Tag Archive: lawn


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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  • chamomile lawnDo choose drought resistant plants

  • Do conserve moisture by mulching in spring when the soil is moist

  • Do mulch problem problem soils- too dry, sandy or chalky- twice a year, in spring and autumn

  • Do build a deep no-dig bed if you want to grow fruit and vegetables

  • Don’t try to grow a conventional lawn. Instead, create patches of green with a herb lawn using thyme or chamomile.

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Readers Digest

Old School Gardener

Flowers of Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'

Flowers of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’

 

OK, when you think ‘grass’ in the garden you’ll probably think ‘lawn’. Though they’re hard work to keep looking good and not the most environmentally friendly form of gardening, I do like the way a nice green sward sets off colourful and interesting borders. I’ve just given a part of my own lawn here at Old school Garden a bit of TLC, scarifying, aerating and treating with an Autumn ‘weed and feed’. However, living in one of the driest parts of the UK, means that lawn care can be rather disheartening, as it quickly turns brown in the summer.

But I’m not really here to talk about lawns. This and the next article in my new series aiming to help you with design tips for your garden, are focused on another use of grasses- in the border. When you think about it, grasses are probably the plant that humanity has cultivated the longest, albeit originally it was for food rather than aesthetic reasons. Grasses have been rather slower coming into our gardens, and then they have often been treated as ‘alien invaders’ to be pulled out and ‘dealt with’ as all ‘weeds’ are.

I suppose ornamental gardening did not really start in earnest until the seventeenth century and it was then that the first grass was listed as an ornamental plant- ‘Feather grass’ (Stipa pennata), grown for its long, feathery awns (needle thin bristles attached to the flowers of grasses and the things that often give them their golden glow as they catch the sunlight). This English native was listed in John Kingston Galpine’s Catalogue of 1782. A century later the famous ‘naturalistic’ gardener William Robinson was listing nearly 30 varieties in his classic book, ‘The English Flower Garden’. However only about twelve of these were used in gardens, and then as curiosities, as specimens amid the wider swathes of lawn grass.

Robinson, and later Gertrude Jekyll, were the founders of the Edwardian ‘naturalistic garden within formal bounds’ style (not forgetting my architectural and landscape designer hero, Sir Edwin Lutyens). Jekyll was specific about the placing of grasses – often close to water, but also in borders (e.g. Blue Lyme Grass or Elymus arenarius) and Luzula sylvatica (Common Woodrush) in woodland, used as ground cover.

Stipa gigantea

Stipa gigantea

 

Both Robinson and Jekyll were influential in America, where some grasses such as Miscanthus and Pampas grasses were proving popular, fitting in well in large American landscapes. This was the birth of the ‘prairie style’ of garden design in America where designers such as Jens Jensen and Frank Llloyd Wright led the way.

After a dip in popularity the style returned in the 1950’s, and at about the same time, on continental Europe nurserymen like German Karl Foerster (who’s given his name to one of my favourite grasses, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’), were assembling plants from around the world and associating them with the naturalistic style of garden design. Foerster was followed by another group of nurserymen who advocated the use of grasses in forming natural, self sustaining plant communities where pesticides and herbicides would not be necessary. Another stimulus was the growing awareness of climate change and the increased frequency of drought conditions, so choosing plants that could withstand these harsher times were a logical response.

Leaves of Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'- Zebra grass

Leaves of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’- Zebra grass

 

The combination of interest in North America and continental Europe led to the modern ‘new wave’ garden of designers like the Oehem van Sweden partnership in east coast America. From  here the ideas of naturalistic planting spread to South America under the patronage of designer Burle Marx and in more modern times via Dutchman Piet Oudulph, who has created some classic gardens in the UK and been very influential in the use of grasses and other ’prairie plants’ as stand alone designs, as well as leading to the increased use of grasses within traditional herbaceous and mixed borders.

This is how I use grasses in Old School Garden and in some of my designs for other gardens, e.g. the entrance border at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, Norfolk.

So that’s the background to grasses in the garden – what are the design tips to follow?  My next article will tell all….

Part of the Piet Oudolph beds at RHS Wisley Gardens

Part of the Piet Oudolph – designed beds at RHS Wisley Gardens

 

Source: ‘Grasses’- Roger Grounds (RHS and Quadrille Publishing)

Further information: Prairie planting

Old School Gardener

Pest or Pal?

Pest or Pal?

This week’s question is on an issue that I’m in two minds about. Lorne Bowles from Teddington asks:

‘On damp days in Autumn (and Spring) my grass becomes covered with earthworm casts. I’d like to get rid of them somehow. What do you recommend?’

There are many species of earth worms but only 3 of them make casts. Worm casts are a sign that you have a fairly active soil with good aeration and humus content. Earth worms are useful for mixing and aerating soil, but those which cast can create a muddy and uneven surface on grass and can also encourage weeds, as their casts make excellent seed beds!

Charles Darwin spent a lifetime studying worms, and estimated that up to 40 tons of worm casts per acre can be added to the soil (representing between 45 and 170 worms per square metre!). These casts are invariably richer, finer and less acidic than the surrounding soil, and contain around 50 per cent more calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and bacteria.

Earthworm activity is encouraged if cuttings are left on the turf. Worms also pull fallen leaves and plant debris into their burrows and, in doing so, they add organic material to the soil, improving its structure as well as its fertility. For borders and beds, if you are short of compost, a mulch of leaves, preferably chopped up, will not only add structure to the soil, but will also dramatically increase the worm population and therefore the health and fertility of your soil. The use of alkaline or organic fertilisers and dressings can also encourage Worms in lawns. Monty Don tells an amusing anecdote about a grass tennis court which demonstrates worms’ love of alkaline soil:

‘A grass tennis court had been laid on acidic soil and marked out with chalk. Over the years, the calcium in the chalk neutralised the acid soil beneath it, making extremely narrow strips that attracted earthworms. Long after the chalk had been washed away, ‘runways’ made by moles attracted by their favourite food – earthworms – followed the line of them, without realising that they were mirroring exactly the original chalk lines of the court!’

This raises the topic of moles in lawns. A real issue for me here at Old School Garden, despite me trying to persuade the ‘little burrowers’ to take themselves next door. If you have moles, as the tennis court story indicates, this is a sure sign that you have worms in your lawn.

worm casts on lawn

Worm casts on a lawn

So what can you do?

Well one approach (but not one I’d recommend myself) is to try to deter the worms from casting using a fungicide. The law does not permit long life residual chemical build up in the soil, so gone are the days when formulations like Chlordane could be used to wipe out the worms (and possibly some gardeners too). However, Carbendazim is a chemical which is primarily used to deal with fungal diseases such as Fusarium but which also appears to interrupt the feeding of worms near the surface, by making the organic matter in which they feed unpalatable. Deeper feeding, non casting worms are apparently unaffected and continue to benefit the soil structure as normal.

Applying the chemical, which has a non hazardous classification, is said to be most beneficial in Spring and Autumn and must be carried out when the soil is already wet as it needs help in dispersing through the soil. However, be aware that whilst Carbendazim is approved for use in the UK and some other countries, some organisations argue that it is a dangerous substance.  Other options exist such as adding sulphur to the lawn, so reducing its alkalinity, and therefore reducing the attractiveness of it to worms. Manufacturer’s of this type of solution claim that this does not harm the worms or the soil.

However, I’d be a little wary of this, and other chemically – based solutions and try a more organic approach.

This does mean, however, that you’ll need to adopt a more relaxed attitude to worm casts (and mole hills, though it pains me to say so…). Worm activity, on the whole, is extremely beneficial to your lawn, so the best way to deal with the casts is to wait for them to dry and then brush them into the surface, spreading evenly with a Besom or similar broom. In doing so, you are adding to your lawn some fine compost and helping to improve its future appearance. There are also a few other things you can try to reduce the problem of casts:

  • Avoid leaving leaves on the lawn surface during the autumn and winter because this warm blanket of organic matter is an ideal ‘restaurant’ for the worms.

  • Do not allow a build up of thatch as again this decaying matter is digested by the worm which leads to casting deposits – so scarify your grass in the autumn and possibly also the spring.

  • Keep the grass at a reasonable height.

  • Avoid unnecessary watering as this attracts more worms. In dry weather the worms will move deeper, and by aerating regularly and ensuring good drainage, you will discourage activity.

If, like me you have a mole problem, I think the only safe, direct (but from experience, not necessarily successful) solution is to trap them, which might involve the services of a mole catcher unless you fancy a go yourself! I’ve found that other ‘solutions’ like noise/ vibration emitting devices seem only to have a temporary effect, if that!

Mole hills on the Old School Garden lawn

Mole hills on the Old School Garden lawn

More generally, lawns are not attacked by pests, though you may at some point see the effects of the ‘Leather Jacket’ (the larva of the Crane Fly or ‘Daddy Long Legs’) and Chafer grub.

These can cause damage to the roots and stems of grass resulting in poor, stunted growth and bare patches. When a pest problem like this is suspected, the turf should be examined thoroughly to find the culprit. Pests are often found first in stressed areas, such as the edges of lawns or in shady or wet areas. They are not usually distributed evenly so it is advisable to look for spots that have discoloured, stunted or distorted turf. Insects tend to proceed outward from a central point; therefore they are generally most active on the outside edge. In both cases a lawn insecticide could be applied to kill the grubs/larvae….

Chafer Grub damage to grass

Chafer Grub damage to grass

However, an alternative, organic solution is to wait for heavy rain (or thoroughly watering any yellow patches in the lawn yourself). Then cover the affected areas with black plastic sacks and leave overnight. The Leather Jackets and grubs will come to the surface and can be collected in the morning and disposed of – or left to natural predators such as spiders and garden birds (especially Starlings). You could also use the biological control Steinernema feltiae, which should be applied while the ground is still moist and warm in late Autumn.

Old School Gardener

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Keep the bird bath topped up in hot weather

Keep the bird bath topped up in hot weather

Well, yesterday was St. Swithin’s day and folk lore decrees that the weather on that day sets the pattern for the next 40, so we can ‘look forward’ to days in the mid to upper 20’s Celsius (and warm nights too):

‘St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.’

dost = does
thou = you
nae mair = no more.

And the forecasters seem to be saying this hot weather is likely to continue for the next couple  of weeks at least. So how can we care for the fragile eco systems that are our gardens? It’s all about moisture- using it wisely, keeping it in place in the plants and making sure wildlife has enough to survive. Here are 7 tips that might help:

1. Apply a mulch around plants that are most sensitive to water loss – grass clippings are ideal as they are light reflective (though you might well not have many that are usable in a heat wave- see tip 5 below). Straw is another option.

grass_mulching_tomatoes tiny farm blog

Grass mulching tomatoes from  tiny farm blog

2. Water your garden early morning or late evening (ideally from your own saved rainfall or ‘grey water’ forom the house) – morning is best as the plants need most of their water during the day time when they are growing. Leave a bucket or watering can full of water inside the greenhouse to help keep up humidity and so reduce the rate at which plants lose water through transpiration.

3. Get creative about shading your tenderest plants and crops – use shade netting, cloth, or fleece and maybe even think about using picnic awnings, table parasols and even tent poles with bedsheets!

movable awning

Movable awnings can bea useful shade for tender plants

4. If you need to plant out seedlings try to plant them alongside taller neighbours to help provide some protection, or even better hold off transplanting until the weather is more suitable – you can better care for seedlings in a container if you remember to water and shade them (and pot them into bigger pots if need be).

5. If you haven’t already stopped mowing your lawn then do so and leave at least 5 – 8cms of growth to help conserve moisture.

6. Avoid adding fertiliser to your ground as plants don’t need it in the heat as their growth rate slows.

7. Look after the wildlife – top up ponds, bird baths and drinking bowls for hedgehogs etc. and put out some food for these critters too, as it will be harder for them to find natural food like worms which bury themselves deeper into the ground.

Here’s hoping you and your garden survive the heat – how long before we Brits are hankering after a ‘traditonal’ Summer!

Old School Gardener

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