Summer has so far been a mix of monsoon and humid heat. Now we are approaching autumn.
This month we have the equinox and, from that date, nights that are longer than days over the next six months. Depressing? Not a bit of it. In September the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs start to change colour from drab green into a wonderful variety of rich browns, reds and yellows. Many shrubs are laden with red berries which, later in September, will attract flocks of those lovely thrushes, redwings and fieldfares that have spent the ‘summer’ breeding in Scandinavia. Indeed, for the gardener and naturalist, autumn is as beautiful a season as any. So….
1. If you have some shrubs that are laden with red berries, prevent the birds getting them all early by putting fine netting over them. Remove the nets in October and you might spot fieldfares, redwings and, if lucky, waxwings in your garden.
2. Buy and plant bulbs this month and as soon as possible if you want to have hyacinths open for Christmas. For that you need to buy ‘prepared’ bulbs; plant them in bowls of damp bulb fibre with the top of the bulb just above the surface of the compost, and put them in a dark, frost-free place. I wouldn’t buy dry snowdrop bulbs; to grow them it is best to buy them ‘in the green’ in spring.
3. For a lovely spring display, plant wallflowers and sweet williams now.
4. This is the month when most apples and pears are ready for picking. Gently lift the fruit and if its stalk separates from the branch without pulling it is ready; if not, don’t yank it off but leave it for another day or two. Note that most apples and pears are not fully ripe and ready for eating straight from the tree. It may take three or four weeks before a Conference pear or Lord Lambourne apple is at its most delicious.
5. If you have a vegetable plot, now is the time to buy and plant garlic, shallots and onion sets that will overwinter to give you a crop early next summer. Note that there are special fertilisers for garlic and for onions/shallots.
6. Do you like watercress? If so buy a bag from the supermarket and put the biggest shoots in water until they have grown roots. Then plant 2-3″ apart in a large pot or box of compost, put somewhere outside where the sun shines and keep watered. Now you will have lots of watercress to go with your turkey salad on Boxing Day and it will taste more peppery than the stuff you would buy in December. If you can, also sow a lettuce variety specially produced for winter, such as Arctic King, Valdor or Winter Density.
7. Mow lawns when they are dry, which usually means afternoons after two or three rainless days. The grass will usually be wet with dew in the mornings.
8. The flowering of herbaceous perennials in our borders is coming to an end. You could tidy them up by clipping back the dying and straggly growth, but I would leave that until February, just before next year’s growth commences. Birds will then find food in the old stems and seed heads.
9. If you grow tomatoes and find the last slow to ripen, pick them and put them in a bowl with some bananas. Ripening of fruit is speeded up by the gas ethylene, which bananas produce in great quantity. You can do this with any fruit that is not quite ripe enough, such as those rock hard peaches and plums from the supermarket.
10. September is Showtime! The Association’s Flower and Vegetable Show is on 9 September at Penkford School, Wharf Road, Newton. Doors open to you all at 2pm and entry is free. There you will see flowers, fruit and vegetables at their best!
Newton-le-Willows Gardeners’ Association’s Sales and Advice Hut, on the allotment site off Rob Lane, is open Saturday and Sunday mornings, 10.30-12 noon. All welcome.