Q What was the cause of my strawberry tree’s sudden death?
It’s a practical and pretty way to grow these juicy, summer crops
Different shapes and sizes of strawberry planters are everywhere in garden centres at the moment, with openings and side holes to tuck in a few more plants here and there, designed to give more room and distribute growth evenly. Plastic ‘cascading’ pots are perfect, but traditional-style terracotta ones have a certain romance about them, and tend to look nicer with a set of trailing plants drooping prettily down. They also look great with herbs or succulents in them. As for practicality, these planters also mean they’re mobile and can be turned towards the sun to ripen fruit quicker, plus drainage is better. Caring for strawberries is simple. Give them plenty of sunshine, light and warmth and you’re on to a winner. Water fairly often and feed them every fortnight with a fertiliser rich in potassium, such as tomato feed, and they’ll thrive. Be vigilant with vine weevil as they can nibble up all the roots. Pick off adults whenever you see them or water on nematodes for grub prevention.
They’re one of the easiest crops to grow and often one of the first you’ll harvest, so get them in the ground now spring has sprung. By now your soil, and the weather, will have warmed up enough to freely plant broad bean seed in the ground, with no need for cloches or greenhouse sowing. As long as they’re in a well-draining spot in relative shelter they’ll be fine.
If you have Okra, which has an aubergine-like taste, it can be started off indoors between now and April for a harvest in summer and autumn. Grow it in a greenhouse or outside in a container in a sheltered spot in warmer climates. Fill a tray with seed compost and tap it down to let it settle. Space seeds on the surface, cover with a thin layer of compost and water in. When the plants are big enough to handle in May to early June, transplant into 23-25cm (9-10in) pots, growing bags or the greenhouse border.
Start okra particularly wet soil, though, or claggy clay, you may want to still raise your beans indoors in pots to start with, before planting them out, nicely grown, in late spring. There are dwarf varieties that may not need staking and keep compact growth, such as ‘The Sutton’ and ‘Robin Hood’, but tall-growing varieties will need hefty staking or they’ll fall over.
There are a few problems you may encounter, meaning unhealthy plants and fewer beans to harvest, pesky blackfly being on! Pick them off as soon as you see them, pinching off the top tips of the plant if you need to when they cluster there. Otherwise Bug Clear spray is a good preventative measure. Make sure you water your beans well, too, as they may not set fruit if they’re too thirsty.
Remove old foliage from grasses now to freshen them up
Having left your ornamental grasses to add a little bulk and interest to the garden over the winter, they’ll be getting a little saggy now and desperate for a bit of a tidy-up. But it all depends on what grass you have – evergreens need only a little combing through of all their dead stems and any damaged ones, and may not appreciate a full haircut! However, as deciduous grasses are dead stems, they’ll need a heavy chop to the ground to leave room for new ones to grow. Deciduous Stipa tenuissima is a bit of anexception, as in many gardens it behaves as an evergreen, depending on its environment.
If it has stayed predominantly green it may just need a comb through, too. The exception in the evergreen camp is pampas grass, which benefits from a good cut down right to the ground. Be careful of damaging any fresh growth if you see it. Combing through grasses simply involves using your hands, with your gloved fingers running through it to release loose leaves, or gently raking them if they’re ground-grown. Use secateurs to cut back deciduous grasses to a few centimetres above the ground, and pull out loose strands by hand. If you think your grass may need it, incorporate general fertiliser into the area around the grass to help it into new growth.
Get the best chance for a good leek harvest
Leeks are hardy souls. They take a long time to fully reach maturity, but stoutly sail through winters, standing firm in the ground through to spring. Many people find that a spring sowing doesn’t quite cut it, and leeks sown then end up less robust, smaller and a bit of a damp squib. Sown indoors in January, leeks have a longer time to bulk up and become large enough to pick successfully. This is particularly important for any leeks you’ve decided to exhibit this year, so they’ll be ready on time. Thinly sow the black seed in trays, pots or modules of firmed down, level seed compost, cover over with a thin layer of more compost, watering in well. A good way to leave the seed undisturbed is to put the tray into water
So it can initially soak it up from the bottom. Put the tray in a warm spot – a heated propagator or a warm windowsill – and in a fortnight or so you’ll see some signs of germination. If using a heated propagator, switch it off when this happens so seedlings don’t grow tall, thin and leggy. Prick out seedlings into bigger pots when they’re large enough, and they’ll be fine in a cold frame or in the greenhouse. It’s best to sow successionally indoors and then sow a few lots of seed outdoors from spring, so that you don’t have a load of leeks all at once. By mid spring your pencil like seedlings should be good to plant out into the ground, ready to flourish in the open. Leeks like rich soil and consistent, regular watering through summer, so tend to them well.
Four varieties to get you started...
Decorate it with ribbons and berries!
Perhaps you’ve got a keen culinary relative who’s a budding gardener in the making and you’re trying to think of a suitably appropriate present? What better than the gift of beautiful aroma tagged on to some relatively easy gardening!
An array of evergreen herbs, all available now to plant, will adorn a patio all year round with smell and colour, and flowers in many cases. They’re all low maintenance and snipping off segments to use in the kitchen is a healthy pruning exercise for your plants, though some woody ones such as rosemary need to be kept in check and pruned after flowering to keep them bushy. Replace most herbs every few years to refresh your collection. Once planted up, decorate with ribbons and berried stems for a festive feel! Tell the recipient to pop their planter in a sunny spot, or keep it on a windowsill or in a conservatory for easy access until the spring, watering well.
It’s an easy and interesting way to propagate
It’s that time of year when many of your plants are in their dormant stage, overwintering in the ground nicely before waking up to produce a spectacular display next year. While they’re at this stage, you can be propagating them by taking root cuttings, an easy and interesting job to carry out. Basically, lots of plants are very willing to regrow from cuttings taken from various parts of their anatomy, and acanthus, Oriental poppies, phlox and verbascum are just some of the flowers that respond really well to this root method. This is because their roots are particularly fleshy and robust.
But why take root cuttings now instead of by other means? This is because they’re low maintenance. You simply need to place your cuttings in a cold frame and kept lightly moist until spring. Also, being propagated straight from the root means new plants grown from these cuttings will be extra strong and vigorous – just be sure you initially choose a healthy plant’s roots to start with. Not to mention that cuttings taken now frees you up during the rest of the year to get on with all those other garden jobs that need doing. Next spring, be sure to pot up your well-rooted cuttings, grow them on and then plant out the year after.
There’s still some useful gardening to be done this month, particularly when it comes to planting. You can be creating a beautiful summer garden in the depths of late autumn! Here, Ian is planting out some hollyhocks, which have been grown from seed a few months ago, getting established as young plants in the greenhouse until now. They appreciate a sunny spot, which will help bring out all its blowsy blooms when the time comes in high summer. It’s easy to plant perennials.
All you have to do is make sure they have enough space for their roots to establish comfortably, but you do have to consider what soil and aspect each of your plants needs, and when to plant them. If they’re bought as bare root, like wallflowers or geraniums, they’re best planted now or in spring, during the small yearly windows when the soil is at its most moist.
It’s easier with container grown hardy perennials, as they can be planted all year round as long as the soil is pliable enough. Bare root, however, do tend to establish better and produce a more robust rooted plant. Simply make sure the soil in the area you plant in is well weeded and not compacted, so roots can develop freely. Keep young plants well watered as they grow, and keep an eye out for slugs and snails!
Gather autumn bounty for floral arrangements
There’s so much that can be gleaned from the garden to make your own seasonal display, in the brightest of colours down to the beautiful mute browns reminiscent of this time of year. Even plants that have died and faded to produce seed heads are beautiful, and truly capture the spirit of late autumn! Basically, anything goes. Harvest all the colourful, interesting plants you can, and it may be that this forms part of your pruning and general garden tidy up now, too. It’s best to keep it a dry arrangement with no water, so that dry stems don’t rot. You can simply just replace the live blooms that fade quickly with others.
Get in the spirit of the season and turn your patio, conservatory or garden table into a Halloween spooktacular! Perhaps you've been growing pumpkins and squash varieties and can only eat so much pie and soup! Then put the surplus to good use int he display, planting them up with contrasting seasonal bedding such as purple violas. Just scoop out the flesh as normal, fill with multi-purpose compost and plant up as a container. Choose orange, black, blood-red and purple plants and orange and black plant pots and candles to up the scare appeal.
As well as Halloween, your arrangement can also be a wonderful celebration of the season. In fact, apart from the pumpkins, your display will last long into the next month and beyond as a late autumn display, giving a beautiful muted orange hue to the garden long after Halloween has gone! Plus, you'll be enjoying the skimmlas, grasses and pitcher plants well into the next few years.
Cyclamen will give you sharp bursts of colour
Not many plants will be happy languishing in the shade underneath a large tree, but some, such as cyclamen, positively love it! Why not make your own mini woodland with low-growing, sharp bursts of colour from these perennial favourites? Plus you can have different coloured species giving you flowers for six months of the year.
Be sure to choose hardy species, as detailed below. As for planting, space plants about 30cm (1ft) apart for a sparser look, and to leave room for naturalising, or you can plant densely at about 20cm (8in) for more wow factor. If you’re planting into a grassy area, dig out a small sod from the top of your planting hole, ready to be replaced later, then dig a hole deep and big enough for the plants’ root system. Try and dig in a little compost or leaf mould into each hole, to nourish the plants and water well.
Place the plants in, backfill with a little soil and replace as much of the top of the piece of turf as possible. If you’re planting into bare soil, mulch around plants with bark to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Over the next few years, your wild cyclamen spot will increase in size.
Many tall or large, gangly shrubs like roses will need a prune now to prevent them from getting damaged by wind rock. Autumn and winter winds mean your plants get pushed and pulled around ultimately by their roots, which obviously anchor them to the soil. Roots can rip and come loose, making for an unstable, unhealthy plant. Water may even collect in the soil gaps created, which can increase the chance of rotting, too. Trim back one third of the branch growth, down to a bud, which will help prevent the worst of the wind becoming harmful. Make sure the bud is facing the way you want your branches to grow.
There’s still so much colour you can add to the garden
What many see as the ‘off season’ is really a misnomer, with arguably the most colourful and interesting plants of all. One way you can add some brightness and beauty to your garden is with a rockery, with many alpines and rockery plants coming into their own now. Create your own little permanent mound or, better still, plant up a mobile feature in a wheelbarrow, which can be moved at different times of the year, for example, to a sheltered spot in autumn.
By their nature, rockery and alpine plants love well-drained spots, rocky slopes and sun, so have a go at recreating a naturalistic mini version. The plants listed below are extremely robust, standing firm through winter, many also being evergreen, and furnishing you with more flowers next spring, summer and autumn.
The plants we used: Cyclamen hederifolium, sedums ‘Rose Carpet’ and ‘Ruby Glow’, gentiana ‘Shot Silk’, scutellaria ‘Texas Rose’, rhodohypoxis ‘Claret’, plus evergreens: heather, sea thrift, Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’, juniper Icee Blue, and Pinus mugo ‘Humpy’.
Get more of your favourite plants by growing your own
It’s easy to get excited by all the beautiful berried plants at this time of year, as they light up the garden with clusters of colour. Red, orange and yellow pyracantha, rowan and hawthorn berries are all prolific, as are drooping bunches of rose hips.
If you’d like to extend your collection, propagating is an easy way to do so. Using the seed is so simple, and often more fail-safe than taking cuttings. Plus, the exciting part is that the offspring of your seed-raised plants will be slightly different to its parent in colour, form and habit, which adds a bit of a thrill to the process.
Cuttings, on the other hand, give out exact clones of the originals, and may not be as healthy as seed-grown plants.
It’s best to sow seed now rather than saving it and waiting until spring, as it may not be successful at germinating then because it’s too old. Transplant tray-grown seedlings into bigger pots as soon as you can next year, and harden them off outside in spring, before planting them out in autumn.
Step by step: extracting and sowing seed
Boston ivy's wine-red foliage is a magnificent sight
At this time of year, we're all trying to put as much colour into the garden as possible and replicate the vivid colours of summer. Some climbers are wonderful for scent and flowers but, in autumn in particular, there are many with awe-inspiring foliage.
Being planted here is Boston ivy or parthenocissus 'Veitchii' a fast growing climber that's happy in a sunny or shady spot. It'll take up to two years to establish, but the effect of it's wine-red foliage growing up a tree, through a hedge or over an old chimney is magnificent.
It's also a classic for the wall of a house, but it has been known to damage brickwork over time and it needs controlling with a good prune in the winter.
Planting it in a large pot is a good way to keep it in check. Water well and support it with tall canes to start with and then, as it grows, try it up a large obelisk or pergola for a stunning autumn garden feature.
It will help keep you free of all problem pests!
The sure-fire way to prevent birds and other animals attacking and eating your plump, ripening fruit is to use a good old-fashioned net to cover them. As our garden animals, insects and birds can’t distinguish between berried bushes that are there for them to eat and those we grow for our own use, we’ve no choice but to do something about it at this time of year.
Now your autumn fruit trees have been pollinated and the fruit is set and ripening, you can invest in a good solid roll of mesh from the garden centre, which will prevent against birds, wasps, squirrels, aphids, hard rain damage and hail.
If you only have problems with birds, you can use larger- holed bird netting, but to be free of all problem pests, use a tight mesh that only lets rainfall in. Keep checking it regularly to ensure it’s still tight and secure.
As well as larger trees, net over your autumn raspberry and blackberry bushes, too.
The common pests to watch out for!
It’s so easy and you’ll be rewarded with blooms!
Your lily flowers have probably seen better days this year so why not try and increase your stock? Lilies, as well as most other bulbs, are keen to propagate, it cam become a little bit of an obsession – next year you’ll soon have pots and pots of deliciously fragment blooms you won’t know what to do! Once you’ve potted up your scales and bulblets following the guide below, grow them in a frost free greenhouse over winter and plant them out in spring once established.
Step by Step
- Lift out a healthy lily bulb by the plant clean it and discard any damaged outer scales.
- Carefully snap off some scales from the bulb with as much of the base of the scale intact as possible.
- Put the scales in a bag of coir compost and handful of perlite. Shake, seal and put in the airing cupboard for six weeks.
- Bulblets will appear on the scales. When they do, pot them on individually covered with a layer of compost.
Snip away now to get more plants for free next year
A good way of propagating fuchsias at this time of year is by taking semi-ripe cuttings. It’s an easy way of creating new plants for free and you won’t need anything special to do it with, just a sharp knife, some pots and good compost. Follow the steps below and then place your trays or pots of cuttings in a greenhouse, making sure they’re warm and in a bright position. Keep compost damp but not overly moist, as too much water means fungal infections are more likely. Get rid of any wilted or clearly unhealthy cuttings as soon as possible to prevent infection spreading. If you’re taking cuttings a bit later in the year, into autumn, they may need some bottom heat in the form of heat mats. Summer cuttings taken now should be fine though. Give it a few weeks and you’ll be able to tell if your cuttings are working well. They’ll look healthy and green, not wilting, and as if they’re growing a little. This is a good sign that roots have formed well. Leave your new plants to harden off in an unheated greenhouse before potting them on in spring.
1 Pick a fresh, healthy-looking, non-flowering shoot from this year’s growth.
2 Remove all the lower leaves with a sharp knife, leaving just the top ones.
3 Trim just below a leaf node and cut top new leaf growth off, so there are two leaves left.
4 Dip in hormone powder and add to pots of good cuttings compost. Water well.
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