In the Garden | Bring spring inside with a bowl of bulbs

Forget any thoughts of a cold and dreary winter to come when you can bring spring indoors with a bowlful of fragrant spring bulbs.

Containers with drainage holes should be crocked and fitted with a piece of fine wire mesh before adding a traditional growing mix of a third each friable loam, compost and coarse river sand. Containers without drainage holes should be placed in commercial bulb fibre. Plant the bulbs closely without touching, and at a depth which will ensure the tip of the bulb is just below soil level.

PLACE IN THE SUN: You don't need a garden to enjoy a touch of nature.

PLACE IN THE SUN: You don't need a garden to enjoy a touch of nature.

Not all bulbs require a growing mix nor do you need a garden to enjoy them. Hyacinths will bloom in a narrow necked jar filled with water to the base of the bulb, while colchicums will grow and flower on nothing more than a saucerful of damp pebbles. A fascinating project for children.

Set the pots in a cool dark cupboard indoors or alternatively in a shaded garden trench covered with a layer of straw or leaf mould to keep out the light. Check regularly that the mix does not dry out. Once shoots have reached 2-3cm the bowls can be brought out into a semi-shaded site with will allow them to harden off before being placed in permanent positions. Turn the pots regularly to keep up an even-sided growth and add a few stakes to support any long stemmed flowers which may be inclined to droop.

Bulbs grown in containers should be set into the garden after flowering to allow the bulb to replenish its food supply.

THE MAJORITY of house plants should be looking their best at this time of year, especially if they have been regularly fed and watered and given the occasional spell in a warm shady site outdoors. However, active growth slows with cooler temperatures and shorter day lengths so a light application of plant food is all that they should need to carry them through winter.

Likewise the frequency of watering should be reduced, offering only enough to keep the soil from drying out. Just as dirt blocks the pores of human skin so does dust on the leaves of plants, not only cutting down the light on the surface but limiting the plants' ability to breathe. Large foliage can by wiped over with a soft damp cloth adding a little soap to the water for any hard to remove greasy dust. Furry leaves such as those on African Violets can be dusted with a damp brush. Ferns appreciate a gentle spray under the shower or out in the rain.

Each time you clean a plant, check for any sign of pest or disease. Scale and mealy bug are difficult to remove from the joints of foliage stems - for example bromeliads, palms and azaleas. If you can take steps to arrest them before they become truly noticeable it might make the difference between a healthy plant and one that will eventually have to be replaced.

Jobs to do this week

  • Autumn is one of the best times to establish a new lawn. Germination of seed will be steady in still warm soil. There will be less competition from weeds and of course less demand for water. Canberra Mix (Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue) is generally recommended and for those with no objection to clover in the lawn, O'Connor's strawberry clover at the rate of 3gr per sq.m. will not only add useful nitrogen but discourage scarab grubs which feed on the grass roots.
  • Cut off the old leaves from spent strawberry beds - it will be easier to weed around the plants. Loosen the soil, detach any new runners for replanting and top dress with compost.
  • Don't forget that Dutch, Spanish and English iris will produce a successsion of bloom from October to December. All of them make a good garden display as well as stately cut flowers.
  • Prepare a simple cage from four stakes and a roll of chicken wire to hold a collection of autumn foliage which will gradually break down into valuable leaf mould - a fine additive to potting mixes and garden beds.

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