07:02 Friday 19 October 2012

Winter herbs and frost

Written byBen Smith

Welcome to Garden King's Plant Doctor blog, where our experts discuss and answer all your gardening questions. This week I'm talking about the threat of frost, sowing broad beans now for an earlier harvest and sowing herbs for winter use.

Right, before I start the blog this week - just to let you know there's 20% discount across the store at Garden King Newhall (DE11 0TX) this weekend (20th/21st October). It's a great opportunity to grab a bargain whether you need fireworks, seeds, bulbs, tools, gifts or want to start your Christmas festivities. Our Christmas market and inspirational Christmas displays are now open and packed full of decorations and gifts to suit every taste. I can recommend my personal favourite - the chocolate pizza's in our chocolate cabin... they're delicious and make great gifts (if you can get them home without eating them!).

It's coming...

There's no telling how bad (or good) Winter will be to us, this year has really tested our gardens and allotments. The threat of frost is most definitely looming and whilst it's still at bay you're best to prepare and protect now to avoid unnecessary losses.

As a good rule of thumb if you couldn't imagine your garden without something - don't risk it. With plants that naturally die back in the Winter time, like begonias, you may want to wait until the leaves have been frosted and then cut them back. Once you've cut them back, lift the plants, dust off the soil from the roots and store them in inside trays.

Place the trays in a cool, dry, frost-free area indoors.

Rescue your un-flowered tender plants by lifting them and potting them up.

You'll want to choose a pot that's big enough to comfortably fit in the rootball. Fill the bottom of the pot with a good quality multipurpose compost. Lower your plant into the pot and surround it with more compost to the level that your plant was in when in the ground. Then move your newly potted plant into a well-lit frost-free room to give it the best chance of flowering.

Lift your dahlias for winter storage as soon as the leaves have blackened.

To lift your dahlias, gently prise the tubers from the ground with a fork (be careful not to damage the tubers in the process). Once out, cut the stems down to around 16cm and leave them upside down on the greenhouse bench for a week - this will let the soil dry. Once dry store your tubers in a box or pot covered with dry compost in a frost-free place.

You may have plants which are hardy enough to withstand the frost but don't be overconfident and neglect them. Give such plants a good mulch to help them get through the Winter. Plants left outside will always be at risk but a thick mulch at the base (at least 2 inches thick) will help prevent nasty frost from penetrating the roots. Your mulch will also aid good drainage at the base of your plants too.

Now you're probably running out of space indoors after that protection spree. For those not so critical plants - you can help protect them using fleece and bubble wrap. This will reduce the risk of frost getting into the container. Plants in terracotta pots are at the highest risk so move them to into shelter as much as you can.

Sow broad beans NOW...

Sowing broad beans in Autumn is great as it allows the plants time to develop healthy root systems over the Winter. Once the weather gets a bit warmer your broad beans will leap into action and produce crops about a month earlier than spring-sown beans. By all means, sow another crop in Spring (you'll extend your crop by several weeks - broad beans all round!).

Autumn sowing works best directly in the ground, this will make your plants hardier and tougher against bad weather. If you sowed in cell trays or pots, your plants would probably grow lanky and unable to withstand the hail and snow that Winter will hammer at them!

Herbs for the Winter...

Chives are great for sowing indoors all year round. Fill a few pots with a good multipurpose compost, level the surface and thinly scatter your chive seeds across the top. Cover with a thin layer of compost, water and leave in a nice bright spot. My kitchen windows are by far the sunniest in my home, they're also the perfect spot for my herbs so I can easily chop away at them when cooking.

Other jobs for the garden this week...

Keep raking up any leaves that have fallen on your lawn and ensure that your lawn is draining properly.

Raise the blades on your mower and mow lawns in dry weather.

Out on your veg plot it's an ideal time to sow winter hardy spring onions, plant onion sets, spring cabbage and strawberries.

If YOU have any suggestions, questions or comments - feel free to drop us a line (we'd love to hear from you!) You can email plantdoctor@gardenking.co.uk, call us on 01283 550516 or add us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Happy gardening x

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