Oak Leaf Gardening Monthly Cuttings
Newsletter 29 - October 2013
What to do now

Ornamental plants

  • Cut herbaceous perennials which have finished flowering down to ground level. Compost the cuttings (unless they are diseased).
  • Hardy perennials such as bergenias, pinks/carnations, geraniums and violas can be divided this month.
  • If you live in a cold area, dig up cannas, gladioli and dahlias when they have finished flowering, for dry storage overwinter.
  • If you want to save tender perennial plants for next year, now's the time to pot them up and move them to a frost-free location.
  • Start planting spring bulbs in borders and containers. Hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses, fritillaries and tulips can be planted this month.
  • Swap over your summer bedding for autumn colour, such as violas, pansies, polyanthus, ornamental cabbages, wallflowers and primulas.
  • Small evergreen shrubs, conifers and trees (including hedging) can be planted or moved over the autumn.
  • Climbing and rambling roses can be pruned towards the end of October or next month.
Fruit and veg
  • In October you can still sow/plant crops outdoors including broad beans, autumn onion sets, hardy peas and spring cabbages. Garlic can be planted this or next month.
  • In the greenhouse border you can sow lettuces (which could also be grown in pots), baby spinach leaves, spring onions, early carrots and mange-tout.
  • Save seeds to sow next year. Good seeds to collect include tomatoes, beans, peas, squashes, lettuces, sweetcorn, onions, beetroots and peppers.
  • This month you can harvest apples, pears, marrows, sprouts, leeks, autumn cauliflowers, maincrop potatoes, carrots, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, pumpkins and squashes.
  • Tender herbs should be protected or potted up and brought indoors this month.
  • Protect tender late crops, such as salads, with cloches or horticultural fleece.
  • If you're in a cold area, bring unripe greenhouse tomatoes indoors to finish ripening.
  • Prune out fruited canes of blackberries, loganberries and hybrid berries.
  • Apply grease bands to protect apples, cherries, plums and pears from winter moths.
General tasks
  • Collect up, clean and store herbaceous perennial supports which are no longer needed.
  • Reduce the amount of water given to container grown plants, both indoors and outside.
  • Check whether your containers are frost proof and bring any which aren't indoors.
  • Rake fallen leaves off your lawn to prevent yellow patches.
  • Give your lawn some TLC; scarifying, aerating, top dressing and feeding it this month.
  • Raise the cutting height on your lawn mower to gradually increase the length of the grass.
  • Cover water features and ponds with netting to stop leaves blowing into them.
  • Mulch your beds and borders while the ground temperature is still fairly warm.
Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpureaPlant of the month

Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea is an informal, deciduous shrub which brings bright red autumn colour from its foliage and berries, the latter being a good food supply for birds. Sharp thorns on the stems also make this a useful boundary plant. It requires little maintenance but can be cut back hard in late winter if it becomes too straggly. Find out more...

Problem of the monthHoney fungus

Honey fungus is a fungal disease affecting shrubs and trees. White fungal strands grow underneath the bark and gradually cut off the plant's food supply. The first signs of infection are foliage dieback and liquid oozing from the base of stems. As the disease progresses honey coloured toadstools may appear at the base of the trunk from July to December. Ultimately any infected plants will have to be dug up and destroyed as there is no cure. Find out more...

In the news

Somerset nursery to sell disease-resistant elms

Ashridge Nurseries in Somerset has been granted exclusive UK rights to sell the Italian-bred 'Morfeo' elm, which is resistant to the Dutch elm disease that decimated native elm populations in the 70s and 80s. While the supply is currently very limited, making prices high, as breeding continues they should become more affordable and the nursery is working with charities to donate elms to schools.

T&M launch TomTato plant

Thompson & Morgan has launched a new 'TomTato' plant which, as you may guess from the name, grows both tomatoes and potatoes. The grafted plant produces a crop of around 500 cherry tomatoes on top, while the potatoes grow below the soil. The TomTato can be grown inside or out and is also suitable for container growing.

Wildflower mixes for productive fields

The Horticultural Development Company (HDC) and Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC) have created a free online tool which will help vegetable growers select the best wildflower mixes to grow along their field margins. The mixes are designed to suit particular crops, providing food and shelter for beneficial insects which prey on pests or pollinate the crops, and support overall biodiversity.

Sainsbury's Bee Happy campaign

Sainsbury's have launched a campaign to encourage their customers and suppliers to provide habitats for solitary bees, which research has shown are the most prolific pollinators of fruit trees. This year's hot summer has lead to high numbers of bees, who will be competing for nesting sites in the spring. The firm is setting up 'bee hotels' on all its stores and will be selling 'bee café' plants to encourage customers to grow nectar-rich plants.


Looking back at the Dig For Victory campaign

Dig for victory posterSeventy years ago one of the biggest ever gardening campaigns was in full swing, with 1.4 million allotments being maintained around the UK and over half the civilian population activity involved in digging for victory.

When war broke out in 1939 over 70% of Britain's food was imported and there were only 7 weeks of food reserves held in warehouses. As war broke out in September there was little time to increase farming production before the end of the growing season. The German military quickly recognised this vulnerability and the U-Boat blockade was set up to prevent supplies reaching British shores.

As a result the War Agricultural Executive Committee was established to ensure that all farmland was used to maximise production. Draconian fines were imposed on farmers who weren't seen to be using their land as well as they could, and land could even be confiscated under the emergency powers. An incredible 2 3/4 million acres of land was re-cultivated between the 3rd and 30th September 1939.

With so many men conscripted, the Women's Land Army (the 'land girls') was established with the assistance of the Women's Institute to provide farm workers. By the end of 1941 80,000 women had been recruited, with 250,000 women having worked the land by the end of the war.

On a domestic level the British government joined forces with the RHS to promote the 'National Grow More Campaign', encouraging homeowners to turn their ornamental gardens into productive plots. This less than inspiring title was changed to the iconic 'Dig For Victory' (a phrase which appears to have been borrowed from gardening articles in the Evening Standard). Front and back gardens were soon being converted into food production areas and the number of allotments rose from 815,000 to 1.4 million by 1943, producing 1.3 million tonnes of food. Playgrounds, parks and even the grass moat at the Tower of London was converted to grow produce. Gardening advice was provided by the RHS, local horticultural societies and the BBC.

Both domestic and commercial gardeners weren't just encouraged to grow as much as possible, there were also stipulations on what could be grown. New asparagus beds were banned due to taking years to establish before they could be harvested. Strawberries were also frowned upon due to their relatively low nutritional value.

Chicken and livestock were housed where space allowed and by 1945 it was estimated that 6,000 pigs were being kept in back gardens.

During the war up to 25% of the nation's food was produced as a result of the Dig For Victory campaign. This supplemented the nation's food supply (which was heavily rationed) and reduced the number of ships which needed to make the risky journey through the German blockade to import food.


What's on this month

With harvest festivals and National Fungus Day there's no excuse to stay indoors this month:

  • 2nd to 3rd October - Walking Tour Of Garden Restoration Works, Chiswick House and Gardens, Chiswick, London.
  • 3rd & 17th October - Ornamental Grass Masterclass, Knoll Gardens, Wimborne, Dorset.
  • 6th October - Apple Day, Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire.
  • 6th October - Hedgerow Harvest Talk, Natural History Museum, London.
  • 8th to 9th October - London Harvest Festival Show, RHS Lindley Hall, Westminster, London.
  • 12th October - Harvest Festival And Apple Day, Ryton Gardens, Coventry.
  • 12th to 13th October - Fungus Fun, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Edinburgh.
  • 12th to 13th October - Grow Your Own Autumn Festival, RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
  • 13th October - Wales Fungus Day, National Botanic Garden of Wales, Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire.
  • 13th October - Family Fungus Hunt, Wilderness Wood, Hadlow Down, East Sussex.
  • 13th October - Autumn Bonsai Show, Capel Manor Gardens, Enfield, Middlesex.
  • 22nd to 23rd October - RHS London Shades Of Autumn Show, RHS Horticultural Halls, Westminster, London.