Plotlines: What to do in your garden right now

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<i>Dracaena trifasciata</i>, or mother-in-law's tongue.

Dracaena trifasciata, or mother-in-law’s tongue.Credit:Quentin Jones

While Snake plant or Mother-in-laws-tongue (Dracaena trifasciata, previously Sansevieria trifasciata) can stand up to air pollution and helps remove various toxins indoors (space agency NASA once found it to be one of the best air-purifying plants for astronauts), this tropical plant won’t tolerate frost. Bring potted specimens inside for the cooler months.

The days are getting shorter but before extending your garden time by switching on outdoor lighting, give a thought to nocturnal insects and those insects attracted to light. New research suggests global insect numbers – including many nocturnal moths – are down 25 per cent since 1990 and light pollution, along with habitat destruction and pesticides, is deemed one of the culprits.

Once the dahlia flowers have finished and the leaves have turned brown it’s time to lift the tubers from poorly drained soils. Remove any surplus soil, place the tubers in polystyrene boxes lined with newspaper and cover them in a mixture of potting soil sawdust. Store them in a dry, airy place until planting them out in early November. If your soil is well-drained you can leave tubers in the ground over winter but mulch them well to protect them from frosts.

Make a new no-dig vegetable bed on a sunny (at least six hours of sunshine a day) patch of lawn. Sprinkle blood and bone over the lawn, water it in and then place unwaxed cardboard or thick layers of overlapping newspaper over the ground. Create some sort of edging (timber, bricks or straw bales for example) and cover the cardboard or paper with multiple layers of diverse organic materials, starting with a woody mulch, followed by lawn clippings or other green plant material, then aged animal manures, autumn leaves, more greens, more manure, a sprinkling of compost and soil and finally a mulch, such as more autumn leaves. Dampen each layer as you go. The bed is best planted after it starts to decompose over a month or so, but it is possible to create immediate growing pockets by adding handfuls of soil below the mulch layer and planting directly into these lettuce seedlings and other plants that can cope with the rich conditions.