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.     

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.