Get on with planting all your spring bulbs (except tulips) in the ground or in containers. If your summer plants are looking too good to face eviction, plant the bulbs in a plastic pot of the same size – then they can start growing until their more decorative accommodation is available. Tulips should wait until November to avoid a fungal disease called tulip fire. As a precaution against it, I am giving my containers a good clean out, using fresh compost and then adding a handful of GroChar to each pot. That way any lurking tulip fire spores should be kept at bay.
Remove plant saucers from underneath pots. Heavy autumn rains will quickly fill saucers and cause roots to rot and early frosts may freeze the waterlogged soil and damage the container
Sow Sweet Peas
Sweet peas sown now in deep pots will spend the winter growing a strong root system, ensuring robust plants that will transplant well and flower early. Sow 2 seeds per cell about 2.5cm deep, water lightly to dampen the surface of the compost (too wet and the seeds might rot) and cover the pots with newspaper to exclude light and prevent drying out. Mice love sweet pea seeds, so if you think this may be a problem, soak them in liquid paraffin (I’ve also found undiluted liquid seaweed quite effective) or set a mousetrap. Remove the covering from the pots as soon as the seeds germinate. Overwinter the young plants in a cold greenhouse, coldframe or porch. Don’t be tempted to keep them warm – they will grow leggy. Once 3 sets of leaves have formed, pinch out the top of the plant reducing it to about 10cm. This will encourage side shoots to develop.
Pick squash and pumpkins as they ripen, or when the vine is killed by frost.
Leave 15cm of stem attached to the fruit to prevent it rotting at the joint. Ripen further in a sunny covered spot such as a porch or the shelf in a greenhouse.
Go Forth and Multiply
This is the time to divide herbaceous perennials to get more plants and reinvigorate those that are not flowering as well as in past years. Ideally this should be done every 3 or 4 years. Use a fork to dig up the entire plant and then put 2 forks back to back in the centre of the clump and push them against one another to form two separate plants. You can repeat this to get even more plants. The strongest plants will be made from the growth on the edge of the plant – if the centre looks weak and woody, compost it rather than being tempted to replant. Pot up your new plants or return them to the border with a good handful of GroChar in the bottom of the planting hole to ensure that they establish quickly.
Bring tender plants undercover into a frost-free greenhouse, conservatory or windowsill when night time temperatures drop close to freezing
Get going with Garlic
Late autumn is the ideal time to plant garlic cloves in a sunny spot with well-prepared fertile soil or in modules for planting out in March. Although you can plant cloves from a supermarket or greengrocers, you are more likely to get good results if you buy seed garlic which is guaranteed virus free and will also be suitable for the UK climate.
I’ve had problems with rust on my garlic for the past 3 years and had decided not to grow it again, but I asked an expert who has suggested I try Elephant Garlic instead. It is not a true garlic and the flavour is milder, but it’s worth a try if you have the same problem.