I don’t suppose that Cyprus is any different to other places for weather variations except that we know we will have wall to wall sunshine for a great deal of the year and some rain during the so-called winter. This year has been quite an exception with sunshine for months on end and not a drop of rainfall until recently, which has been much envied by other northern European countries, where floods and storms have prevailed recently.
The prolonged heat here has not been good for many plants and they have struggled despite regular watering, even plants from hot places like South Africa. Some say that we should let everything go back to nature, but that would negate all the pleasure and hard work that gardeners over the centuries have achieved to give us such wonderful plants for our gardens.
I know that many plants in my garden have come through this hot summer with flying colours like plumbagos, tecomas and especially bushes of Leucophyllum frutescens, the latter thriving on heat and humidity, showering us with loads of pretty pink flowers.
Would you go wild? I doubt it! Most of us strive for a little orderliness in our gardens so that we can have the pleasure but not the pain of too much back-breaking weeding and other such tiresome activities, but this very hot summer here has persuaded me to rethink some of my plantings.
What to do in the garden this month
This is a great month to work in the garden. The soil temperatures are still good for planting new shrubs or perennials and hopefully there should be some more rainfall to help things along. Cuttings taken at this time generally do well, as the light is still good despite the clocks having gone back and the evenings becoming darker earlier.
The compost available here needed for cuttings leaves a lot to be desired. Despite all the promises made on the labels of some potting composts that they are suitable for seed sowing and cuttings, they are not always so and the results can be disappointing.
My recipe is to turn out a bag of bought ‘potting compost’ and break up all the lumps. Add a couple of shovels of clean builders’ sand if you can get it or some soil from your garden if you can spare it, the same of perlite and half a jar of slow-release fertiliser granules. (You don’t actually need the slow-release fertiliser granules for seed sowing, but it helps cuttings along.) Mix well together and keep it in a lidded dustbin, which stops it from drying out. The soil or builders, sand gives the compost some body, which it will lack otherwise.
Choose green cuttings for best results as these fresh green stems will make roots faster than woody stems. The freshly cut ends should be dipped into a hormone rooting powder and then inserted into a pot of compost using a dibber or even a pencil and then pressed firmly in with the fingers. Water gently and put them in a plastic bag and tie the top. Keep them in a light place but out of the sun. Some cuttings root very quickly – rosemary is the quickest in my experience. Check the pots after about three weeks and when you see white roots appearing through the holes in the bottom of the pot, the cuttings are ready for potting on. Plants sometimes suffer a little set back in growth when you do this, but they will catch up quickly.
There is still time to plant any bulbs if you haven’t done so yet. November is a good month for putting in tulips, making sure that the soil is friable where you are going to put them. If you want to give pots of paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) as Christmas gifts then prepare them about the middle of the month. A shallow bowl is best and as there isn’t a specific bulb fibre here, you could use the compost I suggested minus the slow-release fertiliser. Remember to leave the neck of the bulb proud of the soil and they should be ready to flower at Christmastime.
After Christmas when the flowers and leaves have died down you can transfer the bulbs to the garden where they may flower next year with a little TLC. If you want amaryllis to flower for Christmas, then you should plant new bulbs now. Place them in a peaty compost with their neck and shoulders above the soil. You will be amazed at their rapid growth. If last year’s amaryllis bulbs are still resting, don’t start to water or liquid feed them until the end of the month as they need a good three months’ dormancy. Once the leaves have turned brown, then carefully remove them.
My nerines are usually in flower this month although in other parts of the world they usually bloom in late summer. These plants hail from South Africa and belong to the Amaryllidaceae family, whilst in another bed, bulbs of Sternbergia lutea, also from the same family, shot up and gave me much pleasure watching these crocus-like plants show off their pretty golden flowers. Alas the many sparrows around here are attracted to their lovely colour and peck them to death unless I can prevent them!
So, whilst the rest of the garden is winding down for the coming winter, I can still enjoy delights such as these. If you have a lawn, then this is a good time to drag a thin tined rake over it and get out all the rubbish that accumulates at root level. Any damp areas should be prodded with a fork to let in some air and a feed of low nitrogen (first number) but high in phosphorus fertiliser would be helpful.
Seed potatoes are not available here, but you can grow your own if you have the space. As the potatoes start to throw out shoots in your veggie baskets, then there is just time to plant them in the garden in order to have fresh new potatoes in the New Year. It’s best to just keep one eye in order for the plant to concentrate its growth there.
Broad beans, which grow so well here, may need some staking to protect them from the strong winds and heavy rain hopefully to come. Pinching out the tops will encourage more shoots from the base of the plant and more beans to harvest later on.
If your garden doesn’t get too cold, then you could still grow a few salad crops as well. As temperatures continue to drop, move more tender plants into protected areas and wrap them in straw or some of that green material sold by garden centres and builders’ merchants, leaving air to circulate around the plant.
Plant of the Month – Olive trees
The soil in Cyprus gardens can be sandy and free-draining near the coast or red clay soil, as in the red villages where potatoes are king. It’s almost time to harvest olives (usually after Christmas), but what kind of soil do they grow best in? They prefer moderately fine-textured soils, including different kinds of loam, which will provide aeration at root level and have a high water-holding capacity, whilst sandy soils do not have good nutrients nor water-holding capacities.
Olive trees are shallow rooted and do not require very deep soils to produce well, but they need a Mediterranean climate such as we have here in coastal areas of Cyprus and grow best in areas with mild winters and long, warm and dry summers. They do not grow well in cold environments and winter temperatures below 5ºC will kill some trees. Damage can also be caused if there are very low temperatures during bloom time and again later in the year, before the olives are harvested.
Too much summer rainfall can cause fungal and bacterial infestations but as a rule, there is little chance of that happening! Although olive trees are non-deciduous, they do require a cold period to go into semi-dormancy. The only drawback to growing them seems to be for people who are allergic to olive pollen, so if that is a problem for you it is not a good idea to be growing them near the house.
You often see olive trees hacked back almost to the trunk in the search of winter fuel but it is hard to kill an olive tree and before long new sprouts will start to appear around the crown. You can’t keep a good olive down! Cypriot olive oil is of the highest quality and of exquisite aroma, rich and pleasant taste. ‘Olive oil, the liquid gold’, as the Greek poet Homer said –it is a miraculous source of nutrients and is used in the most popular traditional Cypriot dishes. Moreover, the Mediterranean diet is proved to be one of the healthiest diets in the world, with olive oil being one of its basic ingredients.