In the garden this week: March 25, 2011

The first of the autumn camellias - sasanqua Crimson King

The first of the autumn camellias - sasanqua Crimson King

* Autumn is here. The first of the sasanqua camellias and the early flowering species have opened blooms. These early flowering camellias escape the ravages of camellia petal blight which will strike in June.

* You can sow annuals now to get good displays in early spring. Cineraria, snapdragons, pansies, poppies along with many other options are all much cheaper if you just buy a packet of seed and take the trouble to raise your own. It is best to sow into seed trays to get them started rather than the lazy option of broadcasting seed on the garden. With most of these, if you take the trouble to get them started once and then let them seed down, they will keep returning in future seasons as long as you are not too ruthless with the weed spray or push hoe.

* Most main crop potatoes are ready to be dug now. Get on to it straight away if your plants are looking blighted – the blight travels down the stem into the tubers and you can easily lose some of your crop. We hose our potatoes clean, sort out any damaged ones to eat first, dry them off and pack in opaque sacks for longer term storage in a dark and dry area.

* If you are planting leafy greens (and with the current price of lettuces at the supermarket, you should be), remember that plants with lots of top leafy growth are the hungriest feeders so benefit from added fertiliser, compost or rotted animal manures.

* With cooler weather, you can be dividing clumping perennials. Astelias, flaxes and grasses are better with autumn divisions because they can re-establish themselves before the chill of winter stops growth. You need to chop back the foliage by half to two thirds to reduce stress on the freshly divided pieces. A level cut with a sharp spade is the most usual approach or you can carefully cut out at least every second leaf at the base if you don’t want the shorn, Mohican look all winter. Clivias are tough, resilient plants which can be divided pretty well any time but now is good.