Ambushed by recent tomato blight I’m going to clear some of my summer greenhouse crops and start my autumn tidy up earlier than planned. Returning from holiday to find my tomato plants browned and collapsed was no surprise, it had rained incessantly and even with adequate ventilation, the combined humidity indoors and out provided perfect conditions for blight to develop. Tomatoes grown under glass are generally less prone to infection but are still vulnerable; spray them and outdoor tomatoes with Bordeaux mixture before the problem appears protects against attack but I just wasn’t here to do it. Don’t save seed from infected fruit and remove and destroy plants immediately; the cultivar ‘Ferline’ shows some resistance, but not always and smaller fruited varieties are less likely to be infected.
Autumn is main seasons for lawn maintenance, it is the ideal time to rake out the ‘thatch’ or dead grass and moss that has accumulated over the mowing season. Cut the lawn to ¼”, then use a wire rake or electric or motorised lawn rake from the tool hire shop to rake out the debris. To save money, you could hire it and share the use and cost with several friends. Spike compacted areas by holding a garden fork backwards and pushing the spikes into the ground rocking it backwards and forwards to loosen the soil. In severe cases of poor drainage you may need to ‘hollow tine’. These can be hired or there are smaller versions as hand tools which are like a large apple corers. I borrowed the ‘hollow tiner’ from our local cricket club, it was a massive machine, very unwieldly but did a great job. Finally, top dress the lawn to encourage healthy growth and create a level surface. Top dressing can be bought from the garden centre and can be brushed into the holes in the lawn and the remainder levelled and oversown with grass seeed. If you have any energy left, repair and seed over worn patches once it is established and apply autumn lawn fertiliser.
There is still time to take cuttings of tender plants to overwinter in the greenhouse. Bay, rosemary and sage propagate easily from semi-ripe cuttings. Remove young healthy shoots from this year’s growth from 2.5-3” long, trim them just below a leaf joint with a sharp pair of secateurs or knife. Using your finger and thumb, strip off the leaves from the bottom 1” of the cutting, dip the bottom 1” in hormone rooting powder, tapping lightly to remove any excess. Fill a 3.5” pot with cutting compost, firm it gently then insert the cuttings round the edge so the leaves of adjacent cuttings do not touch then firm the compost again. Water thoroughly allow to drain, then put the pot in a propagator or put a central cane in the pot and cover with a clear plastic bag and put a rubber band over the end, then put on a sunny windowsill. Cuttings take two months to root at the most, keep the compost moist but not waterlogged and ‘air’ the cuttings occasionally to prevent fungal infections. Happy gardening!