March Gardening Tips 2016 – Welcome to spring

The first day of spring is here. Hooray! No rain for the last couple of weeks which means that the soil is starting to dry out and we can finally get onto the borders to do some gardening. Why not spoil yourself with a trip to your local garden centre and pick up a couple pots of pre-grown daffodils, guaranteed to brighten up the garden and bring light into your life after such a dull winter. INSTANT SPRING!

1. Prune your roses. Now’s the time to prune your rose bushes if you haven’t already done so. Don’t get too stressed about the technical side. What you should do is prune back to an outward facing bud, taking the bush down to about half to a third of its height. You should also prune away any dead or diseased stems and burn them and prune away any stems that cross each other. You are aiming for a good open bush. This isn’t something to worry about too much – I know of at least one rose grower who does his rose pruning with a hedge trimmer and it doesn’t affect the flowering one bit.
2. Tidy up frost and snow damaged plants. Prune out the dead bits from tender shrubs and climbers such as choisyas and solanums. Cut out bent leaves from phormiums and take out the dead brown leaves.
3. Prune buddleias and dogwoods. Ideal time for cutting back Buddleia davidii to encourage flowering. Some plants that have got out of hand may need to have quite a bit taken off. Cut back the colourful stemmed dogwoods such as the red Cornus Alba. If you cut the stems back almost to the ground (15cm) it will ensure a new lot of colourful stems for next winter.
4. Trim your grasses. We always give our ornamental grasses a haircut this time of year, ready for the new verdant growth to push through. Don’t cut too low only down to about 15cm. Good time for trimming back pampas grasses; we take a hedge trimmer to it or if you are in an appropriate location set light to it to take it to take off the dead bits and encourage new growth.
5. Lift and shift your perennials. Good time for dividing and moving herbaceous perennials such as Phlox, Asters, Rudbeckia and Alchemila
6. If you want to transplant Snowdrops, a good time to do this is after they have flowered when they are still ‘in the green’.
7. Get out and dig over your bare soil now that the conditions are right if you haven’t already done so. For most vegetables you want to aim for a consistancy of coarse breadcrumbs before you sow.
8. Start to sow some veg seed outside such as lettuce, raddish and cabbage
9. Onion sets can be planted out now.
10. Chitting Potatoes – To get your potatoes growing away better, you should chit them to encourage sprouting. To do this place in a tray or egg box and keep somewhere bright and cool for a couple of weeks. Put them ‘rose-end’ up (The end with the dormant eyes upwards). Earlies you can think about planting out at the end of the month

11. Plant lily bulbs ready for the summer
12. Get the mower out and make sure it works. You may also want to think about a spring lawn treatment for next month


Gardening Tips for January 2016

New year, new garden!

Daffs in flower in January – BONKERS!

Here we are at the start of a brand new year and what an amazing start it is. After the warmest December in history (and wettest in some parts of the country) who knows what unseasonal weather January will bring. In our part of the country, snowdrops and daffodils are already out and we’ve even seen bearded irises in flower. With just a couple of slight frosts so far (and none forecast for the near future) our gardens just haven’t gone to sleep and what’s more the grass is still growing!

He’s some tips to get you started:

1. Trim back any dead or dying perennials that you didn’t get time to do before Christmas. Things like peonies, valerian and asters

2. If it’s dry enough you can still cut your grass to vacuum up any last leaves and keep it looking sharp. Re-shape the edges.

3. Wisterias can now have their main prune. Prune back the whippy spurs to 2 -3 buds from the main stem. It will promote better flowering on the Spring.

4. Jet wash your paving and patio ready for spring.

5. Prune apple and pear trees.

6. Dig over any bare soil ready for spring planting.

7. Keep the fleece ready so that when we do get a cold snap (and we will, but possibly not until February) you can protect your tender plants.

8. Keep putting food out for the birds.

9. Plan your vegetable rotations so that you grow different crops in different areas

10. Remove any last debris from the vegetable plot, such as old runner bean stems, potato haulms, peas etc. If it’s diseased burn, bury or bin it rather than stick it on the compost heap to keep the plot clear and clean.

Gardening Tips for December 2015

One of our favourite horticultural jobs at this time of year must be choosing our Christmas tree. Real trees don’t suit everyone but for the people who do want one, you generally have a choice of Spruces (such as the traditional Norway Spruce) or Firs (such as the Nordman Fir or Douglas Fir). They each have their own pros and cons; the spruces tend to be cheaper but the firs don’t drop their needles so readily. What ever you go for, just remember to treat the tree like a cut flower, cut the bottom couple of inches off and make sure it has plenty of water. Don’t put it next to a radiator and keep it outside in a bucket of water until you are ready to bring it in.

1. Clear the remainder of the leaves, most would have come down already. Last to come down are normally weeping willow leaves followed by the alders.
2. As with last month make sure your tender plants are protected, either fleeced or brought indoors.
3. You shouldn’t need to do any hoeing but if you do get the urge be careful not to hoe off any emerging bulbs. It’s easily done, I did it twice last week !
4. Continue planting deciduous trees and shrubs. It’s a good time for planting both fruit trees and fruit bushes. You can still just about get away with planting any bulbs if you didn’t get time last month.
5. This time of year is traditionally the best time to prune your apples and pears. Cut off any dead or diseased branches and any crossing branches to keep an open shape. With apple trees I was always told that they should be nice and open so that a pigeon could fly right throw the tree without knocking into any branches. Remember don’t prune cherries, plums and peaches until the spring/ early summer.
6. Don’t be tempted to feed your plants at this time of year. Most are not actively growing so they don’t need it. Any soft growth that may be promoted could get hammered by the cooler temperatures.
7. Give your compost heap a good stir to ensure that it gets mixed thoroughly.
8. Caring for Poinsettias. If you get a poinsettia for Christmas, make sure you keep it well lit, away from draughts and don’t let the temperatures fall below 13 degrees. Don’t over water and let the compost dry out between waterings. To get it to colour up again for next Christmas, cut the stems back to about 10cm in the early spring and then re-pot and water in May. At the start of October cover the plant from the early evening so that it gets 14 hours of darkness. Do this for 8 weeks and then the bracts should turn red. Remember, the key is 14 hours of darkness for 8 weeks.
9. Clear away any dead anuuals, runner beans, bedding, sweet peas etc.
10. Dig over vacant areas; the winter frosts should help to break down the soil ready for working in the spring.

To mow or not to mow…..

When do I stop mowing my grass? The recent, unseasonably high temperatures for November have meant that the grass has continued to grow and has needed regular cutting. This is grass we cut today in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.You can keep cutting your grass as long as you can get on it and if it’s not frozen or waterlogged. A mow now can ‘hoover’ up the last few leaves and keep the lawn looking sharp, just don’t cut it too short. As a general rule grass will slow down and stop growing at about 4 or 5 degrees C so this weekends cold temperatures should knock it on the head.

Jobs for November 2015 – Leaf clearing continues

1. Keep on top of the leaves. It’s a laborious job but it is worth while. Keep raking them up, especially if they are on your grass or on your patio and paths; wet leaves on hard surfaces can be dangerous, but don’t worry too much on your herbaceous borders as they will eventually rot down and improve the soil (Unless they are trapped around plants as they can be a hiding place for slugs).
Diseased leaves such as black spot infected rose leaves should be disposed of by burning to prevent carry over of infection. The rest stick on the compost heap.
2. Keep cutting back herbaceous perennials once they go over and turn yellow.
3. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts. If frost is predicted, bring in any tender plants or wrap them in several layers of fleece.
4. Take hardwood cuttings (shrubs and trees such as Forsythia, Buddleia and Photinia) and root cuttings (Oriental poppies, Chaenomoles, Acanthus, Crambe, Dicentra, Eryngium). See Propagation section for instructions on how to do it.
5. Not too late to plant bulbs. November is ideal for planting tulips.
6. Depending on where you are in the country, you may need to lift your dahlias and store them over winter. If you are in a mild area just leave them in and mulch the crown to protect it. If not, cut the stem right down to just above ground level, dig up the tuber and wash off the soil. Let it dry and then store in sand, newspaper or dry compost. Keep them cool and dry but frost free.
7. Normally, we would expect to put the lawn mower away at this time of year, but if it continues to stay mild you might get another grass cut before Christmas especially if it’s dry. Don’t forget grass can still grow even at 5 degrees. If you are finished with it, give it a good clean before you put it away.
8. If you are really bored and looking for something to do, you can always clean and oil your hand tools such as spades, hoes and forks – not my favourite job I must say.
9. Take a few moments to do a bit of garden planning. Look back at your gardening successes and gardening failures and start to plan next year’s projects. There may be beds to dig over or new areas to plant.
10. In the veg plot, clear away any dead or dying plants such as tomatoes and runner beans, dig over any bare areas and mulch with manure.

Hurray for Halloween – It’s Pumpkin time

Pumpkins are one of our most colourful autumnal fruits and at this time of year the supermarkets are full of them. For some growers in certain parts of the country this year has been poor for pumpkins with cold weather and cold winds in the summer resulting in slow growth and small fruit. Fortunately, for most growers (especially squash growers) it’s been a good year.

Part of the cucurbit family, which also includes cucumbers and squashes, pumpkins are really easy to grow yourself.

For best results sow from seed indoors in mid-late April. Sow the seeds on their side 1-2cm deep in small pots into moist compost and then when they have started to grow and put on roots plant them outside into their final position once the daytime temperatures warm up in June. Alternatively, you can also sow the seed direct outdoors in late May – early June. If you don’t fancy growing from seed you can just buy ready–grown seedlings from garden centres in the spring. Pumpkins need a sunny position, away from cold winds and a moisture retentive soil and once planted you mustn’t let them dry out. Space the plants about 1-2metres apart, depending on the variety, to allow enough room for them to grow. You can also grow them in a grow bags, one plant per grow bag. As they are pollinated by insects, pumpkins can suffer in a cool summer when insect activity is reduced but they usually bounce back when it warms up again.

When the fruit starts to swell it’s a good idea to feed with tomato feed every 2 weeks to give them a boost. You’ll find that most pumpkins and squashes develop powdery mildew towards the end of the summer and early autumn but generally it isn’t worth controlling as it doesn’t affect the fruit. Remove any leaves that are overshadowing the fruit so that it gets as much light as possible.

Harvest from September to October and store somewhere cool and dry. In a warm, wet autumn, it’s sometimes a good idea to wipe them with a mild disinfectant  or steriliser (such as Milton fluid) to stop them from rotting too quickly once picked.

Great varieties to try:
‘Atlantic Giant’ – A very large ‘American-style’ pumpkin with pale orange flesh, a great choice for allotments and for showing.
‘Jack of all Trades’– a reliable choice which produces classic, medium-sized, bright orange pumpkins ideal for carving and great for soups.
‘Munchkin’ – a small ornamental bright orange pumpkin. Climbs well if supported.

Favourite squash varieties:
‘Crown Prince’ – a steely blue fruit (see photo above) with a bright orange flesh. Good for soup
‘Kabocha’ – a medium size green pumpkin (see photo above) which has the best chestnut taste. Great for roasting and making soups.

October’s plant of the month

Liriope muscari – Common name lilyturf

A handy evergreen, grass-like perennial with beautiful spikes of purple flowers from September – November. Totally hardy and happy in shade and in any soil. This one is in our north facing garden. Lovely little plant and well worth a place in the garden

Jobs for October 2015

Bizarre and strangely testicular hips of               Red autumn leaves of ornamental cherries

Rosa moyesii ‘ Geranium’

Thanks to a nice bit of high pressure over our part of the country, the start of October looks like being warm, dry and sunny. Let’s hope the weather stays mild and we may be in for an Indian summer. Cool nights and sunny, blue-sky days are great conditions for showing off the autumnal leaf colours at their best. There’s still lots of interest in the garden and still plenty to do. Here are a few jobs to get you thinking;

1. Continue to cut back any dead growth or flower spikes from perennials such as sedums, you might be able to see signs of new growth at the base.

2. Now is a good time to start thinking about giving your lawns some TLC with an autumn lawn treatment. Rake out any thatch of dead brown grass and improve drainage by spiking or aerating. On heavy soils brush sand into the holes to improve drainage and on light sandy soils brush in compost or top soil to improve the moisture retention. If the weather permits you can keep mowing for a few weeks to keep the lawns sharp.

3. Try to keep on top of the leaves if you can, especially if they are on the lawn as they can turn the grass yellow if left to rot. Don’t get too worried about leaves on your flower beds as these will eventually rot down or you can dig them in giving extra nutrients. Diseased leaves should be burnt to stop any infection from carrying over to next year.

4. We try to give roses a light autumn prune, just to put them to bed before Christmas. If you prune down by a third it will stop wind rock which can reduce the rigour of the plant. Rake up and burn old rose leaves, especially if infected with black spot.

5. Tidy up Buddleias now that they have finished flowering. Cut back by a third, just above a pair of leaves. You can cut them back hard in March.

6. Keep lifting and dividing perennials such as Michaelmas Daisies, Alchemila, Campanula and Phlox if required.

7. As deciduous trees are now becoming dormant you can start planting new fruit trees and ornamentals. Peaches and nectarines always do better if planted in the early autumn when the soil is still reasonably warm, apples and pears aren’t so fussy.

8. Now for the ‘f’ word. If frosts have destroyed the last of the summer bedding or you are just fed up with them, pull them up and get rid of them. Think about planting autumn / winter bedding such as Violas and pansies, Bellis, Cyclamen and wall flowers. Pansies and Violas always do better if planted early autumn and I always prefer Violas to pansies as they flower better, look neater and don’t need so much dead heading.

9. Raise your pots up with pot feet to stop them sitting in water over the winter and give some of your more tender plants a bit of protection. If we get some harsh frosts remember that you need to properly fleece your plants; one layer of fleece is not enough you need several layers and cover the pot itself as well.

10. Keep planting spring bulbs, especially daffodils, they always do better when planted Sept / Oct. Tulips can wait until November.

11. Order bare-root plants such as roses, hedging plants and trees for autumn planting. You’ll save money compared to container grown.

12. In the veg garden, harvest your pumpkins and squashes. Once cut you will help storage if you leave them in the sun for a couple of days to let the skins harden before storing somewhere cool, dark and dry.

13. If your tomatoes are still refusing to turn red, try pulling them up and hanging them upside down in the greenhouse or somewhere bright. It should help them to ripen.

September Gardening Tips 2015

Plant of the month – Chinese Plumbago - Ceratostigma willmottianum

1. Plan ahead. Make some notes on the position of your herbaceous perennials in your borders. Now is a good time to think about where to move them to later on in the autumn if you are not happy with their current position or height in the border etc. It is always a good idea to mark them with a stick as they die down so that you don’t dig them up by accident in the spring.

2. Lift and shift. Towards the end of the month you can lift those perennials, divide them and then move them somewhere else.

3. Start thinking about buying and planting spring bulbs. Daffodills are pest planted towards the end of the month and tulips are best planted in November.

4. Cut summer fruiting raspberry canes down to the ground once they have finished fruiting if you didn’t do so last month. The new canes which will still be green will provide fruit for next year so leave these and tie in for next year. Pick autumn flowering raspberries.

5. Continue to collect seed from perennials and annuals once the seed pods have dried out to either give to friends or re-sow yourself.

6. Don’t be tempted to forget about your hanging baskets and pots; keep watering, feeding and deadheading to prolong flowering. Most will flower quite happily until the first frosts.

7. If you are thinking about re-turfing your garden or re-seeding your lawn, now is a good time to do it as the soil is still reasonably warm and there tends to be more rainfall.

8. Continue to harvest your veg, potatoes, sweetcorn, runner beans and tomatoes. If, god forbid, there are any light frosts at the end of the month, cover your outdoor tomatoes with fleece for protection and don’t forget to keep feeding them with tomato feed. Don’t forget keep picking runner beans, ideally when they are young and not stringy, to keep encouraging continued cropping.

9. Net your ponds to ensure they don’t get smothered in leaves when they do start to fall

10. Great time to start planting shrubs and trees as the soil is warm and moist so they should grow away quickly.

August Gardening Tips 2015

Despite the recent wet weather, summer’s not over yet! Don’t despair we can still get a lot of out of our gardens, the Michelmas daisies are looking at their best and Achilleas, Crocosmias, Echinaceas, Dahlias and chrysanths are all bursting with colour. Here are a few jobs to think about.

1. August is a good month to summer prune wisterias. We normally trim back the wispy spurs by about a third or to about 5 or 6 buds from the main stem. To help flowering next year feed with tomato feed to give it a boast. The main pruning time for wisterias is the middle of winter (Jan / Feb) when you trim the spurs back to 2 or 3 buds from the main stem.
2. Continue to deadhead roses and other perennials to prolong flowering.
3. If you want to save seed from your perennials for growing on next year, now is a good time to do so. Cut heads of hardy geraniums, aquilegias and poppys for drying out. Collect the seed in paper bags or envelopes and keep somewhere cool and dry.
4. Identify and mark gaps in your borders now for planting of autumn bulbs before the perennials die down.
5. Once this year’s raspberry canes have finished fruiting cut canes down to the ground and tie in the new canes. Pin strawberry runners into pots of compost to create new plants.
6. Put stakes around autumn flowering perennials such as dahlias, chrysanthemums and michaelmas daisys to keep them supported.
7. As soon as lavender has finished flowering take the shears to it and reduce it back to about ½ inch into the new growth but no lower. Keep the seed heads for their fragrance and use indoors.
8. Continue to feed and water tubs and baskets.
9. Make sure houseplants aren’t left on windowsills in the summer sunshine as they can scorch in direct sunlight.
10.Trim back leggy annuals to give them a new lease of life such as petunias, nicotianas and nemesia.
11.Inject some hot, zingy colours with Crocosmia, Dahlias and red hot poker