Take hardwood cuttings

It’s an effective way to get soft fruit bushes for free.

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Hardwood cuttings taken in November is a very simple and effective way to produce new soft fruit bushes such as black, red and whitecurrants, and gooseberries. Cuttings taken now will root over the winter and next spring the dormant buds will come to life and produces new shoots to form a young bush. From taking the cutting to having a new bush to plant into the garden takes one year and the percentage of cuttings that root is usually very high.

To take cuttings from your fruit bushes you need to select this season’s new growth and the plants need to be healthy and vigorous. Never take cuttings from weak or diseases plants.

The stems are trimmed to length and are simply inserted into a prepared area of the garden or you can root them in pots in a cold frame. No heat is needed at all and the cuttings will sit happily outside in the garden.

To help a good root system form, preparing the soil by forking it over and mix in some well-rotted garden compost, but do not apply any fertiliser. In pots, use a well-drained multipurpose compost as a growing media.

As well as fruit bushes, many ornamental shrubs such as buddleja, forsythia, spiraea, deutzia and weigela can also be propagated now by hardwood cuttings.   

Create a greenhouse display

Providing just a little heat is all that’s needed.

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A greenhouse is a real asset in the garden and provides you with a place to garden all through the year. By providing just a little heat through the winter months you can easily grow a wide range of plants that wouldn’t survive in a cold, unheated greenhouse.

All that is needed to keep a range of tender plants is a little gentle heat to provide frost-free growing conditions. A small electric fan heater with a build-in thermostat is ideal set at around 5-6oC (40-42oF). When the air temperature drops below this, the heater will switch on and supply warm air. This is a very economical way to heat a greenhouse and keep plants frost free at night. In these conditions you can easily grow a range of tender foliage and flowering plants to create a colourful display in the greenhouse over winter. As winter goes on you many need to change and swap some of the plant around as they either finish flowering, or come into flower, but with a mix of interesting foliage plants you can easily have plants that will look good from now right the way through the winter.

Not only will the plants look attractive, it also gives you somewhere to potter around over the winter months when the weather is too cold and wet to work outside.

Plant evergreen shrubs for colour

Bring brightness to the winter plot with some lively planting.

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The beauty of planting now is that plants get well established and mature well before next year, with all the moisture and good quality, improved soil needed for good growth. And to inject a bit of life in the garden now, your shrubs needn’t be all one colour green, or without any leaves until next year – bring in some brightly coloured evergreens (or ‘ever-pinks’, ‘ever-yellows’ or ever-reds!) into the fold now and your garden will sparkle in the cold season.

Simply dig a wide, square hole and fork over the bottom a little for good drainage. Sprinkle a little Rootgrow for good root system establishment and set the plant in, watering it well. It’s common to think we have good rain in autumn, but it’s often surprising how long it can be between rain showers. Ensure these shrubs get good water – those planted in pots of course need more water than those in the ground. It can be common for potted evergreens to get just as drought-ridden as in summer due to sparse rainfall; be vigilant and top them up. Use John Innes compost no.3 to house container evergreens.

Bed down your plot for winter

It’s an exciting time as you make preparations for next year’s crops.

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Your veg patch will be a shadow of its former self at this time of year, with plant remains, depleted soil, bare patches and tools and other dirty debris left over. However, it’s an exciting time really, when you can plan and prepare, and start again from scratch. Gardening’s very therapeutic and being able to start afresh from any of this year’s weather or cultivation disasters is rewarding to the soul! So, it’s time to get it all ship shape for another year, tidy and clean for when you want to start again proper.

On warmer, dry and non-frosty days you can get the fork out for a good dig over of the ground, turning over the soil and breaking up the hard clods. If your soil’s too hard and frosty to work, you can simply add a thick layer of rotted manure or good garden compost over the top to slowly bed down in its own time.

Ensure cloches are handy and clean in case of really harsh winters – you’ll need to help some of your crops in situ and cloche over winter greens and young plants to get them through the worst of it. Those areas you’re not using can be covered over with a weed-suppressing membrane or some black plastic until spring, saving you dealing with any interim weeds.

Have a look at some catalogues and enjoy ordering a few more seeds and plants, and look forward to a new season next year!

Sow sweet peas now

You’ll get gorgeous blooms earlier next year.

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There’s nothing nicer than being able to pick bunches of fragrant sweet peas from the garden to have in the house through the summer months. They are a delightful flower and easy to grow in the garden.

The seeds of sweet peas can be sown in autumn, at this time of the year, or in spring. The advantage of autumn sowing is the plants will start to flower a few weeks earlier next summer than spring-raised plants. Sowing now produces strong seedlings that can be over-wintered in a cold greenhouse or frame ready for planting out as soon as the weather fines up next spring. Sweet pea plants are surprisingly hardy and do not need any artificial heat over winter, but they do benefit from protection from cold winds and wet outdoor conditions. The small, hard round seeds can be sown in plant pots or small seed trays of well-drained compost now. Some growers either soak the seed in tepid water for 24 hours or chip away a small piece of the hard seed coat to aid germination, although if using fresh seed, they usually germinate without too many problems. To germinate provide gentle heat, such as a propagator, but once germinated, keep the seedlings in a light, cool place, and keep the compost in the pots just moist. 

Plant up a heuchera pot

They’ll bring slices of colour now… but check for vine weevil!

Sometimes you just want some easy bright colour to jazz up a doorstep or a patio, right near a window where you can see it from indoors, or where the postman can admire your handiwork! Famous for their reliable foliage, heucheras fit the bill in so many ways – they sit tight hardily over winter, are evergreen and come in an eye-popping array of zesty shades.

They’re everywhere in garden centres, tempting you with their ‘summery’ colours – they can also inject a slice of colour into lacklustre autumn borders too. This might be the best idea if you’ve ever had vine weevil in heuchera-filled containers, and can’t face the prospect of losing more plants to them! It can be disheartening to discover heuchera roots gnawed away and no plant left to speak of.

Heucheras have fine roots so weevil grubs feast on them easily, and prefer containerised plants – keep checking your plants for signs such as sudden wilting and weak growth. Rooting around gently in the plants’ soil may uncover the obvious C-shaped grubs, too. There’s still just time, if your pot’s compost is still warm enough at around 5C, to water on a drench of Nemasys Vine Weevil Killer, available from all good garden centres, which will prevent grub damage and therefore halt the next generation of adults too.

Heucheras, tiarellas and heucherellas (hybrids of the two genus) are all similar members of the saxifrage family, with low-growing foliage and zingy, foamy flowers each summer.

Pot perennial herbs for winter use

Rosemary, sage and thyme are perfect to grow near the house.

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Herbs are used a great deal in recipes and cooking all year round. Through the summer months there’s a large selection or annual and perennials herbs that can be grown and picked fresh from the garden, but in winter the choice is limited. However, hardy, evergreen herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage are perfect for growing over the winter for use in the kitchen to add flavour to seasonal dishes. When growing herbs for winter use, it’s handy to have them in containers that can be arranged or grouped together by the house, so that when you want a sprig of thyme for some stuffing or some rosemary to use with lamb, you don’t have to go right out into the garden to pick them.

At this time of the year you can often buy sturdy herb plants that are perfect for potting into slightly larger individual pots that can be grouped together, or for planting into a larger container to create a mini herb garden. When stood outside in a sunny, sheltered position they should be fine over the winter, but if the weather does turn very cold and frosty, bringing them into a conservatory or greenhouse will keep them fresh and growing, meaning you can pick from them right the way through the winter months.

Plant wallflowers

They’ll be a delight with their bright and fragrant blooms.

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Wallflowers and other biennials such as foxgloves and sweet Williams need a lengthened growing season. Annuals are sown, grow and die in one season, but biennials get themselves established and leaf up in their first growing season and then flower the next – hence we start preparing this year for next year’s display.

These wallflowers (Erysimum cheiri) look slightly different and are distinguishable from the perennial wallflowers (E. linifolium) we know and love such as ‘Bowles’ Mauve’ or ‘Red Jep’, which we often buy for planting in spring. Common biennial wallflowers are also very sweetly scented – a real joy.

Summer sowing will put up young plants ready for planting out now – or you can simply buy ready-done plugs or bare roots from the garden centre to get going now. They like poor and very well-drained, grit-improved soil, and lots and lots of sun! Just remind yourself of their common name to determine what situation they like – a sun-baked wall with barely any compost and water freely draining away. They need no fertiliser or improved soil, so therefore are very undemanding, and will delight you with their short-stemmed, bright and fragrant spring flowers.

Grow onions and shallots

Why not give some of the more unusual varieties a try?

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During autumn’s bulb-planting time it often seems like you can’t move for dozens of different bulb varieties lined up at the garden centre; I include onions and shallots in that too. Next to the oodles of tulips and daffs is often plenty of onions and shallots side-lined to their own section. Grab a bag or two and get planting one of the easiest to grow and most useful crops – they’re a no-brainer for all gardeners. Shallots, of course are milder than onions, often sweeter, and grow in bunches unlike onions.

You can grow onions now in the ground, in containers and in modules for growing on before planting out in spring. They sunny a sunny spot and improved soil, but other than that are quite unfussy. Plant 10cm apart, except in pots or modules, just level with the soil surface. For those of you worried about another drought next year, onions and shallots are notorious for needing much less water than most crops! There are some lovely varieties out there, if you don’t want to stick to the ones garden centres give you – shallot ‘Zebrune’ is a large heritage variety with long, pinkish roots with a mild, sweet taste. Onion ‘Long Red of Florence’ is fantastic – it’s a long, red, sweet onion that can be harvested as a spring onion or left to grow larger. A total novelty, but an intriguing choice to try out, are walking onions, or tree onions. They’re top heavy onions that grow at the end of the stalks; they’re nick-named walking onions as they fall over and root where they land, producing new plants a foot away from the original – ‘walking’ over your plot! Take note, however, these varieties may only be available as seed.

Move your evergreen shrubs

Lift them now so they have a chance to re-establish.

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Evergreen shrubs come into their own in the winter by providing colourful foliage and structure to the garden when deciduous shrubs have lost their leaves and herbaceous plants have died down. If you need to move an evergreen the ideal time is in mid-autumn when the soil is moist and still fairly warm. This allows the roots time to re-establish in the soil before winter and because the air temperature is cooler and damper in October and November, the foliage won’t wilt and dry out.

When moving any shrub, especially if it’s been in the ground for a few years you need to take care when lifting to minimise root damage. The aim is to lift as large a root system as possible with the soil attached. The more the roots stay together in a root-ball, the better and faster it will re-establish in its new position. Ground preparation is important and ideally the hole should be prepared in advance. Improving the planting hole with organic matter such as garden compost or well-rotted manure will aid establishment and encourage new growth. After re-planting, to reduce moisture loss from the leaves, it helps to lightly prune the shrub and misting over with water occasionally will keep the foliage cool and hydrated until the roots start to grow into the soil.

Pick and store apples

If done correctly you’ll have tasty supplies until next spring!

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We are now well and truly in the apple picking season. Fruits that are harvested from mid-October through until the end of the month are the best keepers and depending on the variety, if stored in the correct conditions will keep until next spring. These include popular varieties such as ‘Annie Elizabeth’, ‘Blenheim Orange’, ‘Elstar’, ‘Gala’, ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’, ‘Howgate Wonder’ and of course the famous ‘Bramley’s Seedling’. 

The secret is to pick them when they are at their best and unblemished by bruises or bird damage. Test if the fruits are ready to pick by giving them a gentle twist. If they leave the tree without too much tugging they are ready. If not, leave for a few more days.  Always harvest on a dry, fine day and handle the fruits gently. To store well, the fruits need to be kept as cool as possible, in a dark frost free-place.

Commercially they are stored in large crates or bins in a controlled environment, but at home a cold shed or garage can be used. If possible space the fruits out so they don’t touch to prevent any rots that develop from spreading. Apples also store very well in the fridge. Place several in a freezer bag, suck out the air and seal before placing them in the salad draw.    

Get alliums going now

Why not try a few new varieties of these easy-to-grow beauties?

There’s still time to get lots of lovely allium bulbs in the ground or in pots – if you’ve not had time to plant them recently or missed a few, it’s best not to save bulbs till next time. Always plant bulbs as soon as you can, even if it’s a month or two after you first bought them. Left for another year they may dry out or rot.

Alliums are one of those plants that gives bold, beautiful blooms for high impact and require little in return – they’re low maintenance and as easy as pie to plant in pots or borders. Basically, in the ground they need to be planted 10-15cm deep and the same apart in very well-drained soil in full sun. In containers plant bulbs one bulb width apart in deep pots, 10-15cm deep.

You may have your favourite bold, bright alliums – perhaps the ever-popular ‘Purple Sensation’, ‘Globemaster’ or A. christophii, buy why not try a varied mix – there are so many different shapes and sizes. Dainty, small-bulbed alliums are more demure but no less beautiful than their tall, eye-popping border cousins. A. oreophilum and A. unifolium come in light pink and stand about 30cm tall, while golden garlic (A. moly) complements these with a similar form in bright yellow. If blue’s more your colour, A. caeruleum is twice as tall in cornflower blue, while ‘Red Mohican’ forms burgundy flower tufts, standing 1m tall. Short, dumpy A. karatieviense at 25cm tall has white-pink globe flowers, perfect for a pot. And last but not least, try the tall variety ‘Hair’, which has sprouts of wiry, madcap green ‘hairs’ as flowers! One for an unusual vase display.

They’re a large, diverse group of plants, so experiment with a few more unusual family members this year!

Choose new plants for autumn interest

It’s a perfect time to inject some seasonal colour.

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Autumn is upon us now, and although many plants have come to the end of their growing season, there are still plenty of plants that look good at this time of the year; in fact, many plants are just coming into their prime. Autumn is also a great time to plant so if your garden is lacking colour and interest through the autumn months, now is the perfect time to put that right. The main advantage of planting now is that the roots have time to establish before winter while the soil is moist and warm. This means that in spring the plants will grow away much better and because they’ve put down their roots, they’ll be more drought tolerant, should we get another dry summer.

If you are looking for ideas of autumn plants, a visit to local parks and gardens will give you some ideas and of course at this time of the year garden centres have all their new autumn stock in.

Trees and shrubs that develop autumn foliage are the obvious choice, but don’t forget evergreens and variegated plants that will look good all year round. Plants with berries and autumn fruits also add colour and provide food for birds. And, of course there’s a good selection of autumn-flowering plants, including hesperantha and nerines that continue to bloom into November

Plant some rhubarb

It’s the perfect time to get these tasty crops started on your plot.

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You may have seen potted rhubarb plants in spring at the garden centre – it’s fine to plant them then, but good quality sturdy plants either in pots or bare root are also available now.

Potted rhubarb – like many other potted trees, shrubs or perennials – can be planted any time, but the worry of planting it in spring is the ensuing summery, hot weather. Rhubarb needs to be kept moist, so it’s a bit of a job to keep up its demands!

It’s now you have a clearer plot to give rhubarb – a permanent crop – the right space needed. It likes an open, sunny spot and will provide for you year after year, so plan carefully where you want it. Luckily it’s a very ornamental crop, so there’s no need to hide it away! Getting it going now also makes for good, sturdy plants in summer next year.

Rhubarb can also be planted in large pots of John Innes soil-based compost mixed with rotted manure, but keep a careful eye on watering – rhubarb in pots needs consistent moisture.

Once your rhubarb’s leaves have died down, remove them all and then give the plant a mulch of compost to set them in for the winter. Don’t harvest your new rhubarb plant next year, or at least don’t harvest much more than a couple of stems – leave it alone for one season before harvesting properly the following year, and mulch well in autumn and spring.

Plant an autumn container

Bring cheer to the months ahead with a bright pot.

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Summer containers have about finished now and it’s time to empty them out and plant up new containers to keep the garden looking good over the coming months. There are lots of different types of plants that can be used in pots and containers and it’s well worth making a visit to your local garden centre or nursery to see the range on offer.

When buying plants, bear in mind that if you want them to stand outside all through the winter they need to be able to withstand cold, wet conditions. Evergreens, shrubs grown for stem colour, grasses and some perennial are perfect for this and by mixing them together you can easily create an interesting display. Garden centres often sell these plants in smaller pots that are ideal for using in containers.

If you aim to plant the main part of the container with hardy plants to create the structure, you can then use other plants as fillers to give seasonal colour such as dwarf, colourful capsicums that look great in autumn with their brightly coloured fruits. They can be replaced in winter with primulas, violas or winter heathers. Don’t be afraid to experiment with plants because what you want is an attractive container that have plenty of colour and impact to help cheer up the long winter ahead!

 

Give wildlife a helping hand

Help gardeners’ friends survive the cold with sheltered accommodation.

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Most gardeners are happy to encourage wildlife into their garden, especially when it’s beneficial! The sound of bird song, watching butterflies flit around from flower to flower and having a visit from the resident robin all add the pleasure of being out in the garden. Much of the wildlife that visits gardens is the gardeners’ friend and will help by eating weed seeds or the many pests that damage our plants, so where possible it’s good to encourage nature’s helpers into the garden.

Some wildlife will come on its own, but we gardeners can help by providing shelter and nesting sites that are used throughout the year, but especially in the winter and at breeding times. At the moment the garden provides plenty of natural shelter from trees, shrubs and perennials, but as winter approaches, birds, mammals and insects will be looking for somewhere that will help to protects them from the harsh winter weather. Now is a good time to introduce some wildlife habitat into the garden ready for winter and spring use. To help attract the wildlife, position the boxes near to other shelter and a food source such as in or below shrubby plants or near plants that have seeds and berries on.

Sow peas this autumn

Get seed in the ground or containers now for a sweet early harvest

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Peas can be sown in spring or autumn when the soil is warm – seed may rot off if the ground is wet and cold, so now or in early to mid spring are the optimum times. There are a few benefits to sowing your peas now, instead of waiting:

  • It’s a good way to keep your produce coming in earnest, and you’ll be sowing at a time when you have fewer things to do than in spring – and a bit more space to do it in.

  • Sowing now will ensure an earlier, welcome harvest next year, and stronger plants in the new year than if you start them afresh in spring, advanced in growth enough to potentially miss out on weevil or aphid infestation, too.

  • It’s also an experiment to try, to see if your autumn greenhouse sowings are better or worse than your spring ones!

A good tip is to invest in hardy pea varieties to sow now, which are round and smooth – wrinkled varieties will serve you best sown in spring, as water can collect in the seed’s rivets and encourage rot. These wrinkled varieties are often known to be sweeter than the hardier types, too, befitting of a summer greens harvest.

Hardy, round pea varieties include ‘Feltham First’, ‘Douce Provence’ and ‘Meteor’, three renowned for their good taste and bountiful cropping.

Sow hardy annuals

It’s prime time to get your colour heroes under way for an early ‘pop’ in spring

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Hardy annuals provide masses of colour in the garden over summer and they are easy and inexpensive to grow. These old-fashioned annuals are also good for attracting pollinating insects into the garden and of course many can be used as cut flower.

Spring is when most people sow the seeds to get flowers from mid-summer through until the weather cools down in early autumn. When the plants have finished flowering and seed has been produced, the plants naturally die.

As well as spring sowing, many hardy annuals can also be sown now to produce strong seedlings that will over-winter and grow away to flower earlier next year. This is basically what happens in nature, when the annuals drop their seeds to the ground at the end of summer. Some seeds will germinate straight away and others will lie dormant until spring. This way the plants have the best possible chance of surviving from year to year.

Hardy annuals that can be sown now include, nigella, larkspur, godetia, calendula, clarkia, ammi and cornflower. If you are already growing some of these in your garden, it may be possible to collect some ripe seed. Half can be sown now directly into well-drained soil or cell trays and the rest stored in paper bags and saved for a spring sowing.

Sort the compost heap

Get your waste pile organised and it’ll pay dividends.

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All garden soils benefit from the addition of bulky organic matter and one of the easiest ways to do this is to make your own garden compost from garden waste. This can be used to mix in with the soil to improve drainage, water and nutrient retention and to increase worms and micro-organism activity to create a healthy, fertile soil.  We’re now getting to that time of the year when we start to generate lots of garden waste in the garden and most of this can be used to make garden compost. Before you start to accumulate large quantities of old summer veg and bedding plants, autumn leaves and grass cuttings, it’s worth sorting out your composting area first to make sure you are ready for the autumn waste.

Making good compost is all about having a good balance of wet and dry waste and enough of it to heat up, which is essential for the green waste to start decomposing. Before we start adding the autumn waste, empty the summer waste out and sort through it. Any well-rotted compost in the base can be removed and used in the garden and the partly rotted mixed together and used to start the heap off again. If you have more than one bin, try to condense it and leave one empty for autumn.

Keep baskets and pots going

With a bit of care, you can enjoy their colorful beauty into October.

Hanging baskets and containers planted with a selection of annuals and tender perennials are a great way to add extra colour to your garden for the summer months. The secret to success with seasonal containers is to make sure the plants never dry out and the compost has plenty of nutrients to keep the plants growing and flowering. Combined with regular deadheading it should be possible to keep the plants looking good and flowering all through the summer.

Some annuals such as lobelia may have already gone past their best, but the majority of container plants such as pelargoniums, begonias, fuchsias, surfinia petunias and trailing foliage plants are perennials and will respond to a little extra care. First thing is pick over the plants and remove all the faded flowers and any yellow or dead foliage. Long, straggly growth can also be trimmed back to tidy up the plants and encourage a flush of new growth. You then need to give the compost a really good watering with a liquid feed, which can be repeated in a week.

Providing the weather is fair and not too cold and wet, the plants will usually respond and make some new growth and lots of flower buds so that you can enjoy them for just a little longer into early October.