Aarrrgghh – suddenly SO much to do in the garden again! The lazier days of July and August are over, and we must buckle to it with all sorts of propagating and preparing – and shopping! – while we enjoy the soft air and beauty of September. My resident robin has started serenading me loudly again, and telling me to GET ON WITH IT…………………..
Early autumn is the perfect time to divide many perennial plants to rejuvenate them or make new plants, and I find it a particularly good time to divide ground-cover plants like Lamium, Alchemilla, Pulmonaria, Lysimachia, Geranium etc. so that they cover more ground.
It’s terribly easy to do, I promise, and the great thing about doing it now is that the soil is still warm, and the roots will have plenty of time to become established before winter frost halts them in their tracks.
Chop through the roots at the edges of the clump and hoik them out. You’ll mostly find that these bits will naturally divide into smaller pieces with some roots and leaves attached to each piece, so pull the bits apart or cut through them. Then plant the pieces into good loosened soil where you want them, and at the same level they were before. Firm the pieces in and water them well.
Super job! And so much better than leaving bare soil that is such a magnet for weed-seeds over the winter.
Lots of plants will be going to seed now, and it feels almost criminal not to be collecting this marvellous free harvest. I’m thinking of things like foxgloves (Digitalis), love-in-a-mist (Nigella), sunflowers (Helianthus), Cosmos, Allium, honesty (Lunaria), Aquilegia, Verbena bonariensis (as in the feature pic), poppies (Papaver), Primula.etc. Seeds from ‘species’ plants will reliably result in plants very similar to the parent plant, but seed from cultivars (when a species plant has been given a specific name) will be much more variable. You’ve enjoyed the lovely flowers and now they are giving something more – the means to make more gorgeous plants!
You need a dry, windless day for this job, and the seed-pods need to be ripe, which generally means they have changed from green to brown. The trick is to collect them when the seeds have ripened but before the plant has dispersed them. I hold a paper bag or an envelope underneath the seed-pod and give it a tap. If a few seeds fall out, they are ready to harvest. Don’t use plastic bags for seeds because you want any remaining moisture to dry up. Seeds can easily rot if they are enclosed in plastic. Then snip off the entire seedhead and let it drop into the bag. Do scribble on the envelope what plant you took the seedhead from – I have an embarrassing number of bags of seeds from…who knows where!
Once I’ve collected a few bags-full, I leave them in a dry airy place for a week or two to dry out completely. Then, on a comfy seat at a table, I sift out the seeds from the pods, bits of stem and chaff. If you leave this on, it can be another way that the seed is affected by damp or mould. Primula seed can be sown fresh, but otherwise I transfer the seeds to neat little white envelopes, LABEL THEM (!), and store them in a wooden box in a dry, cool, dark place until springtime. If you have a lot of seeds, please do think about donating them to a seed-distribution service like the one run by the Cottage Garden Society.
- If you are in the market for buying more roses to make your garden even MORE gorgeous next year, can I point you in the direction of some of my favourite repeat-flowerers – check out the link at the end to an earlier blog.
- This is a great time to take cuttings of herbs like rosemary, lavender or sage, as well as salvias, penstemons, phloxes etc. Little stems around the edge of a pot of gritty compost, water and leave in a warm, light position – do have a go.
- Take advantage of garden centres selling off their garden furniture stock cheaply to make way for all the Christmas winter wonderland stuff – you can pick up some very good bargains!
- Plant autumn onion sets into drills outside about 1″ ((2cm) deep and 2-4″ (5-10 cm) apart, for a lovely early crop next year.
- Climbing roses generally flower twice, once on wood made last year, and again on the current season’s wood. If your climbing roses have finished flowering, it’s a handy period to sort them out to maximise next year’s flowers. Take 1 in 3 of the old stems right out to encourage new shoots from the base. Tie in the rest of the stems and try to ensure that you train some of them horizontally which encourages more laterals and thus flowers. Then cut back the lateral shoots on the main stems to about 3 leaves/buds.
This is the link to the blog about repeat-flowering roses (amongst other jottings….)
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