We all know the weather’s going to turn soon enough into something a little more…errr… challenging… So here are some ideas to get you out there before that happens. And don’t forget that if you don’t have time to read this blog, no problem! Click on the podcast link at the bottom and listen to it while you’re weeding! Let’s get started on some seed-sowing first…………
Kiss me, Hardy (Annuals)
I got itchy fingers today – gotta sow something, get something new started! Having some seeds and cuttings going through the winter staves off the gloom that often pervades January/February time, I find. Pots and patches of baby plants to tend can make a very effective green anti-depressant……
I never want to be stressed looking after real prima donnas, though. My choice of seeds for sowing in autumn always revolves around straightforward cottage-garden Hardy Annuals – which I adore anyway, so that’s handy. ‘Hardy’ means that they don’t mind the cold, ‘Annual’ means that they’ll be over by this time next year (but you can always collect their seeds and sow them for the following year’s flowers………)
With an autumn sowing, you will get stronger plants that will flower earlier, and here’s one genius tip: don’t sow all the seed now, keep some back to sow in early spring – they’ll flower later than the ones you sow now, and you’ll keep your flowery paradise all summer long!
Californian poppies, or other annual poppies as in the feature pic this week, Ammi (or Orlaya), Cerinthe, marigolds, Malope, Nigella (love-in-a-mist) and lots of other seeds can be treated like this. Just sow the seed into pots of compost in a cold greenhouse or frame. Or just into raked, clean soil outside –sow them in short lines because the seedlings are alarmingly indistinguishable from germinating weed seeds when they are small! You really don’t see the lines once the seedlings have been thinned in spring and are flowering.
It seems a bit mean, but if you’re growing them in the protection of a greenhouse and they develop some flower buds over the winter, you should snip them off, so that the plants concentrate their minds growing strong roots instead. Plant the pot-grown ones out into the garden or pots where they are to flower, in early spring.
Oh, and don’t forget to sow some sweet peas into pots in a cold frame for fab early flowers next summer.
There are few vegetables more redolent of aromatic Mediterranean cuisine than garlic and now is the time to plant the cloves for your harvest next year.
If you live in a cold part of the country, you are probably better off with the so-called ‘hardneck’ varieties like Extra Early Wight – they have a stronger flavour though fewer cloves, but are rather prone to developing flower-stems if they get at all stressed (which you must take off, though at least you can use them in stir-fries!). In milder areas, you can go for a ‘softneck’ variety, like Messidrome which have a very handy advantage of storing for longer. Suttons have both of these, by the way – link is at the end if you’re interested.
If your soil is heavy and damp, I think you’re actually better off planting the cloves into modules in a cold-frame or cold greenhouse first, ready to plant outside in spring – what you do not want is for your garlic to rot before it has really got going. One clove to each module and keep them cool and moist but not wet. The other advantage to this is that you avoid the pesky birds pulling the tips out of the ground before they have developed roots to anchor them – sneaky, eh.
When you’re planting them outside, put them in your sunniest place, 15 cm (6”) apart with the tip of the clove 2.5 cm (1”) below the surface. Try your very best not to plant them upside down! The rows should be about 30 cm (1’) apart.
Your garlic crop should be ready to harvest early next summer – aioli here we come!
Dealing with the dahlias
It won’t be long before the dahlias start feeling that they have done enough for one year and need a bit of R and R. If you live in a part of the country with a mild climate, you can certainly get away with leaving your dahlia tubers in the ground over the winter, exactly where they have been flowering. This is even more true if you have a good free-draining soil. Just cover them with a thick cosy mulch of bracken, straw, etc. which you’ll take off again in spring (OMG, I quite fancy spending the winter like that myself!)
A freezing soggy winter soil is not up their street at all though, so many folk will need to lift the tubers to protect them over the coldest months. As they start to go over, cut the stems to about 15 cm. (6”) and then lift the tubers out of the ground. Brush off as much of the soil as you can, then put the tubers in an airy place somewhere – after a few days, they hopefully should have dried out completely.
Now all you need to do is put them in trays or pots, covered in dry compost or sand, keep them somewhere cold but frost-free till spring – then boom! They are all ready to be started into explosive growth again after their pleasant hibernation. Even Caroline manages this operation with aplomb and success!
- It’s time to put a net or frame of chicken wire over small garden ponds to stop the autumn leaves fouling up the water.
- The garden centres are full of winter bedding – don’t resist, treat yourself to cheery winter pansies and early primulas to put a smile on your face as we head into winter.
- Sow broad beans and peas, but protect from the harshest weather with cloches or a poly tunnel if you can.
- Start planting tulip bulbs and anemone corms – A couple of tips for each: TULIPS: plant the bulbs AT LEAST 5″ deep on a handful or sharp sand or fine grit and you’re more likely to have them again the following year; cover them with wire netting or an upturned wire hanging basket to protect them from the blooming squirrels. ANEMONES: soak the corms in warm water overnight to soften them before planting 2-3 times their depth; and I wouldn’t plant them in the border any more, they just get lost. So plant them in pots, window-boxes etc. instead, where you can really appreciate them.
This is the link to a PODCAST RECORDING of this blog.
The link to Suttons’ garlic selection is here.
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