Halloween is upon us! I hope you’re in the mood for clanking skeletons and spooky shenanigans. I might even be tempted to wear my big witch’s hat, as I trim up the rose bushes, plant some lily bulbs and make a bag or two of lovely leaf-mould….
Roses in the wind
We’ve had some very wet, wild and windy days recently here in the south, and when I saw long branches whipping around outside our sitting room windows, I realised that I hadn’t cut back all of my shrub roses. Oops!
Even if you are intending to prune your roses more vigorously in early spring , it is a great idea to reduce this year’s long stems by a third to a half, now in autumn, because even once the leaves have fallen, strong winds can rock the whole plant. This is particularly dodgy for the roots which get loosened in the soil, and will therefore be less efficient at taking in nutrients to feed your rose bush. So cut back the long shoots now, to give you a better chance of a great show again next summer.
You may even be tempted to stick a few of those trimmings (pencil-thickness, about 12″ (30 cm) long) into the ground or a pot of compost, and see if you can grow some new roses from them………
Along the same lines, this is a good time to check ties that you have got on trees, particularly young ones, and loosen them a little if necessary. I think rubber tree-ties are the best to use, if you have them (English Woodlands do some super ones – link is at the bottom) though I’ve found that old tights make a very good substitute! The point is to use a tie that doesn’t cut into the bark as the tree grows – NEVER use wire around a tree-trunk.
Use a spacer on the tie between the post and the trunk to stop them from rubbing together in a gale and wearing away the precious bark. If you’re using tights as your tie, twist them round a few times before attaching it to the trunk, for the same purpose.
Consider the lilies
What beautiful things lilies are! There’s something about their form and grace that our hearts can’t help but respond to, I think. It makes me think of Alice in Wonderland saying “Oh Tiger-lily, I wish you could talk!” “We can talk”, it replies, “when there’s anybody worth talking to..” I shall aspire to be the kind of person that lilies talk to……
I have found lots of advantages to growing lilies in pots rather than in the open border soil:
- Lilies hate soggy soil and in a wet winter, you can control that aspect a lot more using a pot
- You will be able to move your pots around when they are in flower to the best possible position to be admired
- The scented varieties are lifted a little nearer to our noses
- The bulbs are easier to protect from varmints that would eat them
- All lilies are toxic to cats, so using pots you can keep them out of the way of felines a little better
- And most importantly, you can be more on-the-ball about picking off those wretched scarlet lily beetles, which can reduce an unwatched lily in full bloom to a slimy nibbled mess in a couple of days
Lily bulbs can be planted now into deep pots. Use a loamy peat-free compost, and because of the aforementioned dislike of being very wet, I like to mix in a couple of handfuls of sand (you could use grit) – good drainage is important. If you have bought lime-hating auratum or speciosum lily types, you’ll need to use ericaceous compost. Mix in some slow-release fertiliser pellets – lilies are greedy plants. And maybe a few mothballs to deter the mice! Fill the pot to about half-way before adding your bulbs pointy-end up.
You can tie yourself in knots a bit over planting depth. The problem stems (see what I did there?) from the fact that some lilies grow roots from their base (eg. ‘Madonna’ (candidum), orientalis, testaceum) and can be planted with just their own depth of soil above them.
The popular ‘Stargazer’ lilies are Oriental lilies, for instance. Others (eg. martagon, regale, longiflorum (Easter lily) grow roots up the stem, and need about 3 times their own height of soil above them. Don’t worry TOO much though – if you don’t know what kind your lily bulbs are, split the difference and go for about twice the depth of the bulb. Allow about 4″ (10cm) between bulbs, but the oriental bulbs don’t mind being planted closer together than that.
In the south a sheltered spot outside is fine for them over the winter – bubble-wrap wouldn’t go amiss if a hard frost is forecast, though. Otherwise a cold greenhouse or cold frame is ideal. Keep the compost moist but not wet. I put a piece of netting over the top to annoy the blasted squirrels round here.
Start giving them a fortnightly tomato fertiliser feed next spring. You can even fool them into flowering a bit earlier if you want to, by bringing your pot into a warmer sunny place (conservatory etc.) next spring.
And if we’ve all done it well, perhaps our gorgeous lilies will deign to have a good chat with us next summer………………..!
- The leaves are flying down now – what a bounty! Even if you only have the tiniest garden, you’d be mad not to stuff some, when they’re moist, into a couple of black bin-liners, tie up the neck of the bag and punch a few holes in the side with a fork for air circulation. Stick the bags out of sight (behind a shed, or a bush?) and leave them to rot down. Leaf-mould is the perfect soil-conditioner, and it’s totally free!
- Sow some broad beans into deep pots or root-trainers in a sheltered cool place. Once they have developed a good root-system, harden them off in the garden for a week or so, before planting them out. They don’t mind the cold in most parts of the UK, and you’ll have a delicious early crop next year.
- Take cuttings of blackcurrant bushes now. Just take strong straight stems from the base of the plant, cut them in 12″ (30 cm) lengths with a bud at the bottom and another at the top. Stick them in a trench two-thirds down outside, and by this time next year, you’ll have some lovely little blackcurrant bushes to transplant or give away!
The link to the tree-ties at English Woodlands is here.
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