Whether it's a bleak December or the more mild weather we are becoming used to, you can still spend useful time in the garden. David Coton suggests the jobs that can occupy the shortening days.
After the recent spell of hot weather, David Coton was glad to see the recent rain freshening up the Garden Centre and he has these suggestions for some of the jobs that need to be done during August.
It's the holiday season so don't forget to put in place arrangements so that your plants, and fish if you have a pond, survive the period that you are going to be away from home.
Containers and hanging baskets are particularly vulnerable, either ask a neighbour to water them or invest in an automatic system that can be time controlled to release just the right amount of water to keep you plants happy until you return.
If you keep fish you'll need an automatic feeder or feeding block, there are several available to suit all pond sizes and you can set how often and how much food you want to feed the fish.
Your lawn might look as though it is suffering from the hot weather but you needn't be too concerned as grass has great powers of recovery. When conditions improve, give it a boost by applying an autumn feed to strengthen the roots and prepare the lawn for winter.
Remove annuals that have finished flowering and put them on the compost heap, cut back flowering perennials that are past their best, they don't look good and you'll be opening up space to plant spring bulbs and container grown perennials that provide instant colour.
'Suckers', usually with seven pale green leaves, will literally suck the life out of your roses, so follow them back to the the root stock and pull them out.
To save money, use a paper bag to collect seed from herbaceous perennials on a warm dry day. When they have completely dried, transfer to an envelope and clearly mark what's inside. If the plant has berries, soak in warm water and carefully remove the flesh. Sow immediately to plant out in the spring or store in a cool place.
Growing new shrubs from cuttings is easy. Take a piece of non-flowering stem from this season, cut just below a leaf, and remove any lower leaves, dip in hormone rooting powder and place in fresh compost. Cover the pot with clear plastic and leave in a warm spot away from direct sunlight.
Wisteria needs pruning twice a year to prevent it growing out of control, perhaps invading and blocking guttering, and to encourage flower buds. So in August cut the year's growth back to five or six buds.
Rambling and climbing roses should also be pruned back when their flowers have faded. With the former, cut out about a third of the older stems or if you have limited space prune out one old stem for each new one. For Climbers, remove any dead or dying stems, support any new shoots. Then for both, prune back any side shoots to one third of their length.
Night temperatures during August in the greenhouse might drop fairly low but during the day they can soar. Ensure that ventilation is sufficient during any hot weather and that shading is still in place, and automatic vents will save you the trouble of opening in the morning and closing at night.
Providing Support Support autumn fruiting raspberries with stakes and string to keep them tidy.
Keep thinning vegetables such as beetroot and turnips to encourage them to be healthier and better sized.
Sow fast growing salad vegetables such as rocket for a quick and tasty harvest.
Clear any mulch away from strawberries as well as weeds, then cut off this year's growth so that new foliage can emerge before winter.
When onion foliage turns brown and withers it's time to lift them and lay out in the sun. When thoroughly dried, either cut the dead foliage off and store in netting or use the leaves to tie the onions together. Hang in a well ventilated frost free environment.
Keep runner and French beans well watered and continue picking when they are young to encourage further pods, don't leave them to grow too large, they'll become tougher and stringier.
If you use a normal fork to harvest potatoes be careful not to spear the tubers, leave them to dry, then clean and store in hessian potato sacks in a dark, cool, frost free place. As with apples, only keep perfect tubers. Don't put any foliage that is showing signs of disease onto the compost heap, burn it.
After harvesting crops, sow green manure to improve soil structure and fertility. Growing throughout the winter, Alfalfa or Red Clover will be dug in next spring, releasing nutrients into the soil. Faster growing manures such as mustard and buckwheat can be used that are dug in during the autumn.
If you want lovely new potatoes to go with your sprouts at Christmas, buy early varieties such as 'Charlotte' or 'Maris Peer' and use a pot or potato bag. Place three tubers on a 4ins layer of free draining compost / organic matter then cover with about 6 ins of compost. Keep well watered in a frost free environment and keep covering the foliage until the top of the pot or bag is reached.
During August you must keep checking the health of your pond and aquatic plants. It's a good month to tidy any marginal plants by cutting back summer growth. As leaves start yellowing, remove them together with any fading flowers. This will prevent the dying foliage falling into the pond, rotting and causing water quality problems.
To break down any blanket weed, you can choose one of a number of water treatments that will solve a range of problems or add barley straw either in the form of pellets, a bale (best located near a fountain or at the base of a waterfall) or as an extract. Barley straw does take longer than alternative chemical treatments to start working but will last for around six months and doesn't remove oxygen from the water.
Oxygen levels are critically important and in August they may be very low, if you see your fish gasping for air then this is a tell-tale sign that the water needs oxygenating. You can do this in several ways, a waterfall or fountain, either solar or mains powered, can be added to the pond, introducing oxygen to the pond when the water's surface is disturbed. A pond air pump can also be installed that sits outside the pond with a pipe and air stone(s) going into the pond and this simply pumps oxygen directly into the water.
Finally, it's always a good idea at regular intervals to check the health of your pond with a test kit. This will tell you whether for example there is an excess of ammonia or nitrite, high levels of which will kill fish; nitrates that will result in algae problems; and the water's acidity / alkalinity. Once these levels are discovered, appropriate action can be taken to rectify any problems.
Although the days are short and the view from our Garden Centre is frosty and overcast, Andy Taylor suggests various jobs that can be done in the garden during the month of January.
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