This is such an exciting time of year, with so many beautiful colours in the garden to enjoy and Harvest Festival to look forward to! There are lots of lovely ideas of things that you can do to make the most of your garden now, and to ensure that your garden will look better than ever, next year!
If your fences are looking rather tatty or wobbly, have you considered planting a hedge? Hedges can be a very attractive feature of the garden, they also provide a much needed home for wildlife, and are more able to survive the perils of winter storms than fences.
Autumn is the perfect time of year to plant a new hedge. It’s worth seeking out specialist growers, and ordering your hedging plants as bare root specimens; small whips are more economical, plus these young plants will establish quickly, but if you desire a more finished look, (and are prepared to spend more) you can purchase older, larger plants. Please do remember, that if you’re planting larger hedging plants, these more mature specimens will need more care and attention, and regular watering over the coming year or two, to ensure that these plants establish well after planting.
Mycorrhizal fungi are a UK species of fungi that occur naturally in the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi have a special symbiotic growing relationship with some plants – the fungi and plant effectively work together to create a stronger, wider reaching, root system, which benefits both the plant and the fungi. This more extensive root system helps the plant to be more able to withstand drought and stress, and enables the plant to establish more readily after planting. You can purchase a concentrated amount of these beneficial, naturally occurring, fungi at nurseries and garden centres. Mycorrhizal fungi are ideal to use when planting bare root hedging, roses, trees, shrubs, fruit trees, and bushes, and this is the ideal time to plant these plants.
It’s important to make the time to regularly water and check on your new hedging once you’ve planted it, to ensure that your new hedging plants have best chance to establish themselves, especially if you have ordered more mature hedging plants – as these plants will need regular checks and watering for the next two years to ensure they establish themselves in their new position. Larger hedging plants will also require sturdy supports to prevent them from becoming dislodged in the wind.
If your hedge is to offer the maximum benefit to wildlife, it’s important that you allow the base of your hedge to grow right down to the ground. This small, but vitally important aspect of the manner in which you cultivate your hedge, provides much needed shelter for hedgehogs and other mammals. Many hedgehogs nest and take refuge under hedges, as do other mammals and birds. Hedges are a brilliant and beautiful feature, which you can cheaply and easily establish in your garden. Why not create your own edible hedge?
Autumn is a good time of year to assess and re-evaluate your garden. This is a good time to move any plants that have become too big for their current situation, or just don’t look right where they are. Autumn brings an opportunity to find ways to improve the structure and appearance of the planting in your garden. You may need some help and assistance if you’re moving a big plant or tree. Use a fork, and always lift as large a root ball as is possible whenever you’re moving plants. It’s worth applying some mycorrhizal fungi to help the plant establish its roots in a new position, water well, and stake if necessary when re-planting. Add home-made compost, or your own soil improver, to enrich the soil, then apply a mulch to conserve moisture and help suppress weeds. It’s often good to have a rearrange. You could improve your garden, and the view from your house or flat, so it’s worthwhile taking time out for a cup of tea, whilst evaluating your view, to check whether you’re making the most of your plants and garden.
Remove any unripe figs from outdoor plants now. Unless your fig is grown inside a greenhouse or conservatory, at this time of year, the immature figs on your plants are never going to ripen on plants grown outside in the UK. It’s the teeny, tiny, embryonic fruit buds, that look like little tiny petit pois peas along the fig’s branches, which will remain on the plants overwinter. These tiny buds will then develop and ripen, when the weather warms up next year. So leave these tiny embryonic fruit buds alone, and just remove the larger fruits. Do watch out for the white latex that weeps from fig trees – it is an irritant, so it’s advisable to wear gloves while carrying out this task, and then to wash your hands immediately afterwards.
It’s the ideal time to plant clematis, as the soil is still warm and is usually moist at this time of year. Avoid purchasing severely pot-bound clematis, instead look for healthy plants, ideally carrying three or four stems. Species and small flowered clematis have the advantage of not being prone to wilt, and so do not benefit from deep planting. However most clematis do benefit from this practice. Planting clematis deeply – with a number of clematis buds and stems buried below soil level, allows the plant to be better equipped to regenerate if an attack of wilt occurs. Mulch your clematis plants with well-rotted manure, or garden compost and cover with sharp grit, to keep the roots cool, and protect from slugs and snails.
This is the ideal time to add to your plant collections and improve your garden for next year, the soil is still warm, and is usually moist – providing the perfect conditions to plant out beautiful new shrubs, clematis, perennials, fruit trees, and other plants, which can establish themselves readily now. When purchasing plants at your local nursery, look for healthy plants, which are ideally suited to the soil conditions and aspect your garden provides. If you would like to grow more plants beneficial to bees and other pollinating insects, look out for the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ Logo when purchasing plants, or ask advice at your local nursery or garden centre.
It is a good time to sow seeds of single flowered forms of Calendula officinalis, Limnanthes douglasii (poached egg plant), Papaver rhoeas, Nigella damascena, and Centaurea cyanus, these plants provide a valuable source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects. Limnanthes douglasii is a really beneficial plant to grow, it attracts bees and hoverflies – hoverfly larvae feed on aphids, they are a wonderful insect to encourage into your garden.
There are so many pretty spring flowering bulbs, corms and tubers you can plant now to provide colour, interest, and much needed nectar for insects in the spring. Alliums, Camassia, Chionodoxa, Crocus, Cyclamen, Eranthis, Eremurus, Erythronium, Fritillarias, Galanthus (Snowdrops), Hyacinths, Iris, Leucojum, Lily, Muscari, Narcissus (daffodils), Ornithogalum, and Scillas, can all be planted now. If your soil is heavy, place a handful of sharp sand into the planting hole, to help prevent the bulb sitting in water during any spells of inclement weather.
If you have a problem with squirrels removing your bulbs, protect them using chicken wire: plant your bulbs as normal and cover with soil, then place the wire over the bulbs and cover with more soil. Another squirrel deterrent is economy soap, squirrels hate Stearic acid which is found in cheap soap, and will avoid the area. Grating the soap increases the surface area and means you can sprinkle the soap where it’s required.
It is well worth dedicating time and effort to your lawn in September, as any work you do now will benefit your lawn throughout the year ahead. Rake up fallen leaves from your lawn as soon as possible, especially in wet weather. If left in situ, the leaves will block the sunlight from getting to the grass, fallen leaves can also harbour fungus and disease. Leave piles of leaves in out of the way locations, for wildlife. Raking also removes moss and thatch, which if allowed to build up too much, forms a carpet over the grass, heating up and drying out quickly in dry weather. In wet weather thatch acts like a sponge, absorbing any water, and preventing it from penetrating through to the soil below. A moderate amount of thatch is beneficial to the lawn, but removing the excess now will allow for easier mowing, and a better looking lawn next year.
It’s the ideal time to aerate your lawn, use either a hollow tine fork, if you have one, or a garden fork. This is a good exercise to burn off any unwanted calories, as you need to really drive the fork into the lawn and then give it a good wiggle back and forth, to really make a difference and ease any compaction. It’s the perfect time to sow grass seed in any bare patches or lay turf if you wish to. Make sure you have selected a seed suitable for the type of lawn you want to have, and for the conditions present. Store the grass seed in the freezer for a few days before sowing – the sudden change in temperature will help the seed germinate more readily.
If you have (or are planning) a meadow, sow yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) seeds into scarified patches of bare soil, amongst grasses now. Yellow Rattle is hemi-parasitic on grass; it weakens grass a little, which allows other meadow flowers to establish themselves, and helps prevent the grasses taking over, which they are naturally keen to do! Other meadow flowers and seed mixes can be sown now, although on heavy clay soils it is worth delaying sowing seed until spring time.
Prune summer fruiting raspberries now. Remove the canes that have already fruited, cutting them back to soil level with secateurs. Then carefully tie in the new season’s growth to supports. These new canes will provide you with raspberries next year. Protect yourself by wearing gloves and a long sleeved jumper for this job, as it easy to get numerous scratches, some of which appear hours after you’ve finished gardening!
Take hardwood cuttings of currants and gooseberries now.
Sow green manures such as Winter field bean (Vica faba), Vicia sativa (Vetch or winter tares) or Rye (Secale cereale).
Sow sweet peas in Rootrainers or deep pots that allow for their long roots.
Leave piles of leaves and logs in out of the way areas, for hibernating hedgehogs and other creatures.
Pot up prepared Hyacinths for winter flowering.
Net ponds before leaf fall.
Look out for snail and slugs eggs under pots and stones in your garden and remove them; the more eggs you remove now the less of a snail and slug problem you’ll have next year. To see the results of my Slug and Snail Trial and discover the most effective methods to protect your plants from slugs and snails, please click here.
Prune climbing roses, rambling roses, and weeping standards now.
Let sunflowers go to seed, to provide extra food for birds.
In the greenhouse reduce ventilation and humidity levels. Remove greenhouse shading.
Enjoy the wonderful light and colours that this time of year brings, and make the most of your garden or allotment this autumn!
This article was first published in the mid-September 2013 edition of the Surrey and Hants News.
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