TROWEL & ERROR

 
Home Minutes

TIPS & WRINKLES
Jobs to do throughout the year
January February March April May June
July August September October November December
'Ugly' veg is back! 200 Year-Old Bramley Worms Grow Your Own
Impatiens Downy Mildew Operation Bumblebee Cane Tops Compost
Garden Hygene Habitats for hibernators    
 

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Important Seasonal Jobs For January
1 Prune Wisteria back to within two or three buds of main stems.
2 Order seeds and summer bulbous plants such as lilies and dahlias.
3 Start chitting early potatoes in a bright place indoors.
4 Hoe and remove any cold-hardy persistent weeds.
5 Take root cuttings of plants such as Eryngium, Papaver and Clerodendrum.
6 It is not too late to aerate the lawn by spiking with a garden fork or aerator.

KITCHEN GARDEN
1 Plan your vegetable crop rotation.
2 Apple and pear trees benefit from a feed of growmore at 70g per sq m (2oz per sq yd).
3 Last chance to prune grape vines.
4 Sow onion seed using a propagator or warm windowsill.
5 Use netting to protect fruit bushes and trees from damage by bullfinches.

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
1 Water evergreens in containers, especially if it is windy.
2 Take hardwood cuttings of trees and shrubs for rooting by spring.
3 Remove misplaced stems on young trees.
4 Renovate deciduous hedges, cutting back the top, and then one side per year.
5 The best range of bare-root roses is available to plant in winter.

PEST AND DISEASE WATCH
1 Clear weeds such as groundsel that harbour rust.
2 Keep crowns of herbaceous plants and alpines free of dead leaves to avoid rots.
3 Check grease bands and barrier glues on fruit trees are still in place and sticky.
4 Use a copper-based fungicide or Dithane to protect peaches and nectarines from peach leaf curl.

GLASSHOUSE AND INDOOR PLANTS
1 Bring strawberries potted up in August into the glasshouse for forcing.
2 Prune established Fuchsia and start them into growth by increasing watering.
3 In winter, cymbidium orchids enjoy a bright aspect, even a windowsill in full sun.
4 House plants need little water and a position away from heat or draughts.

Top 10 Jobs For January
1. Recycle your Christmas tree by shredding it for mulch
2. Ventilate the greenhouse on sunny days
3. Dig over any vacant plots that have not been dug already
4. Repair and re-shape lawn edges
5. Inspect stored tubers of Dahlia, Begonia and Canna for rots or drying out
6. Prune apple and pear trees
7. Start forcing rhubarb
8. Plan your vegetable crop rotations for the coming season
9. Keep putting out food and water for hungry birds
10. Prepare a polythene shelter for outdoor peaches and nectarines, to protect them from peach leaf curl.

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Important Seasonal Jobs For February
1. Keep paths clear of slippery algae and moss with a brush or power washer.
2. Prune rose.
3. Sow vegetables under cover, ready for planting out under cloches next month.
4. Plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers, ideally in a sunny spot.
5. Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries down to ground level.
6. To keep plants compact, trim winter-flowering heathers once they finish blooming by removing dead flowers.

KITCHEN GARDEN
1. Now is a good time to add lime to soil to reduce club root disease in brassicas.
2. Apply a general fertiliser such as fish, blood and bone to fruit trees and bushes.
3. There is still just time to buy and plant bare-root fruit trees and bushes.
4. Place potatoes 'rose end' up in a frost free place to 'chit'.

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
1. For summer foliage effect, hard prune Cotinus, Philadelphus and Sambucus.
2. Prune later-flowering clematis such as C. viticella down to 30cm (12in).
3. Deciduous hedges can still be renovated by hard pruning.
4. Prune out old stems of Mahonia after flowering to encourage new basal growth.
5. Camps/sand wisteria can be pruned back to two buds on all laterals.

PEST AND DISEASE WATCH
1 Remove leaves affected by grey mould on overwintering glasshouse plants.
2 Net fruit crops to reduce damage to buds by birds such as bullfinches.
3 Brassicas and other crops may need to be netted or fleeced against pigeons.
4 Canna and Dahlia can suffer from storage rots; check tubers occasionally.

GLASSHOUSE AND INDOOR PLANTS
1 Prune back Brugmansia and Plumbago.
2 Keep Fuchsia and Pelargonium at a minimum night temperature of 5°C (41°F).
3 Fuchsia can be pruned back to one or two buds on each shoot.
4 Outdoor strawberries can be brought into a glasshouse now for an early crop.
5 Keep indoor azaleas in a cool position, and never allow the roots to dry out.

Top 10 Jobs For February
1. Prepare vegetable seed beds, and sow some vegetables under cover
2. Chit potato tubers
3. Protect blossom on apricots, nectarines and peaches
4. Net fruit and vegetable crops to keep the birds off
5. Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering
6. Divide bulbs such as snowdrops, and plant those that need planting 'in the green'
7. Prune Wisteria
8. Prune hardy evergreen hedges and renovate overgrown deciduous hedges
9. Prune conservatory climbers
10. Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over the winter

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Important Seasonal Jobs For March
1. Sow tomatoes, aubergines and peppers, ideally in temperatures around 21°c (70°F).
2. Lay turf or finish preparations for sowing grass from seed.
3. Chitted early potatoes can be planted now.
4. Stake young plants before they need I it; 'pea sticks' are good for perennials.
5. Pests such as red spider mite in glasshouses should be controlled early.
6. Plant out vegetables sown under cover last month and cover with cloches to harden off.

KITCHEN GARDEN
1. Tie in blackberries and their hybrids.
2. Plant out potted strawberry runners.
3. Prevent weeds; lay plastic mulches to plant through.
4. Prepare runner-bean trenches.
5. Sow first batches of peas, beetroot and carrots towards the end of the month.

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
1. Sow sweet peas outside in sheltered parts of the country.
2. Remove the top 5cm (2.5in) of compost from containers and replace with fresh.
3. Root-prune shrubs in containers that cannot be repotted into a larger size.
4. Start to plant summer-flowering bulbs.
5. Divide perennials such as hostas,primulas and hellebores.
6. Plant warm-season grasses such as Pennisetum and Miscanthus.
7. Hard prune Lavatera to emerging shoots on a woody framework.
8. Coppice Eucalyptus and Cornus, and pollard trees such as Paulownia and Catalpa to restrict their size.

LAWNS AND MEADOWS
1. Apply a moss killer, and look for causes of its growth, especially poor drainage.
2. Avoid walking on newly laid turf for several weeks to help establishment.
3. Sow wild flowers and grasses.

GLASSHOUSE AND INDOOR PLANTS
1. Open glasshouse doors on warm days.
2. Bring overwintered Begonia, Canna and Dahlia into growth. Take cuttings of dahlias before stems become hollow.
3. Leave stems and leaves of Hippeastrum to die back, but remove spent flowers.

Top 10 Jobs For March
1. Plant shallots, onion sets and early potatoes
2. Protect new spring shoots from slugs
3. Plant summer-flowering bulbs
4. Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials
5. Top dress containers with fresh compost
6. Mow the lawn on dry days (if needed)
7. Cut back Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) grown for colourful winter stems
8. Weeds come back in to growth - deal with them before they get out of hand
9. Start feeding fish and using the pond fountain; remove pond heaters
10. Open the greenhouse or conservatory doors and vents on warm days

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Important Seasonal Jobs For April
1. Hoe off weed seedlings as soon as they appear to avoid them seeding.
2. Direct-sow annual flowers such as Nigella, Calendula and poppies where you want them to flower.
3. Prick out tomato seedlings as they continue to grow.
4. Make wigwams to support peas and climbing beans.
5. Control slugs and snails.
6. Repot overcrowded and pot-bound house plants.

KITCHEN GARDEN
1. Sow spinach, rocket, parsley, dill and coriander outside once the soil is warm.
2. Indoors, sow basil on a sunny windowsill, and courgettes and pumpkins at the end of the month for planting out in late May.
3. Earth up early potatoes. Plant second earlies now, maincrop later in the month.
4. Start successional sowings of salads.

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
1. Mulch borders to improve soil texture.
2. Install plant supports while herbaceous shoots are small to avoid damage later.
3. Obelisk supports in containers or borders should be erected for compact clematis.

PEST & DISEASE WATCH
1. Control aphids and caterpillars promptly, particularly under glass.
2. Prevent flea beetle attacking brassicas by covering with horticultural fleece.
3. Watch out for damping-off of seedlings. Ventilate well and avoid overwatering.

LAWNS
1. Mow lawns once grass starts into growth.
2. Rake out thatch after using moss killer.
3. Apply a high-nitrogen spring lawn feed.

PONDS AND WATER FEATURES
1. Divide large clumps of waterlilies.
2. Add new aquatic plants; oxygenators help control algae.
3. Check fish are healthy and begin feeding.

GLASSHOUSE & INDOORS
1. Ventilate cold frames and glasshouses on sunny days.
2. Increase watering and feeding of indoor plants including citrus.

Top 10 Jobs For April
1. Keep weeds under control
2. Protect fruit blossom from late frosts
3. Tie in climbing and rambling roses
4. Sow hardy annuals and herb seeds
5. Start to feed citrus plants
6. Increase the water given to houseplants
7. Feed hungry shrubs and roses
8. Sow new lawns or repair bare patches
9. Prune fig trees
10. Divide bamboos and water lilies

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Important Seasonal Jobs For May
1. Thin spinach, carrot and lettuce seedlings (the thinnings make tasty mini-veg), then water the rows well.
2. Harden off dahlias and tender exotics such as Canna for planting soon.
3. Feed and water container plants. O Topdress permanent pot plants.
4. Plant up pots of summer bedding; harden off before placing in position.
5. Continue to weed beds and borders as and when necessary.
6. Cut back flowered shoots of Choisya to promote a second flush of flowers in autumn.

KITCHEN GARDEN
1 Continue earthing-up potatoes.
2 Harvest asparagus.
3 Plant glasshouse tomatoes in beds or growing bags. Harden off outdoor tomatoes for planting early next month. 4 Surround strawberries with straw to protect fruit. Net them to keep birds off.
5 Sow maincrop carrots, sweet corn and the first batch of French beans outdoors.
6 Sow pumpkins and squashes indoors.

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
1 Thin out drifts of hardy annuals.
2 Divide Hosta as they come into growth.
3 Take softwood cuttings of herbs (such as sage and lemon verbena) and shrubs.
4 Prune out overcrowded and dead stems of early-flowering clematis (C. alpina, cirrhosa, C. macropeta/a, C. armandii and their cultivars) after flowering.

PEST & DISEASE WATCH
1 Protect crops from carrot fly by covering with horticultural fleece.
2 Pick off larvae of rosemary, viburnum and lily beetles as soon as they are seen.
3 Hang pheromone traps in apple trees to reduce codling moth.
4 Look out for signs of blackspot on roses.

PONDS AND WATER FEATURES
1 Feed fish, little and often.
2 Remove duckweed and blanketweed from ponds, and thin excessive growth of submerged oxygenators.

GLASSHOUSE & INDOORS
1 Ventilate glasshouses on warm days.
2 Use blinds or shade paint to avoid large fluctuations of temperature.
3 Damp down to increase humidity.

Top 10 Jobs For May
1. Watch out for late frosts. Protect tender plants
2. Earth up potatoes, and promptly plant any still remaining
3. Plant out summer bedding at the end of the month (except in cold areas)
4. Collect rainwater and investigate ways to recycle water for irrigation
5. Regularly hoe off weeds
6. Open greenhouse vents and doors on warm days
7. Mow lawns weekly
8. Check for nesting birds before clipping hedges
9. Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs
10. Watch out for viburnum beetle and lily beetle grubs

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Important seasonal jobs for June

It’s dead-heading time. Perennial wallflowers such as Bowles’ Mauve are coming to the end of their first flush of flowers. Cut back the spent flower spikes and feed them lightly to produce a further crop. Deadheading also reduces the weight and helps them to remain stable.

Aquilegias, large or small-flowered, are lovely cottage stalwarts, but they do seed like mad. Take the flowered stems out of your least favourite colours so that only your best-loved can get about.

If you grow variegated ground elder, a tramp in a party frock, take off all the flower stems or it will seed like a plain green tramp.

It’s aphid time, too. Look out for those big, fat, ruinous ones on the spikes of lupins. Watch out also for the distorted young leaves on beech hedges that mean those woolly white aphids are busy under the leaves. Old hedges cope, young ones suffer.

In spring there’s nothing quite so striking down a wall as purple Aubrietia, with or without the slap-in-the-face accompaniment of yellow Alyssum. Aubrietia needs shearing over now and its perimeter reducing, to produce a dense and floriferous swag for next year. The same can be done to flowered swags of grey-leaved Cerastium.

If you have just bought one of those wonderful peach-coloured varieties of Verbascum, cut out the flower stem. Crazy, I know, but it means it will establish properly at the base. Left unchecked they can sometimes flower themselves to death in that first season of planting.

Cistus are fine aromatic shrubs, but they do get gangly if you don’t look after them. You should nip out the tips of the longer shoots now and again in a few weeks, while they are busily growing, to keep them dense. Your fingers will smell wonderful.

Spread a little fertiliser on weak lawns and if the speedwell is a problem lift up its trailing stems with a rake before you mow.  

Top 10 Jobs For June
1. Hoe borders regularly to keep down weeds
2. Be water-wise, especially in drought-affected areas
3. Pinch out sideshoots on tomatoes
4. Harvest lettuce, radish, other salads and early potatoes
5. Position summer hanging baskets and containers outside
6. Cut lawns at least once a week
7. Plant out summer bedding
8. Stake tall or floppy plants
9. Prune many spring-flowering shrubs
10. Shade greenhouses to keep them cool and prevent scorch

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Important seasonal jobs for July

SEASONAL JOBS
1. Buy and plant autumn-flowering bulbs such as Colchicum for late colour.
2. Sow salads and spinach for winter and early spring crops.
3. There is still time to sow last batches of French and runner beans in the south.
4. Cut out fruited stems of raspberries to their base and tie in new canes.
5. Plant out container-sown leeks and brassicas for winter cropping.
6. Thin apples after the ‘June drop’. Leave 2 or 3 fruit in each group for larger, better quality fruit.

KITCHEN GARDEN
1. Ensure plants such as tomatoes in growing bags get even, consistent water. Sow bare patches of ground with green manures or late crops.
2. Summer prune apple and pear espaliers, fans and cordons. Cut whippy stems back to four or five buds.
3. Tie in and train new blackberry canes.
4. Celery and endive require earthing up for a tender and sweet harvest.
5. Prepare new strawberry beds, adding plenty of well-rotted manure or compost.

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
1. Deadhead perennials such as lupins and delphiniums for a late flush of flowers.
2. Collect seeds of early-flowering plants such as aquilegia, poppies and alliums.
3. Cut sweet peas, water well and mulch heavily to prolong flowering.
4. Take cuttings of evergreens such as rhododendrons, camellias and heathers.
5. Keep camellias in pots and the open ground moist for lots of flowers next year.
6. Trim large-leaved topiary like bay or holly. Photograph the garden now to help you plan changes in autumn or spring.

PEST AND DISEASE WATCH
1. Damp down glasshouse floors to discourage red spider mite.
2. Orange spots on pear leaves indicate rust. Pick these off as soon as seen.
3. To avoid mildew, ensure wall-trained roses and honeysuckle are well watered.

LAWNS AND MEADOWS
1. Mow at least once a week, raising the blades if rainfall is low.
2. Lawns sown or turfed in spring will need extra water in their first summer.

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Top 10 Jobs For August
1. Prune Wisteria
2. Don’t delay summer pruning restricted fruits
3. Deadhead flowering plants regularly
4. Watering! Particularly containers, and new plants - preferably with grey recycled water or stored rainwater
5. Collect seed from favourite plants
6. Harvest sweetcorn and other vegetables as they become ready
7. Continue cutting out old fruited canes on raspberries
8. Lift and pot up rooted strawberry runners
9. Keep ponds and water features topped up
10. Feed the soil with green manures

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Important seasonal jobs for September

1. Divide herbaceous perennials
2. Pick autumn raspberries
3. Collect and sow seed from perennials and hardy annuals
4. Dig up remaining potatoes before slug damage spoils them
5. Net ponds before leaf fall gets underway
6. Keep up with watering of new plants, using rain or grey water if possible
7. Start to reduce the frequency of houseplant watering
8. Clean out cold frames and greenhouses so that they are ready for use in the autumn
9. Cover leafy vegetable crops with bird-proof netting
10. Plant spring flowering bulbs

KITCHEN GARDEN
Sow Oriental greens and spinach.
Onions sets to be over-wintered can be planted now.
Asparagus foliage can be cut down to ground level after it has browned.
Strawberry plants can still be established before winter arrives.

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
Prune late-summer-flowering shrubs.
Start autumn planting as the soil is still warm and rain should aid establishment.
Make or buy a compost bin to deal with debris from autumn tidy-ups.
Buy and plant spring-flowering bulbs including narcissi, anemones, crocus and Lilium candidum.
Establish cyclamen as growing plants; corms can be less successful as they are often too dried out.

PEST AND DISEASE WATCH
For organic control of vine weevil grubs use nematodes. The soil should still be warm enough.
Pick up and dispose of fallen leaves affected by rose black spot.

LAWNS AND MEADOWS
Lawns need scarifying, aerating and feeding.
Prepare areas for reseeding and allow soil to settle before sowing.
Give meadows a final cut to a height of 7.5cm (5in).

PONDS AND WATER FEATURES
Thin submerged oxygenators if necessary.
Net ponds to prepare for autumn leaf fall.
Continue removing blanket weed and duckweed as necessary
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Important seasonal jobs for October
1. Harvest any remaining pumpkins, squashes and marrows before the first frosts of the season.
2. October is an ideal time to lay turf onto well-prepared soil.
3. Cut out fruited canes of hybrid berries - and tie in the new growth.
4. Pick any remaining apples and pears before they become frosted.
5. Finish planting spring flowering bulbs such as Narcissus and Crocus
6. Order fruit trees and bushes early, as the most desirable cultivars often sell out quickly

KITCHEN GARDEN
Lift potatoes, beetroot and carrots and store in frost-free, dry conditions.
Plant strawberry plants or rooted runners into well-prepared soil or pots.
Take hardwood cuttings of blackcurrants.
Lift and divide rhubarb crowns.

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
Lift cannas and dahlias once the foliage has been blackened by frost.
Shred and compost woody material.
Divide herbaceous perennials.
To propagate evergreen shrubs, take semi-ripe cuttings now.
Keep camellias and rhododendrons well watered to ensure good bud formation.
Plant hedging plants 45-60cm (18-24in) apart for swift establishment.
October is an ideal time to plant most trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.

PEST AND DISEASE WATCH
Keep glasshouse doors open in sunny weather to help avoid fungal diseases.
Any leaves affected by spots, scabs and mildews should be collected and disposed of - do not compost them.
Discard any apples and pears suffering from brown rot.
Apply barrier glue or grease bands to fruit trees to protect from winter moth.

LAWNS AND MEADOWS
Cut the lawn on a high setting for the last time at the end of the month.

WATER GARDENS
Remove leaves and net ponds for winter.
Cut back marginal plants and yellowing leaves on waterlilies.
Protect Gunnera crowns from frost damage with their own inverted leaves.

Top 10 Jobs For October
1. Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly
2. Cut back perennials that have died down
3. Divide herbaceous perennials and rhubarb crowns
4. Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse
5. Plant out spring cabbages
6. Harvest apples, pears, grapes and nuts
7. Prune climbing roses
8. Order seeds for next year
9. Last chance to mow lawns and trim hedges in mild areas
10. Renovate old lawns or create new grass areas by laying turf

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Important seasonal jobs for November
1. Net all brassicas to protect against damage from pigeons.
2. Plant bare-root fruit and ornamental trees as soon as they arrive.
3. Rake up leaves from the lawn and stack them to make leafmould.
4. Raise containers onto pot feet to prevent damaging waterlogging.
5. Prune roses on exposed sites to prevent wind rock.
6. Put out food and water for birds to help them through winter.

KITCHEN GARDEN
1. Clear any remaining debris from the vegetable patch or allotment. Finish planting garlic in situ or into modules if the ground is too wet.
2. Heel in supplies of root crops into boxes of sand in case frost prevents harvesting. Place cloches over tender plants and/or herbs that like dry feet over winter such as Greek oregano and basils.

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
1. Tulips are best planted this month to reduce the risk of fungal diseases.
2. There is still time to order summer- flowering bulbs.
3. Acers, vines and other plants that 'bleed' badly in spring can be pruned now. Reduce borderline-hardy plants such as Perovskia and Penstemon by a third. Complete their pruning in spring.

PEST AND DISEASE WATCH
1. Spray peaches to protect against peach leaf curl. Cover to prevent reinfection.
2. Check that tree guards are in place against rabbits.
3. While pruning fruit trees, check for apple canker, which causes cracks and lesions. Cut out any damage.

PONDS AND WATER FEATURES
Drain water pumps, irrigation lines and standpipes to avoid freezing.

GLASSHOUSE AND INDOOR PLANTS
1. Keep overwintering cuttings of tender perennials just moist and with good ventilation to avoid fungal problems.
2. House plants need less water and feed now that the days are shorter.

Top 10 Jobs For November
1. Clear up fallen leaves - especially from lawns, ponds and beds
2. Raise containers onto pot feet to prevent waterlogging
3. Plant tulip bulbs for a spring display next year
4. Prune roses to prevent wind-rock
5. Plant out winter bedding
6. Cover brassicas with netting if pigeons are a problem
7. Insulate the greenhouse from frost - bubblewrap works well
8. Stop winter moth damage to fruit trees using grease bands around the trunks
9. Put out bird food to encourage winter birds into the garden
10. Use a seasonal bonfire - where this is allowed - to dispose of excess debris unfit for composting

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Important seasonal jobs for December
1. Earth up Brussels sprouts stems to support them.
2. Check the petals of house plants such as cyclamen for the early stages of botrytis; remove affected flowers.
3. Insulate garden taps and any exposed pipework from extremes of weather.
4. Bring in Christmas bulbs for flowering. Keep cool to extend flower life.
5. Prune apple and pear trees now to let in more air and light.
6. To force rhubarb for earlier, sweeter stems, cover crowns with a forcer or dark-coloured bucket.

KITCHEN GARDEN
1. Continue digging cleared plots in the vegetable garden.
2. Local authority recycled waste can be a useful, low-cost soil conditioner.
3. Bring mint and chives indoors for forcing. » Keep containerised bay out of cold winds and prevent pots from freezing.

ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
1. Sow seeds of alpines now, as they benefit from a cold period to start germination.
2. Check stored tubers of dahlias and cannas for signs of rot.
3. Coppice trees and shrubs such as hazel.
4. Check watering of climbers against walls and fences, even in damp weather.
5. Is there enough winter structure in the garden? Aim for at least one third evergreens to 'hold' the garden together.

PEST AND DISEASE WATCH
1. Red spider mite and whitef ly may be overwintering indoors.
2. It is easier to treat scale insect as nymphs now than their more armoured, protected adult form.
3. In glasshouses, remove any leaves affected by grey mould.
4. Old mummified fruits on plums indicate brown rot and should be removed.

GLASSHOUSE AND INDOOR PLANTS
1. Pelargonium seeds can be sown now to ensure a long growing season.
2. Pinch out the tips of sweet peas sown last month to encourage bushiness.
3. Ensure poinsettias are well wrapped before leaving the shop.
4. Keep house plants in brighter places in winter as light levels fall.

Top 10 Jobs For December
1. Check your winter protection structures are still securely in place
2. Check that greenhouse heaters are working OK
3. Prevent ponds and stand pipes from freezing
4. Prune open-grown apples and pears (but not those trained against walls)
5. Prune acers, birches and vines before Christmas to avoid bleeding
6. Harvest leeks, parsnips, winter cabbage, sprouts and remaining root crops
7. Deciduous trees and shrubs can still be planted and transplanted
8. Take hardwood cuttings
9. Keep mice away from stored produce
10. Reduce watering of houseplants

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Matthew Biggs of Radio 4 Gardeners Question Time asks
WHAT'S ALL THIS TWADDLE ABOUT GARDEN HYGIENE?
Of the many horticultural practices handed down from the Victorians, most are correct; but not all. Regular digging reflected their traditional agricultural practice but we now know that a 'no dig' policy usually creates better soil. The same applies to their rigorous principles of garden hygiene. I am sure that the ghosts of Victorian gardeners skulk in the corners of our plots, pricking consciences, reminding us what we have learned, so that received wisdom — like washing pots until they are sporeless and fungi free - is maintained. But is such fastidiousness really necessary? In their era, 'cleanliness was next to godliness', staff were plentiful and plunging your hands into freezing water was a way of demonstrating character and commitment to the cause. I don't have time for such an onerous, time-consuming task nor the staff to do it. I have pondered many alternatives, tried lining pots up on the lawn like a coconut shy, to be blasted with a high-pressure hose, and dreamt of hiding them in the back of the dishwasher among the cups and plates. Although riddled with guilt, it is normally a quick glance over my shoulder to check that no-one is watching before brushing out the dust and dead spiders followed by a quick wipe round with a damp cloth or 'baby wipe'. Job done. Pots are only washed when there is nothing else to do, or if there have been problems - a rare occurrence with sterilised compost and plastic pots.
Neither do I follow the archaic instruction 'burn diseased material'; it is impossible in a gas 'log' fire or smokeless zone, unless it is Guy Fawkes Night. I don't stoke giant compost heaps to furnace-like temperatures to destroy blackspot and mildew, either. The advent of the council's green bin has changed that. I'm now an enthusiastic donator of diseased vegetation, while keeping the best for myself. The sifting process is not always rigorous, but most fungal diseases are wind borne and there is almost certainly a reservoir of infection in a neighbour's garden, so why worry?
After pruning one plant, I decided that it isn't practical to regularly flame the blades of secateurs or wipe them with a cloth dipped in methylated spirits with each cut of an infected plant, as our heritage would dictate. By all means follow traditional practice when it comes to horticultural hygiene, but pragmatism often provides the perfect 21st century solution.

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Charming Worms

Gardeners and nature lovers are being asked for their help in recording the country's population of earthworms. The aim is to find out more about a garden creature that is essential to the health of our soils, yet largely remains a mystery. The survey is the first of a series of such projects run by Opal, a three-year initiative supported by more than a dozen organisations including the Natural History Museum, Imperial College London and the Environment Agency. It enlists ordinary people to carry out research into subjects, such as soil, air, biodiversity and climate change.

There are 26 species of earthworms in Britain, of which about 15 are common, but virtually nothing is known about where they live and the types of soils they prefer. There has been little research into their habits since Charles Darwin first identified their vital importance to soil function 130 years ago.

Those who take part in the earthworm survey will receive full instructions including a free identification chart and a sachet of mustard - essential equipment for getting worms to come to the surface. "It brings up worms that are deep burrowers, which l you wouldn't see any other way," says Natural History Museum entomologist Steve Brooks. "It does irritate them but it doesn't do them any harm." Other ways to look at earthworms include digging a pit and sifting through the removed soil and also looking in compost heaps, among leaves and under fallen branches. You can enter results straight onto the survey website, where they will be added to an interactive map showing population distributions and soil types.

"We're expecting tens of thousands of responses from all over Britain," says Steve. "It will be the first time we've had an idea of the general distribution across the country - which worms are local to certain areas and soil types."

The survey starts in March 2009, but you can register for a survey pack now by visiting the website at www.opalexplorenature.org

 

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The RHS is adding a new grow your own fruit section to its Grow Your Own campaign.
This year, we'd also like you to help us build up a picture of what produce you already grow and how you see the recession impacting on your gardening and produce shopping habits. If you can spare five minutes and have access to a computer, we'd be very grateful if you can fill in our short, online survey. What's more, those taking part will have the chance to win one of ten copies of Grow Your Own Fruit (published by Mitchell Beazley, January 2009).

To take part, just visit www.rhs.org.uk/vegetables and click on the survey link

 

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‘Ugly' veg welcomed back

The European Union has abolished rules which imposed strict controls on what fruit and vegetables sold in shops should look like.' Gardeners who grow their own eat forked carrots or lumpy tomatoes as a matter of course. But, for the last 20 years, anyone selling such imperfect vegetables could be prosecuted. The rules have long been derided for forcing farmers to reject 20 percent of otherwise edible produce before it reaches shops. Of the 26 crops covered by the rules, 16 can be sold in any shape or size once the rule change comes into force in July. The remaining 10 – including tomatoes and apples - can be sold as long as they pretty much perfect.

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200-year-old Bramley

Britain's best-known cooking apple, 'Bramley's Seedling', is 200 years old this year, and celebrations are taking place around the country.

The bicentenary sets off with the annual Bramley Apple Week (1-8 Feb), encouraging people to grow and cook Bramleys. In March, a stained-glass window dedicated to the apple will be unveiled at Southwell Minster, in the Nottinghamshire town where the first 'Bramley's Seedling' tree is still fruiting.

There will be a competition to find the best new young chef, and the launch of the 'Brammys', rewarding the best Bramley-apple products. In October, Bramley Apple Pie Week will take place to coincide with the harvest.

The first Bramley apple tree was grown from a pip by schoolgirl Mary Ann Brailsford in 1809. However, the apple is named after Matthew Bramley, who bought the cottage, and its 37-year-old apple tree, in 1846. It was local nurseryman Henry Merryweather who spotted its potential and began commercial propagation in 1856.

Visit: www.bramleyapples.co.uk

Read Joan Morgan's 'Bramley's Seedling' and other cooking apples article in The Garden, next month.

 

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Impatiens Downy Mildew

Infected leaves will appear paler green than normal, with a white, downy growth developing on lower surfaces.

Impatiens downy mildew is a new disease that is becoming very common on Busy Lizzies. Discovered in 2003/4 The disease has become rampant this year due to mild, wet weather. Although commercial growers havebeen developing protocols for its control, slow sales at the start of the bedding plant season meant that sale plants became crowded and lanky and, combined with overhead watering, meant that it is possible that infected plants were sold to the public.

There is no remedy for gardeners for the disease, so plants will have to be destroyed, and replaced by winter bedding for example. As downy mildew spores can lurk in the soil, impatiens should not be grown in the same position in the following year.

Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has advised commercial growers to do the following:
1. Ensure that sources of propagating material, whether seed or young plants, are free of the disease.
2. Adopt strict hygiene measures to prevent disease carry-over.
3. Reduce humidity to discourage disease development.
4. Monitor crops regularly for signs of the disease.

 
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Operation Bumblebee

Operation Bumblebee is a campaign managed by Syngenta Crop Protection, which aims to boost bumblebee numbers in arable farmland. Based on the experience gained from the Buzz Project a practical scientific assessment of the environmental benefits delivered by a number of available habitats Operation Bumblebee is working with growers to establish clover rich field margins, providing the vital food resource, pollen and nectar of the bumblebee, in many key locations across the whole of the UK.

Bumblebees have been disappearing at an alarming rate in Britain, due to loss of vital pollen and nectar habitat, and scientists are warning their number could decline even further within just a few years. Three of the 22 UK species are already close to extinction and a further nine are on the critically endangered list. Scientists say that if the bumblebee were to disappear from our countryside, not only would it be a tragedy but an environmental disaster since they are major pollinators of trees and wild flowers. The future of a whole host of crops from oil seed rape, field beans, strawberries, raspberries and apples as well as many wild flowers could depend on the plight of the bumblebee.

Whilst Operation Bumblebee aims to make a difference on a landscape scale, it is equally important that we, as individual gardeners in the community, do our own bit to attract bumblebees to our gardens by growing the sort of trees, shrubs and flowers that attract this sort of garden wildlife.

To see what you should grow and how you can help to attract bumblebees to your garden, go to
www.rhs.org.uk/learning/research/biodiversity.
For more information on Operation Bumblebee visit www.operationbumblebee.co.uk
or email Syngenta agri-environmental specialist Geoff Coates geoff.coates@syngenta.com  

 

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TIP OF THE MILLENNIUM!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s a spent shotgun cartridge

It’s the latest brilliant idea from Mike Truebody.
How do I know it’s a brilliant idea? Mike told me it was and as he is my son I believe everything he tells me.

Simply put a ‘Spent shotgun cartridge’ on the end of your plant support cane and stop getting poked in the eye with a pointed stick.
Our Merchandising Director says we should put the HGC logo on them and go on Dragons Den! This time next year we'll be millionaires!

We have loads of them and we will bring them along to our next meeting. They’re free, gratis and for nothing! Help yourself.

 

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Recipe for home-made Wholesome Compost

INGREDIENTS:
Raw or cooked vegetable waste, teabags, coffee grounds.
Dead flowers, annual weeds (not in flower).
Small prunings, chopped up leaves, grass cuttings - (Coarser prunings need chopping first)
Small amounts of paper, cardboard, feathers.

INDIGESITBLE:
Prickly leaves, twigs or long or thick branches.
Roots or flowers of perennial weeds - dandelions, bindweed, ground elder, dock etc.
Plastic, metal, raw or cooked meat or fish, rubbish.

METHOD:
Spread in thin layers. Add an activator such as manure, chicken, rabbit or guinea-pig bedding with droppings or urine (preferably male).
Leave to stew gently until ready to serve as  rich, crumbly compost.

 
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Habitats for hibernators
Logpiles can be rich habitats for wood-boring insects and fungi that feed on dead wood. They also provide cool, dark cavities between the logs where larger animals can find places to hibernate during winter. The best place to site a logpile is in a shaded, out-of the-way part of a garden, where temperature fluctuations will be less marked. Although it is tempting to see what is using your logpile, keep disturbance of hibernating animals to a minimum.

Common lizard
Although not often seen, common lizards are fairly widely distributed in Britain. They are shy reptiles that run for cover when anyone approaches. They will hibernate in small spaces in a logpile until spring sunshine breaks their torpor.

Grass snakes
Britain's most common snake is found across the country. Growing to more than 1m (39in) long, grass snakes can slither through narrow gaps and coil up to occupy small spaces within logpiles. Being coldblooded reptiles, they remain torpid until warm, sunny days in spring allow them to become active again.

Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs need more space than most logpile hibernators, so leave a gap in the base of a logpile large enough to accommodate a hedgehog (proprietary hedgehog 'houses' are available but are expensive and might not be used). Loosely fill the space with dry leaves for insulation.

Frogs, toads and newts
Amphibians can overwinter in the bottom of ponds, but in autumn they often seek out cool, damp places on land. Logpiles provide many niches into which frogs, toads and newts can crawl and settle down for winter.

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