TIPS and advice on how to look after your green oasis
THE GREAT GARDEN TIDY-UP
IT MIGHT be a little premature to think that summer’s over and yes, it is possible that September could be scorching.
But this is the UK, so I’m already thinking about putting my garden furniture away and covering up the barbecue for another year.
September is an ideal time for a great garden tidy-up, while it’s still warm enough to work outdoors comfortably before the inevitable freezing weather sets in.
If you’ve returned from holiday to withered summer bedding and dried-up pots, bite the bullet and empty them on the compost heap, replacing them with a spring display. Plant bulbs, pansies, heathers and other winter and spring stalwarts to brighten up your outlook.
If you’re not going to use your containers for winter displays, clean them out, wipe them down and put them away. Don’t leave terracotta pots out or they may succumb to frost and crack.
Some gardeners tend to be more relaxed about pest and disease control at the end of the season, but ignore them at your peril or you may be storing up problems that will remain dormant until next year. Cut off or prune out affected parts of diseased plants and burn or dispose of them so that overwintering spores won’t survive until next year.
Pest control is also important. Be aware that many biological controls become less reliable when the temperature drops as the predatory insects which provide the control then multiply more slowly. Take off shoots on plants which are infested with greenfly or blackfly and dispose of them.
Don’t leave garden debris lying around because slugs will shelter under it and are still capable of doing plenty of damage to your plants. It’s also important to keep up with the weeding because otherwise they are likely to shed seeds, creating a hotbed of more weeds next year.
Continue to deadhead roses and cut back finished summer-flowering perennials, removing supports which propped up the plants which have stopped flowering. These can be cleaned with a mild detergent and put away until next year.
The vegetable garden should still be producing rich pickings of French and runner beans, salad crops, courgettes and sweetcorn, but if you have time, clear away spent crops to create vacant rows, dig over the ground and refill the spare space with autumn and winter crops as soon as possible.
Give the greenhouse a spring-clean, emptying it of staging, plants and rubbish and give it a good clean with hot, soapy water, which will help flush out pests and diseases and prepare the area for any overwintering tender plants you may need to house. Remove greenhouse shading to allow in more light.
If you’re putting plants back in there, try to space them out to allow good airflow around them which will help stop the build-up of diseases such as soft rot and mildew.
Garden furniture can also be cleaned at this time of year on fine days, to save you a job next spring. Teak furniture can be washed with a mild mixture of soap and water and it is recommended that you use a soft utility brush to remove surface dust and dirt. Rinse the furniture thoroughly after cleaning and allow it to dry completely before putting it away for the winter.
September is also a good time to prune cane fruits such as loganberries and tayberries, cutting off the fruited canes to about 6in (15cm) from the ground.
Of course, once you’ve done all this, the sun may come out and you may have to unpack a newly cleaned deck chair or two if the summer turns out to be an Indian one - but you’ll be streets ahead when spring arrives.
Best of the Bunch - Nerine
While many gardeners will now be contemplating which spring-flowering bulbs to plant up this autumn, others will be sitting back to enjoy their summer bulb choices - and the nerine is one of the best late-flowering beauties. N. bowdenii produce beautiful pink funnel-shaped flowers ahead of their strap-shaped leaves in September, bringing a welcome splash of colour to fading borders and patios.
Nerines need plenty of heat in early summer while they are dormant. They should be placed in a very sunny, sheltered spot with well-drained soil - ideally by a house wall - and just be left alone to do their thing.
Good enough to eat - container-grown olives
If you want a taste of the Mediterranean to remind you of your summer holiday, you could have a go at growing an olive tree.
While mature trees will survive freezing conditions, to flower and fruit they need temperatures between 7.5C (46F) and 10C (50F), so they need to be brought into a cold greenhouse or conservatory in winter.
They are often wind-pollinated, so growing more than one cultivar improves pollination. If you are starting from scratch, use small pots with loam-based compost and added grit, with loads of crocks in the bottom and place the pots on feet to enhance drainage. Despite needing free-draining soil, they also need to be watered liberally and fed with a liquid fertiliser every month during the growing season. Cut watering back in winter but never allow the compost to dry out.
They should be pruned in spring or early summer and the new shoots thinned each year to keep the plant compact.
Three ways to... Ward off grey squirrels
1. Protect fruit by growing it under a fruit cage made of wire netting.
2. Cover tubs of bulbs and corms with wire netting to stop squirrels helping themselves. They will bite through plastic.
3. Fix a conical biscuit tin to the pole below your bird table to stop squirrels climbing up it. Add petroleum jelly or another grease to the pole to deter them further.
What to do this week
Prepare the ground for sowing a lawn.
Order new fruit trees, canes or bushes.
Protect ripening fruit from birds.
Continue to water containers regularly.
Pick early varieties of apples and pears when slightly under-ripe.
Pot on alpines raised from cuttings in spring, using a gritty compost. Overwinter in a cold frame before planting out next year.
Sow poppies outdoors where they can flower next year.
Plant out spring-flowering biennials including forget-me-nots and wallflowers in their flowering positions to allow them time to establish before winter.
Plant new border perennials and water in well.
Bring in houseplants that have been standing outside all summer, before the first frost arrives.
Lift and divide four to five-year-old clumps of perennial herbs such as lemon balm, lovage and bergamot.
Encourage outdoor tomatoes to ripen by giving them a light dressing of sulphate of potash.
Pot on rooted cuttings of poinsettias.
Border carnations and pinks layered in July should be rooted and can be severed from the parent plant and planted into a prepared bed except in colder areas, where they are best overwintered in a frame.