Garden Tips – November 2017

November is tulip planting time. It’s important that tulip bulbs go in the ground after a cold snap as this helps to kill off fungal diseases and viruses in the soil which could infect your new bulbs. Remember that tulip bulbs do not like to be waterlogged, so if you have heavy soil, add some grit or organic matter to the hole to help improve drainage. The same applies if you are planting in a container, make sure that you use a free-draining mix. You can tell by the clothing that it was pretty cold when we were planting tulips last November. (By the way chickens aren’t very helpful planters).

Planting - November 2016

Planting – November 2016

The results this spring were well worth the cold fingers last autumn.

Tulips 28 April 2017

Tulips 28 April 2017

You can also keep on planting all the other spring flowering bulbs and may find that you can pick up some serious bargains in end of season sales, even if the choice at this time of the autumn is a bit more limited.

It’s also a good time for laying new turf or renovating lawns. The critical thing is to make sure you prepare the area carefully (raking, treading and levelling) before positioning the turf. The better the preparation, the easier it will be to lay the turf in the first place and the better it will look in the long run. When you are laying the turf, use planks to walk on so that you aren’t putting pressure directly on to the new turf and butt up the edges (remember that the turfs will shrink if they dry). Once the turf is down, water well and regularly, it is odds on that you’ll get some helpful rainfall at this time of year, but new turf will take a few weeks to establish, so don’t allow it to dry out. Finally, stay off it and don’t be tempted to mow until next spring.

If you have dahlias or cannas, the first frosts will have knocked back the foliage and this is a sign that it is time to lift, clean and dry them before storing in a frost free place over winter. Don’t forget to label things, especially if you’re planning to take cuttings next spring.

Blackened foliage after the first frosts

Blackened foliage after the first frosts

In our neck of the woods (Berkshire) you may not need to lift dahlia tubers if you have relatively free-draining soil. The tubers will tolerate some frosts, but cold/damp conditions will cause them to rot off, so you may have the choice of whether to lift or not. We do lift dahlia tubers and after cleaning them up, pot them up in new multi-purpose compost and leave them in an unheated greenhouse over the winter. We start gentle watering as the temperatures rise in the spring and find that the plants come back into growth quite a lot earlier than those left in the ground, so we get a longer flowering period.

Clean, healthy tubers

Clean, healthy tubers

Ready for winter

Ready for winter

And finally, if you have a shrub which needs to move to a new home, now is the time to do it. The soil is still warm enough to help the roots establish in their new position. When lifting it, make sure that you retain as much of the root ball as possible and cut back excess top growth to reduce the strain on the roots. Prepare the new planting hole well and use mycorrhizal fungi on the roots. Firm the shrub in and then give it a good soak. Remember to keep it watered throughout next spring and summer.

Garden Tips – October 2017

October is often a month of change. The early part can seem like a last bit of summer, but by the end the short days leave no doubt that autumn is here and winter is on the way. Jobs can therefore include prolonging this year’s show as well as preparing for next year.

One of the most rewarding jobs at this time of year is planting spring bulbs.  We’ve written elsewhere about the delights of spring flowering bulbs and putting them in is symptomatic of the optimistic, forward looking nature of gardening.  Those currently uninspiring brown bulbs and corms will give your garden a burst of colour next year to confirm that winter is on its way out and that longer days are imminent.

Flowers like Dahlias, Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Gaillardia will all keep flowering until the first frosts, so keep dead-heading to prolong the flowering season.

Roses may well still be flowering, but it is a good time to reduce the height of plants. Take them down by about a third so that they won’t rock in the wind and disturb the roots. You are looking to cut above a leaf with a slanting cut so that the rainwater falls off easily. More formative pruning for roses will take place in early spring.

As grass growth slows down, it’s a good time to apply an autumn treatment. Proprietary autumn mixes contain less nitrogen (so less leaf growth) and more phosphorus (for root growth) and potassium (for winter hardiness). Scarifying and aerating will also help to prepare the grass plants for winter by allowing both air and light to reach the base of the plants. Selecting the right time to do this can be tricky. Dry ground with no frost and imminent rain in the forecast gives ideal conditions.  Given the capricious nature of weather and forecasts if you’ve put a treatment down and it doesn’t rain for a couple of days, then best to water it in.

In the kitchen garden you can plant broad beans, garlic and onion sets (choose autumn planting varieties). These will develop strong roots in the warm autumn soil and give you a racing start for next year. Garlic needs a cold snap in order to bulk up to form bulbs with many cloves, so the longer they are in the ground over the winter period, the better.

Garden Tips – August 2017

Summer continues in full swing and we hope you are getting time to sit out in and enjoy your gardens, even if you may need to take an umbrella with you at times in our neighbourhood (so much for the water preservation tips earlier in the summer)! Some jobs for August include:

• If you have a Wisteria, then now is the time to trim off the whippy new shoots, cutting back to 5 buds from the main stem to encourage flower buds for next season. Any low growing shoots which you don’t want can be cut right back to the main stem. The main trim for shape will be in winter.

• Once the bees have finished with them, Lavender and Hebes can be lightly trimmed to keep them tidy, Take off all the flower heads plus a little bit of the new wood. This helps to keep the shrub to shape and, in the case of lavender, can help to encourage bushy growth for next season’s flower stalks.

• If it stays dry, keep watering Camellias and Rhododendrons as this helps improve flower bud formation for next year. Use rain water if possible, as these plants prefer acid conditions and tap water tends to be alkaline. Alkaline conditions inhibit the take up of iron, so if your only option is to use tap water add some liquid feed that includes iron.

• In the kitchen garden, the main job is to keep picking and eating. Courgettes, beans, and salad leaves will all benefit from regular cropping. Some produce is ideal for freezing (especially beans), and if you have time then making soups for the freezer, preserves and pickles are a great way of getting a taste of your own produce in the dark winter months. Don’t forget that some vegetables can also be used to make cakes – two household favourites at the moment are beetroot and chocolate cake and Nigel Slater’s courgette cake.

• As some crops are finishing, it’s time to get others started. August is a good month for sowing spring cabbage, lettuce and other salad leaves, and oriental greens like Pak Choi

• It’s about this time of year when the bulb catalogues start to arrive. If you read our tips in February, then you will have made a note of the gaps you want to fill. Now’s the time to start planning and picking out your new spring bulbs for next year. You won’t need to get them in the ground until October (November for tulips), but it doesn’t hurt to plan ahead and get your order in.

• Grass still needs regular cutting at this time of year. However if the weather is dry, it doesn’t hurt to raise the blades of the mower a little to reduce stress and scorching of your lawn. You can take the blades lower again when our normal temperate weather patterns return. you may be tempted to drop the blades as weeds like clover start to appear, but scalping the lawn will only allow the weeds to out-compete the grass.  Let the grass get a bit longer and it will start to win.

• If you are heading off on holiday, enlist the help of friends and neighbours to look after your plants while you are away, especially outdoor pots, which can dry out very quickly. Putting houseplants in a bathtub and using capillary matting can help to keep them watered.

Garden Tips – July 2017

Summer is here and hopefully all your hard work in earlier months is paying off. A few jobs to keep on top of in July include:

Thin out apples and pears. After the “June drop”, there may still be clusters of fruit that are too numerous. Thin out to no more than two or three per cluster to ensure good air movement and give the fruits room to swell. If your trees are relatively young, thin out even harder to avoid the weight of fruit bending or even breaking the weaker young branches. If you are growing espalier or cordon trained trees, then you can also prune to help keep the defined shape.

Early flowering shrubs (like Forsythia and Weigela) can be pruned back to give a good shape for next season. For those such as Philadelphus, the recommended approach is to cut back 1 in 4 stems to the ground in order to stimulate strong growth. As a general rule, if shrubs flower before Midsummer’s Day, then they will flower on old wood, so pruning after flowering is required. If shrubs flower after Midsummers Day, then they tend to flower on the current season’s growth, so pruning in spring is best. Of course there are always exceptions and some shrubs don’t like to be pruned at all, so it is always worth checking. The RHS website has lots of hints and tips:

Keep dead-heading to prolong the flowering of your shrubs and bedding plants, and bring some of the garden into the house by “live – heading” your favourites to make indoor displays. Flowers like sweet peas, Dahlias and Gaillardia will all keep flowering if you stop them from setting seed.

Dahlias livening up the Dining Room

Dahlias livening up the Dining Room

Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas

Make sure you pinch out side shoots on cordon tomatoes to keep the plant’s energy focused. If you are growing in a greenhouse, pinch out the main shoot just before it gets to the roof, making sure you have at least two leaves after a flower truss so that the plant will pull nutrients up to the last truss. Regular pinching out will help the plant to develop sturdy main stems that are efficient at transporting water and nutrients around the plant.

Sturdy tomatoes

Sturdy tomatoes

Don’t forget to feed your tomato plants regularly, they are hungry plants and will repay you with lots of fruit. Keep an eye out for disorders like leaf discolouration and blossom end rot which are signs of nutrient deficiency and/or irregular watering.

Garden Tips June 2017

With a dry winter in the South East followed by a dry early spring, this month we are focusing on watering.

The most important thing to remember is that water is required at the roots of plants. Dry soil surfaces do not mean that there is a lack of water where it matters, so probe deeper to see what the soil is like lower down.

Established trees and shrubs have extensive root systems and rarely require extra watering. However, newly planted trees and shrubs will need additional water. Putting in a watering tube when planting will help. In general, targeted watering is a good idea to make the most of this precious resource. It also starves competing plants (like weeds) of water so means less weeding in the long run. Simple methods like cut down soft drinks bottles, flower pots sunk into soil, or more sophisticated irrigation systems like seep hoses work well at getting water to where it is needed.

Watering tubes for new fruit bushes

Watering tubes for new fruit bushes

Watering points in potato trenches

Watering points in potato trenches

Grass is quite resilient, so existing lawns generally don’t need extra water unless you are determined to have a bowling green. The main exception is after applying a lawn treatment if forecasted rain does not arrive. In this case use a garden sprinkler to simulate a good shower.  As with trees and shrubs, new lawns are much less resilient and if you have had turf laid or have re-seeded grassed areas then you will need to water assiduously until the new grass plants are established.

Fruit and vegetables will need extra water in dry spells, especially when crops are swelling. Avoid “little and often”, which only wets the surface. Instead, focus on a good soaking every now and again to ensure that there is moisture at the roots.  Root crops like carrots and parsnips need to drive down in search of water to produce the swollen tap roots that we want to eat.  If there is too much water at the surface the roots will fork as they seek water.

It is also possible to recycle water. If it is practical to fit them, then water butts collecting rain water run off are very useful.  Rain water is particularly useful for for acid loving plants like Camelias. It is also possible to reuse water used for washing fruit and veg (collect the water in a bowl from the running tap). “Grey water” such as used bath water can be siphoned into watering cans with a few caveats – make sure it has cooled down before you use it, make sure you use it as soon as possible as it does not store well, and do not use it on any produce you will eat raw.

And finally, water in the early morning rather than the heat of the day or the evening. Evening watering can create cool humid environments around the plants that foster fungal diseases and watering in the heat of the day is wasteful as the water evaporates before it can soak in.  So it is best to make use of the light early mornings to get out there early and enjoy the calm of the morning and the sound of birdsong while keeping your plants healthy.

Garden tips – May 2017

In May it is usually safe to assume that the risk of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up, so this is a busy time for gardeners.  Jobs for May include:

  • Plant out Dahlias and Cannas. If you’ve been over-wintering them for protection, they can now be planted out into their desired positions.
Dahlia 'Karenglen'

Dahlia ‘Karenglen’

  •  Work on daffodil clumps. If flowering has declined then your daffodil bulbs may be congested, planted too shallowly, be in a position which is too dry, or be infected by pests or diseases. Now is the time to dig them up, check them over, and divide congested clumps. Any infected bulbs should be discarded. You can add any previously potted-up bulbs to increase numbers. Before planting ensure you alleviate compaction to aid drainage, and add compost and some general purpose fertiliser to give the bulbs a feed. Bulbs should be planted 2 or 3 times their depth.
  • If you’re growing strawberries, then a high potassium feed (such as tomato feed), given every week or so will help to boost flowering and fruiting. Because of the late frosts in April, you may see signs of “Black Eye”. This is not a serious problem, but means that the flower has been damaged by frost and the fruit will not set. You can remove any affected flowers.
Early Strawberry Fruit

Early Strawberry Fruit

  • Now that the ground is warming up, it is a good time to sow tender vegetables like runner beans direct into the soil where they will crop. Plant two beans per station and select the strongest plant once they are through. Tie them to their supports at first, and then they will climb away on their own. Runner beans love moist soil, so keep well watered and mulch in June. If you are wary of climbing beans, there is a dwarf variety called ‘Hestia’ which only grows to about 45cm and works well in containers.  If early sowings of crops like carrots and parsnips have only given patchy germination, re-sowing now will still give ample time for the later plants to catch up.
  • Late May is also the time for planting out the the tender members of the Cucurbit family (courgettes, pumpkins, squashes, marrows etc.)  These don’t like going out when the ground is still chilly and are not frost hardy, but once conditions get warmer, they’ll race along as we discovered when we started growing them.
  • Finally, with the Chelsea Flower Show coming up, the end of May is time for “The Chelsea Chop” on your late flowering perennials (for example Phlox, Helenium, Echinacea and some Sedum). Cut back plants by about half using shears. This will give you bushier, more compact plants and usually more flowers, that will extend later into the season.

As well as being busy in the garden, make use of the longer daylight hours to enjoy it. Sometimes, especially when you keep reading lists of jobs that you ought to be doing, gardening can turn into a list of chores. Don’t let this happen, take the time to sit, relax and enjoy looking at the results of your labours!  Sometimes this might be the result of following earlier tips.  For example, this is our Wisteria that we pruned back in February. what the picture doesn’t give you is the glorious scent that fills a warm evening. Perfect with a glass of whatever you prefer.

Wisteria in full bloom

Wisteria in full bloom