plants in very dry periods – pay particular attention to camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and hydrangeas which will abort next season’s flowers if they get too dry. Mulch around the roots when moist to help avoid this.
  • Recently planted hedges are best watered with a trickle hose (a length of old hose punctured with little holes) left running for an hour or so

8. Give houseplants a summer holiday

  • Many indoor plants benefit from being placed outside for the summer. Moving many plants out of the conservatory will save them from baking under glass, and lessen some pest and disease problems, such as red spider mite
  • Ventilate and shade sunrooms and conservatories to prevent scorch damage to remaining plants
  • Water houseplants freely when in growth, and feed as necessary (often weekly or fortnightly)

9. Paint your wagon…

  • Give woodwork like sheds, fences, pergolas etc. a lick of paint or preserver, while the weather is dry
Give your shed and other garden woodwork a fresh new look when the weather's dry.

Give your shed and other garden woodwork a fresh new look when the weather’s dry

10. Gimme shelter

  • Slow down and give yourself and your plants a rest from the heat; fix temporary awnings to provide shade in the hottest part of the day – for you and your tenderest plants!

Old School Gardener

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Oriental poppies can be sheared hard after flowering.

Oriental poppies can be sheared hard after flowering.

If May is the busiest gardening month, June is the month of nurture and bringing the garden to its midsummer best. You’ve made those sowings and now’s the time to plant out, protect and pamper. Here are my top ten tips for activity this month. I hope they’re useful.

1. Keep on mulching

Apply loose organic mulches to the soil now to keep it moist and deter weed growth. Choose a mulch to suit the situation, and apply it when the soil is wet and weed free. A mulch can also improve the visual appearance of a bed, and will act as a safe habitat for all sorts of beneficial creatures, such as centipedes and beetles, that eat slugs and other pests. You can use wood chips after they’ve been left for a year, so that when you put them on the soil they don’t rob it of nitrogen as they decompose. Or sow a ‘green manure’ cover crop on any bare ground. Buckwheat, phacelia, mustard and fenugreek are quick growing green manures that can be sown now. They’ll help to improve the ground, suppress weeds, make a good ground cover for beetles and other predators and, if you let them flower, buckwheat and phacelia are very attractive to bees – and people.

Wood chip mulch (as long as it's at leas ta year old) can be a good mulch to add around planst to conserve moisture and add goodness

Wood chips (as long as they’re at least a year old) can be a good mulch to add around plants to conserve moisture and add goodness

2. Fruit fooling 

Put netting over ripening soft fruit to keep the birds from getting it before you do. A special fruit cage is great, but a temporary structure covered with netting will do just as well. Strawberries should be forming and ripening fast and other soft fruits are coming on stream (though with the mild winter this all may be a couple of weeks earlier this year).  The fruitlets on fruit trees should be swelling. I’ve noticed another good show of blossom on most of my fruit trees this year, as last, and with no frost to speak of, the plum in particular seems to be developing a lot of fruit, so hopefully we’ll have a bumper harvest. Once the fruitlets are visible they can be thinned on apples, pears, plums and other tree fruit – and gooseberries too. This is vital if the ‘set’ has been good to ensure good sized fruit.

It’s also time to start summer pruning trained fruit like plums and cherries as well as trees or bushes. For trees and bushes, after getting rid of dead, diseased or dying branches try to encourage an open, wine goblet shape. Take out strong vertical growth or crossing branches to reduce the weight of the branches and congestion – a maximum of about 10-20% of living material can be removed. Keep watering fruit trees and bushes as much as you can, even after it has rained. Continue to harvest Rhubarb into July. Harvest the stalks with a gentle ‘twist and pull’ motion, rather than cutting them.

Simple net cages can help to protect fruit and veg from birds and butterflies

Simple net cages can help to protect fruit and veg from birds and butterflies

3. Veg and herbs

Earlier sowings of vegetables should be growing well now, with some early harvests possible towards the end of the month. I’ve yet to have my first pickings of autumn sown Broad Beans, but they’re on the way! Small, first pickings of the season are always particularly tasty. Don’t wait until everything is fully grown before you start to harvest. Also, if your first sowings and plantings have failed or are looking weak there is still time to sow some more. Runner beans should be in the ground and need to be encouraged to climb up their supports. They twist the other way from most other beans – clockwise when viewed from above.

Keep an eye on Brassica crops, such as cabbages, sprouts and calabrese, which are favourites with many pests, from aphids and whitefly to pigeons and rabbits – net these with a fine gauge mesh for reliable protection and remove insects by hand or water spray. Plant out pots of basil and other tender herbs.  Snails seem to love basil, so use plenty of deterrents and controls round new plants. You can also keep Basil indoors, on a sunny windowsill for larger, lusher leaves.

Encourage runner beans to twist around their supports

Encourage runner beans to twist around their supports

4. Weeds 

Hoe regularly to keep weeds under control. Keep the blade sharp and hoe when seedlings are small and in dry weather for the best results. Dig out bindweed on sight! This perennial weed hates disturbance, so as long as you can dig it out as soon as it sprouts, it will eventually give up. However, rockeries and shrubberies are difficult. Unless you lift everything out and dig the area over you won’t succeed. Mulching with a durable light-excluding material can work here. But there must be no light, and no holes. The bindweed must be completely smothered.

Create a ‘ Weed End Bag’  – this is a way ofrecycling’ pernicious weeds, such as bindweed, which you shouldn’t add straight to the compost heap. Stuff the plants into a black plastic sack or an old potting compost bag. Leave in an out-of-the-way corner until it all becomes sludge, then you can compost it.

Hoeing regularly makes weed control so much easier

Hoeing regularly makes weed control so much easier

5.  Steady as she goes

Finish off all top-dressing, staking and pruning tasks in the ornamental garden that may not have been completed last month. Cut back spring-flowering clematis this month, and cut down daffodil and other spring bulb foliage now. If possible add a slow release fertiliser (e.g. Fish, Blood and Bone) to feed the bulbs that you’re leaving in the ground – otherwise dig up the bulbs and store in a dry place (important if your soil is heavy and tends to retain moisture which will rot the bulbs left in). Tidy up spring-flowering shrubs now if necessary, by cutting out one third of the old wood to encourage strong new shoots. Forsythia can be hard cut to strong new shoots to encourage new growth that will flower next year. I’ve yet to do this, and the likes of Weigela, Deutzia and Kolkwitzia will also need doing soon, once they’ve finished flowering.

Cut oriental poppies back hard after flowering (mine are later this year, just coming into flower) – ideally, there should be something planted alongside to take over the space (e.g. hardy fuchsias). Deadheading many flowers as they go over this month can result in a second flowering, in particular this is worth doing for your hardy and half-hardy annuals, to ensure their one and only season lasts as long as possible. Perennials will also benefit – for example, later in the month Lupins and Delphiniums can be deadheaded to encourage a second flowering later in the summer.

6. Flower planting 

Fill any gaps in your borders with annual bedding plants. Water them regularly, particularly in drier weather and in the days after planting. Watering in hotter months is always better done in the morning or evening, to avoid scorching plants in the heat of the day. Sow biennials such as Wallflowers and Foxgloves for next year. If you are short of space these will be perfectly happy in pots in a sheltered spot until the autumn when they can then be planted in their final positions (though Wallflowers seem to do best in open ground). Water pots and baskets daily – even when it’s raining! Plants are growing vigorously and June sun can be very strong, so watering twice a day is sometimes necessary.

Phacelia is a 'green manure' and its flowers are a great source of food for bees

Phacelia is a ‘green manure’ and its flowers are a great source of food for bees

 

7. Greenhouse care 

Temperatures in greenhouses and conservatories will (hopefully) soar this month. Even a couple of days will be enough to cook plants. Ventilation and shading is essential. If you’re going away and have no helpful neighbour, put plants outside, or leave the greenhouse door wide open. Standing a bucket of water in the greenhouse will help to maintain humidity.

Keep newly planted veg well watered- an automatic seep hose system is great if you're going on holiday

Keep newly planted veg well watered- an automatic seep hose system is great if you’re going on holiday

8. Green, green grass of home 

Lawns don’t need watering. Grass may not look at its best in a drought, but it is a great survivor and will come back again when it rains. Unless you have newly laid turf to water in, leave the lawn to look after itself. Don’t mow the grass too short. Cutting height should be about 2.5cm/1” for the summer. If possible, rake before you mow. This lifts weeds up so that the mower blades catch them.

9. Trimming and growing 

Give Box and Yew hedges and topiary and bushes of Lonicera nitida a clip/trim, though, if like here, they seem to be well ahead this year, you might have already done this. Ideally do this on a dull, damp day to avoid the cut leaves of Box turning brown as they dry out in the sun. Give them a feed with a slow release fertiliser after clipping to help them recover. Repeat in September to keep topiary and hedges in a good shape over the winter. When trimming hedges, watch out for nesting birds. Some will still be feeding newly hatched chicks. Leave these areas alone for a few more weeks. June is a good month to take cuttings from some plants, and to save seed from others – early flowering plants, such as Aquilegia and Hellebores, will be setting seed from now on, though the Hellebores seem to have been early this year. If you collect Hellebore seeds before they form a hard seed coat, you can save yourself a lot of time and waiting. The seeds look black and shiny and are still slightly soft and wet. Sow these seeds immediately and they will germinate in a few days, instead of having to wait till the following spring. Take cuttings from hardy fuchsias and penstemons to grow more plants.

Give any Box topiary or hedges a trim this month- tradtionally done on 'Derby Day' in the UK!

Give any Box topiary or hedges a trim this month- tradtionally done on ‘Derby Day’ in the UK!

10. Wildlife friendly 

As we head into summer, bear in mind any little garden visitors you may have. If possible, why not put out a little extra food for birds and also for hedgehogs – warm and overly dry weather can mean there’s a lot less natural food available for these animals. Remember to fill up any bird baths and feeders as often as you can, and consider leaving a small bowl of water out for the hedgehogs too. Contrary to popular myth, hedgehogs should not be fed bread and milk, but actually ordinary cat or dog food is good for them!

Oh, and one last thing- spare some time to sit and enjoy your garden as (hopefully) the warm days of summer arrive!

With thanks to Garden Organic

Old School Gardener

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Hanging baskets can be planted up as the weather warms, but protect against late frosts.

Hanging baskets can be planted up as the weather warms, but protect against late frosts.

I’m catching up on my weeding, having left a quite an area for a couple of years and the Ground Elder getting a grip. The Tulips are nearly over, but the Hostas are opening up. As I’m away for much of June and July I’ve only just planted my second early potatoes, hoping that the delay will bring them to harvest just as we get home from a long trip to Australia. What are you up to in your garden? In case you need a few pointers, here are my tips for garden jobs in May.

Keeping weeds under control is a key job in May

Keeping weeds under control is a key job in May

1. Just weed away Renee…

Hoe borders to get rid of weeds before they get too big to remove easily – ideally do this on a dry day to kill them off by drying them out (or desiccating). Keep removing moss and weeds from paths, terraces and drives, ideally by hand (you can hoe out fresh weed growth in gravelled or other loose material drives and paths). Alternatively, use a weedkiller with glyphosate on paths if there’s too much to cope with or you have a more persistent problem.

2. Search for the ‘precious’ and keep hold of it

Water is precious! Use kitchen and bath water (as long as it isn’t too dirty, greasy or full of detergent) for watering. Collect rainwater (from downpipes and gutters with pipes into water butts or similar containers) and possibly look at some form of automatic irrigation for specific areas – for example, my friend has a simple micro – pipe, drip feed system to keep his containers moist. If you haven’t already done so, help to conserve moisture around your plants by mulching – especially shrubs and other perennials – any rotted organic material will do the job (including the contents of old grow bags). Make sure your planted pots and containers don’t dry out, especially where they are located near to a  wall or other spots where a ‘rain shadow’ means they don’t get wet when it rains.

Harvesting rainwater can help conserve water supplies- here three water butts are linked together so that overflow from one is saved to the others

Harvesting rainwater can help conserve water supplies- here three water butts are linked together so that overflow from one is saved to the others

3. Protection racket

There can be some big variations in temperatures in the garden during May so protect against night time frosts (e.g. using fleece, cloches or other coverings). If you have tender bedding or other plants make sure you keep these inside a greenhouse or cold frame until all risk of frost has passed in your area (generally the end of May here in Norfolk).

4. Feed me

As the soil is warming up and plants are starting to grow, add a general purpose fertiliser (e.g. Fish, Blood and Bone) to key shrubs, perennials, fruit, vegetable borders and containers before covering with mulch.

Scarlet lily beetle

Scarlet Lily beetle

5. Pest watch

Keep watch for pests in the garden. Ideally, avoid using chemical controls as they may also kill off beneficial insects that prey on the pests you are trying to kill off (as well as being useful pollinators) – e.g. ladybirds and hoverflies. This is the time to get a grip on slugs and snails! They’ll go for tulips, young shoots of Delphiniums, Hostas etc. Use wildlife – friendly slug pellets or ‘beer traps’, drench Hostas with liquid slug killer to kill off slugs below the surface or go for a biological control – nematodes carry a lethal bacterial infection for the slimy things. Keep an eye out for Lily beetles (bright red beetles with black heads- I’ve already squashed a couple) or their yellowish larvae, and also black-spotted, green caterpillars of the gooseberry sawfly. Squash away! Before birds can get to their new buds, it’s wise, if possible, to net fruit bushes. Netting installed over newly planted brassicas is also a wise precaution and/or some form of bird scarer in the vegetable garden (I’ve found the plastic tape you stretch out between two posts and which vibrates in the breeze is quite effective, and I’ve also got a very lifelike plastic owl!).

Pinching out broad bean tips

Pinching out broad bean tips

6. Grow to eat

If you don’t fancy growing your own vegetables and herbs from seed or perhaps don’t need to grow that much, its possible to buy ‘teenage plantlets’ from garden centres. I’ve found things like celery work well this way, saving you time and giving you strong little plants to plant out. Remember to harden these off gradually before putting them out in the garden. If you do want to seed sow, now’s the time to get many different crops underway – remember to look carefully at the instructions on the packet and sow away – its a good idea to sow a little now and some more later to ensure a continuous supply and so avoid gluts that you can’t use (or soon get bored with!).

You can also plant out brassicas and quick growing crops such as lettuces and radishes between them to make good use of the space you have. Sweet peppers, tomatoes, aubergines and salads can also be planted in the greenhouse. Developing Broad bean plants should have their growing tips pinched out to discourage blackfly, and its sensible to put up a border of canes connected by string around the block of plants to support them as they grow heavy with newly forming bean pods.

As potato stems start to peep above the ground you should ‘earth up’ – just draw over more soil from the surrounding area to cover the new shoots once they are about 15 – 20cms tall. This will help to prevent those near the surface going green and becoming inedible and reducing the risk of blight (it might also increase your crop and make lifting the potatoes easier). This needs to be done every few weeks in the early growth period. Strawberry plants can be planted in the ground, in containers or even hanging baskets (as can some ‘tumbling’ varieties of tomato).

7. Sward play

Mowing the lawn frequently is important – if you leave it too long between cuts, the job becomes harder and the grass gets tougher and rougher (you could opt for a wildflower meadow of course and let some or all of the grass grow longer, or maybe reduce your mowing area). A weekly mow is probably advisable, but keep an eye on the weather and don’t cut if a hot, dry spell is expected, to avoid scorching the grass. Established lawns can be fed if you haven’t already done so and are keen to get a good looking, healthy lawn. You can just about get away with sowing  a new lawn this month as well as finishing off any repairs to an established lawn by sowing bare patches or replacing these with turf.

Tying in Sweet peas as they grow

Tying in Sweet peas as they grow

8. Get a grip

Clematis that have been pruned hard (‘if it flowers before June, don’t prune’) are probably now starting to grow quite fast, so regular tying in of their stems will ensure you don’t end up with a tangled mess of a plant with brittle stems that break easily, later in the year! The growing tips of young sweet peas should also be pinched out to encourage bushier side growth and more flowers – and tie these stems in to your supports as they grow, just like the clematis. Alternatively pinch out early side shoots to encourage a single stem (or ‘cordon’) which can be tied onto a cane (see picture above)- this will encourage bigger but fewer flowers.

9. Spring cleaning

Some plants will have finished flowering this month and it’s important not to forget them (I must say this is something I regularly do!). Perennials such as Pulmonaria should have their old foliage cut off, and then large clumps can be lifted and divided and replanted with plenty of water and organic fertiliser. Likewise, young self – seeded Polyanthus can be lifted and moved to a nursery bed for planting out next spring. Narcissi and Tulips should be deadheaded as the flowers die off and if possible the plants sprinkled with bone meal or a liquid foliar feed. Ideally, let the leaves of these bulbs die down naturally, as they will still be soaking up the sunlight and so help to swell the bulbs underground for a good show next year. Spreading and trailing plants such as Alyssum and Aubrieta (Aubretia) can be cut back to encourage fresh growth.

Cut back early flowering plants like Aubretia to encourage new growth

Cut back early flowering plants like Aubretia to encourage new growth

10. Trooping the colour

Tubs, pots and other containers as well as hanging baskets can be planted up for extra flowers and colour in the summer, but keep these under cover if frost threatens and gradually harden them off before finally positioning them outside. Go for a limited colour range for impact – purple and gold, red and green or blue and white?

Old School Gardener

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seed sowingWell, how’s the weather been with you? In the last week or two the sun has shone and it’s been glorious gardening in Norfolk!

The weather seems pretty settled, though it’s April, so things can be wet and windy…. If, like me, you might still be a bit behind with one or two things, my first tip won’t be a surprise!

1. Backtrack

Take a look at my last list of tips and see if any still need to be done, as the warmer weather might encourage you to get outside…

As the weather warms divide overgrown waterlillies and maybe add some to your pond

As the weather warms divide overgrown waterlillies and maybe add some new plants to your pond

2. Pond life

April is normally the month to lift and divide waterlilies, replanting divided plants in aquatic compost topped with washed gravel in a planting basket.  It’s also time to plant up some new aquatic plants in your pond, from friends and neighbours, if not the local nursery. Providing a variety of plants will provide food and shelter for many of your pond ‘critters’ in the next few months. Make sure you have enough oxygenating plants to prevent algae developing. While you’re there, and if you didn’t do it last month, check your pond pumps and filters.

Aphids on beans

Aphids on beans

3. Pest watch

Stay vigilant for aphids – green-fly, black-fly – as they will  start to multiply as the weather begins to warm up. Check all your plants regularly, especially roses, and squash any clusters of them with your fingers, or spray with a solution of crushed garlic and water to remove them organically. The first lily beetles may start to appear – pick off the bright red beetles and squash them. Keep (or start) patrolling for slugs and snails and pick these off and ‘dispose’ of them as you wish. Alternatively use a beer trap or pellets that do not contain Metaldehyde.

If you're a keen cook and you have the space, you may want to create a special herb garden like this- or if not just find a sunny spot for a few fragrant favourites!

If you’re a keen cook and you have the space, you may want to create a special herb garden like this- or if not just find a sunny spot for a few fragrant favourites!

4. Heaven scent

Why not sow a range of herbs as the weather starts to warm up? These could include sage, parsley, thyme, fennel and rosemary, which will all add scent to the garden as well as being useful for cooking. Sow the assorted herb seeds in a prepared seed bed in shallow drills at least 30cm apart. You can plant seedlings up into containers or beds – either way they like a well-prepared soil with plenty of organic matter, such as homemade compost. Herbs will tolerate most conditions, as long as they have plenty of regular sun, so be careful where you put your herb plot – mine is too shady!

5. Nature’s gift

Check for emerging self-seeded plants and transplant or pot these ‘freebies’ up before weeding and mulching your borders.

6. Stay in trim

Lavender and other silver-leaved plants will benefit from a tidy up if you haven’t already shorn them of the top few centimetres of growth (but avoid cutting into thicker, older stems unless you want to renovate over-grown specimens – I’ve did this to my rather large rosemary bush last year and its come back fighting!). Start trimming box hedges and topiaries, or wait another three to four weeks in colder areas. Prune early flowering shrubs like Forsythia, Ribes etc. once they’ve finished flowering. Deadhead daffodils as soon as the flowers fade, so they don’t waste their energy producing seeds. Apply a general feed to them like Blood, Fish and Bone.

Red Cabbage seedlings on one of my 'seedy cills'

Red Cabbage seedlings on one of my ‘seedy cills’

7. Transfer window

Prick out and pot on seedlings before they become leggy and overcrowded. See my post on ‘7 tips for successful seedlings’.

8. Under cover

Ventilate greenhouses and cold frames in good weather to prevent a build-up of pests and diseases. Start giving houseplants more water. Protect fruit blossom and young plants from late frosts with horticultural fleece.

Easter time is the traditional planting time for early potatoes in the UK, though I've already got my 'first earlies' in.

Easter time is the traditional planting time for early potatoes in the UK, though I’ve already got my ‘first earlies’ in.

9. Spud you like

Good Friday is the traditional day for potato planting (ideally in ground that is well-manured and weed free)! As Easter was early this year and the weather has been on the cold side, I’m going to put my first and second earlies in over the next week or two.

10. Sow ‘n’ grow

These can all be sown outside, if the weather and soil has warmed up:

  • hardy annuals (e.g. Calendula and Nasturtium), in shallow drills or patches

  • new lawns (and also repair bald patches and damaged edges) – if this wasn’t done last month

  • veg, like runner, broad and French beans, beetroot, carrots, cabbages, salad onions, spinach, herbs and Brussels sprouts.

Vegetables like courgette, marrows, tomato and sweetcorn can be started off indoors.

Old School Gardener

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Now's the time for cleaning up in the garden

Now’s the time for cleaning up in the garden

1. Elf  ‘n’ safetee

  • Frosts can still be a hazard, so keep vulnerable plants protected at night if frost is forecast (fleece or cloches). March winds are also ferocious so make sure exposed plants are well supported.

  • Remove moss and weeds from paths, terraces and driveways. Dissolve washing soda crystals in hot water and brush over paths and patios to remove green algae – it’s cheaper than specialist treatments off the garden centre shelf.

  • Protect new spring shoots from slugs. There is a wide range of possible methods – why not  try an organic one?

Fork over your borders

Fork over your borders

2. Making your bed

  • Prepare seed beds – lightly fork and rake over to achieve a fine tilth, removing larger stones,weeds etc..

  • On your borders clear up any remaining dead stems, leaves etc. and then weed, fork over and add nutrients – incorporate as much organic matter as you can. You can add a mulch on top of the bare soil to suppress further weeds and keep moisture in.  This might be of composted bark (at least a year old to avoid it removing nutrients from the soil). A 5cm deep layer, spread before the soil dries out, and with newspapers between the soil and the mulch, will slow down the rate the bark decomposes, so it could last for 2 – 3 years.

  • Thawing and freezing conditions may have  lifted some plants – give any that have risen out of the soil a gentle firm around the stem.

Now's the time to divide and transplant perennials

Now’s the time to divide and transplant perennials

3. Moving on – position your plants

  • Late March/early April is a good time to transplant shrubs and trees – as soon as the soil is workable, but before buds have swelled or broken open.

  • Divide and transplant summer perennials and fertilize established ones as soon as new growth appears.

  • Plant summer – flowering bulbs and tubers (e.g. gladiola, lilies and dahlias). You can continue planting additional bulbs every couple of weeks until mid June to ensure a longer flowering period.

  • Check that any plants growing against the house walls and under the eaves or under tall evergreens have sufficient moisture – incorporating organic matter will help with moisture retention.

  • Plant ornamental grasses (or lift, divide and replant existing ones) and mix them in with your shrubs and perennials.

  • Plant shallots, onion sets and early potatoes towards the end of the month

  • This is the best time to move snowdrops – “in the green”. Once the flowers have faded dig up the plants, take care not to damage the bulb or the foliage. Tease out the bulbs into smaller groups and replant them straight away at the same depth, watering to settle the soil around the roots.

  • Plant Primroses and Pansies.

Onion sets can be planted out

Onion sets can be planted out

4. Cut above – pruning for growth

  • Cut back winter shrubs and generally tidy up around the garden.

  • Cut back established Penstemons.

  • Prune winter Jasmine after flowering.

  • Cut Honeysuckle back to strong buds about 1m above ground and remove some older stems to encourage new growth at the base.

  • Finish pruning fruit trees before the buds swell.

  • Roses can be pruned this month – and start feeding them (all-purpose fertiliser and/or manure).

  • Remove any plain green stems from variegated shrubs otherwise they will eventually all revert to green.

 5. Stake out

  • Gather sticks or buy plant supports and get them in place around perennials that are likely to need support – best do it now so you don’t trample on surrounding new growth in the border and before the plants grow too tall or bushy to put in supports easily. Try making ‘lobster pot’ shapes over the plant base by weaving pliable willow, dog wood or hazel cuttings from coppiced plants – these look more natural than metal supports.

6. Feed and Weed

  • Give bulbs that have finished blooming some fertilizer – a ‘bulb booster’ or bone meal.

  • Top dress containers with fresh compost.

  • Fertilize shrubs and trees if this wasn’t done in February.

  • Use an Ericaceous fertilizer to feed acid-loving evergreens, conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.

  • Use an all-purpose fertilizer for deciduous trees and shrubs – Bonemeal and/or Fish, Blood and Bone are ideal..

  • Fruit trees and bushes will benefit from a high potash feed (wood ashes is one source) – a liquid feed of tomato fertilizer on the strawberries is also well worth a try!

  • Regularly hoe vegetable beds so that weeds are not taking any available moisture or nutrients.

  • Mulch all fruit with your own compost or well-rotted farm manure, making sure it does not touch the stems, as this can cause rot.

  • Turnover your compost pile to encourage new activity and generate future supplies of compost to feed your garden!

  • Pot indoor plants into bigger pots if they need a ‘refresh’ or if the roots have filled the existing pot. Increase the frequency of feeding indoor plants (high nitrogen feed for plants grown for their leaves and high potash for those grown for their flowers).

Seeds can be sown in trays or open ground - or in these modules for easier transplanting

Seeds can be sown in trays or open ground – or in these modules for easier transplanting

7. Sow, sow, sow

  • Sow seeds of summer plants indoors, in propagators or in trays or modules on window cills or other light, frost – free places.

  • Sow seeds outdoors once the soil has warmed up (use cloches or coverings a week or two before you sow to warm the soil) – only plant small amounts of veg that you actually like to eat and choose well – tried, hardy veg varieties that don’t mind the cold – carrots, peas, broad beans, spinach, radish, parsnips and leeks.

  • You’ll need labels, finely raked soil and a string line or cane to help you sow straight – and ensure you sow at the right depth and spacing.

8. Grassed up

  • Repair damaged lawns with new seeding or turf – choose the right grass mix for your situation and expected use.

  • Make it easier to mow your lawn by eliminating sharp, awkward corners – create curves that you can mow round.

  • Remove a circle of grass from the base of trees in the lawn (ideally at least 1m diameter, but possibly more for bigger trees), and mulch with chopped bark/compost. It will take less time to cut round the trees, the trees will benefit from the cleared space underneath, and you’ll avoid colliding with and damaging the tree trunk.

  • As soon as possible start cutting the grass. If it has not been cut since last autumn it will be long, tufted – and probably hard work! Choose a dry day, and once the soil has dried out sufficiently. Cut it to about 5cm and remove the cuttings, and on the same day (or soon after), cut it again to half this height. .

nest box9. Critter care

  • Buy or make nesting boxes to attract birds to your garden (see simple construction pic from the British Trust for Ornithology opposite).   Hang them on a wall rather than from trees if you have cats in the area.

  • Carry on putting food out for birds but make sure there are now no large pieces – these are potentially harmful to fledglings.

  • Keep the bird bath topped up with water

  • If your wildlife pond does not have any frogspawn try to get some from another pond that has plenty. Check any submersible pumps and clean filters. Thin out oxygenating plants

10. Dear diary

  • Get a notebook and use it to keep important gardening information; what you plant in the garden, where you got it from; planting /transplanting dates; harvesting dates and quantity/ quality of the crops. Also record any pest or disease problems, what was done and how effective this was. All this information will be helpful in planning your garden in future years.

Old School Gardener

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New border? February is a good time to cut out new areas ,like this one at Old school Garden, created last year

New border? February is a good time to cut out new areas, like this one at Old School Garden, created in 2012

 

Apart from some grey, cold days, we seem to have escaped the sort of raw winter in Norfolk. It might not be safe to assume that the worst of the winter is behind us, but Spring is just round the corner so here are my 10 top tips for upping activity levels in the February garden!

1. Where the wild things are…

It’s the last chance to put up bird nesting boxes this month – tits will soon be looking for a new home. Keep putting bird food out to encourage these ‘gardener’s friends’ into your plot. Click here for bird boxes and feeders to buy.

Bird boxes in all shapes and sizes…

 

2. Breathe deep…..

To help avoid fungal diseases make sure you let some fresh air into your greenhouse or conservatory on mild days.

3. The green green grass of home….

Look at your lawn and if the weather is dry and frost free look for areas that are a bit soggy or damp – use a border fork to pierce it around every 15cms or so to allow ventilation and improve drainage. If you’ve a moss problem, start using ferrous sulphate to kill it off.

4. Fruit shoots…

If you haven’t already done so plant new bare-root raspberry canes (cut the stems down to about 25cms after planting) and also cut down autumn-fruiting varieties to ground level.

February is a good time to dig over your borders- but maybe not quite as deeply as this...

February is a good time to dig over your borders- but maybe not quite as deeply as this…

 

5. Get Cultivating…..

Keep digging over beds and borders and incorporate organic matter (compost, manure etc.) as you go to help improve its fertility (or if your soil is light, like here, avoid the digging and just layer on the organic stuff for light forking in later). Forking over the ground will help to open it up so that air can get in and expose pests for hungry birds.

6. On the border…

Storms, floods or cold may have battered your borders; or perhaps you’re thinking of adapting them to wetter weather? Now’s the time to review – do you need to reposition or replace some shrubs to improve the structure of the garden in winter or do some shrubs need to be replaced with more hardy/wet – tolerant varieties? Think about the way your borders look at different times of the year – is there ‘all season’ interest? Maybe you fancy creating a new border? – if so plan and mark the edges with pegs and lines (straight edges) or a trickle of sand/hose pipe for more organic shapes. You can also cut border edges where they meet the lawn with a ‘half moon’ or sharp spade to start defining your lawn and making things look a little tidier.

Pruning shrubs grown for their winter stem colour such as Dogwoods

Pruning shrubs grown for their winter stem colour such as Dogwoods

 

7. Cutting crew…

An important month for pruning and tidying:

  • Late summer and autumn flowering clematis should be cut down to about 30cms above a bud.

  • Improve the shape of evergreen shrubs and hedges where necessary

  • (If you haven’t already) cut all shoots coming from the permanent branches of Wisteria to 2-3 buds of the previous season’s growth (encourages the development of more flowering spurs).

  • Deciduous shrubs grown for their coloured leaves or winter stems– prune down to a couple of buds on each stem (or if you want a larger bush leave a few stems a bit longer).

  • Roses– cut out all dead, diseased, dying or crossing stems. Hybrid tea roses should be cut back to about 20cms to an outward facing bud and Floribundas (flowers in clusters) down to 25- 30cms. Shrub roses don’t need much trimming, perhaps remove 1 in 3 older stems at ground level to encourage new growth.

  • Tidy up the leaves of Hellebores which will be/are coming into flower –remove the old leaves (improves the flower display and reduces the chance of disease)

  • If you have Pansies or Primroses keep deadheading the spent flowers.

8. Gimme gimme…

Feed all your pruned plants with a suitable fertiliser and mulch with manure or compost. Remove the top layer of soil in containers and replace with fresh compost containing a slow release fertiliser once the weather is milder. Likewise remove or incorporate any remaining mulch around fruit trees and shrubs and feed them with an organic fertiliser (e.g. fish, blood and bone) around their roots. Then replace with a fresh mulch of organic material to help feed them slowly and keep the weeds down.

repair/install netting around fruit bushes

Repair/install netting around fruit bushes

 

9. Protect and survive…

Use garden fleece or cloches around some strawberry plants to encourage an early crop. Repair or replace netting over fruit bushes such as blackcurrants and gooseberries to protect them from birds (some of which like to eat fresh fruit buds). Have a look for ‘frost heave’– where cold conditions have pushed the base of a plant above ground- carefully replace the plant and firm around the base. If you have Hostas it might be worth applying a liquid slug killer to them (repeated at 2 fortnightly intervals) to give them a good chance of avoiding damage later.

10. Get growing…

Sowing seeds in trays or modules can really get underway this month

Sowing seeds in trays or modules can really get underway this month

 

Early vegetable and salad crops can be sown in seed trays or modules and placed in a greenhouse or inside on a windowsill in bright and airy conditions (but not in direct sunshine)- keep turning the trays to ensure even, upright growth and prick the seedlings out once the first true leaves have formed. Broad beans, early carrots and parsnips can be sown outside under cloches.

Old School Gardener

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Winter Jasmine looking good

Winter Jasmine looking good

I wish all my blog followers and casual readers a very Happy 2017!!

In previous years I’ve said how I view January with a little trepidation..‘I’m a SAD person. Even though my birthday falls in January I find it the most depressing of months- due to the low light levels, I think.’

Well, this year, things feel rather different..partly because of some great family news and a Christmas with all our children and their partners around us, and partly because I can see some exciting gardening projects on the horizon…let’s hope the positivity continues!

As I’ve said before, you might think that January is a month when there’s not much to do in the garden; well there are a number of useful things you can get stuck into, so here are my top ten tips (with a ‘grow your own food’ angle and with thanks to various websites):

Chitting potatoes- probably only worth doing for first or second earlies. Place tubers with blunter ends upwards (the ones with most ‘eyes’) and place in trays in a cool but well- lit place towards the end of the month.

chitting pots

1. The answer is in the soil.

Remove all plant debris, to reduce the spread of disease and pests. If you need to, continue preparing ground and digging beds ready for next season, but only if the ground is still workable (don’t dig if the soils is wet or heavily frosted).

2. Don’t let the rot set in.

Check your stored fruit and vegetables carefully, for rot will pass easily one to another. Empty sacks of potatoes, checking them for rot and any slugs that might have been over-wintering unnoticed. Your nose is a good indicator, often you will smell rot even if it is not immediately apparent to the eye! Also check strung onions- rot usually starts from the underside of the onion.

 3. Enjoy your winter veg.

Continue harvesting Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbages, celeriac, celery, chard, endive, kale, leeks, parsnips, turnips, winter lettuce, winter spinach, turnips. As you harvest brassicas, dig up the stems and turn the ground over. Because the compost heap will be cold and slow at this time of year, you can always bury these in the bottom of a trench along with some kitchen waste to prepare for the runner beans later in the year.

Red cabbage- lovely sliced and steamed with apple and onion in a little water, wine vinegar and sugar…

Red cabbage- lovely sliced and steamed with apple and onion in a little water, wine vinegar and sugar...

 4. Get ahead of the game.

Continue to sow winter salad leaves indoors/ under glass/ cloches- make your stir fries and salads more interesting with easy-to-grow sprouting seeds. If not already done and the weather is mild, plant garlic, onion sets and sow broad beans (e.g. Aquadulce ‘Claudia’) for early crops. Order or buy seed potatoes and start chitting (sprout) seed potatoes. Herbs are easy to grow on your windowsill and provide fresh greens all year round.

5. Not mushroom?

It’s surprisingly easy to grow your own mushrooms – try growing a mushroom log in your garden or alternatively grow some indoors using mushroom kits.

Mushroom-Logs

Mushroom logs can make you a fun guy…! 

6. Rhubarb, Rhubarb.

Consider dividing well established plants, and at the first signs of growth, cover to exclude light if you want ‘forced’ rhubarb over the next couple of months (growing the variety ‘Timperley Early’ may mean you get rhubarb in February anyway).

 7. The hardest cut.

Continue pruning out dead or diseased shoots on apple and pear trees, prune newly planted cane fruit, vines and established bush fruit if not already done. Continue planting new fruit trees and bushes if the soil conditions allow. If the ground is too waterlogged or frozen, keep bare rooted plants in a frost free cool place ensuring the roots don’t dry out.

8. Clean up.

If not already done, make sure your greenhouse is thoroughly cleaned inside and out and that any seed trays and pots you plan to use are also cleaned and inspected for pests- e.g. slugs and snails.

9. Fail to plan and you plan to fail.

Plan out what you are going to grow in the coming season and order seed catalogues.

pback1_1380165c 10. Put your back into it.

If you must dig, look after your back- remember to warm up and limber up before you do anything strenuous and try to bend your knees to ensure your legs take the strain – and not your back!

Old School Gardener

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