Back to work?

26 August 2016

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FOR many of us, the holiday season is ending. Pottering in a garden, as the light grows softer and the morn­ing dews grow heavier, can help us to ease back to our normal schedule without making too many de­mands on us. Costas, a Greek gardener I once worked with, frequently pre­scribed a time for “just looking”.

There is certainly much still to enjoy: dahlias and late-flowering daisies such as Helianthus and Rudbeckia are in their stride. Pots of summer bedding should have plenty left to give, but the odd neglected plant may need a bit of first aid.

Submersing it in water can often revive a badly wilting specimen. Add a tiny drop of washing-up liquid to reduce surface tension, and thereby improve saturation. After the soak­ing, remove any leaves that don’t recover, and let it convalesce in light shade. Diseased or pest-ridden plants are best discarded.

If, in the past, you have suffered plant losses in flowerbeds or large pots, and discovered that the culprits were vine weevil grubs eating the roots, mid-September is the ideal time to apply a dose of living nema­todes, which parasitise the larvae and prevent any further damage. This biological control is simply watered on, and can be ordered online. The microscopic nematodes arrive in a sealed packet in a damp powder.

If you discover the maggot-like vine weevil grubs in smaller pots, it makes more sense to empty all the contents into the garden-waste recycling bin. You are not spreading the problem by doing this, as large-volume council composting systems heat up sufficiently to kill pests and pathogens.

If you need a post-holiday work­out, raking the lawn with a spring-tine rake will remove a surprising amount of debris called “thatch”, and so allow air and rain in, and stim­ulate new growth.

September is a perfect time to sow grass seed; thus any bare patches in the lawn can be addres­sed at the same time. And, while resting from the raking, you can identify gaps in the garden and what needs to change for next year. Later in the autumn is a good time to plant bare-root roses and hedging plants; so ordering now makes sense.

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Some gaps in borders are only temporary, created by early flow­erers that have “gone over”; moving planted-up pots to fill them can act as a quick fix if you are having a party. More permanent spaces can be used to sow seeds of hardy annuals such as cornflowers, calen­dula, and nigella, or biennials such as Echium vulgare. After all, Nature’s way is to scatter seed on bare soil at this time of year.

And, finally, now is the time to take cuttings from your favourite tender plants, such as felicias, fuchsias, busy lizzies, and argyran­themums. Use a sharp knife to remove healthy, non-flowering shoots 7-10cm long. Strip off the lower leaves and insert five or six into a 9- or 10-cm pot filled with moistened multi-purpose compost. Cover with a clear plastic bag (excepting pelargoniums), and place in a cold frame, or on a west- or east-facing window. When they have rooted, keep them cool but frost free, and pot up next spring.

If all this sounds too much like hard work, take a leaf out of Costas’s book, and just look.

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