Pep up your strawberry patch

Keep your crops fresh and replace older ones to prevent disease.

Autumn’s the time to revamp your strawberry patch, freshening up plants and making way for the new. Strawberries are best replanted every three years as infection from damaging viruses will gradually take hold, reducing vigour and yield. The viruses are spread from plant to plant, mainly by greenfly (aphids) and leafhoppers as they feed on the plant.

To ensure your schedule of fruiting is not interrupted, it makes sense to replace some plants on a yearly basis. In other words, you’ll have one patch containing plants that are one year old, another with plants two years old and one more with plants in their final year.

Providing they’re healthy you can also use your fruiting beds for propagation, letting runners root to create new plants. Planting rooted runners at this time of year should ensure that a small but welcome crop will be produced from these new plants next year.

As well as freshening up your plant stock, you can be trimming and tidying and generally ensuring there’s good air flow to your plants and no pests or disease are encouraged.

Sow grass seed

Done now it has time to grow strong before winter.

September is an ideal time to sow grass seed while the soil temperature is still warm and hopefully moistened by the first of the autumn rains. Sowing now can be done to create a new lawn from scratch or to repair damaged areas in an existing lawn.

The main advantage of sowing now is the seed will have plenty of time to germinate and grow before the onset of winter. As well as producing plenty of top growth, more importantly the new grass will be able to establish a strong root system, to get it through winter. Come next spring the lawn will grow away to produce a thick, healthy lawn. When creating a new lawn, the area needs preparing properly to remove any perennial weeds and this can be done by thoroughly forking them out, or you can spot treat with weed killer. The ground can then be cultivated by forking the soil over or rotavating, before raking, treading and a final rake to produce a firm, fine seed bed to sow the seed on. When repairing worn areas, use a fork or rake to loosen the surface where the grass is thin or damaged to expose some soil to sow the grass seed onto. Sown now in moist, warm soil, the seed should be through in 10-14 days.

Trim conifers

A neat hedge now will hold its shape until spring.

Trim conifers - step 2.jpg

Late summer or early autumn is the traditional time to give conifers a trim to tidy them up ready for winter. Growth has really slowed down by this time of the year and no new growth will be made over the coming months, meaning the hedge will keep its newly trimmed shape right the way through winter and until growth starts again next spring.

Trimming now also allows the wounds plenty of time to heal over before the weather turns cold and frosty. If conifers are cut in the winter, there’s a chance that some of the cut branches will die-back after heavy frosts.

All types of conifer can be trimmed now including yew, thuja and leylandii. Unfortunately, Leylandii has received bad press over the years, but when it’s trimmed and kept to a manageable size it makes a good, dense hedge and is no more difficult to look after than any other type of hedge.

All that’s needed is an annual trim at this time of the year to keep all conifer hedges in shape and to maintain the size. How you trim will depend on the size of the hedge, but whether using hand-shears or a hedge-cutter, the aim is to cut back all the new growth that has been made this summer, back to the established shape.

Take rosemary cuttings

Keep enjoying more of this aromatic plant for free.

1) GN120354.jpg

What gardener wouldn’t want more rosemary plants about the place? An evergreen sun-lover that not only has ornamental value as a drought tolerant flowering shrub (fantastic news in weather like we’ve had this summer!), it’s also useful all year round as the most perfect aromatic herb with roast potatoes.

You can propagate this all-singing, all-dancing all-rounder now via semi-ripe cuttings, from sections of cut stem that have all the fresh green growth at the top, and woodier, older growth at the bottom. Seed-grown rosemary is a lengthy business, taking a long time to grow. Make it easier for yourself with ‘vegetative’ propagation instead – that is asexual reproduction from plant material.

Unfortunately rosemary plants have a limited shelf life in regards to productivity, especially if not pruned regularly – they’re woody herbs that get leggy and large, with old growth not producing fresh shoots. Once this happens it’s best to replace the plants; if this has happened to you, taking cuttings is the best option.

Don’t let cuttings dry out – they need moisture as young, growing plants, but will need less of it once they’ve rooted. Pot on cuttings once rooted, and pinch out the tip to create a bushy plant. Plant out in full sun in spring.

Plant dazzling daffodils now

And get ready for glorious spring colour.

AR5CCR.jpg

This is one of the simplest, most satisfying jobs in the gardener’s autumn calendar, and it’s always exciting to think ahead as to how your easy bit of daffodil planting now will look in six months’ time!

It’s all in the planning and design – decide whether you want large swathes of bold colour from big, brassy daffodils, or small clumps of gorgeous scent and dainty blooms from smaller-growing narcissus species and varieties.

‘Daffodils’ are usually the larger hybrids with no scent, while ‘narcissus’ are commonly miniature species or varieties with fabulous scent. These smaller mini daffs usually have the more interesting flower shapes and look great in rockery plantings, window boxes, in containers planted close together, and as front of border beauties.

Larger daffs look great planted in bunches in borders or lawns as sunny harbingers of bright garden colour to come!

As for planting, use a bulb planter for ease and make a hole 10cm deep to plant in, and plant around two bulb’s width apart. Plant in sizeable groups together as this makes the best impact, and make sure they’re in a warm, sunny spot. Here are some splendid daffodil varieties to try…

Pot up hyacinths for Christmas

Now's the time to get started to ensure seasonal blooms.

Pot hyacinths - main shot 2.jpg

Hyacinths make great indoor flowering bulbs for Christmas and the New Year and not only do they add colour to a room, they also have a lovely, sweet scent.

If you want to grow your own hyacinths to enjoy over winter, now’s the time to get started. When buying the bulbs it’s important that you get prepared bulbs which are always a little more expensive.

Prepared bulbs have been given a special heat treatment which allows them to be forced into flower earlier than they would naturally flower. If you buy and pot natural hyacinths (not prepared) they will still grow but you won’t get flowers until spring.

To get flowers for Christmas the prepared bulbs need to be planted by the middle of September at the latest and they need to be kept cool and dark for the first 8-10 weeks to allow a strong root system to develop. After this time the bulbs can be brought into a light, cool place for the flowers and foliage to develop.

It’s often thought that the bulbs should be placed somewhere warm, which is totally the opposite of what they want. Warm growing conditions will result in leggy, weak plants. Hyacinth bulbs can cause irritation and itchy skin, so if you have delicate skin, wear cloves when handling. 

Prune and tie in summer raspberries

Prune and tie-in summer raspberries.

Summer raspberries - step 2.jpg

Varieties of summer fruiting raspberries such as ‘Malling Jewel’ and ‘Glen Ample’ that produce berries in July can now be given their annual prune and tidy up before autumn sets in. All summer varieties fruit on the previous season’s growth and after the crop has been picked, the long canes that have fruited should be pruned out completely as they won’t fruit again next year. The fresh, new canes that have been growing from ground level this summer are the ones that will bear delicious raspberries next summer and they need looking after by carefully tying them into the horizontal wires.

Pruning is very easy and it’s simply a case of cutting all the old canes that are usually brown in colour down to ground level. If you are not sure look for the old fruit stalks at the top of the canes. The new, greener canes don’t need any pruning at this stage as they are still growing. Where the raspberry plants have produced lots of new canes, you might need to thin them out to prevent over- crowding when they are tied to the support wires. Ideally, they should be spaced approximately 15cm (6in) apart or a little wider. Surplus and weak new canes can be removed by cutting them out at ground level.   

Take semi-ripe cuttings of evergreens

It's easy to get more of your favourites for free.

1) GNNH180922.jpg

Got a favourite evergreen that you’d like to make more of and use elsewhere in the garden? Well now’s the perfect time to take semi-ripe (or semi-hardwood) cuttings taken from this season’s new stem growth, which will root nice and easily taken now. Often evergreens are expensive to buy in the shops, and are usually only available as pricey well-grown specimens, so easy cuttings taken now will cost you nothing at all!

Most types of cuttings taken now are semi-ripe – before July you’re taking softwood cuttings, and after about October the plant has matured and hardened, and you take hardwood cuttings. There are different types of semi-ripe cutting, including basal and mallet cuttings (this last type uses the leaves with a small piece of stem at the end), but the basic method is all you need for many of your evergreen plants.

Ensure you select healthy, fresh, undamaged stems that have good, even growth and clean leaves. The base of the cutting should be harder and the tops soft and fresh. Take at least four cuttings, keep them moist at all times and be on the look out for any that have failed – remove these to allow viable ones to flourish. Here’s how to take choisya cuttings – though it’s the same for many evergreens.

Deal with fungal infections

Be vigilant so you can sort out any attacks quickly and efficiently.

shutterstock_82512328.jpg

While there are a couple of fungicides available to the home gardener on ornamental plants – Scotts Fungus Clear or Bayer Fungus Fighter – there are no chemical controls available at all that deal with edibles. Therefore manual methods of control and vigilance are needed, particularly now when lots of edible plants are coming to fruition.

The reliance on chemical controls by us home gardeners is constantly reducing, which is a good thing for the environment and for our wildlife, so we need to be well versed in how to deal with fungal attacks without resorting to sprays. Good garden cultivation means prevention is better than cure, so create the best environment possible for your plants at the outset and they’ll be set up to grow into sturdy plants that will resist disease attack as best they can. Water and feed correctly, use the right composts and soil improvers and keep your working stations hygienic at all times – these simple steps will prevent many a fungus from holding court. However, weather variations can act as catalysts and breeding grounds for all sorts of things that we can’t help. Winds, dry or humid weather are to blame for many pests and diseases, not necessarily you!

Below are a few fungal infections to combat now; you can always try growing more resistant varieties in future, too, to lessen the chance of infections.

Prune and train wisteria

Gives yours a cut back now to keep it neat and tidy.

Wisteria pruning - step 2.jpg

A well-grown wisteria trained on a house or pergola looks great all year round, especially in late spring when in full bloom. When established, wisteria make strong growth and unless they are trained and pruned on a regular basis they can soon become a tangled mass of twisted stems. Ideally, they prefer a sunny position such as a south or west facing aspect. In this situation the shoots will ripen in the late summer sun to induce flower buds for the following year. When training a young plant, the long growths will need tying to a trellis or wires to form a permanent framework of branches. Excessive growth will need thinning and where possible as many branches as possible should be trained horizontally to encourage flowers.  

After flowering in late spring the plant goes into growth mode and over the summer long, whippy stems will be produced. It’s these long growths that need pruning back at this time of the year to tidy up the plant and maintain the trained shape. If not pruned, the plant will very quickly become overgrown.

Although wisteria prefers a sunny spot, this year some plants have suffered in the heat and dry conditions. Where plants are looking stressed and the leaves are drying out, give the roots a good soak to keep the plant ticking over. 

Essential chilli care

It's been a good summer for these largely Mexican natives!

shutterstock_560697364.jpg

Once you’ve potted on your growing chillies into increasingly larger pots, they should be romping away outside in the hot sun and warm weather this summer. It’s certainly a good year for these largely Mexican natives!

Chillies need a regime of simple care to produce the best flavours and sizes of chillies, starting with good watering – water regularly in spells of no rain and don’t let them dry out too much, or this may increase flower or pod drop.

As for feeding, they need a tomato food or a seaweed feed every 10 days to encourage flowers and fruit, as opposed to too much foliage.

Chillies may need staking, and when they’re around 30cm tall you can pinch out the tips to create more of a bushy plant, much as you would sweet peas.

Pick fruit often, testing out varying sizes to see which have the taste you like – those with a bit of heat, or riper, more coloured ones that blow your mouth off! The larger you leave them, they’ll change colour and taste better, but this is at the expense of the production of much more fruit.

Did you know you can overwinter chillies? Trim your plant down to a few healthy branches in winter after having brought them indoors to a warm spot, water and let them live on as a house plant until next year. This will produce varying degrees of success, depending on the variety.

Plant up citrus in pots

Add zesty fruit and colour to your late summer garden.

shutterstock_1118606081.jpg

Citrus fruit is easier to grow than you think, and brings a slice of sunnier climes to your patio on a balmy summer evening. The scent of the fruit, leaves and flowers is more than enough to tempt you to grow them in a pot!

Well-established plants are available now from online garden centres or down your local nursery, and can be planted up as a late addition to your summer pot collection in shelter and bright sunshine. Plant using a special citrus compost such as those made by Levington or Westland, or use a John Innes no.2 improved with grit. Use an ericaceous version if you have hard water. Pop your pot outdoors until around late September, when you can keep it as a lovely feature in a conservatory or greenhouse at a minimum of 10C through winter, though calamondins need a little higher. Hardy oranges and certain lemons and limes can tolerate a lot lower temperatures, but newly planted they’ll appreciate a bit of protection until they mature further.

Water well and feed during the summer, and then use a balanced feed and water less through winter. As for pruning, they simply need a reshape in spring before going outside to enjoy the summer again!

Plant perennials for late-summer colour

Pop a few in now to brighten up your borders.

Plant perennials - step 3.jpg

In late summer some gardens can start to look a little tired and ‘end of season’, especially after a period of hot, dry weather. Many summer-flowering perennials are starting to go over and borders can start to look short of colour and interest.

That doesn’t have to be the case though, and by introducing a selection of different plants into the border it’s very easy to extend the flowering season and keep the garden colourful and interesting right the way through until early autumn.

At this time of the year nurseries, garden centres and exhibitors at shows have a good selection of late summer-flowering plants that can be planted straight into the garden. These hardy perennials will add instant colour to the garden and by next year when they’ve bulked up they’ll create an even better display.

Although the main planting time for perennials is spring or autumn, it’s perfectly fine to plant in August, if you prepare the ground and keep the plants watered to help them establish. Fork over the area where you’re planting and mix in a little general fertiliser and garden compost to improve the soil. Water the plants in their pots before planting, and after they’re planted in the border, give them a good water to encourage root growth.  

Summer prune apples

A trim now will keep your tree neat and encourage more fruit.

Summer prune apples step 3.jpg

To help keep apple trees to a manageable size, healthy and fruiting they do require some pruning, and this is done in winter or summer.

Winter pruning tends to be formative pruning to create a shape and also to thin out weak and congested growth to keep the trees open. Summer pruning is done to reduce the long new growth made this growing season to maintain the shape of the tree.

It’s mainly done on trained apples trees such as cordons, espaliers and step-overs and by cutting back the new growth it keeps a neat shape and diverts energy into the developing fruits. This type of pruning is also sometimes called spur pruning, because you cut back to just an inch or two to create short growths known as spurs. It’s on the spurs that fruit will develop next year.

Bush and standard apple trees can also be summer pruned to prevent them from growing too tall or wide, and again this consists of cutting back the new growths by half or two thirds, or in some situations where the tree needs restricting, you can spur prune.

Summer pruning is normally done in August as little new growth will be made after this and also to allow time for flower buds to start and develop for next spring.

Take extra care when planting

Drought conditions means the ground's tough to crack.

4) _Y2G5958.jpg

A drought is not the best time to buy and plant new stock in the ground. Container plants are always tempting, so preferably continue investing in these to brighten the garden! However, if you’re one of those people who can’t resist the temptation to keep planting (like most of us here at Garden News!), remember that it’s even more important to prepare your planting site well now.

Dig an extra large hole and incorporate some moist potting or garden compost, and sprinkle in a little Growmore to encourage root development. Mulching with a thick layer of organic material such as bark, compost or well-rotted manure will help to keep the roots cool until the heat finally subsides.

Watering is the most essential task, though. Soak the roots of your plant as soon as it’s been planted and make sure it’s topped up – every day if necessary, until it gets established. If you’re planting in a sunny site, you might need to shade your plant for a few weeks with some netting, or a net curtain.

Keep a beady eye on all your newly planted things in this weather – it’ll take a bit more care to see them through but it’ll be worth it.

Plant a pot that bees will love

Give pollinators a late-summer treat with a bright container.

BNK2F3.jpg

It’s got to that point in the summer where you’ve got most of your plants in, and you’ve tried to keep everything going despite less rain – but maybe you’ve done a quick survey and noticed a little more colour could be squeezed into the garden? Not only that, have you provided enough for butterflies and bees? Well, if you’re lacking in suitable pollinator plants, it’s a good excuse to get planting now!

Bees are always under pressure to find enough pollen and nectar, and streamlined, landscaped gardens, farm fields or grass verges stripped of useful flowers, or gardens planted with only foliage or sterile blowsy bedding can play a part. The recent hot weather means bees get tired and expend more energy, so help them out so they don’t have to fly far to get more sustenance. 

Don’t think your plot’s too small for some helpful bee plants – you can always pop some in a pot! Take a trip to the garden centre and watch what the bees land on; simply pick the blooms they love. Use a good multi-purpose compost, and keep the pot watered well – once the plants die down in autumn, any perennials that have gone over can be planted out in the garden. Kill two birds with one stone – bring bright patio flower power to your plot, and help our friendly bees!

Last chance to sow!

Start more crops now and you can harvest for the rest of the year.

FYH98N.jpg

It’s around now that you’ll start to think about wrapping up your plot’s growing season, turning your attention fully to harvesting. The work will slow down and you’ll notice a change of pace as you descend into late summer. However, it’s not over till it’s over! It’s last chance saloon for a number of crops that you can still sow now, with a view to harvesting them in a couple of months or so.

There are plenty of herbs that can still be sown now for use in a few weeks – basil and dill can be grown in pots for late summer and autumn use, and can then be brought inside when the weather turns. Chervil and parsley on the other hand, sown now, will be excellent herbs to pop by the back door outside to harvest through winter.

Mizuna, mustard and rocket will be good additions to salads, sown every couple of weeks or so, through the rest of summer, autumn and beyond. Elsewhere on the plot, this is another reminder to get your Christmas potatoes planted now, for harvesting in late autumn and through December.

Prepare lawns for rain!

Yes, we will get some again, so make sure your grass is ready for it.

Summer lawn care - step 1.jpg

A well-maintained lawn helps to set off the planting in beds and borders and provides an open space of cool green! However, this summer with the prolonged period of hot dry weather lawns in gardens across the country have suffered, especially where the soil is free draining. Instead of a lush, green sward, many lawns have dried out and turned brown. Watering lawns to keep them green uses a great deal of water and it encourages shallow roots that are more prone to drought and cold conditions in winter. By not watering, the roots will grow deeper in search of water and although the grass may brown off a little, in the long term it will produce a stronger lawn. Fortunately, grass has great powers of recovery, and soon starts to green up after a few showers of rain.      

To help lawns recover after a drought there are several things that we can do to get the grass growing again. Weeds that continued to grow in the dry weather can be dealt with by hand weeding or by spot treating them with a selective lawn weed killer. A light scarify and spiking will also remove dead material and allow rain to soak in and finally, when the soil is moist and the grass is starting to green up, you can give it a feed.   

Take clematis cuttings now

It's so simple to do and will reward you with new plants.

Clematis prop - step 3.jpg

Clematis are one of the most popular climbing plants in our gardens and their flowers come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from small bell-shaped to large blousy blooms. By planting a selection of different species and varieties, it’s possible to have them in flower for most of the year, including the winter months.

Most types can be propagated by cuttings taken at this time of the year. Unlike a conventional cutting that’s taken using the tip of the stem, with clematis several cuttings can be made from one of the long stems, and instead of trimming the cutting below a leaf joint or node, we make the cut between the node to produce what is known as an inter-nodal cutting.

Preparing the cuttings is very simple and all you do is trim immediately above a pair of leaves and then approximately 2.5-5cm (1-2in) below. It’s the stem below the leaves and buds that’s inserted into the compost to root and once roots have developed, the two buds at the top will grow to form a new plant.

In order for the cuttings to root, they need to be kept moist and in humid conditions to prevent the foliage from drying out. A small propagator stood in a shady part of the greenhouse is ideal for this.   

Manage your crops

Make the most of what you've grown so far by managing crops well.

GNNH180781.jpg

High summer is all about surveying all your hard work on your fruit and veg patch, enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done through the year, harvesting plenty of lovely produce – but also managing crops well as they continue to grow so they reach their potential.

Keep your beady eye on anything amiss – pest damage, dry compost, weed growth, and tend to them little and often so the jobs don’t seem like chores. And water well!

Tomatoes, squashes and other fruiting crops need continual feeding every week – always write down when you feed your plants; time flies when you’re having fun and before you know it, it’ll have been longer than it should have been since you last gave them a feed!

Keep up the harvesting and get creative in the kitchen to use up gluts – see our Homegrown page at the back of your Garden News each week to get some great ideas. Usually the more you harvest, the more will grow. You can start saving veg seed for next year from your plants now they’re flowering and fruiting, too.

If all this fertiliser is a strain on your wallet, think about making your own comfrey tea now, which is a rich source of nutrients and completely free if you grow it in your garden – if not, source some from a neighbour. Rot down its chopped leaves in a lidded container with some water for a few weeks.

Best of all, try and sit and enjoy your garden in summer – you spend a lot of time on it, so relax and enjoy its charms in high season.