Jobs for the productive garden in December

Life’s getting a bit easier now that winter is here.  Not too much hard graft to do and it’s more about clearing up and planning for next year.

Kitchen Garden

grape vine
Prune ornamental and edible grape vines, and prune soft and tree fruits including currants, gooseberries, apples and pears (don’t be tempted to prune plum or cherry trees now – leave them until summer).  Save pruned stems from apple and pear trees to use for plant supports for perennials during the spring and summer.

If you have bare-rooted fruit trees and bushes to plant, get them in as soon as possible. If the ground is frozen over or too wet, heel them in (plant temporarily) until conditions improve.

Harvesting leeks

Harvest celery, beetroot, turnips, sprouts, kale, parsnips, leeks and carrots.  Earth up tall Brussels sprout stems to support them against winter winds.

Force rhubarb to produce a tender early crop – insulate the crown with straw and then cover with a forcing pot or upturned dustbin.

Make sure that you store fruit and vegetables in a cool, airy, frost free place: check regularly and discard any that show signs of rot.

Order plants of early crops such as seed potatoes, summer bulbs, onions sets, cabbages, cauliflowers and lettuces from specialists for early spring delivery.  It is worth ordering early as suppliers will run out of the most popular lines.

Cutting garden
For fragrant flowers indoors, pick stems of Chimonanthus praecox (wintersweet), Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle), Sarcococca (Christmas Box) and Viburnum.  Collect winter foliage, colourful stems and berries for Christmas decorations.

Rose hips

Roses grown for cutting and their hips should be planted now as the bare-root season is in full swing.

Pinch out the tips of autumn sown sweet pea seedlings once they have two pairs of leaves.

If you planted scented Narcissi and Hyacinth bulbs in pots last month, bring them in from the greenhouse now so that they flower in time for Christmas.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh

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Jobs for the productive garden in November

With winter approaching, there isn’t a great deal to do in the kitchen garden at this time of year, but here are a few ideas to keep you busy.

Start winter pruning apple and pear trees, and fix grease bands to fruit trees to protect them against winter moth.  If you are planting new trees this winter, they should be available by now so it’s a good time to make a start.

Loganberries

You can also begin planting bare-root raspberry canes and currant bushes.

Plant garlic sets and shallots and sow broad beans.
On the window sill grow herbs and salad leaves.

Rhubarb should be divided every 5 years to keep the plants strong and productive – and this can be done any time between now and spring, as long as the ground isn’t frozen.

Harvest leeks and Brussels sprouts.  If you haven’t used carrots and parsnips either cover them with straw or dig them up by the middle of the month and store in the fridge.  Protect cauliflower heads from frost by pegging or tying theirs leaves over them.

Tulips by Firgrove Photographic

This is now the best time to plant Tulip and Hyacinth bulbs, and if like me, you haven’t quite finished planting your other spring bulbs (!), crack on with that this month – providing the ground is not water logged or frozen.

You can either risk leaving your Dahlias in the ground over winter (protecting them with a thick compost mulch), or if your soil is heavy and wet and they are likely to rot, cut them down and dig them up (once the frost has blackened the foliage), and store the dried off tubers until you can re-plant them in late spring.

Photos:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Choosing spring bulbs for your cutting garden

If you’re a keen gardener you’ll no doubt appreciate that there’s rarely a time when you can kick back and forget about your garden.  Even as summer draws to a close and it feels like there’s a chance to relax, it’s already time to be preparing next year’s garden.  Spring bulbs need to be planted from September onwards (although Tulip planting should wait until mid October or November), and that means it’s now time to decide what you want to plant and to get your bulb orders under way.

If you have a dedicated cutting garden or just want to add to your mixed borders, then there are a number of really good spring bulbs which will ensure you have a constant supply of cut flowers throughout the season.

Tulips are the mainstay of the spring cutting garden – and for good reason.  They offer an enormous variety of colour, and provide cut flowers in April and May.  Tulips are divided into ‘groups’ which flower at different times, and which come with different flower shapes and sizes.  Generally, the best groups for cutting are Triumph, Viridiflora (multi-coloured), Lily flowering, Parrot flowering and Double Early Tulips.

If you are looking for elegance, I would recommend trying creams and whites (such as ‘Spring Green and ‘White Triumphator’) and the beautiful dark purple of ‘Queen of Night’.   And Lily flowered Tulips are a particularly lovely shape.

Tulip ‘Jan Reus’

For intense reds and oranges, go for ‘Jan Reus’, ‘Havran’ or ‘Abu Hassan’.  In the purple and pink range, try ‘Recreado’ or ‘Shirley’.  One thing to bear in mind when planting Tulips – they need good drainage, so if you garden on heavy soil, do add grit below the bulbs.

 

Daffs (or ‘Narcissi’ to be technical) are also invaluable as cut flowers as they provide blooms right through from February to May.  They range in height from about 20cm up to 45cm, and colour-wise from pure white through to golden yellow.  If you are adding them to a mixed border, or aiming to naturalize them in grass, then make sure you plant them in groups and think carefully about planting different varieties which will extend the season of interest in your garden.  There’s little point in planting dwarf Narcissi where they won’t be seen, or buying bulbs especially for scent unless you are cutting the flowers for the house or positioning them where you can appreciate their fragrance.

If you are looking for scent, go for a variety such as the lovely white ‘Thalia’ which flowers in March and April.  If you prefer smaller varieties, then ‘Tete a Tete’ and ‘February Gold’ are perfect.  One of my favourites (as I’m not too keen on the big yellow varieties) is the ‘Pheasant Eye’ Narcissus. It flowers quite late and is a lovely understated plant which will brighten up any border in May.

‘Pheasant Eye’ Narcissi

Hyacinths are invaluable to bring scent in to the house.  I’m personally keener on the multiflora varieties of Hyacinth which have (to my eye) a more natural look than the varieties which are more generally available. I think that’s down to the fact that their flower heads are less dense – though still highly scented.  Hyacinthus mulitflora ‘Anastasia’ is a particularly attractive blue variety.

Fritillaria Imperialis

For a bit of drama, try growing Fritillaria imperialis (the Crown Imperial).  With yellow or red flowers in April, growing to a height of about 3 foot, they look fantastic in a tall vase.  In the garden they are also very attractive to bees.

The great thing about planting spring flowering bulbs such as the ones I’ve mentioned is that it needn’t cost the earth, and can be done on any scale – even if it’s just in a few pots.  The key is to experiment and see what works for you.  And if you’re interested in creating a cutting garden for yourself, then please get in touch.

Photo credits: Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in September

My seasonal tips if you’re growing fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers for cutting

CUTTING GARDEN
Keep deadheading annuals and late-flowering Dahlias & Salvias to prolong flowering (and don’t forget to support them as the plants get bigger and top-heavy).

Direct sow hardy annuals (such as Nigella, cornflowers and Calendula officinalis) in to the ground now for early flowers next summer.

Teasels by Firgrove Photographic

Dry seedheads of Eryngium and Teasels to use in flower arrangements.

Tulips by Firgrove Photographic

Order your spring bulbs now if you haven’t done it already – if you leave it too late you may find it hard to get exactly what you want.   If you’re looking for ideas on what to plant, take a look at my blog on choosing bulbs for the cutting garden.

Move tender plants under cover as the night time temperatures drop.

KITCHEN GARDEN
Keep on top of your harvesting to beat damp weather which can damage produce.

Pick sweetcorn as soon as it’s ripe, and if frost is forecast, harvest tender veg. such as courgette, peppers and tomatoes.

Plant out any new strawberry plants now.

Let squash and pumpkins ripen in the sun.

Sow fast-growing oriental greens such as Mizuna and Pak-choi.

Cover leafy vegetable crops with bird-proof netting.

Before slug damage spoils them, dig up any remaining potatoes and store in a cool, frost-free place.

onions

Take up the last of this year’s onion crop and leave them to dry before storing.  You can now sow onion sets to mature next summer.

There’s still time to sow green manures which will release nutrients back in to the soil when they are dug in over spring.

PESTS AND DISEASES
Clean your greenhouse & coldframes to help prevent pests over wintering.

Start to clear up plant debris in borders to keep fungal diseases at bay over winter.

To avoid Vine weevils damaging your plants apply nematodes this month and next, to treat freshly hatched grubs (I get mine from www.ladybirdplantcare.co.uk).

 

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic