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30 October 2012 - 12:00am

Putting the garden to bed for winter

Time to put the garden to bed for the winter with next year in mind. Planning ahead is not something we all do well or have time for, but with plants as in most things it really does pay off. Lift and divide your asters, early this month is better for this group of plants than in the spring. You can see where there are gaps and they will be established and flower well for you next year. This does not apply to everything; for example grasses should be divided in spring or they tend to sulk and die over winter; Prune climbing roses and tie in stems to prevent them being hit by winter gales; Scarify your lawn, get rid of all that moss and thatch to let light and air in, it's great exercise and cheaper and more fun than going to the gym; If you have a cold greenhouse or a light porch, sow winter salads; Plant spring bulbs, it's a little late for daffodils but not impossible, but this is the best time for tulip planting. I soak them in tonic water with quinine in for an hour or so before planting to stop the squirrels eating them. It worked well last year, I only lost a few; Sow some sweet peas. I tried it last year for the first time and the little plants germinated easily and overwintered well in a cold frame. They grew and flowered much earlier than spring sown ones; Mulch your borders. It keeps the soil in good condition and prevents it from drying out. Make sure you dig out the weeds first, and add a generous depth. Leafmould or bark chippings are the best materials for this at this time of year: you don't want anything too nitrogen-rich; Plant hardy trees, roses and other shrubs, keep them well watered until established; Rake up those damp leaves, put them in a plastic bag and tie the top. Stab a few holes in the bottom with a fork and pile them behind the shed. In a years time, or possibly two, you will have beautiful, dark, crumbly compost; Dahlia tubers and Eucomis should by now be stored in a frost free shed. Keep them fairly dry over the winter. If you decide the leave them in the ground give them a good, thick mulch and hope for kind weather! I love tulips and buy them buy the hundred. Favourites include the gorgeous and aptly named 'Burgundy', a lily flowered variety that stands tall, elegant and straight in May; 'Doll's Minuet', beautiful deep pink with green flamed petals also at its best in May, and 'White Triumphator', another lily flowered tulip that, despite its height stands up well to windy wet weather. If you prefer something a bit smaller and daintier perhaps for your rockery in April, 'Little Princess' is deep orange with a black centre. All tulips like well drained soil so if your soil is heavy, dig in some grit or plant them in a pot. Lupins and tulips are a well tried and tested combination; the lupin foliage provides a fresh green backdrop to the bright flowers and then grows up to hide the scruffy leaves after they are over. Moores in Stanton usually have well grown, reasonably priced lupins for sale.