END OF SEASON CARE
As the growing season comes to an end it is time to harvest some crops that need winter protection, and find winter quarters for those tender summer flowers that will continue for many years as long as you look after them during the critical winter months. Some vegetable crops such as leeks, Swedes, winter cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Swiss Chard and parsnips are quite happy to be left alone as they are perfectly hardy and exposure to frosts help to sweeten them up.
Beetroot and carrots can be lifted and stored in dry soil or sand in a frost free shed, although with milder winters becoming normal, I have tended to just earth up my beetroot and leave them where they are. So far this strategy has been fine, but a severe winter like in 2010 could test this method.
Onions and potatoes are best drying off before storing them in hessian sacks, onion nets or for small quantities of potatoes I use large cardboard boxes in my frost proof garage. Onions need plenty of ventilation to keep them sound, and potatoes need darkness as exposure to light will turn them green and be inedible. However if you have a good variety and you wish to keep some smaller spuds for growing the next year, then exposure to light is good for them.
Pumpkins are usually left till the end of this month to let them ripen up and turn orange before taking them home and storing them in a cool room. They should store quite well up to March.
Geraniums and impatiens can be kept from one year to another by taking cuttings and growing them on a windowsill over winter. I take geranium cuttings by snapping the top of a strong shoot off at a leaf joint with just one leaf. I do not use a knife. These cuttings go into shallow pots with a sandy compost mixture. Impatiens cuttings are taken about three to four inches long and after removing all the lower leaves they are placed in a jar filled with water with only the leafy tops showing. Keep them on a light windowsill that is not in the sun. They will root in a month and can then be potted up into compost to grow on and flower in late autumn to mid winter, on a sunny windowsill.
Fuchsias grown in pots or baskets are best dried off and kept in a cool frost free place over winter, but check they don’t completely dry out. However keep young fuchsias grown from cuttings taken in summer growing for as long as possible to establish a strong plant before they go dormant and need drying off slightly.
Begonias are lifted in October when flowering finishes and the cold weather causes the leaves to fall off. I dry my tubers out in the sun for about a week, provided there is no risk of frost. Then remove all the soil before packing them in polystyrene boxes for storing in my garage. I use the dry old soil to cover over the tops for added protection and make sure they don’t completely dry out.
Gladioli are lifted in mid October and the old stems cut off just above ground level. The corms are dried out under cover, then cleaned up removing the old spent corm and all small cormlets. The biggest of these can be retained for growing on, and will flower after one or two years. Store in a frost free garage or shed in boxes and keep them dry.
Chrysanthemum stools are lifted after flowering, cut back to about six inches and boxed up in compost. Make sure all stools are labelled. Over winter in a cold greenhouse or frame, and keep them moist as they will continue to grow, though ever so slowly till spring.
Wee jobs to do this week
Although our autumns seem to go on longer and winter slow to appear, deciduous trees and shrubs will start to lose their leaves from now till winter. Rake these up regularly and add them to the compost heap. Once mixed with old grass cuttings, annual weeds and vegetable debris they will soon rot down and provide an excellence source of compost to enrich the soil.
Summer bedding plants that are finished can also be added to the compost heap plus any old soil from tubs and hanging baskets that needs replacing. If the compost heap has been gathering material since late winter, give it a turn over with a fork to mix old rotted compost with fresh new material as this will help to rot it down.