This week May 5 2007

  • If your hostas are looking distinctly unwell, it is because they are going dormant for winter. All their leaves will rot off and the plant hibernates below ground. If you have well established clumps, you can lift and divide them any time from now on until spring.
  • Lifting and dividing is the gardening term used to describe the process of splitting up clumping plants (as opposed to woody trees and shrubs). These include perennials such as hostas, grasses, flaxes and asters. These types of plants can get very congested if you just leave them whereas they will gain new vigour if you divide up the clump. To get maximum small plants, wash the roots (so you can see what you are doing) and then split into divisions so that each piece has some roots and a few growing tips. Cutting a clump into sections with a spade or sharp knife is less precise but will work just fine. Replanting the divisions into well cultivated soil gives the plant a good start again.
  • If you don’t want to lift and divide, gouging out some of the central growing tips will reduce congestion, as will scratching around the outside perimeter of the plant and chipping away some of the bulk.
  • Winter is approaching so in the vegetable garden it is all about battening down the hatches – clearing old crops and either sowing in a green crop or planting winter veg such as spinach, carrots and brassicas. Broad beans can be sown now and even garlic can be planted, if you are keen. It is not compulsory to wait for the shortest day to plant garlic.
  • Keep spraying with copper to beat fungal diseases. Copper is regarded as a safe chemical to use on edible crops with a very short with holding period before it is safe to eat them.
  • If you have a very sheltered and favoured spot, you can do a planting of early potatoes. Use a quick maturing variety such as Jersey Bennes or Rocket and you may be able to compete with the highly priced first crop new potatoes which appear in the supermarkets at the end of winter.