Fall Gardening Tips
Keep on weeding and have a gentle tidy up in your borders but do try to resist the temptation of a thorough spring clean. Leave seedheads for the birds if you don’t want to collect them and as much cover as you can bear for wildlife who will appreciate the winter shelter.
Fallen leaves can be left to rot down (or collected for leaf mould), however diseased material is another matter; make it a priority to clear and burn it to prevent pests and diseases overwintering courtesy of your kind hospitality! Put the rest of your garden rubbish (apart from woody stems) in the compost.
Start your compost
If you haven’t already done so, start your compost going by buying a bin or building a partially enclosed area for a heap. It is vital to replace the goodness in soil after a hefty growing season and autumn produces masses of garden waste that will put invaluable organic richness back into the ground for next spring. Add a variety of different materials; spent vegetable and bedding plants, herbaceous leftovers, thatch, moss and cuttings from the lawn, weeds (but not the roots unless they have been through a shredder), hedge clippings, kitchen peelings and tea bags are ideal.
Turn once a week or so if you can and NEVER add diseased or pest-ridden material (such as diseased rose petals – heinous culprits) to your compost – it is a warm and welcoming nirvana for unwelcome guests who will reappear with a vengeance next year! Onto the bonfire with them without a qualm…
Clean out the greenhouse
It really is worth cleaning out your greenhouse thoroughly now your greenhouse crops are over; it will prevent pests from hibernating and leaping into action next spring! Wash the windows inside and out to allow maximum light in over the winter and scrub all benches, fixtures and glazing bars with disinfectant, making sure you hose the whole place down really well, especially dark and dusty corners. For effective fumigation, move all plants outside, shut the windows, light a sulphur candle in the middle of the floor, (retreat at speed!), shut the door and wait until the smoke and fumes have completely dispersed several hours later. Your greenhouse should now be pest free!
Prepare your soil for next year
Your soil is your most precious commodity, so start digging in compost, manure and as much organic matter as you can lay your hands on to replace the goodness in it. The earlier you start the better, especially if your soil is heavy. It can be left in a pretty rough state over the winter when the elements will break the clods down, making spring planting infinitely easier!
Hardly an issue at the moment! However, do keep an eye on your pots and containers in dry spells and check for wilting leaves before it is too late; all plants that keep their leaves continue to transpire, so should not be allowed to dry out completely.
Ensure trees or shrubs planted in the last couple of years on lawns or in areas of rough grass have a circle of clear earth around them – this should be kept clear to allow moisture to get to the roots. Mulching with bark or compost will help.
With the ideal planting conditions of autumn (warm moist soil), now is the time to plant container grown shrubs, trees,fruit bushes, perennials and bulbs. Even in damp conditions it is worth checking the rootballs of shrubs and trees are adequately moist when planting – heavy rain will not necessarily penetrate a rootball that has been allowed to dry out, so if it feels light, plunge into a bucket of water before planting.
Rake fallen leaves
Don’t waste fallen leaves (except those perilous rose leaves and evergreens, which take too long to rot down) – given time they decompose into fabulously rich leaf mould – aka ‘nature’s soil conditioner of choice’! Rake up fallen leaves and chuck them into a simple frame to make leaf mould (black bin liners spiked with air holes will also do if you can bear the visual offense – but remember to dampen the leaves first). If left to linger on the lawn for long, the grass will turn yellow. Leaf mould takes about a year to mature (2 in the case of oak leaves), makes a great top dressing for woodland plants such as rhododendrons and is an excellent and FREE home-grown substitute for peat.
Trees (including fruit trees), hedges, shrubs and climbers, ensure they are well watered and check regularly to see they do not become loose. Firm in well, but beware over firming as this will drive out air from the soil and can be even more damaging than loose planting. Stake new plants if necessary to hold them firm against autumn winds.
Move conifers, evergreens and deciduous hedges
Move conifers, evergreens and hedges, digging in lots of organic matter around them. Water regularly, feed them in springtime with an organic fertiliser and if you live in an exposed or windy spot, stake them and protect with a windbreak of plastic mesh or something similar for the first year. Planting and moving any plant is far less traumatic for it whilst the soil is still warm. Dig as large a root ball as you can and wrap in hessian to move it with minimum disturbance. Ensure the new hole is large enough for the roots not to be squashed and the same depth as before. Remove the hessian gently, firm in the soil well with your feet as you fill the hole and water generously.
Prune tall shrubs
Remove any diseased, spindly, old and unproductive stems and remember to burn any diseased material. Tie new shoots onto some form of support to prevent their thrashing about in autumn winds.
Trim back lavender bushes if you haven’t already done so
Rule one – keep off when sodden!
Established lawns – whilst the grass is still growing keep mowing once a fortnight with the blades on high for the final few cuts. If you haven’t had time, carry out your autumn lawn care programme – scarify (rake out the old dead grass and moss) by hand (hard work!) or with a machine, spike to improve drainage again either by hand with a garden fork or with a machine, add a top dressing of soil/sand/compost mixed according to your soil type (ask for advice at your garden centre) and feed with autumn weed and moss killer. This low-nitrogen preparation strengthens grass for winter; do not use spring lawn feed as this encourages grass to grow and it may not survive the cold. After all this your lawn will look dreadful, but fear not, it will benefit enormously from the regime. Repair bumps, hollows, bald patches and broken edges too.
New lawns – October is the last chance for sowing grass seed and just about the best time for laying turf. Good preparation is vital for either: remove weeds and stones, dig over thoroughly, adding organic matter and fertiliser, rake smooth, firm by walking up and down and rake again at right angles, repeating the raking and firming process until the area is flat and the surface is a fine crumb texture. Sow seed according to the packet instructions and lay turf in a brick pattern so no joints are in line. Butt the turves together as tightly as you can and fill any gaps with sieved soil. Water well and keep off for 4 to 5 weeks.
Bulbs, flowers and containers
Finish planting spring bulbs such as narcissi and crocuses – tulips can wait until November. Choose plump firm bulbs and plant within a week of buying in a location with good drainage. Add grit if the soil is heavy and ensure pots and containers have plenty of crocks at the bottom. Bury bulbs at three times their own depth, tip upwards and ensure there are no air pockets around them. Use them to fill gaps in beds and borders, in formal gardens, in pots and containers, under shrubs and trees or naturalised in grass or woodland.
Make your life easier by investing in a strong good quality dibber and if you have a bad back, a long handled bulb planter.
For a natural look, throw handfuls of bulbs in the air and plant them where they land.
Lift and store tender plants
Frost is in the offing and some of us had a couple of nights below zero at the end of September…..no need to panic, as the odd light frost does little harm to plants that have been out all summer, but it is a timely reminder that winter is on its way…
Begonias – they hate frosts so lift tuberous begonias (the ones with enormous flowers) sooner rather than later. Keep in trays of moist compost somewhere cool and light and keep watered until the leaves turn yellow. Dry gradually by withdrawing watering, cover with a shallow layer of peat and store somewhere frost-free. Water occasionally over the winter to prevent the tubers shrivelling.
Dahlias – wait until a couple of good frosts have blackened them (hopefully not until next month) then cut stems back to approximately 10cm from the ground and label each plant as you lift it – it is amazingly easy to forget which is which! Be careful not to damage the tubers as you dig around them, remove all the soil and store for a couple of weeks in a dry, cool place upside down to allow any residual moisture in the stem to drain out. Once completely dry, bury them in peat free compost so the top of the tuber is above the compost level and keep them somewhere frost free over the winter. Meanwhile, keep deadheading and enjoy them!
Gladioli – if deeply planted in well-drained soil they should be alright in situ, but if you don’t want to risk losing them, lift the corms carefully with a fork sometime around the middle of the month, cut the stems down to 2cm, dry in a cool airy place and store somewhere frost-proof.
Tender container plants – oleanders and the like should be tidied up and moved inside to a greenhouse or conservatory. Keep watering to a minimum to keep them on the dry side for repotting next spring.
Others… lift cannas, geraniums and fuchsias before any proper frost. Trim back the soft growth on geraniums and fuchsias, pot into multi-purpose compost and keep them barely moist over the winter in a cool frost-free spot.
Plant new ones – while the soil is still relatively moist and warm, plant hardy perennials so their roots have a chance to become established before winter and do ensure you choose plants that are appropriate for your soil type!
Divide large ones such as daylilies and peonies once they have finished flowering. Cut them back and divide large clumps by lifting carefully and separating down the centre with 2 forks back to back. Replant with plenty of organic matter and water generously. Remember some perennials, such as peonies, do not take kindly to being disturbed so tread carefully! Late flowering perennials such as asters are best left until spring for dividing.
Cut back those that have died down – do not cut back the less hardy perennials such as penstemoms and hardy fuchsias – leave until they begin to shoot from the base in spring.
Lift and bring tender perennials inside before frosts cause any damage.
Support tall flowers – autumn can be windy so make sure any tall flowers are supported.
Collect seed heads – collect seed heads from perennials, alpines, trees and shrubs. Growing plants from seeds you have collected is fantastically rewarding, but be vigilant; seed heads have a nasty habit of ripening and popping whilst your back is turned. Collect when nearly ripe – just as they are turning brown. Snip them off, put them in a paper bag, label and hang somewhere cool, dark and dry.
Protect alpines from the wet and clear leaves from around them – leaves left around alpines will encourage disease, so clear dead leaves regularly. Whilst alpines, not surprisingly, don’t mind the cold, they do object to excessive wetness, so you may need to put an open ended cloche or something similar over your plants if you have a particularly wet spell of weather
Our feathered friends will be starting to build their reserves for winter, so do please put out food and fresh water for them. We sell a range of top quality bird food and feeding stations as well as some really beautiful bird tables. They make great Christmas presents – for little ones the magic of watching birds coming to feed close by is a pleasure to behold!
Wildlife experts recommend that we feed the birds year round as they soon become reliant on the food we provide. Their greatest time of need is during winter and spring, when their natural food sources are greatly depleted. Putting out food helps them survive the chilly winter months and ensures they are in good condition for the breeding season. Choose good quality wild bird seed, bird peanuts (remember to take them out of nylon mesh bags which can trap beaks and legs), suet and fat balls (these are great high energy foods and ideal during cold weather) as well as kitchen scraps such as crushed breakfast cereals, pinhead oatmeal, uncooked porridge oats, hard fats such as mild cheese, fresh and dried fruit, cooked potatoes and cooked rice. Bread is only an ‘empty filler’ so not ideal and remember never to put out mouldy food. Also do make sure your ‘feeding station’ has good all round visibility and is well out of curious cat range!
A plentiful supply of clean water is essential for drinking and bathing; melt ice on frosty mornings with warm water, ensure the inside of your bird bath remains roughened and do remember to change the water regularly