A month by month guide to gardening in Edinburgh and the Lothians.
If you have a heated greenhouse, it’s time to buy and sow bedding plants such as antirrhimums, sweet peas, pansies, mesembryanthemums and early violas.
Leeks and tomatoes can also be grown but tomatoes need constant heat of 50 – 60 degrees C night and day. All but the small cherry tomatoes have a long growing season so have to be started now – unless you want to find yourself making masses of chutney in September.
Keep on with building projects such as new paths, edgings raised beds etc.
Tidy up wind-damaged trees and branches.
If the ground is too sodden to work, why not take a trip to Edinburgh’s famous Botanic Garden and to Edinburgh Council’s Winter Garden at Saughton to get some inspiration.
Provided the ground isn’t too wet, finish digging over empty borders. Dress with concentrated organic manure or compost or John Innes Base fertiliser.
Fruit and Veg
Sow early peas in late February (yes, even in wet West Lothian, providing the ground is warming up!) and watch, when they appear, that the birds don’t pull them out of the ground!
Keep an eye on decking and damp concrete paths which may be dangerously slippy due to moss and algae. If you use a power washer to clean them, you’ll need to replace any sand between blocks. But you will need to do this again at the end of winter.
If ever there is a time to take a holiday, this is it. A bit of winter sun will lift your spirits and energy levels, but, when you are off in sunny climates, admiring the flowering plants to be found around the Mediterranean, don’t fool yourself that they will grow back here!
Hybrid tea and floribunda roses can be pruned right back to 5” to 6” from ground level. Then feed with bone meal or a rose fertiliser containing magnesium.
Prune back large flowered clematis to 600mm from their base to encourage strong growth in summer. Early flowering (montana) types should only be trimmed lightly as they flower on old wood. Dogwoods, grown for their bright red or yellow stems, will start to lose their colour and this is the time to prune them hard.
Fruit and Veg
Set out in trays indoors early seed potatoes to chit (i.e. to form small growing stems). Depending on the weather, early potatoes may be planted towards the end of the month.
If you didn’t dig in manure last autumn, add fish, blood and bone meal now.
Dress overwintered spring cabbage with sulphate of ammonia to green them up quickly.
Continue to sow peas, start first early turnips, spring onions, parsley and parsnips and plant onion sets and shallots.
Start french beans and runner beans in pots or under glass in the cold frame. Chhose your varieties according to whether you want to pick and east them fresh or whether you want to freeze them.
Place a bucket over rhubarb to bring it on early and top dress with farmyard manure or equivalent.
Sow bedding plants in a cool greenhouse or cold frame. You can start early carrots, salad onions, lettuce and some herbs.
In a heated greenhouse, you can sow brassicas for planting out in late April or early May. Watch for fluctuating temperatures on sunny days and cold nights. Try to ventilate greenhouses when the temperature is rising, not when it has already risen! Use sticky yellow fly trap to detect the first pests.
Save money by taking cuttings of overwintered geraniums and pot up baby begonia corms and dahlia tubers, gladioli bulbs and even freesias.
If moss is a problem, apply lawn sand, containing sulphate of iron and sulphate of ammonia then rake out 14 days later with a springbok rake. Apply an autumn feed initially, before changing to a normal spring/summer feed in April.
Figures, ornaments and water features can be cleaned using one of the many ecologically friendly products available now.
Get your lawn off to a good start with feeding. You will probably have to start cutting it by now but I always think that keeping the edges tidy makes a big difference. There are various clever pieces of equipment to make this job easier than it used to be.
Give your annuals an early start in trays but make sure you don’t let them get too heated and that you harden them off well before planting out. Late summer or autumn flowering bulbs such as lilliums, freesias, sparaxis, gladioli can be planted now, as can winter flowering heathers. Plant in groups of three or five for maximum impact.
Trim and tody up climbers before they put on too much growth. Cut back old flowering shoots from calluna heather varieties. Ornamental grasses will also benefit from a haircut – again top dress with bone meal.
Plants which look as though they have been damaged by frost might just come away if you prune out the worst of the damage, so give them another couple of months before chucking them on the compost heap.
Begin a regime of regular weeding. Remember, one year’s seeding means seven years weeding!
Give containers planted with spring bulbs and winter pansies a tidy up. Replace the compost ready for summer bedding and mix in some proprietary water retaining crystals to give you some watering leeway in very hot dry weather.
Fruit and Veg
Continue sowing vegetables in succession about every three weeks to give you a long-lasting harvest – unless you want to harvest all at once and freeze. Once carrot seeds begin to germinate, cover them with horticultural fleece to prevent attack by carrot root fly. Planting garlic nearby can also help, as the scent makes it hard for the flying flies to distinguish the carrots.
You might get away with sowing root crops in East Lothian but not wet West Lothian. If you sow too early, when ground temperatures are still cold, or when they may be exposed to drought, this causes the seeds to bolt (go to seed) instead of producing crops.
Trim back and tidy up herbs, at the same time applying a little general purpose fertiliser to stimulate the roots.
Start slug control measures! You can buy slug traps or try placing broken eggshells or sharp stones around emerging soft tissue plants here and in the flower garden. Other remedies include beer traps and salt and there are electronic devices as well which are less hands on.
Watch out for cabbage root fly grubs. Make collars out of foam, old carpet or card which fit snugly round the necks.
Renew grease bands on fruit trees to trap harmful insects such as earwigs.
Trees and Shrubs
If you have a Kilmarnock Willow (Salix Capsea Pendula) or Salix Mishiki, prune it now to encourage lots of new growth in summer. This in turn will provide winter catkins and coloured stems.
Don’t be tempted to plant out summer bedding plants too early, but do start to harden them off. This is a good time to plant herbaceous crowns or pot grown specimens and herbs can be planted too, once they have been hardened off.
Don’t cut back the foliage on daffodils. Give them bone meal or potato fertiliser to help them form good healthy bulbs for next year. Mark the spot if they have become overcrowded and you want to lift and divide them in autumn.
You can still sow annual seeds such as French, Scots and American marigolds, nasturtium, alyssum, godetia, mimulus and mesembryanthemums.
Plant up containers, hanging baskets and flower towers in early May to put out in late May. Your display will benefit from the inclusion of slow release fertiliser granules to save you worrying about feeding and mix ing in some proprietary water retaining crystals will give you some watering leeway in very hot dry weather. We are going to see more of it, I’m told.
Fruit and Veg
Pick off excess fruit on plum and apple trees to allow the remaining clusters space and air to grow. Apply a light dressing of sulphate of potash.
This is your last chance to plant maincrop potatoes.
Sow turnips and beetroot now and fast growing salad crops like lettuce and radishes. Tomato and cucumber plants can be potted up in the greenhouse, while courgettes can be planted out only after all risk of frosts.
If you haven’t sown your own leeks, buy and plant them now, puddling them in and trimming the tops to save stress.
Protect strawberry plants with straw (traditionally) or some other mulch to prevent fruit trailing on the ground. Think about a fruit cage to protect fruit when it ripens from birds and jam jars to protect them from wasps.
In an early Spring/Summer, dry herbs by picking them on a sunny day before they have flowered. Hang in bunches upside down in an airy place. When dry, the leaves will crush easily into flakes for storing in jars.
June is soon enough in this area to plant bedding plants. Give roses some extra feeding now that they are carrying flowers. Use a fertiliser with magnesium for glossy leaves and ‘Enmag’ for slow release.
Hoe regularly if you haven’t mulched.
Trees and Shrubs
Conifers or conifer hedges that need trimmed should be clipped between June and the end of July, then fed with a dressing of an organic based fertiliser like fish blood and bone.
Ericaceous plants (azaleas, rhododendrons, camelias etc) will benefit greatly from regular feeds throughout the summer of a liquid feed containing iron, one derived from seaweed, to ensure flowers buds form before the end of autumn for the following year.
Fruit and Veg
If you see blackfly on plums and other fruit bushes, a systemic insecticide is needed. Ordinary insecticides and washes will not work as the wee beasties are inside the curled up leaves they have distorted.
Thin out bunches of grapes by 25% to improve the size of the fruits and reduce the risk of disease.
Earth up potatoes when the shoots are about 180mm above ground.
Watch out for the first winged greenfly. Spray with a solution containing Pirimicarb or use soapy water. Don’t spray foliage with chemicals in bright sunshine.
Watch out for a second hatching of cabbage root fly grubs. Make collars out of foam or card which fit snugly round the necks.
Ladybirds love greenfly so if you find any ladybirds, encourage them to visit roses or other vulnerable plants.
Continue with slug precaution measures in damp weather.
Mulching not only helps to conserve moisture, it also keeps weeds down, which can save a lot of work when you come back from holiday! Use well rotted manure/composted bark/lawn clippings.
Dead head roses and other plants to encourage more flowers.
Use plant clips to keep straggly plants tidy.
Ericaceous plants prefer mulches of peat from sustainable sources or composted bark and feeding with a liquid seaweed fertiliser containing sequestered iron.
Plants in containers need extra liquid feed during their maximum growth spells. Feed tomato fertiliser to flowering plants, as this encourages flowers rather than leaves.
Fruit and Veg
Before their final earthing up, maincrop potatoes will benefit from top dressing with potato fertiliser.
Give brassicas a boost with a scattering of sulphate of ammonia or some pelleted poultry manure.
Harvest strawberries. Yummy!
There has been a remarkable increase in fungal infections over the last few years, mainly due to the fact that there is now little or no atmospheric pollution. Soot and sulphur in the air kept black spot on roses at bay. On those plants susceptible to black spot (roses) downy mildew (hebes, rhododendrons) rust (hypericum, roses, salix) use a systemic fungicide on new leaves prior to infection. Repeat at 3-4 weekly intervals until late summer. Try to avoid using the same fungicide to avoid a build up of resistance.
Watch blackcurrants and gooseberries for American Mildew, red spider mite and sawfly caterpillar. Apple scab appears on the leaves before affecting the fruit, so you have time to do something about it.
This is a good time to establish a pond as the plants will take off and grow well. If you don’t have room for a pond, or are worried about the safety of children or pets, you can still enjoy a water feature in the shape of a pebble pool or even in a barrel.
Continue to dead head. Mark plants to be lifted and divided in winter, when you will not be able to identify their colours. Prune wisteria, clematis montana alpina and macropetala types after flowering to encourage new shoots for next spring.
Plant out winter pansies. These need a short day length to prevent them from growing straggly so don’t be tempted to do this too soon.
Sow biennials, such as wallflowers, polyanthus and pansies for next year, pricking out then planting out in October. In East Lothian you might try colourful winter kale – in the West it is too wet and the water gathers in the heart of the plant and freezes.
Take semi-hardwood cuttings of lavender, heathers etc for potting up.
Fruit and Veg
Cut out dead and overcrowded shoots on plum trees. You should be getting a succession of early potatoes now and harvesting raspberries and currants. Did you remember to stock up on jam jars?
Refresh the strawberry bed by pegging down runners from this year’s plants. Once established, sever the runners and move to their new positions. Strawberry plants are past their best in four years, so keep an ongoing ‘cull’ of old plants and don’t allow them to become overgrown.
Peas and other crops will be ready to pick regularly and freeze.
Keep leeks and celery well covered to ensure you get nice white stems. (Shop bought veg are often green –ugh!) You can use cardboard tubes. Top dress these and other winter vegetables with fish, blood and bone meal or a light dressing of garden compost.
Pray for an Indian Summer but watch for news of early frosts and lift tender plants like dahlias, or protect clematis and osteospermum with sacking, fleece or straw, or move them into a cool greenhouse. Cordylines, phormiums and other less hardy plants in West Lothian and the Pentland Hills should also be protected or brought indoors. Plant polyanthus, winter pansies, bellis daisies and wallflower for spring displays.
Early September is the best time to plant indoor bulbs for Christmas flowering. Buy good sized corms for the best flowers.
When summer flowering plants are over, your containers can still be a joy if you top up the compost and plant winter flowering pansies, myositis, evergreen shrubs or spring bulbs.
Fruit and Veg
Lift and store in a dry place onions, carrots potatoes and other remaining vegetables, But remember, turnips taste better after a touch of frost. Dig in compost for next year. Sprinkle ground lime where you are going to plant brassicas (cabbage family) next year – definitely not on the potato patch.
Top dress fruit trees with farmyard manure, or other balanced organic compost.
Divide rhubarb crowns.
Blackcurrants should be pruned by removing one third of fruiting shoots.
Move on to an autumn mix for feeding and raise the mower blades as the grass will be growing more slowly now.
Empty water butts and clean them using a concentrated cleaner based on extracts of citrus fruits, which can be safely used against a wide range of bacterial and fungal diseases
Cut back plants that have finished flowering but leave seed heads on honesty, clematis, lovage and sunflowers to provide birds with gourmet delights.
Keep deadheading roses as you’ll be surprised how long they will keep flowering.
Prune early flowering shrubs to encourage growth for next year.
Plant spring flowering bulbs in clumps. If you can avoid cutting your grass until late spring, why not plant snowdrops, croci or daffodils in grass? Tulips are best left until next month.
Fruit and Veg
As well as cleaning round the bases of fruit trees and bushes, attach grease bands around main trunks now as this is the time the wingless female moths come to lay their eggs.
Trees and Shrubs
This is a good time to move or plant trees, shrubs or hedging as the soil has not yet cooled down too much – although you have until March, as long as the trees are dormant. Stake new trees low down and make sure that stakes on any old trees are not rubbing. Provide them with good compost and a high potash fertiliser to establish root growth in the first year.
When moving deciduous plants, wait until they have lost their leaves, then move with as much soil around them as possible and give them a little treat of some nice compost in their new planting hole.
When moving conifers or other evergreens, drench the roots and spray two or three times a week if there isn’t much rain, especially in windy weather when they will dry out more quickly.
Having decided that the lawn is not going to require any more cutting this year (crystal ball required) dress with lawn sand containing sulphate of iron to control moss then aerate with a springbok rake and apply a dressing of autumn lawn food. Any boggy patches should be aerated with a garden fork or, better still, a hollow tined fork, followed by brushing in sharp sand to improve drainage (not concrete or builder’s sand!) Patch any dodgy bits.
Make sure your garden hose is drained and out of reach of frosts. Similarly, pumps in garden ponds may need to be removed.
Prune roses lightly, just to tidy them up and prevent them from being blown over in high winds. Plant new rose bushes now or wait until February if planting bare root plants. Avoid burying the crown of the rose or you will get suckers from the stock, and firm the ground well to prevent wind rock.
Top dress perennial plants, shrubs and trees with well rotted compost that birds and frost can break down over the winter.
Divide overcrowded herbaceous plants for spreading round your garden or for giving to friends.
Fruit and Veg
Being a stone fruit, cherries will benefit from an application of ground lime every winter.
Cut out old fruiting canes of raspberries and blackberries and tie in five or six new ones.
Lift the last of the maincrop potatoes and dig over and compost the beds.
Clean the glass and staging and in all the corners underneath with Jeyes fluid and carry out any repairs, such as loose clips. Insulate with bubble wrap to save heating bills. Clean and sterilise seed trays and pots.
Check for drainage problems with the first heavy rain. Remove leaves, which can lead to fungal patches developing, but watch for hedgehogs hibernating in the leaves. They are a gardener’s best friend when it comes to slugs!
This is the time when you will be grateful for your compost heap as you save a fortune at the garden centre. A half day’s hire of a chipper/shredder will even get rid of woody branches and prunings, which can be either used as mulch on paths or composted (if they’re fine enough). Old compost from tomatoes, pots and containers can all be recycled. If you really haven’t got space for even a ‘dalek’ then the Councils will gladly take compost off your hands (though whether the Council Tax will come down as a result, I wouldn’t like to say!)
Take the opportunity to remove any weeds from alpine beds and rockeries and scatter a dressing of alpine grit or crushed quartz gravel around the plants to provide extra drainage and prevent leaves from picking up infections or rotting.
Winter’s thin light often gives the garden a magical quality.
Fruit and Veg
Winter tar oil is an old remedy for killing overwintering spores and eggs in fruit bushes, trees and roses. This also a good time to prune young apples and pears. Cut back the vigorous leader shoots’ new growth by half. Lateral shoots should be cut back to no more than three three buds. Young plums shold be pruned in the first two or three winters by cutting back the laterals by half and smaller shoots to 75mm. Subsequently pruning should be carried out in summer.
Painting decking with deck oil will help to prevent the timber becoming saturated and then covered in algae, slime and moss.
Check for broken or loose slabs and paviers and repair or even them up. Top up gravel driveways, treating with a weed suppressant. Or, this might be the time for a major overhaul which would involve laying weed suppressing plastic under your gravel. You could also lay weed suppressing matting in the vegetable garden. Take care when planting as you will have to cut holes in the matting which will be reused each year.
Overhaul power tools before you put them away in the shed. Clean and check all other tools or consider having them professionally serviced now, so that you are ready for next season. Ask Santa to replace any damaged ones.
As well as dropping hints to Santa for your own wish list, local garden centres are full of great ideas for Christmas gifts that make truly lasting presents.
Visit the Mill Garden Centre in Armadale for advice and locally grown plants that you can trust.
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