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Change in season brings more work but fewer hours to do it in

Gardening by Patricia Jordan

There are lots of jobs to fit in this month now that it is cooler, even though the nights are drawing in, making for shorter working hours in the garden. I have only just managed to split up my irises, which is usually a mid-summer job once flowering is finished. I discarded some of the old rhizomes and replanted and fed the new plants so I hope that they will give me lots of flowers next spring as a result. The recent rain helped with bulb planting – it is no use setting them out when the ground is dry.

Several people have been telling me that their citrus trees are bearing more than one type of fruit – what a bonus! Not that long ago this was all the rage in the UK when you could buy apple trees with different types of apples on their branches, especially useful if you only had a small garden with no room for large trees. Someone in the next village to me grows enormous lemons, and a friend managed to get a stem of his tree grafted on to her lemon tree. That particular branch now produces fruit twice the size of the rest of the tree!

Generally speaking, most lemons, limes, grapefruit and eating orange trees for sale here have been grafted on to bitter orange rootstock, which have been proved to be resilient to diseases. If you look at the main stem of your fruit tree, you will see a knobbly bit where the scion (the grafted piece of stem) has been attached. The purpose of grafting is to combine the most desirable traits of both plants. The top may provide better fruit or a prettier flower, while the rootstock often provides a stronger base and is more disease resistance.

Roses too nowadays are almost always grafted. They can be grown from seeds quite easily and new varieties are created but it is such a long process to get the rose to a saleable plant that grafting onto wild rose rootstock produces a far better product in a much shorter time. For this method to be successful, it is important to marry up the tissues of both plants and that is not easy as you have to keep both the tree and the scion alive. So, before you go rushing off to try this method, it is rather specialised and perhaps best left to the experts!

The joins between the rootstock and the scion must always be above ground or the base plant will spring into life and you will have bitter oranges arising from below the join. Likewise, with roses you will find that if the join comes into contact with the soil, wild rose shoots will appear from below there. So keep your eyes open. This could be the reason that some people are finding different kinds of fruits on their citrus trees, or there could have been deliberate grafting in the nursery.

Of course, once the graft is successful then you are dependent on bees and butterflies to pollinate the flowers. There seem to be fewer pollinators nowadays and this is becoming a worrying situation. Not only is it a problem here, but also in other parts of Europe, where reports are coming in of this famine of pollinators. The best way to help solve this problem is to grow plants that attract insects, such as echiums, buddleja and Verbena bonariensis. When my polygala tree is in bloom it is swarming with insects, as are leucophyllum bushes (Texas Rangers), so we must encourage the insects to survive by growing attractive plants for them to feed on.

WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH

I hope that you managed to plant your winter vegetables, while the earth was still warm. Favourites here are broccoli, kohl rabi and cauliflowers. On sunny autumn days you will find loads of Cabbage White butterflies flying around and laying their eggs on the verdant foliage, which the caterpillars will gorge on the moment they hatch. French marigolds are supposed to deter the butterflies with their rather a nasty smell so maybe you should do some companion planting of them between the rows of brassicas.

As the citrus fruits start to colour up, watch out for the appearance of the Mediterranean Fruit Flies. These little blighters will invade your fruits once the peel ripens and softens, so hang those yellow sticky cards in among the branches and you will be surprised just how many you catch. Only lemons and loquats seem to escape the invasion of these flies. Talking of loquats, this is the time of year for them to flower and their heady perfume, reminding one of baby talcum, pervades the garden.

It’s a good idea to re-pot plants while the weather is still warm. Remember my mantra, not to use compost straight from the bag, because it has been in there for a very long time! So, turn it out, break up all the lumps and aerate it. Potted plants need compost that will not dry out quickly or crust, as they are going to be in their pots for a long time. If you add some garden soil or clean builder’s sand, Perlite and a slow-release fertiliser to the mix, you will provide the plant with all of its needs.

You can still take cuttings of herbaceous plants. Choose a non-flowering stem and neatly take off the bottom leaves and nip out the top. Fill a pot with some of your potting compost and after dipping the end of the stem into rooting powder, insert it firmly in the pot. You can put up to about 7 cuttings around the edge of the pot and then place it in a plastic bag. Tie the top and put it in a shady but light place. This becomes a mini-greenhouse and the cuttings should root in about 3-4 weeks. When you see little white roots appearing through the holes at the bottom of the pot, then the cuttings are ready to be moved on into pots of their own.

With winter fast approaching and the likelihood of gales, take a good look at your roses. I only grow damascena and banksia roses and the latter need very little attention apart from removing any diseased or dead wood. Damascena roses put on a lot of growth, so I shorten the long stems by about half now, removing a few of the older woody stems each winter. Constantly renewing the growth sometimes helps in the case of rust, which this lovely rose is prone to. Check that the roots of all roses are firmly in the ground and water with a specially formulated rose feed after this treatment. In January or February, you can further reduce the stems of hybrid tea roses and feed again.

 

Plant of the Month – Tabernaemontana divaricata ‘Flore Pleno’

Tabernaemontana divaricata ‘Flore Pleno’ hails from India and grows well in many other tropical countries in Asia, where it is known as the ‘Crape Jasmine’. Classed as a bushy shrub or small tree, it is an ideal plant to grow as a specimen, as hedging or enjoy as a pot plant. If it is grown in a pot in more temperate climates it may need some staking to begin with. Also, watch out for mealy bugs, which may appear. A member of Apocynaceae family, it is related to plumerias (frangipani) although it does not reach such heights. Like plumerias, it is able to tolerate humidity and heat, growing well in a sunny spot with some partial shade in the heat of the day.

The double white flowers appearing in clusters bloom from late spring until early autumn, attracting bees and butterflies to the garden. In warm areas, blooms appear throughout the year but enjoy a heavier flowering during spring to autumn. The fragrant evening-perfumed flowers scent the air on summer nights. The alternate, mid to dark-green, glossy leaves benefit from pinching out the tips, which will promote a more rounded bush. In colder areas, this plant may lose its leaves in winter but if sufficiently established they should re-grow in the spring.

Soil should be moist, fertile and warm. Some slow-release fertiliser in the planting hole would be enough to sustain the plant but a balanced fertiliser (all the same numbers) during the growing period may give it a burst of energy. It is moderately drought-tolerant as well as salt-tolerant to an extent, but some judicious watering during the summer would assist healthy growth.

This plant can be propagated by softwood cuttings. Take the cuttings while green and place the pot in a plastic bag tied at the neck to give the cuttings some humidity, although a mist propagator would be better, if one is available. If the stems or leaves are broken off a milky sap is exuded, and some parts of the plant are poisonous, if ingested, so take care when handling it.

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