Wait until the first frosts have blackened the foliage, and then it’s time to decide what to do.
Some people, especially those living in milder areas, take the risk of leaving the tubers in the ground, covering the soil around them with a 15-20cm (4-6in) thick protective layer of straw, compost or bark chips. But to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to lift the tubers.
Start by cutting down the stems to 10-15cm (4-6in) from soil level. Then carefully lift the tubers with a garden fork without damaging them. Clear away as much of the adhering soil as possible and then stand the tubers upside down in a dry, airy, frost-free place for a few days to allow excess moisture to drain from the stems.
Then pack the tubers in boxes or crates filled with just-moist compost, coir, sand or similar material. Make sure the packing material is kept clear of the crown (where the stems join the tuber) or rots may set in. Keep them in a frost-free, cool place over winter, and check them regularly to ensure they don’t dry out or rot.
Question from Andrea Rose.
My garden is full of fallen leaves from my trees. It seems a shame to throw them away, so what can I do with them?
You should certainly clear them away from underlying plants and from the lawn as they can cause dieback.
Some leaves can be added to the compost heap in small amounts. Shredding those on the lawn first, by going over them with the lawnmower, will help them break down quicker – and it’s easier than raking them up!
Otherwise, they can be used to make leafmould – an invaluable material that is the perfect soil improver and mulch. Collect up the leaves and put them in a sack or plastic bag, such as a bin liner or old compost bag. Moisten them if they’re dry to help them rot, tie the top of the bag, make a couple of holes in the bottom of the plastic bags and then leave them somewhere for a year or two to rot down. Hey presto – leafmould!
Question from Dick Burke.
What are the best shrubs for growing in pots? I like colour in the summer and then maybe something that will give green leaves in winter. And what size pots would I need?
Just about any shrub can be grown in a container – providing the container is large/deep enough and you use a good compost. So the sky’s the limit!
We all have our own personal favourites, but if we had to choose 10 good shrubs to give colour from spring to autumn – and beyond – then we would go for: Abelia grandiflora; Buddleia (especially the dwarf Jazz varieties); Hebe; Hydrangea; Lavandula (lavender); Mahonia; Rhododendron (needs ericaceous compost); Hybrid tea or David Austin rose; Rosmarinus (rosemary); Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’.
Shrubs should be planted individually in containers measuring around 38-60cm (15-24inches) in diameter.
Question from Lynne George.
How can I protect plants growing in containers on the patio from frost?
The roots of plants growing in containers don’t have the cold and frost protection provided when they’re growing in the soil, and even otherwise hardy plants may become damaged during severe winters.
Protect the containers by wrapping them in bubble wrap, hessian or, better still, ‘duvets’ made from plastic bags filled with shredded newspaper, polystyrene chips, roofing insulation or similar materials. If possible, move the containers against a sheltered wall or close to a building to provide extra protection. Raise the containers onto pot feet or bricks to avoid them sitting in the wet, which can lead to root rotting and cracking of terracotta pots.
Question from Laura Atkinson.
What can I do to give some winter protection to both hardy fuchsias and penstemons kept outside?
Although these are referred to as ‘hardy’ fuchsias, they’re not totally hardy – they’re just “hardier” than bedding fuchsias! Penstemons are not totally hardy either.
First, don’t cut down the old stems until spring, as these can provide some protection and ensure the growth buds further down the stems are not damaged.
As it’s important that the roots don’t freeze, protect them by covering the soil around the plants with a 10-12.5cm (4-5in) deep layer of mulching material, such as bark chips or compost.
In extremely severe winters, you may need to protect them by covering with horticultural fleece. Stuffing straw or other insulation material around the branches first will provide extra insulation. Then cover with bubblewrap to keep it dry and provide more shielding.
Question from Laura Atkinson.
How can I deal with worm casts appearing all over the lawn?
While worm casts on lawns can appear at any time of year, they are always worse in autumn. Certainly don’t squash them, as they create an uneven surface and provide a perfect seed bed for weed seeds to germinate.
You can brush away the casts once they have dried, which is not always easy in a wet autumn!
As casting worms don’t like acidic soil, making it more acidic causes them to go deeper into the soil – where they can’t cast – without coming to any harm – or go to another part of the garden. Regular feeding with a lawn fertiliser such as Lawn Magic should go some way to make it acidic, or you can apply Sulphurlawn
Question from Mary Askwith.
I need to move a small shrub that I’ve planted in the wrong place, when is the best time to do it?
October is the perfect month for moving deciduous small and young trees and shrubs. Wait until it has dropped all its leaves, which signals that it is dormant and safe to move.
Water the soil around the plant thoroughly the day before moving to make sure the roots are fully charged with water. Where possible, prune back up to half of the top growth, to reduce the stress of moving on the roots.
Dig up as big a rootball as possible and replant in well-prepared soil with lots of added bulky organic matter plus bonemeal. Make sure the rootball sits at the same level as it was originally. Tall shrubs and trees will need staking to keep the roots secure while they re-establish. Water in thoroughly and keep the soil moist for the first year.
Question from Albert Robertson.
Do you have any advice on how to overwinter geraniums (pelargoniums)?
Pelargoniums, like all half-hardy/tender bedding plants, need to be overwintered frost free (around 4-6C/39-43F) in a light, airy place – preferably a cool greenhouse or conservatory.
Dig up the plants keeping as much of the rootball as possible. Remove all damaged/dead/dying leaves, stems and flowers and loose soil/compost and cut back the stems by around half to keep them compact and bushy. Then pot them up individually in pots just big enough for the rootball plus a bit of extra compost that you can squeeze between the rootball and the pot with your fingers.
They don’t need a lot of water over winter, but don’t allow the compost to completely dry out.
Question from Jeff Nash.
How do I deal with begonia tubers after they’ve finished flowering?
You should wait until the growth stops and the leaves start to turn yellow. Then stop watering and feeding and allow the plants to dry out. The leaves and stems will all turn yellow and you can carefully “snap” them off from the tuber. Do this gently to test whether they’re ready to come away – if they are, they’ll part from the tuber with hardly any force.
Then lift the tubers and carefully remove any soil/compost adhering to them.
They then need to be stored frost free over winter. You can either pack them in shallow trays of just moist sand (keep the top of the tuber just uncovered) or hang them in nets or stockings/tights. The former method has the advantage of stopping the tubers from drying out – although you have to make sure the sand is kept just moist, but not too wet as this can lead to the tuber rotting. The latter method has the advantage of it being easier to stop them rotting, but you have to make sure they aren’t kept too hot or they can shrivel up, dry out and die.
Question from Linda Clough.
When I lifted my lily bulbs, I found loads of little bulbs in a big cluster. Do I split them off, or replant when they are dried out in the spring?
Lilies produce baby bulbs -– or bulbils as they are called – and this is how they reproduce and are propagated. I would carefully split them off individually, then pot them up straight away in small pots of compost and grow them on, as they can take two to three years to reach flowering size. Then, you’ll have lots of new lilies!
Question from Neil Roberts.
I’ve had problems with vine weevil grubs in my containers this year. Is there anything I can do at this time of year to control them?
Actually, September is one of the best times of year to apply the biological control Nemasys Vine Weevil Killer, which is based on nematodes, to control and kill vine weevil grubs. This is available from several mail order suppliers, such as Green Gardenerw or Pippa Greenwood
Vine weevil grubs eat the roots of numerous plants, but those in containers are particularly susceptible, as are begonias, fuchsias, heucheras, sedums and succulents.
Question from Jean Fredericks.
Should I cut back the stems of my herbaceous perennials?
That depends! The majority of summer-flowering perennials are unlikely to flower again, so as soon as the flowers fade, you can cut them right back to ground level.
If you deadhead and cut back the flower stems of some late-flowering perennials – such as asters, chrysanthemums, penstemons and phlox – you may encourage some further late autumn flowers.
Those perennials with seed heads that look attractive and ornamental right into winter – such as ornamental grasses, eryngium, poppies and rudbeckia – can be left to provide some interest and structure to the garden over winter.
Many seed heads are also useful food sources for birds, and several beneficial insects, including ladybirds, may take shelter in them during the colder months.
Question from Adrian Thompson.
I’ve been given some daffodil and tulip bulbs. Should I plant them now or later?
The best month to plant all spring-flowering bulbs is September, but you can leave it until October or even as late as November if necessary or as the situation dictates – providing the soil isn’t frozen or waterlogged.
Most bulb experts now agree that even tulips, which were always traditionally planted in November, should now be planted earlier too. So, you can plant all your spring-flowering bulbs in one go.
They look great in any part of the garden and can also be grown in containers
Question from Linda Seymour.
Can you tell me when to deadhead hydrangeas?
The best time to deadhead mophead and lacecap hydrangeas is in spring (late March/April), as the overwintering faded flower heads are supposed to give some frost protection to the flower buds nestling just below at the top of the stems. Although we’re a bit dubious that a flimsy flower head can give much protection! Simply cut off the faded flower stem, be very careful that you don’t cut into the main stem, as you’ll be cutting off the flower buds.
Question from June Hay.
Is now a good time to prune bush hybrid tea and floribunda roses?
The main, hard, formative pruning of roses is done in late February or early March. Providing they have finished flowering – and they can flower all the way into winter – you can cut them back by around half now if you want to.
As roses are generally shallow rooted, the roots can become loose in the soil if buffeted by strong winds. Reducing their height will help prevent this wind rock and so prevent damage to the roots – but this is usually only necessary in windy situations.
It will also remove some of the overwintering spores of fungal diseases, such as blackspot, powdery mildew and rust, and so help reduce infection next year. Don’t forget to rake up and dispose of affected leaves too to remove sources of disease re-infection.
Question from Terry Askwith.
My dog wees on the lawn and, as you know, this burns the grass. Are there any remedies for this problem? I have tried the Australian rocks that are added to the dog’s water bowl.
The simplest solution is to stop your dog doing it in the first place! A friend of mine has trained his dog to wee down the drain! Maybe you could train it to go somewhere else in the garden away form the lawn.
For years I have tried to grow lily of the valley, but in vain. I have spent more money than I care to think about, growing them in pots and in the garden. All I get are a couple of leaves then nothing.
Some people say they have solved the problem by adding tomato juice to their food, as this may neutralise the nitrogen-containing compounds in the urine that cause the burning; it is more likely it just dilutes the food. Always check with a vet before making changes to your dog’s diet.
Always make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water, as the more it drinks, the more dilute the urine will be, reducing the problem. And canned food has a lot more water in it than dried food.
And whenever it does use the lawn as its toilet, make sure you flush the urine deeper down into the soil by applying at least 9-13.5 litres (2-3 gallons) of water to the spot where it has been.
You are not alone! Lily of the valley is one of those plants that can be difficult to get established initially – and then when it is, it goes mad and grows everywhere!
What is the kindest way to get rid of moles without killing them? I have tried to thump the ground, which has not been very successful. I have also tried pouring water down the hole, but they are a persistent lot.
It tends to prefer a relatively poor soil, so don’t overdo adding rich compost and fertiliser before planting, but it does like the soil to remain moist in summer. It also needs a position out of full, strong direct sunlight, preferring light shade, although it can also grow well in quite gloomy positions.
Also, much can depend on the type of planting material you’ve use. If you buy dormant, pre-packed roots, they may have dried out so much that they will always struggle to grow. It is far better to buy potted plants – and buy and plant them in spring when they’re already in leaf.
Trapping is the only really reliable method to get rid of moles – but you must do it correctly. Handle the trap with gloves (the moles mustn’t get a whiff of human scent) and don’t put the trap in the molehill. Instead, find the run between two molehills by testing with a metal pole or similar and put the trap there, covering it over to make sure that no light whatsoever will get into the run. You can buy humane traps that trap, but won’t kill them.
My begonias are suffering with powdery mildew disease. What is the best way to treat it?
Some people put mothballs or similar strongly scented materials into the run, or use one of the battery-operated scarers – or even a child’s windmill – moles hate vibrations.
Another option is to try and flood the run with water – you need to do more than just pour water down the run – or you could find out if you have a local “mole man”, who might be able to help.
I know people that swear by using human male (female won’t work) urine poured into the run – and numerous people have told me it works. Again it’s the smell that deters them.
Powdery mildews are usually worse on plants that are under stress – particularly if allowed to dry out at the roots. Make sure you keep the soil/compost they are growing in moist to help prevent this.
I have two hydrangeas growing in pots. When I purchased them the flower colour was blue. Now, they’ve turned pink. What can I do to restore and maintain the original colour?
As powdery mildew spores need a layer of moisture on the leaves to germinate, you should always try to water the soil/compost, but keep the leaves dry. I know, not always possible! Also, make sure you feed with high potash feeds; these will help toughen up the growth, whereas high nitrogen ones produce soft/susceptible growth.
You can spray the plants with a systemic fungicide, such as FungusClear Ultra or Bayer Garden Fungus Fighter. Just be aware that fungicides always work better as a protectant than a cure, so are best applied early to protect the growth from attack.
Hydrangea flower colour is dependent on the pH (acidity/alkalinity) of the soil/compost they are growing in. They are blue in acidic conditions and pink in alkaline ones. If you planted them in ordinary compost, rather than ericaceous compost, this will have started their change to pink.
You can buy a hydrangea bluing powder (such as Vitax Hydrangea Colourant), which is based on aluminium sulphate, from garden centres. Or you can try and acidify the compost with sulphur chips. But if you have hard/alkaline tap water that you use to water them, they will always struggle to revert back to blue and, as a result, they take on a horrid pink/blue piebald colour. In this case, it’s often best to just enjoy them being pink!
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