In 2012 Daisy Hill in Bloom supplied regular gardening articles to the Westhoughton Advertiser.
A series of articles are shown below.
With the short days and preparations for the festive season, it’s hard at this time of year to find any time to get out in the garden, so grab any opportunity and make the most of fine weekends to do your winter gardening chores and get a bit of exercise at the same time.
Any empty veg or flower beds should be dug over to allow the frost to get to work and break up the soil. Patios, decks and paths should be cleared of moss and algae which can make then dangerously slippery. Your favourite terracotta pots should be emptied and stored away from the worst of the weather unless you know they are frost-proof.
If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, another winter job is to clean the glass inside and out. That way any plants you are over-wintering in there will get the maximum light. And it’s worth tidying out the shed, and making sure the tools you’ve put away for the winter are clean and dry.
Of course some flowering plants will continue to give you colour over the winter – pansies and primulas did well for Daisy Hill in Bloom last winter so we’re using them again this winter in our railings planters, where they are planted above the bulbs which will come through in the spring.
As we retreat indoors and turn up the central heating, our gardens and back yards can provide winter nourishment for the birds. Remember to empty and clean hanging feeders every now and then to make sure there are no rotten or mouldy seeds at the bottom.
Don't forget our feathered friends in the winter. Foods based on fat and suet are particularly valuable to keep birds warm.
Many bird enthusiasts go to a lot of trouble trying to prevent squirrels getting at the bird food. But they often face a losing battle. Squirrels are ingenious and athletic and can get round most obstacles. You might as well just enjoy their antics, and accept that you will need to replenish the nuts and seeds more often.
If you have room, leave a messy corner with a pile of leaves in your garden – you may be providing a winter home for a hedgehog. I once discovered one fast asleep under a mound of leaves and twigs, but only after I’d given it a poke with a spade. It survived, but went off to spend the winter in a more peaceful spot!
November is the time to buy fruit trees. Do your research first to check if you will need two trees to ensure pollination, or whether the variety you are buying is self-pollinating. Be patient with new fruit trees; you may not get a harvest the first year, while they settle in. It’s possible to get dwarf apple trees that can live in a very large pot on a patio. If hundreds of little apples appear, knock a few off, to avoid the risk of them all dropping off. A small tree can only produce a small crop.
Once winter sets in you can stop feeding your house plants. Now is a good time to check them over for infestations by red spider mite or scale insects. Separate affected plants from the others to avoid the problem spreading, clean off all the tiny bugs and sticky mess that you can see, and treat with a spray – organic ones are available.
As the winter looms it’s time to curl up with the catalogues and brochures and decide which new varieties to try next year, which old favourites to stick with, and which “must have” garden gadgets to put on your Christmas wish list. If you do get the chance to get out in the garden during a fine spell, many shrubs and trees need cutting back in the autumn. Careful pruning will keep them healthy and in shape. Check which plants are suitable for autumn pruning and which are pruned in the spring. A mistake can cost you a season’s flowers and fruit. Make sure your secateurs are sharp so that you get a clean cut to reduce the risk of disease or rot.
It’s also a good time to dig over any bare patches of flower or vegetable bed that you plan to use next year. This will help the winter frosts to break up the soil.
Once the last of your tomato crop have been turned into green tomato chutney, and your geranium cuttings are indoors or in the greenhouse, you can empty the compost out of your tubs and pots and give them a good scrubbing before putting them away for the winter. Remember that a terracotta pot is more likely to be split or shattered by frost if it is full of wet compost than if it is empty.
Summer is drawing to a close, and while we are starting to think about tidying up the garden for winter, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had from late flowering plants, and those foliage plants which give all round colour, and which come into their own when the summer flowers die down. My favourite is variegated euonymus with its glowing green and yellow leaves.
Those of us who have been trying to grow our own food, can also continue to reap the harvest. Soft fruits such as strawberries and blueberries seem to have done well for me this year – and I always add to the garden fruits with blackberries from the hedgerows. Root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips can be lifted now or left in the ground till later in the autumn, but if it’s very wet dig them up to avoid the risk of rotting.
Once the last of the strawberries are eaten I’ll be digging up the oldest plants and planting up the best of the new plants from the many runners that have appeared.
If there are a few dry days on the run towards the end of September, grab the chance to mow the lawn; you never know whether it will be the last opportunity for a long time.
It’s not too soon to start thinking ahead to next year’s garden.Take cuttings now from your geraniums rather than waiting till then end of the growing season. The cuttings will establish better if
taken while the plants are still growing strongly. Geranium cutting should be planted in very dry, gritty compost, but don’t let them dry out completely; remove most of the leaves so they lose less
moisture while the new roots grown.
Last year I tried leaf cuttings for my geraniums for the first time, but only one out of eight survived, so it’s back to shoots this year. I’ll over-winter them on the spare bedroom windowsill which faces north, and they’ll be ready to go out next spring when the weather warms up.
The wet weather in June and July means many plants have put on lots of new growth, and there’s lots of cutting back to be done. Most plants thrive on vigorous pruning, but if you’re not sure it’s usually safe to take out one third of the stems of shrubs and bushes each year, and remember to cut back to a leaf node.Always use really sharp secateurs or loppers – a clean cut gives less risk of infection or die-back.
Make a note now of what plants have been very successful this year, and which ones were not happy in your garden; so you can decide what to repeat in future. It’s worth taking some seeds from your favourite flowering annuals, and storing them in a dark dry place over the winter.That way you can decide next year where you want them, rather than just relying on self-sown ones to pick their own spots.
While you’re spending the maximum amount of time out in the garden, don’t forget your house plants.Many will enjoy a spell out in the garden during the summer, and can add a touch of exoticism to a sheltered patio or deck. It’s also an opportunity to wash them down with a watering can or hose, to get rid of dust which dulls the leaves.
Of course August is a time when many gardeners have to leave their garden for a week or two while they go off on holiday. If there’s a really dry spell while you are away, plants in pots and tubs, and especially hanging baskets, will suffer. See if you can recruit a neighbour to keep an eye on them, and if the neighbour isn’t a regular gardener remind them to water in the evening rather than the heat of the day.
The unpredictable weather is making gardening a bit of a challenge these days. Stormy rain and winds can damage taller herbaceous and bedding plants, so check the forecast and stake up any plants that may be at risk. Wet weather means lawns grow rapidly. Don’t be tempted to mow a lawn that is very wet; you will tear the grass instead of cutting it and the soil around the grass roots gets compacted. Wait for a drier spell, but if the grass has got very long, don’t cut it too short. Set the mower on a higher setting than normal, and then cut again a week later.
If you are one of the many people who has started growing your own vegetables and salad crops lately, make sure you avoid all the crop coming at once by “succession planting”. Crops such as lettuce, radish, spinach and carrots can be planted a few at a time with a fresh batch every few weeks, for a steady supply. Once your tomatoes plants are bearing the first few trusses of green tomatoes, it’s time to start feeding the plants, with some specialised tomato feed. Pinch out any side shoots which sprout lower down the plant above each leaf; these will take energy that’s needed for flowers and fruit further up.
Keep an eye out for common pests such as slugs and snails which love wet weather, and greenfly which appear just where you want them least, such as on rose buds. Opinions differ on the choice of using chemical pesticides, letting natural predators doing their work – ladybirds will eat your greenfly, for example, and hedgehogs tackle your slugs – or going hunting. I hunt down snails and slugs and throw them over the fence into the back alley as I can’t quite bring myself to crush them or pour salt on them. No doubt some of them find their way back!
The spring flowers are over and it’s time to make sure the garden is ready for high summer. Now the grass is growing it’s a good time for a dose of “weed and feed” for your lawn. Ideally apply on a still day so the wind won’t blow the weed-killer on to your borders, and if it doesn’t rain for a few days afterwards, water the lawn.
To keep flowering plants at their best, regularly remove dead-heads to encourage them to flower again. At the end of the season you may want to let some plants set seed so you can either collect the seeds to plant for next year, or let the wind scatter their seeds in your borders.
Keep on top of weeds in the borders by weeding little and often, but do consider designating some of the more attractive weeds as wildflowers and leaving them for the bees and butterflies. I leave my ox-eye daisies and cranesbill to their own devices in some corners of the garden.
The best way to prevent weeds is to fill the space with plants that you really want. If there are gaps in your borders, it’s not too late to fill in with some annual bedding plants. Garden centres may have some bargains as peak planting season passes. Water plants well before and after planting, and if the roots are tightly tangled in the pot, tease them out a bit before you pop them in the hole and firm in well so there are no air pockets round the roots.
You probably won’t have to worry any more about frost hitting your bedding plants, but their roots won’t be far down yet, so make sure they don’t dry out. In dry spells water well in the evenings, so that the water doesn’t evaporate away in the heat of the day. A good mulch of compost or chippings around the roots will help keep the moisture in. With hanging baskets, you may need to water twice a day in a very hot spell. Try digging in some water retaining gel when you plant up pots, tubs and baskets, to avoid this becoming too much of a chore.