Category: Monthly Top ten gardening tips


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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Make your own Christmas Wreath?

Make your own Christmas Wreath?

December’s key gardening tasks may seem a little like November’s (and January’s too). But it’s important to be determined and to keep on top of some routine jobs, especially leaf raking (and leaf mould making), and clearing away spent stems and leaves from areas where, if left, they will encourage pests and diseases (but don’t be too tidy). On the other hand, the pace of activity has definitely slowed, so you can afford to take it a bit easier this month (well I  suppose that should read transferring your energies from gardening to christmas shopping, putting up christmas decorations etc.).

Here are a few ideas to help you stay connected to your garden during the onset of winter.

1. Digging (and mulching)

Continue to dig over beds and borders and incorporate as much organic matter as you can (spade work in heavier soils, or border forks in lighter soils like that in Old School Garden). This will not only help to prepare the soil for next year, it will reduce some pests by exposing them to hungry birds. If conditions are too wet or the ground frozen, avoid digging and instead spread a good layer of organic mulch- and let the worms do the work for you over the winter.

2. Clearing

It’s important to clear away old plant debris to prevent slugs and snails setting up home in the warm and damp conditions layers of leaves and stems can create.  Take special care to remove leaves around alpines – they will die if covered up in damp material. It’s also worth covering bare patches around these plants with a top up of gritty compost to aid new growth. But don’t be too tidy as you’ll remove valuable cover and shelter for hibernating animals and insects.

3. Planting

From now through until March is a great time to plant deciduous hedging (bare – rooted whips can be bought from nurseries). Some varieties – Beech and Hornbeam for example –  will retain their old leaves over the winter, and provide good screens. Hawthorn is good for a traditional country hedge and provides a natural, dense barrier (you can add in dogwoods, maple, dog rose and guelder rose to increase the wildlife value). To plant hedging first dig a trench a week or two before planting. This will allow the soil to settle. Then plant out your whips when the ground is moist (but not waterlogged or frozen). If the right conditions are a little while coming either ‘heel in’ your plants somewhere temporarily or keep them in compost in containers. Other trees and shrubs can also be planted – but again, wait for the right conditions.

It’s also a good time to take cuttings from rhododendrons, azaleas, and other evergreen shrubs. New growing tips should be cut to about 10-15 cms long, just below a leaf node, strip off most of the lower leaves and place the cuttings in pots of gritty compost in bright light, keep them moist and at a temperature of around 21 degrees C.

Hedeg planting- now's the time to get started

Hedge planting- now’s the time to get started

4. Protecting

Mulch Hellebores with wood chips to protect their flowers from rain splashes and remove any black spotted leaves (a fungal disease).

Lift any Dahlias in potentially cold and wet positions and store them in a gritty compost or vermiculite somewhere dry, cool but frost-free for the winter. It’s best to leave these (and any begonias you want to keep) in the ground for as long as possible to fatten their tubers- lift after the foliage has been blackened by frost.

Keep an eye on temperatures and if there’s a sudden drop forecast, then erect a temporary cover for tender flowering plants like Rhododendrons, Camellias, Azaleas and Daphne. A few stakes driven into the soil around the plant and a covering of fleece or a sheet should do the job. But make sure the material doesn’t touch the plant and remove the cover as soon as the temperature rises.

Avoid your hose freezing and splitting by stretching it out with both ends open, so allowing water to drain completely. It can then be coiled up and put away somewhere frost free. Likewise make sure any outside taps are covered to protect them from freezing.

Prevent your compost bin from getting too wet or frozen (and so slowing the decomposition process), by covering it with old carpet or plastic sheeting.

5. Decorating

Why not cut some shoots and branches for Christmas decorations and maybe make your own wreaths? Add in cones, dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and broad, wired ribbon.

If you normally have an artificial or cut Christmas tree, why not consider buying a rooted one this year? They don’t cost that much more and can be planted out to add a feature to your garden as well as saving a living tree! Make sure that you water a living tree well before bringing it inside and limit the tree’s ‘indoor holiday’ to no more than 10 days, making sure you keep it watered and ideally not in a warm room. Here’s a link to advice on caring for your tree.

A living Christmas Tree this year? In some places you can rent them!

A living Christmas Tree this year? In some places you can rent them!

6. Feeding

Now’s when birds start to go short of natural food, so provide good quality bird food and fat or suet balls, ensuring that feeders are out of the reach of cats. And make sure clean water is available and remains unfrozen.

7. Pruning- or not

Have a quick whisk round trees and shrubs and cut out dead, diseased or dying branches. The spurs on smaller fruit trees can be thinned out, and new horizontal tiered branches on Espaliers can be tied in. Apples, pears, quinces and medlars can be pruned. Cut down the canes of Autumn fruiting raspberries (or leave these in place until February if they are in an exposed position) and prune gooseberries, red and white currants.

Now is the time for coppicing native trees and shrubs. This technique is good for limiting the size of trees in small gardens, turning a tree into a multi-stemmed shrub. It will also provide shelter for wildlife and a breeding ground for butterflies, and lets more light through to the surrounding plants that would otherwise be shaded out by a bigger tree. This opens up the possibility of planting bulbs and ground cover plants around the tree.  Pollarding involves pruning to create a single main trunk, with cutting back of higher level stems. If you are growing shrubs for winter stem colour- e.g Cornus, then wait until spring to cut back the stems to the base.

Avoid cutting back all your perennials as they can provide food and shelter for wildlife in the winter. Anyway, many perennials (e.g. Agapanthus and Rudbeckia) have attractive seed heads and so add a little interest to the winter garden. I particularly like to leave the bleached stems of deciduous grasses in Old School Garden.

Bird Feeders just put up at Old School Garden...must remember the water bowl too!

Bird Feeders just put up at Old School Garden…must remember the water bowl too!

8. Harvesting

If you have them, these crops should all be ready for harvesting:

  • Beetroot

  • Turnips

  • Parsnips (best left until the weather has been frosty)

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Celery

  • Swedes

  • Cabbages

  • Leeks

9. Watering

Rain or snow might tempt you to think you don’t need to water your plants, but those which are growing underneath large evergreens or the eaves of the house or in other ‘rain shadows’, may become very dry. A lack of water in winter can be the death knell for these plants.

10. Winter projects

The weather may be good enough for you to complete a special project to enhance your garden:

  • Add a few native trees and shrubs into your borders and more exotic plantings

  • Build a compost heap – use old pallets to get the cheapest, most effective and sturdiest result

  • Feed hedgehogs with tinned dog food (but not bread and milk)

  • ‘Create’ a pile of sticks and logs to make a wonderful ‘des res’ for hibernating hedgehogs and the like

  • Make a leaf container out of chicken wire and posts to make leaf mould out of fallen leaves (it normally takes about 1 – 2 years to rot down). Alternatively they can be stored wet in large black plastic sacks pierced with a fork to make holes

  • Dig a wildlife pond

Oh, and finally, stay off frozen grass!!!

Old School Gardener

bonfireNovember is upon us, the clocks have ‘gone back’, the days continue to shorten as temperatures fall. What is there to do in the garden this month? Here’s a list of ten top ‘to do’s’ to keep you busy!

1. Clean

  • Rake up fallen leaves – especially from lawns, ponds and beds. Put the leaves in a leaf cage or black bags to create leaf mould to use on your garden over the next few years.

  • Cut down herbaceous stems and clear the remains of annuals, but leave those perennials that fade relatively elegantly (sedum, astilbes and grasses for example).

  • Clear out the greenhouse, wash pots and trays, clean, mend and oil your tools and throw away anything that is beyond hope of reasonable repair!

2. Burn

Keep leaf raking and saving to make leaf mould

Keep leaf raking and saving to make leaf mould

  • If you need to, use a seasonal bonfire (where this is allowed) to dispose of material that can’t be composted. Follow good neighbour and eco friendly practices- avoid smoke nuisance and don’t use petrol/diesel or burn plastics etc.

3. Dig

  • This month is probably your last chance to prepare your soil before winter sets in. If it’s heavy, clear the weeds, dig it over and add organic matter to the soil as you dig or lay a thick mulch on top and let the worms do the work for you!

  • If you produce a fine tilth, protect it from winter rain, which will damage the soil structure – use a good layer of compost and/or leaf mould, sow a green manure or even lay plastic sheeting over it. The soil will be easier to plant or sow into the following spring.

3.Plant

  • Finish planting spring bulbs such as narcissi, crocuses and alliums – even though it’s a little late!

  • Plant tulip bulbs – the cooler soil helps prevent the fungal disease ‘tulip fire’. Plant bulbs in containers or in a sunny spot at 2 – 3 times their own depth and double their width apart. They can also be used to fill gaps in beds and borders, under shrubs and trees or naturalised in grass or woodland. Remember that tulips like good drainage and ideally should lie on a thin layer of grit if your soil is heavy, to prevent rotting.

  • Pot up amaryllis bulbs, water, keep them initially in a dark, warm place, then in daylight as leaves appear – hopefully you’ll have glorious colour for Christmas!.

  • Plant bare-rooted trees, shrubs, hedging and roses as well as fruit trees and bushes. Soak the roots in a bucket of water for an hour before planting.

  • Sow over-wintering onion sets, broad beans and garlic.

    Sow Broad Beans now for a heavier crop next year

    Sow Broad Beans now for a heavier crop next year

4. Divide

  • Perennials such as daylilies, Asters (Michaelmas daisies) and Golden Rod can be divided and replanted. Cut them down to about 8- 10cms, dig them up and divide carefully. If your soil is heavy clay, do this in the spring. All other perennials are also best left until the spring, especially peonies which dislike being split in cold weather and ‘warm season’ grasses like Miscanthus.

5. Prune

  • Roses  and tall shrubs (Lavatera and Buddleja for example) should be pruned lightly to prevent wind-rock (reduce stems by about a half). Pruning can be carried out from now on throughout the dormant season. Once the leaves have fallen it is easier to see the overall shape and prune accordingly.

  • Do not cut back the less hardy perennials such as penstemoms and hardy fuchsias more than a third – the dead stems should give some protection for the crowns in the coldest weather. In colder areas, mulch them with composted bark or something similar and avoid cutting them back fully until they begin to shoot from the base in spring.

  • Remove any fig fruits larger than a pea – the really small ones are embryo figs that will be next year’s crop. The larger ones will not survive the winter.

6. Support

Feed the birds- most will help you keep pests under control

Feed the birds- most will help you keep pests under control

  • Remember to feed the birds in your garden and provide fresh water.

  • Create a small pile of logs to provide shelter for insects and amphibians over the winter.

  • Solitary bees make good use of nooks and crannies in gardens over winter, so if you need some build your own by drilling holes in blocks of untreated softwood and then suspend the blocks in a sunny site. (Block dimensions – 5cm x 10cm x 20cm, Drill bit sizes – 4mm, 6mm and 8mm).

7. Protect

  • Stop winter moth damage to fruit trees by using grease bands around the trunk.

  • Drain and lag standpipes, outdoor taps, irrigation lines and water pumps in advance of really cold weather.

  • Cover brassicas with netting if pigeons are a problem

  • Move tender plants inside or keep a supply of fleece, bubble wrap or similar to protect them from freezing conditions – this is especially important for recently planted hardy annuals and outdoor containers which can be insulated with bubblewrap and raised off the ground to prevent waterlogging and freezing.

  • Protect newly planted trees, hedges and shrubs from the elements with a temporary netting windbreak if they’re in an exposed site.

8. Harvest

  • Bring in carrots, parsnips (wait until after a frost), endive, cauliflower and autumn cabbages.

Leave Parsnips in the ground until they've had a good frosting- it improves the flavour

Leave Parsnips in the ground until they’ve had a good frosting- it improves the flavour

9. Store

  • Remove any canes and supports in your garden left from your summer crops or staking– remember to store them safe and dry.

  • Check stored fruit and vegetables and throw out any that show the slightest sign of rotting.

  • Dahlias – wait until a couple of good frosts have blackened them, then cut the stems back to approximately 10cm from the ground and label each plant as you lift it – it’s easy to forget which is which! Lift the tubers carefully as you dig around them, remove all the soil and store for a couple of weeks in a dry, cool place upside down to allow any residual moisture in the stem to drain out. Once they are completely dry, they can be buried in gritty or sandy peat free compost (used stuff will do) so the top of the tuber is above the compost level. Keep them somewhere frost free.

10.Plan

  • Order seed catalogues or invesitgate seed availability online so that you can get hold of the seeds that you want in good time. If you’re a member of the RHS you can get hold of up to 12 packets of seeds (including 9 collections) for only £8.50- find out more here.

Old School Gardener

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