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Topical Tips



Topical Tips June 2017


Tim began by explaining why he finds Astrantias to be an extremely useful summer perennial. They have a colour range from white to dark red, and  the leaves may be variegated. They grow up to a maximum of  2 feet in height, are equally happy in sun or shade, and they flower for a long time. Thery are a good way of filling gaps in a border. In a dry spell they will flop, but will soon recover after rain.


He then went on to explain his approach to planting out in summer in these simple steps:

- wait until the evening

- dig the hole.

- saturate the hole with water

- take the root ball out of its pot

- dunk it in a bucket of water

- hold it there until the bubbles stop coming up

- plant it.

Doing this in the evening gives it the night time to acclimatise.


It is time to cut down many plants  -  Pulmonarias, Ladies Mantle, perennial geraniums, Oriental Poppies and Dicentra Spectabilis have mostly finished. But with some plants like Brunnera, Jack Frost and Pulmonarias you will be rewarded with a flush of new leaves.


Apple and plum trees will need thinning soon. You need to thin quite hard to get a good crop next year (and maybe avoid boughs breaking due to the weight of the crop).


Tim warned of the dangers of blight, which can affect tomatoes and potatoes. His advice is to spray with bordeaux mixture in early July, and spray again after rain.


Suckers round the base of trees whould be removed before they become a nuisance. Don’t prune them, it will promote further growth. Instead rip  them off with a sharp spade or a grubbing axe. 



Topical Tips May 2017


Tim began by showing 2 plants. The first was a relative of the allium, which has “gone native” and is very invasive. He described it as a Triffid, with its long drooping neck and head. If you find one in your garden cut the seed head off before trying to remove the whole plant and its bulblet.
A much nicer plant is the Peruvian Scilla. Originally from the Mediterranean, it got its name from the SS Peruvian - the ship which first brought it to the UK.

He then went on to describe clematis wilt, which particularly affects the varieties with larger flowers. You should really plant these deep to encourage good roots.
If your clematis does wilt, cut it off at the base, give it plenty of feed and water, and it should recover.

Now is a good time for planting out, and also for moving plants. You should give them a good soak in a bucket of water until the bubbles stop coming up.
If the plant is in a pot and has a dense root system, take it out of the pot before dunking it. And always remember to make a note of where you have put it - don‘t rely on memory!
Tall perenniels need good supports, otherwise they will flop.Or you could do a “Chelsea chop”, i.e. reduce the height by a third during the next 2 weeks, and this will make them more sturdy.

If you see leaf damage on new leaves, it might be from some recent frosts rather than disease. It should grow out.

Finally, it is a good idea to stagger the sowing of your vegetable seeds, particularly lettuce, runner beans and french beans. That way you will extend your picking season. Otherwise you will go from feast to famine!


Topical Tips April 2017


Tim began by circulating an attractive pot of blue gentian acaulis, which is slow to spread but will eventually form a longish mat in the garden. The flowers last quite a long time when they are cut. It grows well in a sunny position, but hates winter wet. The secret is to cover it with clear acrylic during the winter, and to plant it in a well-drained soil.

He claimed to have finally cracked the problem of poor germination in carrots/parsnips/chard etc. The method involves chitting the seed in horticultural vermiculite.
Using a covenient box (e.g. the brown ones in which you purchase mushrooms),
put in 3 or 4 handfuls of the vermiculite, level it, and sprinkle the seed on top.
Mix it up then add enough water to make it damp NOT WET.
Put a similar box on top as a lid and place on a window ledge and inspect every day for signs of germination. You should see a result in just a few days. Make shallow drills in the ground and spoon out the seeds, then cover with soil and a protective layer of fleece.
NB Don’t leave the seed in the box for too long.

Tim went on to talk about ornamntal grasses. The deciduous varieties should now be cut down. But evergreen varieties should have the dead stems pulled out. And about every 3 years cut them down in summer, when they will regenerate.



Topical Tips February 2017


Austen concentrated this month on preparation and tips for the March bulb show.
Split canes are useful for supporting plants. Remember that bulbs need plenty of water.

Cut daffodils should be cut the day before the show, and put into water to swell up.

Whatever you are showing , always aim to get a group of items of a similar size, otherwise it will look odd. If it is a bowl of bulbs, a good trick is to grow them separately and pick out a matching set to put in the pot.

More basically, choose a pot that suits the size of the item, and make sure both the pot AND its contents are absolutely clean.

Finally, when forcing rhubarb you must keep out ALL the light, otherwise it will turn green instead of the pink the judges are looking for,

Tim began by passing around a very fragrant daphne, Jacqueline Postil, with a lovely flower to cheer up the garden at this time of year. He believes this is one of the best, and is very reliable. It has grown into a tree which is 10 feet tall.

This is the right time to cut down autumn raspberries, leaving about one inch showing.
Then weed round the plants. apply a mulch and a balanced fertilizer.
If the leaves go yellow later this is a sign of magnesium deficiency; it can be corrected by simply dosing with epsom salts,
In the early summer prune them down to a maximum of 5 canes per stool.

Wisteria - the long growths that were produced last summer should be shorted to just 3 buds. Sprinkle potash fertilizer around the root area,

Epimedium - cut down old growth so that the pretty yellow flowers can be seen clearly when they emerge in March.

Clematis - cut down late Summer/ Autumn flowering varieties to within 12 inches of the ground; then weed, feed, and mulch round the base.

Fruit trees - remember to spray with winter wash in March.



Topical Tips January 2017


Tim began by recommending that we should get carrots underway now by planting seeds in  5-inch pots and putting them on a widowsill. Early Nantes is a good variety.

At the same time the ground where you plan to grow them should be covered  in order to get the soil warmer. If you make a simple cold-frame to do this you can plant them out into the ground inside when they are ready, and the frame will protect them.


Broad beans and celeriac can also be started now, either in pots or root trainers

Plant them out when ready and cover with fleece.


Generally, it is a good idea to warm up the soil before planting out or sewing seed.

Use plastic sheets (bubble wrap is best) or fleece.


Tim also advised that this is a good time to feed and mulch established fruit, such as rhubarb, blackcurrants, gooseberries, and raspberries.

You can also “force” rhubarb by covering it (e.g. with an old dustbin) so that no light gets in.


If you have a problem with scale insects or similar pests on your fruit last year, this is a good time to apply a winter wash with a spray.


Finally, if you want to increase the area covered by small bulbs like snowdrops and crocus, use a trowel to dig up a handful of bulbs from where they are thickest and re-plant them where you want them.



Topical Tips November 2016


Austen spoke about presents for Christmas, concentrating on pot plants, bulbs and cut flowers.
Pointsiettas can be kept in a warm room, but avoid over-watering. A yellow ring on the leaves indicates this is happening.
A pot of small chrysanthemums is a good present for someone who doesn’t want to spend time looking after plants.
Azaleas need plenty of water, but don’t leave them standing in it!
African violets make a good present but should not be placed in direct sunshine.
Cyclamen need light but should not be over-watered.
The message is: be aware that they need different treatment!
Pots of hyacinth, tulip or daffodil bulbs make a good present - Austen mentioned “Brilliant Star” (a popular red tulip) - and recommended that you should avoid mixing bulbs in the same pot unless you are sure that they are consistent in their need for water and light.
If you have cut flowers make sure that you “condition them” before they are put in a vase.

Now that the cold weather is starting, Tim recommended covering up Celeriac with fleece or bank them up with soil, otherwise frost will turn them to slush.
He makes a point of leaving seed heads alone; they add beauty to the garden, particularly when frosty, and provide food for the birds and cover for the insects. He mentioned Veronicastrum as a striking example, and fennel.
November is the time to plant tulips; they should be at least 4 inches deep,
He strongly advised marking the position of plants, particularly the “special” ones, having lost quite a few in the past. In Spring it can be quite difficult to remember - or find - things you planted in the Autumn.
Although alpines don’t mind the cold, they hate wet weather in the winter, So Tim suggested covering them with glass or clear acrylic sheets, remembering to weigh the covers down to avoid them being moved by the wind.


Topical Tips October 2016


Tim began with Nerine “Pink Tiumph”, which he described as shocking candy pink, a surprising colour for the autumn. They have a sturdy 2 foot stem, which appears without leaves from the bulb. The bulbs should be planted in a hot dry position - e.g. the foot of a south-facing wall - and do not disturb them! If happy, the plant will multiply and flower dependably for many years. The bulb should be planted with the neck and shoulders exposed for the sun. They can be picked for indoors and should last for up to a week.


He then moved on to the schizostylus coccinea (or kaffir lily), which has deep pinky-red flowers and reed-like foliage. These need to be planted in free-draining soil in full sun with their backs to a wall. They will multiply but are never invasive.


The soil is still warm and we have had rain so this is an ideal time to move plants to new positions if you so desire. But even if the soil is moist ALWAYS water the plants and firm them in, as it is important to get soil round the roots.


Tim explained that he tries to match the plants so, before moving them, he breaks off some flowers and holds them up against those in the desired location to see how well they fit into the colour scheme. For example he has planted a pink michaelmas daisy next to a  cotinus royal purple.

In general he tries to group his favourite plants, having 3 or 4 together rather than spreading over several locations.  

He recommended setting persicaria athene among taller plants in a complementary setting.


He also suggested putting markers by precious plants before they disappear over winter.



Topical Tips September 2016


Austen made several suggestions regarding preparation for the next Spring Flower Show (on Wednesday 15 March, 2017).

Avoid presenting your bulbs in a bowl that is too big - it makes the flowers look weak and mean.
Plant your narcissus bulbs with the necks just showing, give a good soaking, then put them in a shady spot in the garden. Don’t bring indoors until end of January or later, and even then keep them in a cool spot,
If you intend to show daffodils as cut flowers, plant the bulbs now alongside the ‘Lowin‘ variety as described above.

If you want to show crocus do be careful - you cannot force them; you will get just foliage.
He suggested dwarf tulips as a good choice for class 6 (Spring flowering bulbs).
But beware - now is not a good time to plant any tulips as they are likely to be attacked by small black slugs.

Tim advised that, when you harvest a squash, you should make sure that you keep some of the stem attached. This will help it keep better and avoid stem rot.

He suggested violas for long-lasting colour in the garden, right through from Autumn to Spring. Hilliers Garden Club has a good offer right now.

The picking time for apples and pears is about 2 weeks later than usual, due perhaps to our poor Spring this year.

This is the time of year to clean off the slime and dirt from garden paths. Although you can use a pressure washer, this may cause damage (like removing mortar from joints in paving). Tim therefore uses dilute Jeyes Fluid followed by brushing. However, he reported getting better results by leaving the Jeyes Fluid on for much longer than recommended - several days in fact. This seems to make it easier to brush clean.


Topical Tips July 2016


Austen showed a beautiful pot of cyclamen which he had acquired last year. To preserve it, he allowed it to die off, then re-potted it.
He warned that cyclamen should not be over-watered, and likes a cool spot away from the central heating. It is also susceptible to damping off in the middle, so don’t nip dead flowers off - pull the stalk off from the root.

Now is a good time to sow flower seeds for next spring - wallflowers, aubretia, foxgloves etc. Austen sows his wallflower seeds into plug trays, and pinches out the tops to get nice bushy plants.

He warned against half-hearted watering, which encourages roots to rise to the surface. Either soak the plants thoroughly or give nothing at all!

Tim told us about two of his favourite plants, veronicastrum and thalictrum.
Veronicastrum is easy to grow - it likes full sun to light shade on free-draining soil, and can grow up to 4 feet high The narrow spikey flowers can be white, lavender or mauve.
He groups the plants in threes, and they thrive on his thin soil.

Hewitt’s Double Thalictrum has stems up to 6 feet high with myriads of miniscule double flowers forming a cloud of mauve. Tiny roundish leaves at the base give it an airy look.
It is happy in sun or shade but needs a deep soil with plenty of organic matter.

He warned that blight affecting potato and tomato plants is around, and advised spraying with bordeaux mixture. If your potato plants have the blight, take off the foliage and bin it asap and harvest the crop.


Topical Tips June 2016


Tim told us of the pleasures to be had from the task of weeding - not only the fact that the garden looks tidier, but also the weeds rot down to form lovely compost. And of course you are forced to look more closely at the garden.

He finds that hedge clippings with branches up to a quarter of an inch in diameter will rot down nicely in among the other waste, but gave a stark warning against laurel hedge clippings as these can generate a lethal cyanide gas.
Perhaps more surprisingly, he composts even noxious weeds like bindweed and ground elder. He keeps the latter separately in a box without a bottom with a membrane underneath, and turns it over to collect the compost

Suckers often form at the base of special trees like twisted hazel, and these don’t have the characteristics of the parent tree so they should be removed. But it is best to tear them off, don’t prune them.

Austen suggested using perennial antirrinhums for hanging baskets,
He said that this was a good year for roses and then went on to observe that, as most of the audience has chalk soil, it would be natural for us to think we have have to feed them with fertilizer. However he has found that some varieties (e.g. Golden Shower) do well with fertilizer and others (e.g. Winchester Cathedral) don’t, so you need to experiment!
When deadheading take a good lump off, not just the seed head.

Now is the time to start planting seeds for next year’s perennials and biannuals (e.g. wallflowers). Use tweezers to pick up individual seeds and plant them into plugs. Plant out in the Autumn.
Winter-flowering pansies should be allowed to flower in their trays and planted out when still flowering, NOT after. Foxgloves likewise.

July is the time to take “half-right” cuttings from shrubs. Put them in a damp shady place covered in plastic before planting out in the Autumn.

Finally, when growing dahlias and fuschias for the show, stop them (i.e. pinch out the tops) 8 to 10 weeks ahead of the show so that they bush out to grow more flowers.


Topical Tips May 2016


Perennials. It is a good time to split perennials to increase their numbers. However, it is best to wait for rain and warmth.

Box blight and Box caterpillar. Both are on the increase, especially in the Southeast. Tim Speakman has taken the precaution of starting yew cuttings to replace Box if the worst happens.

Brunnera (Macrophylla). This is a useful perennial. Brunnera Jack Frost has small forget-me-not blue flowers, the foliage is attractive and has impact most of the year. Both plants can be increased easily by division.

Allium. A species of Allium with a pretty flower in the form of umbels has become a menace in the cemetery at Littleton. This is due to warmer winters. It now increases by seed and not just by bulb increase. It also has an unpleasant smell so it can be identified easily. Tim calls them Triffids!

Remove foliage from Pulmonarias when flowering is over to renew the leaves.

Take cuttings of Salvia Microphylla for selling on our stall at the Show.

It is advisable to plant out bedding plants during the first week in June.

Hanging baskets. Sphagnum Moss is ideal for lining. It is recommended to use a large basket; the advantage is that more plants may be accommodated and watering can be cut to once a day. The varieties of plants for hanging baskets are almost endless. Mix a little soil with the compost and feed at regular intervals.

Consider installing an automatic watering system for tubs and pots.

Feed herbaceous plants with Fish, Blood and Bone. Do not overfeed.

Use moist compost when sowing melons and cucumbers. Place seed flat and cover with plastic sheeting. Do not water when seeds are germinating.


Topical Tips April 2016


Tim began by recommending two small shrubs with excellent foliage, very similar to a holly leaf.

They are : Osmanthus Aureomarginatus and Osmanthus Variegatus.
Even after a number years they will not exceed a height or width of four feet.

He suggested that this is a good time to prune the coloured stems on Cornus (Dogwood) to allow the plant to grow new stems with good colour.

Tim reported an increasing problem with wild arums infesting his plot. He finds that the best way of getting rid of them is to trowel carefully round them and lift them, taking care not to leave any stolens, and send them for recycling (the high temperatures used there should kill them properly).

He warned of the dangers of using nylon string to tie branches. It acts like a tourniquet, cutting into the bark, destroying it.

Mange tout is a delicious vegetable, which is easy to grow, and Tim recommended Oregon Sugar Pod variety. Just sow them in trays, put outside to harden off before planting. Use twiggy sticks for them to climb.

Like most of us, Tim has experienced difficuly with germination of parsnip seed, but this year he believes he has cracked the problem by using a “chitting” technique!
Using a long plastic tray (the sort supplied when you buy mushrooms from the supermarket) he lined it with wet kitchen paper towel, spread the seed and covered it with a matching box. He checked it every day and kept it moist using a mist spray bottle. As soon as the first white roots appeared he planted the seeds with a tea spoon and has got a very promising crop showing.


Topical Tips February 2016


Austin began by observing that he had received widely varying accounts of progress by club members with their narcissus bulbs for the show. He suggested that cut flowers should be cut the day BEFORE the show, put in water, and kept indoors. Always cut before the flower is fully open.


Now is the ideal time for sowing seeds which are to be kept in a warm greenhouse. He warned that direct sunlight can burn plants being grown in a heated propogater, so take care. He always mixes 1 part of perlite with 3 parts of compost; this keeps it open and stops the seedlings being starved of oxygen.


Austin now believes that his use of polythene to insulate the greenhouse has reduced the light, and therefore has affected the growth of his tomatoes; he will remove it earlier this year and see if that helps. 


Late-flowering (i.e. August or later) shrubs can be pruned now.


If you grow things under cloches, put them out now to warm up the soil.


Tim recommended pinching out the tops of any cuttings taken in the Autumn; this will make them bush out instead of getting leggy.


As the soil is both cold and wet at the moment, you should :

 - cover the soil with plastic (bubble wrap is best) or fleece to warm it.

 - after planting the crop or seeds, keep it covered with fleece.


He warned that soft fruits and rhubarb and asparagus need care and attention too. When the soil is not frozen, weed round the plants / canes / bushes then feed with a multi-purpose fertilizer. Finally apply a mulch of leaf mould or composted material.


If you have clumps of snowdrops, crocus, primroses or aconites they can be split and moved to a new location.


Tim suggested that this would be a good time to give a light trim to your winter-flowering heather (Erica Carnea)


 If you have clematis which flowers in the late summer or autumn you should cut them down now, leaving a few good buds. But DON’T cut the spring-flowering clematis until after it has flowered.


We then had a late entry from Alan D. who told us of the problem he got when he germinated seeds on damp paper. The trick, he said,  is to put a layer of compost on the paper.


TOPICAL TIPS,  January 2016

Tim spoke first about his success with Fir Apple Potatoes in 2015; he planted just 4 tubers and got a massive crop.

He planted them as seed potatoes and, when there was a good growth above ground, he heaped up around the stems with a mixture of soil and organic matter. This was repeated until the tubers were ready to be harvested in October.

He did warn that fir apples are vulnerable to blight, so you need to be ready to spray with Bordeaux mixture.

He  has now sown broad beans (Sweet Spring variety) in trays indoors.

The bed where they will be growing has been covered with bubble wrap to get it warm and give it a chance to dry. After planting the bed will be covered with fleece.  The advantage of getting an early crop is that you can re-use the plot - leeks are ideal.

He advised that this is the right time to prune apple trees and apply a winter wash.

But cordon and espalier trees should not be pruned until August.

 Austen commented that his narcissus bulbs seem to be growing at different rates and several are already rather too tall. Keeping them in the shade may hold them back a bit, but there is a risk that the Spring Show may be affected, particularly as there is evidence of burnt leaves.

He recommended sowing sweet peas on a damp terry cloth in a plastic box, then cover over and keep warm; this will significantly improve the rate of success in germination.

Once they show signs of “chitting” they can be potted.

When sowing fine seeds, mix with silver sand to make them easier to handle.

Cucumber and marrow seeds will germinate better if sown in dryish soil or compost.

Now is a good time to sow cabbage and cauliflower seeds. And carrots can be sown in pots.


 TOPICAL TIPS,  November 2015


Tim gave us the following tips at the meeting:
1. Alpine Strawberries
 These are NOT to be confused with wild strawberries, which are invasive and only have tiny fruits.

Alpines grow in small mounds and don’t run wild, they prefer a sunny position, and the plants are quite attractive.

The fruit has a delicious taste and grows up to an inch long.

They can be grown quite easily from seed - Suttons have it in their range, and a packet is only 99p.

2. Planting out during wet weather
It is tempting to think that “watering-in” is unnecessary when the soil is wet, but that isn‘t true. Watering-in will help to settle the soil around the roots and fill in any air pockets.

3. Brown rot in fruit
This is a big problem affecting apples, pears and plums, and Tim finds he has to throw away many fruits, even those already in storage. There is no chemical control available, so all you can do is to try to prevent re-infection of next year’s fruit.

The first step is to clear away all the rotten fruit lying under the trees and take off any mummified ones still on the trees. Also dispose of any picked fruit showing signs of the rot.

Then, in the winter, prune out any shoots with cankers. And in the Spring keep an eye out for blossom wilt.

Tim will look for a suitable twig and bring it to a future meeting to show us.


 TOPICAL TIPS,  October 2015

Tim told us of his successful approach to growing carrots. Up until 2 years ago he had suffered with poor rates of germination of the seeds.

Now he uses a cold frame to grow on after germinating indoors. He was able to pull them as “finger” carrots during June, and has plenty more to pick.

He made the cold frame, which measures four feet by three and a half feet, and slopes from 18 down to 15 inches, with 2 panels of toughened glass (although you could use a clear acrylic sheet. The inside of the frame is painted white.

He sowed a dozen 5 inch pots thinly with Early Nantes seed (which is a main crop carrot), using multi-purpose compost. These were put on a sunny windowsill in January to germinate.

When the seedlings were about an inch tall he dug a hole inside the cold frame and carefully emptied the contents of the pot into the hole. He used organic slug pellets to protect the seedlings.

Pulling carrots about once a week, he always picked the biggest, which allowed the rest to grow.

The frame was left there the whole time, but the glass was removed during the summer months, and replaced in September. There was no problem with carrot fly - perhaps because the sides are tall enough to keep the fly out.

Austin told us how he plants out containers of violas, polyanthus , hyacinths and pansies (although pansies tend to be straggly, so he doesn‘t use many).

The containers need to be well-drained and it is a good idea to cover the holes with a netting material to keep slugs out. Pieces of polystyrene and crocks can be put in the base, then cover with compost .  Austin  re-uses compost from pots used earlier and mixes it with grit and supplements it with blood, fish and bone fertilizer. 

He warned of the need to plan ahead. Don’t use the container to grow things which will last beyond the time you next want to use them!

TOPICAL TIPS,  September 2015


 Tim recommended we check our hellebores and remove any old leaves showing signs of disease, otherwise the new leaves will get the infection. Don’t put them in the compost - dispose of them in your green bag.

 Now is a good time (while the soil is warm and moist) to move shrubs, perennials, and even small trees. Also do new planting.

 He advised that summer-fruiting raspberries should be pruned. Cut off all the old canes and leave 5 good new canes per plant. If the leaves are yellow this indicates magnesium deficiency. An easy remedy is  a light dressing of the horticultural version of Epsom Salts.

 Brussels Sprouts -  pull off any yellowing leaves at the base, otherwise the sprouts will taste bitter.

 When your onions are dried off they should be hung in strings in a well ventilated area, otherwise they will rot.

 It hasn’t been a good year for squashes, but if you have got some and you want to keep them do leave a small section of stem on to prevent rot creeping in from the stalk.

 Finally Tim suggested that this is a good time to collect seeds from perennials, which need to be well dried off for keeping.

 Austin first spoke about the narcissus bulbs being issued at the meeting for the 2016 Bulb Show. He recommended potting immediately in  compost which will retain moisture. They should not need feeding.

Plant them just below the surface and water well. Place in a shady spot and cover over with leaves, keeping the birds off.

 Crocus should not be forced for the show. Leave in a bowl outside and take your chances.

 You can sow herb seeds now which should be ready in time for for the show. 

 If you plan to submit rhubarb for the show, don’t force it until 6 weeks before.


 TOPICAL TIPS,  July 2015


It’s not too late to sow dwarf French beans for an autumn crop. Also, you can sow one of the smaller varieties of turnip - I have noticed farmers sowing them into the stubble after harvesting and getting very good results.

Catananche likes it dry and hot. Insects love it. It is long living and spreads slowly over time. It forms a mass of flowers on wiry stems two feet high. The leaves are dark green and narrow - quite insignificant. It flowers for weeks.
The seed heads are small and silver, and you can collect the seeds which germinate easily.

Wild arums are a nuisance weed in the garden and seem to have been increasing in recent years. They are difficult to eradicate because, if you dig them up, you risk leaving scores of little stollens behind, which all grow. I remove all the soil down to their growing depth, bag it up and take it to the tip.

Astrantias are easy perennials to grow and come in several colours. They are long-lived and can be divided when established.
They flop in very dry weather but soon recover.

Pigeons are a major nuisance and there seem to be more this year, all trying to take advantage of our hard work. Net everything that is vulnerable, and don’t put it off. They can demolish crops overnight.

Finally, I find it helps to make notes of ideas as they come to you, as an aid to planning for the next season.


 TOPICAL TIPS,  June 2015


 Bedding Dahlias can be planted out now, and should flower in September.

Make sure the plants are well watered, and that they are put in good soil. They will need to be given doses of fertilizer as they grow.

He and Sally Macer then went on to discuss the problems they had had with alternatives to traditional peat composts. Their conclusion was that, although the objectives are laudable, the products are not yet as good.

Bedding Dahlias can be planted out now, and should flower in September.

Make sure the plants are well watered, and that they are put in good soil. They will need to be given doses of fertilizer as they grow.

He and Sally Macer then went on to discuss the problems they had had with alternatives to traditional peat composts. Their conclusion was that, although the objectives are laudable, the products are not yet as good.


 TOPICAL TIPS,  May 2015


 Austen suggested that, if you have only a small packet of polyanthus seeds,  you can mix them with silver sand to make sowing easier. It is a good idea to cover the seeds with a sheet of glass to keep the birds off  (but remember to water them well first!)


This is the time to plant your hanging baskets. You can use crystals and long-life fertilizer to ensure even feeding. Put some height in the centre of the basket, i.e. don’t just use trailing plants. For example, in a sunny spot you can use geraniums in the centre, and fuchsias in a shady spot.


You can now buy semi-trailing petunias. Austen suggested they should be protected indoors or in a greenhouse for up to 10 days before planting out.


Tomatoes will do better if grown in a pot rather than a grow bag. Don’t feed them until the first truss has set.


Tim told us that he has been cutting off the tops of his pulmonarias with shears, so that they will quickly re-grow new flowers.


He warned us that there is a nasty disease spreading across the South which kills aquilegia (Granny’s Bonnets) and for which there is no remedy. Look out for yellow streaks on the top of the leaves and white fluffy bits underneath.


Ferns can be split with a trowel or spade and moved to a new location (most will  grow in a shady spot). A good idea to put compost underneath.


Tim suggested cutting tall summer perennials by a third to delay flowering and make the stems more sturdy. Leaving a few untouched will give you a nice variation in height.


With autumn raspberries it is a good idea to reduce the number of stems to a maximum of 5 strong canes by taking out the weakest.


This is the time to prune Spring-flowering shrubs.


If you have well-established hostas you can split them to plant in new places as long as the weather is cool and the soil is damp. Water them well (Don’t try this if the weather is hot and dry!)


Tim warned that some euphorbia stems will “bleed” a milky liquid when cut so you should wear gloves if your skin is sensitive otherwise you could get a bad rash.


 TOPICAL TIPS,  April 2015


Austen began by reminding everyone that they should by now be thinking about growing things for the Annual Show.  He stressed the importance of the Show Tent in drawing visitors.


If you have bought dahlias “dry” then bring them on in a pot before planting in the garden. But gladioli can go out straight away.


It is a good idea to feed bulbs as soon as they have flowered.


Tulips can be covered in compost in the Autumn, then lightly fork over in the Spring. After flowering, cut the top of the tulips, then cut off leaves 6 weeks later.


Likewise hyacinths. Remember to plant them quite deep.


In response to a question Austen observed that for most bulbs the colder the weather, the deeper the colour of the flower. So narcissi brought indoors will be paler than those outdoors.


Tim reminded everyone to deadhead daffodils and tulips, but if you have a good species tulip you need to leave them  to dry before collecting the seed.


As a result of the dry spell he has covered the soil with plastic to keep it moist.


To improve the flowering of shrubbery potentillas, lightly shear them.


Wait until the buds are beginning to unfurl on your ferns before cutting down the old leaves.


If you intend to mulch shrubs and borders, make sure the soil is wet - if necessary, water well beforehand.


Mature shrubs that have been moved recently are at risk during a dry Spring so, in addition to regular watering and mulching to keep the roots moist, it is a good idea to spray the foliage in the evening. 


TOPICAL TIPS,  February 2015


It is a good idea to keep the height of your lawn  down in winter.


Regarding the Spring Bulb Show:


The daffodil bulbs issued to members were of a late

 variety so, for them to be ready for the March meeting,

 you will need to bring the pots into the warm to get

 them under way.


Keep them well watered.  If they go lanky the rules allow

 you to stake them.


For showing as cut flowers, when they are in bud you

 should cut them a day or a day and a half before

 showing, and keep them in water.


Don’t take the leaves off the stems of Hellebores.


Hyacinths can be kept outside still as they are well

 advanced this year.


TOPICAL TIPS,  January 2015


Autumn raspberries should be cut down now, then  feed and mulch the roots. If you see any sign of scaly bugs on the twigs then apply a winter wash.


If you have a cold frame you can start carrots now.  For example, stump-rooted Early Nantes carrots can be sown in compost in pots and kept in the warm. When large enough, plant out in the cold frame with slug pellets. Plant the whole pot and avoid disturbing the roots.


Broad Beans can be sown early, using long root-trainers or a tray. When planting out make sure the soil is warmed up beforehand (by using plastic sheets or fleece), then cover with fleece and use plenty of slug pellets!


It’s a good idea to feed your fruit bushes now.


Cut down old leaves on Epimediums so that the flowers can be seen next month.


Don’t rush your daffodil bulbs (for the Spring Show). There’s plenty of time.


Don’t force the same rhubarb crown two years running. Try alternating crowns.


Primroses will give your greenhouse some colour and interest.


You can plant hardwood cuttings now - cornus, forsythia, privet etc.


Sow sweet peas in an ice-cream box with damp kitchen paper towel. Keep the paper damp. They germinate quite quickly and can then be potted up.They are tough and can resist frost.


TOPICAL TIPS,  November 2014


Keep any alpines in the garden dry if  possible; a simple cover using a few bricks and a piece of glass will be sufficient.


When cutting shrubs or hedges don’t cut into old wood until Spring, otherwise you may find it will not re-grow.


Leave the pruning of fruit trees until February or March. But you can prune the leaves of Hellebores in December.


Don’t try to save the seeds from F1 hybrids, as they never come up true.


To create a screen try growing Cotoneaster up and along a wire frame.


When the crown of your rhubarb has become a clump it is a good idea to dig it up about now, leave it on top of the soil for the frost to get at it, then divide it (using a spade)  and re-plant (with manure and compost) in March.


This year the soil is still warm enough to move plants this month.


If you have primulas remember to remove the flower and stalk after flowering as allowing the plant to die back causes it to rot.   




   © Littleton & Harestock Gardening Club 2017