Oak Leaf Gardening Monthly Cuttings
Newsletter 28 - September 2013
What to do now

Ornamental plants

  • Continue to deadhead flowers to keep displays going as long as possible.
  • Collect up any fallen, diseased rose leaves to prevent the infection overwintering in the soil.
  • This month is your last chance to take cuttings from tender plants.
  • Collect seeds from your perennials and annuals to sow next year or swap with friends.
  • Take root cuttings from oriental poppies.
  • Cut down the flowered stems of spent perennials.
  • Dig up gladioli bulbs for winter storage when they’ve finished flowering.
  • Fill in gaps in your displays with autumn-flowering bulbs and bedding (such as nerines and gentians).
  • Start to plant out your spring bedding, including violas and wallflowers.
  • Small evergreen shrubs, conifers and trees can be moved over the autumn.
  • Plant hyacinth bulbs by the middle of the month to have Christmas flowers.
Fruit and veg
  • Sow lettuces, spring cabbages, winter spinach, cauliflowers, Chinese cabbages, pak choi, hardy spring onions and rocket.
  • Plant hardy onion sets for early summer crops.
  • Sow green manure (eg forage rye) in empty beds to suppress weeds and provide nutrients when dug back in in the spring.
  • Stake tall Brussels sprouts plants to give them extra support for the windier weather to come.
  • This month you should be able to harvest autumn raspberries, blackberries, early apples, Conference pears, sweetcorn, marrows, courgettes, beans, lettuces, rocket, spring onions, Chinese leaves, oriental radishes, autumn cauliflowers, cabbages, pencil leeks, maincrop potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic and globe artichokes.
  • Prune out fruited canes from blackberries and loganberries.
  • Wrap grease bands around the trunks of fruit trees to prevent winter moths climbing up.
  • Keep an eye on the night time temperatures and cover crops to protect them from the cold.
  • Pot up or dry herbs for use over the winter.
General tasks
  • Start to bring tender plants under cover this month as overnight temperatures start to dip.
  • Clean any shading paint off your greenhouse now to let more light in.
  • Raise the height of your mowing cut and start to mow less frequently as grass growth slows.
  • Last chance to trim hedges before the winter.
  • Cover ponds with netting to stop leaves falling into them.
Verbena bonariensisPlant of the month

Verbena bonariensis is a tall herbaceous perennial which holds its small, purple/pink flowers up to 2m high. It's great for adding height to the back of a border and will provide colour from August through to October. Mulching in autumn and leaving the stems intact until spring can help prevent it suffering from damage or death due to the winter frosts. Find out more...

Problem of the monthRust

Rust is a fungal disease which produces brown to yellow pustules (hence the common name). Found on a wide range of plants from trees to vegetables, it is unsightly and weakens its host plant. Fungicides can help with the problem, however badly affected plants should be dug up and destroyed. Find out more...

In the news

Health benefits of broccoli

Research lead by the University of East Anglia has shown that a compound derived from broccoli can slow the progress of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, in mice and could therefore benefit humans. The Institute of Food Research, in a separate study, has shown that brassicas, and the Beneforte variety of broccoli in particular, can restore cellular processes that get disrupted with age, thereby reducing the risk of certain cancers.

BBC keep Chelsea for another 4 years

The BBC has signed a new 4 year deal with the RHS to continue to have exclusive broadcasting rights for the RHS shows at Chelsea, Hampton Court, Tatton Park and Malvern. The BBC have also announced a new show to air in early 2014 called 'Grow, Make, Eat'. The programme, hosted by Fern Britton, challenges pairs of allotment enthusiasts to turn their produce into edible and floral delights.

Gamers asked to fight ash dieback

A Facebook game has been set up by plant research charity The Sainsbury Laboratory to challenge gamers to identify patterns using the genetic sequences of ash dieback disease (Chalara fraxinea) and the common ash, a matching job which computers are poor at. Each time the game is played it will provide a small but useful analysis of the real-life data. Play the game on Facebook.


When is a weed not a weed?

Dandelion seedheadOn the whole the plants that we consider weeds are categorised as such because of their highly competitive nature, which makes them difficult to control and can limit the growth of neighbouring plants. They may do this by forming mats of foliage which smother the plants below them, self-seeding so freely that they pop up anywhere and everywhere, or climbing around other plants and strangling them in the process. Basically weeds are the thugs of the garden!

But surely every bad boy weed has a good side? Well, yes, in most cases. Read on and see if you can find some comfort in the benefits which your garden weeds can bring. Please note that if you are considering using any of these plants for medicinal purposes you should consult your doctor first.

Stinging nettles

You can cook the young leaf tips of stinging nettles in much the same way as you would spinach. They are great in soups and can also be used to make nettle beer. The foliage should not be eaten raw and only younger leaves (from plants less than 10cm high) used for cooking (older leaves have a gritty texture even after cooking).

Chlorophyll extracts from stinging nettles are used as a green colouring agent (E140) in food and medicine.

An infusion of nettles can be drunk to treat conditions including anaemia, haemorrhoids, arthritis, rhuematism and skin complaints.

Their hunger for nutrients makes them a great source of plant food. You can make a liquid fertiliser by steeping nettles in water for 2 to 4 weeks (weigh them down with rocks or bricks to keep them submerged). Dilute the resulting liquid 1 part to 10 parts water and use it as you would any liquid feed.

Chopped up nettles are also a useful addition to compost and can help to speed up the composting process, just make sure you don't add any roots to your compost or you'll find nettles growing out of it!


You can blanche fresh dandelion leaves to eat them in salads or cook them like spinach (they are often mixed with sorrel). The flower petals can be made into wine.

The leaves and roots are used to flavour herbal beers and soft drinks, such as dandelion and burdock. The roots can also be roasted, ground and used as a substitute for coffee.

Dandelion is used in both European and Chinese medicine for a wide range of ailments because of its diuretic, laxative and anti-rheumatic effects, and its ability to stimulate liver function, improve digestion and reduce swelling and inflammation.


Chickweed sprigs can be added to salad and cooked as vegetables. They can also be fed to domestic fowl and pet birds (the common name derives from the fact that chickens enjoy eating the plant).

Medicinally it can be used to ease rheumatism when taken internally. When applied externally (usually within an ointment) it is said to ease itching skin conditions, eczema, psoriasis, ulcers, boils and abscesses.

Ground elder

Young leaves of ground elder can be used in salads and soups, and as a vegetable.

It is believed that ground elder was introduced into the British Isles in medieval times when it was cultivated in monasteries for medicinal use. It is dedicated to St Gerard, who was invoked to cure gout ('herb Gerard' is another name for ground elder).

Ground elder is used as a mild sedative with diuretic and anti-inflammatory effects. It can be taken internally (dried and used in infusions) to treat gout and sciatica. Externally it can be used to treat haemorrhoids, gout, stings and burns. It is also used in homeopathy to treat arthritis and rheumatism.


Read our blog to find out more benefits of these and other weeds.


Answers to last month's quiz

We hope you enjoyed our August quiz. Here are the answers...

  1. What summer flowering plant, usually bearing long spikes of purple blooms, is named after the Reverend Adam Buddle, a 17th century amateur botanist? Buddleja

  2. 'Baby' bulbs appear in the leaf axils of lilies this month and can be planted in a tray as a means of propagation. What is the correct name for these mini bulbs? Bulbils

  3. What evergreen, herbaceous perennial, grown for its colourful foliage and summer flower spikes, has cultivars including 'Mocha', 'Purple Petticoats' and 'Blackbird'? Heuchera

  4. Which genus of summer flowering shrubs are named after the German botanist Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566)? Fuchsia

  5. What garden pest initially munches on roots (in its larval stage when it's a 1cm white, curled larva with a brown head) then the black, flightless adults move up to eat neat holes in the leaves, particularly taking U shaped notches out of the leaf margins? Vine weevils

  6. A calcium deficiency can be caused by poor watering in the summer as plants can only draw up calcium with water. This can particularly affect fruit and vegetables. Can you name three symptoms of calcium deficiency?
    Here are a selection of symptoms:
    • Die back of shoot and root tips.
    • Younger leaves die back at the tips and margins (especially on lettuces).
    • Black/brown leathery patches occur at base of tomato and pepper fruits ("blossom end rot").
    • Dark spots or pits appear on the surface of apple fruits with brown spots within the flesh ("bitter pit"). The flesh may also become translucent and the fruits may not store well at low temperatures.
    • Browning of the leaves (of the crown or within the vegetables) of Brussels sprouts.
    • Long spots on roots cause them to crack open.
    • Centres of celery or chicory crowns become blackened and stunted.
    • Shoots of potatoes become elongated with rolled leaves and produce many very small tubers.

  7. The genus name of which summer flowering grass translates as 'cutting instrument', referring to its razor sharp leaves? Cortaderia, commonly called pampas grass

  8. Blueberries will crop best on acidic soil, whereas celery and lettuce crops prefer a slightly alkaline soil. If your soil has a pH of 5.5, is it acidic or alkaline? Acidic

  9. What fungal disease causes expanding circles of toadstools to grow in grass? Fairy rings or Marasmius oreades

  10. Sneezeweed is a common name for which summer flowering plant? The name derives from the use of its dried, powdered roots as snuff. Helenium

What's on this month

As the summer draws to a close there are still plenty of gardening events happening around the country:

  • 1st & 22nd September - 'Clothes Optional' Days, Abbey House Gardens, Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
  • 4th to 6th September - Wisley Flower Show, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey.
  • 7th September - BBC Radio 4's GQT Summer Garden Party, Ness Botanic Gardens, South Wirral, Merseyside.
  • 7th September - 'Love Lavender' Drop In Event, Cambridge University Botanic Garden, Cambridge.
  • 7th to 8th September - Bee And Pollination Festival, University of Bristol Botanic Garden, Stoke Bishop, Bristol.
  • 13th to 15th September - Autumn Flower Show, Great Yorkshire Showground, Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
  • 16th & 22nd September - 'Exotic Gardening' Study Day, Great Dixter House and Garden, Rye, East Sussex.
  • 21st September - Swiss Garden Behind The Scenes Tour, Shuttleworth, near Biggleswade, Bedfordshire.
  • 28th to 29th September - Malvern Autumn Show, Three Counties Showground, Malvern, Worcestershire.