December Gardening Tips

This is a difficult time for plants:  when water freezes in the ground, they cannot replace water lost from the leaves.  They have adapted by losing their leaves and becoming dormant, or by having waxy, waterproof leaves. The lance-like leaves of bulbs let snow slide off them.  You may have noticed this in the last week of November this year!

In December

  • Prune birches, Japanese maples and other deciduous trees, now they are dormant, removing crossing branches and reducing overall size.
  • Prune grapevines, apples, pears, currants and gooseberries. The aim is to achieve an open-centred tree or bush. Renovation pruning of neglected trees is a three-year job (search apples and pears: renovating old trees at rhs.org.uk)
  • Erect a rain shelter over wall-trained peaches and nectarines to protect against leaf curl until May.
  • Take hard wood cuttings from trees like mulberry, tamarix or euonymus: take the current season’s growth, cut into 10-20cm sections with about 4 buds. Cut below a node at the base and make a slanting cut away from a bud at the top. Insert into gritty compost and leave in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse.
  • ‘Force’ rhubarb by covering with straw and a dark bucket or special forcer pot.
  • Forget the tinsel! Coloured stems from acers, cornus, willows and bamboos go well with holly, ivy and fir for your seasonal decorations.
  • Indoor plants need less water than you might think – only water them when the top of the soil is quite dry.  Azaleas, cyclamens and forced bulbs last longer in cool conditions, while poinsettias like warm, draught-free positions.

Have a very happy Christmas.

October Gardening tips

Now is the time to watch the wildlife plant nuts and other seeds in the lawn and flower beds for a new woodland to grow!

Now is a time for golden leaves and golden sunlight and a golden ground where the leaves have fallen.  Leave them until they turn muddy brown; this will encourage worms and other invertebrates.  BUT.. clear them out of ponds or you will end up with dry land.

Many trees are planted primarily for Autumn colour, like Acers, but others give wonderful colour as an extra benefit, like Witch hazels and deciduous azaleas.  If you do not have room for trees and large shrubs, then try a climber like Virginia creeper up a wall or fence.  Some grasses are decorative all winter and really ‘glow’ in a low sun’s light.

This is also the time to look forward and plant Narcissi or Hyacinths in bowls of compost; put them in the dark until nearly Christmas. Then they should bloom.

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September 2021 Gardening Tips

After 2020’s bumper harvest of apples, I have a very meagre crop this year, but the pears are looking hopeful.  The seasons have been later this year: wind and rain have taken a toll.

The rain has made hoeing weeds useless and, as a result, I have been hand weeding – the compost heaps are piled high! ….until last week when the drying north wind set in.

Here are some jobs you could do:

Pumkins

Pumpkins and Squash be stored in a shed once they sound hollow when you tap them

Harvest: Apples and pears, onions, main crop potatoes, sweetcorn, pumpkins and squashes. All apart from sweetcorn can be stored in a dark dry place. Sweetcorn cobs freeze well.

Autumn fruiting raspberries and beans will continue to need picking or they will stop producing more.

Collect seeds to share or keep for next year; store them in labelled paper bags or envelopes somewhere cool and dry. The garden Society runs a seed swap at their Spring Show and at the trading shed later.

Plant:  daffodils, crocus, hyacinth and Muscari (wait until November for tulips); start to plant overwintering onions and shallots

Divide:  herbaceous perennials that are overcrowded.

Take cuttings: of tender perennials like Fuchsia, Pelargonium, Salvias and penstemons and overwinter under cover.

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June Gardening Hints and Tips

We have had a late Spring this year (2021), with drought and frost holding plants back.  I note that last year, at this time, I remarked on the good set of apples and pears; whereas, this year, the apple blossom is barely out yet.  I did spot a woodpecker (spotted) tearing some blossom off…such a help; but I was pleased to see it, as they do not seem as common as they were!

There are still jobs that must be done in hope of kind weather continuing… here are some suggestions:

Ornamental garden

  • Gently remove spent flowers from Camellia and rhododendrons to make room for the leaf buds emerging behind. You can also trim back overgrown shoots to make the shrubs more compact, next year’s flower buds will form on the new growth of side shoots that this stimulates.
  • Divide bearded irises after flowering; plant with the rhizomes facing south.
  • Sow biennials like sweet William, viola and wallflowers
  • Divide spring-flowering bulbs.
  • Remove spent flower heads of Euphorbia by cutting flowered stems to ground level. Wear gloves for this, the sap causes skin irritation.

Lawns

  • Mow regularly but, if it is hot and dry, raise the cutting height.
  • Apply a high-nitrogen lawn feed (again not when dry)
  • Add clippings to the compost heap in small amounts; mix them with dry material to stop it all going slimy.

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April Gardening Tips

We wait, with keen anticipation, through January and February, the blooming of daffodils, the signals of Spring.  First, the dwarf varieties like Narcissus jonquilla and bulbocodium and then the full-sized plants.  All too soon, by April, we are dead- heading spent flowers and leaving the leaves to feed the bulbs for next year. Pheasant’s eye narcissi flower later, into April, and extend the season with their delicate, pale, scented blooms.

My favourite flowers this Winter have been irises; Iris unguiculata (shown below) has been flowering since November and will continue until April; February and March bring on the dwarf irises like I.reticulata.  In April, Dutch irises, bearded irises (shown at the end) and the tall elegant I.sibirica put on a show.  They all like a light soil and to be baked in the Summer sun. All except the dwarf varieties make good cut flowers and have a delicate scent.

 

It is the time to get the kitchen garden going, now the soil is warming up.

  • You can sow beans, carrots, chard, brassicas, beetroot and peas outside, and pumpkins, courgettes and sweetcorn under glass.
  • In preparation for the beans, dig a deep trench and line it with newspaper and fill it with compost to hold moisture. Then erect a bean frame of hazel poles or bamboos for support.  Twiggier pea sticks will help the peas.
  • At the beginning of April, plant early potatoes and work through to main crop by the end of the month. But watch the weather forecasts for frost warnings – my potatoes and beans were caught out last year!

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February Gardening Tips

Welcome to the start of the growing year, when seeds can be sown, potatoes prepared by chitting and the first flowers: daffodils, snowdrops, primroses, winter aconites and pulmonarias show some colour.

February involves pruning many late flowering shrubs to encourage new flowering shoots, for example:

A useful tip for Wisteria – 7 &2.  In the 7th month prune back new growth to 7 buds and in the 2nd month (now) prune these shoots back to 2 buds; you can also cut out some tangled old wood.

Winter jasmine can be cut back after flowers have fade to 5cm/2” from a main stem.

Late-flowering clematis can be cut down to a strong pair of buds about 30cm/12” from the ground. This will stimulate the new growth that bears the flowers.

Hydrangeas: leave mophead hydrangeas until March before dead-heading, they flower on last year’s growth, but prune Hydrangea paniculata to an open framework now because they flower on current season’s growth.

Bush roses can be encouraged by pruning back to outward facing buds late in the month

Fuchsias should be cut hard back to 15cm/6” and Santolina and Lavatera to low, well-placed branches

After pruning, a top-dressing of compost or general fertiliser should be applied.

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January Hints and Tips

Cyclamen

Reasons to be Cheerful

The shortest day has been and gone and the daily period of light has, almost imperceptibly, increased.  The infra-red wavelengths penetrate the soil and activate enzymes, via chemicals called phytochromes, that start seeds and dormant plants growing.

Witch hazel, Sarcococca, Daphne odora and Mahonia are just some of the scented flowers you can enjoy now.  Wintergreen ferns give a wonderful textured foliage effect in sheltered shady spots, so do the leaves of Cyclamen hederafolia and Pulmonaria.  Cyclamen coum flowers in early spring and combines well with winter aconites or snowdrops. (The peak flowering time for most snowdrops is February, but varieties like Galanthus elwessii, G.nivalis and G.woronowii are earlier.)

Jobs to do

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December Gardening Tips

Most leaves of deciduous trees have fallen by now and you tidy gardeners will have swept them up and started the leaf mould process – you cannot buy leaf mould.  Beech hedges will retain their dead leaves until Spring.  Oak trees will continue to lose leaves and you can watch as ‘herds’ of leaves skitter like mice along paths to hide in corners throughout the Winter.

This is the time of year when structure in the garden is important.  Deciduous trees and shrubs present skeletons of branches; you can improve their appearance by pruning out crossing or crowded branches.  If they are providing too much shade, then perhaps you could lift the canopy.

All that hard work in the summer clipping evergreen shrubs and hedges into shape can be appreciated now; the crisp green outlines you created look wonderful all the way to Spring

Not all colour has gone: stems of dogwoods, willows and some maples are colourful both outside, and as part of your Christmas decorations indoors.  (Something I found worked well, in Spring, when you have to cut back dogwoods to get new colourful shoots, use the old shoots as decorative plant supports.)

Birch bark can light up the winter garden on dark days. Some varieties are better than others. Betula albo-sinensis has orange bark, B.papyrifera has white bark that peels off in strips.

Mahonia, Hellebores, Daphne and Viburnum are good shrubs for winter colour and often scent.  The very early Iris unguicularis  (stilosa) flowers in the dead of winter, clear blue flowers that you can cut and admire in a vase.

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November Hints and Tips

After this year’s vagaries of temperature and rainfall, plants have become confused and some are flowering now when they should flower in spring; e.g. the apple blossom at RHS Wisley (not to mention witch hazel and irises in my garden).

It is now worth considering the plants that have thrived or suffered this year and replant accordingly.  This trend may well continue.

At this time of year, the fruiting bodies of fungi (toadstools) are visible.  It is worth remembering that leaves are broken down mainly by fungi, liberating nutrients.  The vast network of tiny tubes (the mycelium) from which the toadstools arise is of great importance to the health of trees and shrubs.  They live in a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots, increasing surface area for the uptake of water and nutrients.  More is being discovered all the time.

If you buy bare-rooted plants to plant now (cheaper than the potted version), apply mycorrhizal fungi when you plant, to give them a strong start.

Jobs to do

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Hints and Tips for October 2020

Potential bird food?

October will probably bring the first frosts and they will precipitate colour change, leaf fall and the sound of blowers that will reverberate in the neighbourhood!  So long as the leaves are disease-free, they can be collected, and will decay to form leaf mould.  Your heap of dead leaves may make a home for hedgehogs, slow-worms and many invertebrates over winter.

Tender plants like Fuchsia, citrus and Brugmansia should be moved indoors or under glass.  Cannas, gladioli, tuberous begonias and dahlias need to be lifted and their tubers/bulbs stored somewhere dry and frost-free.  Salvias can be protected outside with a thick layer of mulch; Penstemmons and Gaura survive better if you leave their stems in place to protect new growth until late spring.

Potatoes, beetroots and turnips can be damaged by frost, but can be harvested and stored indoors (dark and dry).  Pumpkins and squashes need a few days in a warm room to ‘cure’ before storage.

Herbaceous borders need to be reviewed… Cut down old foliage, unless it provides useful seeds or protection for wildlife; divide overcrowded plants, retaining the outside vigorous parts and replant in enriched soil.  Crocosmias, particularly need to be divided every 3 years because, as I have found, their flowering is much diminished if you don’t!  (Cut down the leaves, dig up the whole clump, and replace the fattest corms in improved soil).

By the way, rhubarb that has been in place for five years, needs to be treated in much the same way, retaining the outermost parts to grow on.

Spare plants could contribute to the plant sale during Crondall Open Gardens 2020.

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