Barely have you started to plant your spring-flowering bulbs, and it's already time to think about the winter and how to replicate these blooms indoors, without spending a fortune.
The answer is to 'force' bulbs into flower, that is give them assistance to bloom far earlier indoors than they would normally outside.
Garden centres should now be stocking up on bulbs which are sold specifically for forcing, which may include fragrant hyacinths, large-flowered crocus, hippeastrums, miniature daffodils and a few tulips, which should be marked 'prepared' in the shop.
By growing bulbs indoors, in a warmer atmosphere than they are accustomed to in the garden, for all or part of their growing season, they'll grow more quickly and flower earlier than they would otherwise. However, if you bring them on too quickly, they may fail.
You can use any type of pot because indoor bulbs can manage without drainage as they are being grown for such a short time, provided the container holds enough compost to accommodate the bulbs. It's worth spreading a layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot to help drainage.
For best results go for bulb fibre when growing bulbs in containers with no drainage, as it has plenty of air space and often contains added charcoal which keeps the compost fresh, even if it becomes too moist. Alternatively, you can use multi-purpose compost.
Prepared hyacinths are the most popular bulbs for forcing and generally go on sale at the beginning of September, after being given a couple of weeks of cold treatment to make them think they've gone through winter.
Whatever you do, don't leave 'prepared' bulbs for a few weeks in a warm environment before planting, or they will lose the cold effect they were given initially. Instead, store them in a cool, dark place and plant them by the middle of September if you want them to flower by Christmas.
For the best effect, plant bulbs of the same colour together. They should be planted close together on top of a depth of at least 6cm of compost, so they are not quite touching one another. Then fill the bowl to just below the rim with compost, so their growing tips are just sticking out above the surface. Don't firm the bulb fibre down or it may hinder the root system establishing quickly. Make sure you don't overwater them, just water the compost lightly.
Place the container in a cool, dark place such as the shed or a closed cupboard in a cold room for 10-14 weeks, to encourage the flowering stems to develop before the leaves. It also enables the root system to become well-established. If the bulb fibre becomes dry at any time, water carefully between the bulbs.
Don't hurry them because insufficient time in the dark will result in stunted flowers or failure. When the leaf shoots are around 1-2in (4-5cm) high, move the container into a cool, light room. The flower buds which you can see between the tips of the leaves should just be starting to show signs of colour. If you remove the bulbs too early the leaves will grow too quickly and will obscure the flowers
If you want to delay flowering, put the bulbs outside in a sheltered position so the flowers develop more slowly, then move them inside, but not near a radiator.
Paperwhite narcissi and other dwarf narcissi may be given a cold preparation prior to sale and should be stored in a cold, dark place and then planted every couple of weeks from mid-September onwards to give you a succession of blooms from November to January. All other narcissi apart from paperwhites should have around 17 weeks of cold before being brought indoors to flower, planting them as you would hyacinths.
Star plant - Plum tree (Prunus domestica)
Anyone who is harvesting the ripe fruits from their plum tree will agree with this week's choice. The deep red fruits can be harvested from mid-summer to mid-autumn. Those grown for cooking should be picked while still firm, while dessert varieties should be harvested when they are slightly soft and eaten within a few days of picking, as they don't keep well.
Prunus domestica 'Giant Prune' is a good variety and can be eaten fresh or used for cooking, bottling and jams.
Plums thrive in deep, well-drained soil in warm, sheltered sites. Different cultivars should be planted together to ensure enough pollen is available, although there are self-fertile varieties including 'Victoria'. Good dessert varieties include the 'Edwards', which produces large blue fruits with a succulent orange flesh, or 'Marjorie's Seedling'.
Trees should be planted in late autumn in a deep, well-prepared soil with loads of well-rotted organic matter. They need watering in dry weather or the fruits may drop.
Good enough to eat - Companion plants for fruits
We know less about companion plants for fruit trees and bushes than for vegetables, but it has been shown that orchards with clover, alfalfa and other leguminous plants growing in the grass do better than those without. Pears, however, don't like grass growing underneath them and prefer to be mulched.
Dead nettles seem to be beneficial for the early flowerers such as peaches and pears, along with other nectar-rich plants to attract bees in time for the fruit flowers. Beds of Limnanthes douglassii and Convolvolus tricolor attract and feed many pollinators and predators, while most pungent herbs - including garlic and chives - are believed to improve the keeping qualities of fruit growing near them.
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What to do this week
Pot young alpine plants raised from cuttings in spring and overwinter them in a cold frame before planting out next year.
Lift early-flowering Lilium regale and reset them in well-drained soil.
Sow poppies outdoor where they can flower next year.
As the seedheads of annuals and perennials ripen, collect seed, remembering to label with care.
Give autumn green crops a light dressing of fertiliser hoed into the soil around them.
Continue to harvest apples and pears and store them for use over the winter.
Plant spring-flowering bulbs, particularly daffodils as they begin their root growth earlier than most bulbs.
Continue to remove weeds so that they don't shed seeds which will be stored over the winter.
Clean out your pond.
If your summer bedding is past its best, dispose of it and clean pots and canes for winter storage.
Lift slightly tender perennials such as fuchsias before the first frosts hit them.
Order new fruit trees, canes or bushes.
Protect ripening fruit from birds and squirrels.
Continue to water containers regularly.