With the season of change hanging in the air, we are about to come up to Autumn when our gardens start becoming neglected and need preparing for the Winter. We have all enjoyed sitting out, enjoying and admiring our gardens this Summer, basking in the hot sunshine and planting beautiful, colourful flowers in our borders and containers. But if we want to keep enjoying our outdoor space and avoid looking out at a dreary, lifeless, overgrown mess for the rest of the year then we’ve got to do a small amount of work now to ensure it stays healthy for next year.
Start your compost
First things first, there will be lots of dying leaves and plants to clear out – so put your plant waste to good use and fill a compost container. It is essential to replace the goodness in soil and autumn produces plenty of waste for feeding your soil next spring. Using grabbers or a rake, collect all the debris from your garden and pack it into a container, compost bin or bag which you can buy from your local garden centre or request from the council.
The key to successful composting is maintaining a balance between carbon and nitrogen materials in the compost bin. A healthy compost pile should have about two-thirds carbon (brown) materials and one-third nitrogen (green) materials. The carbon-rich materials provide aeration to speed up the composting process, eliminate foul odours, and help produce a light, fluffy finished compost.
In the Spring you’ll be able to use your compost as mulch, to top dress your beds, feed your vegetable patch, add to container, fertilise roses, and much more! Plus you’ll be keeping your garden looking clean and tidy from all the falling leaves.
Reduce your watering
There will still be the occasional hot day of sun, so keep an eye on your hanging baskets and make sure to water in the evenings to give your plants time to absorb it. Remember to keep watering thoroughly once or twice a week rather than little and often. Containers and hanging baskets need watering every day.
Regularly deadhead roses and other flowering shrubs to encourage new buds, extending the flowering season as long as possible. Once you’ve harvested your crops and planted up your seedlings, you can empty out the greenhouse and give it a deep clean to prevent pests. As there will be reduced sunlight, you’ll want to keep the glass clean as possible for it to reach the remaining plants that will be brought inside to overwinter.
We also recommend collecting and putting away any plant supports that are no longer needed. You may be tempted to get rid off all the flowers that have gone over but leave some that have gone to seed, for the birds and squirrels to eat.
Prune and shape
Autumn is a busy season in the pruning calendar, the perfect time to remove old growth to get plants into shape. Many plants that have played a starring role in borders in summer will need tidying up in autumn – cut back dead stems and top growth to prevent fungal diseases from setting in.
Fruit bushes such as currants and gooseberries will benefit from thinning out, while perennials that lack decorative seed heads should be cut back to the ground. Autumn is also the time to prune tender plants such as lavender and rosemary, which won’t withstand pruning in winter.
Our wildlife expert says “I always leave the ornamental grasses. I never cut them back until the spring. That’s partly because they look good in winter, but it’s also because it does give a lot of little creatures a little bit of nesting material for hibernating.”
Autumn is the perfect month for tree planting. Winter can be too cold if the ground is frozen or there is snow forecast, and Summer can be too hot. In autumn, temperatures are still well above freezing and the soil is moist thanks to plenty of rainfall.
Ensure trees or shrubs planted on grass have a clear circle of earth around them. Grass on these areas will prevent essential moisture from getting through. Mulching with bark or compost will help.
Any gardening professional will tell you to plant your trees in the Autumn so that they will be allowed to gently settle their root systems before the onset of the harshest winter months and because generally, the soil has practically perfect conditions i.e. warm, moist and most importantly easy to dig.
So plant your container-grown shrubs, trees, fruit bushes, perennials and bulbs now.
Plant Spring bulbs
Autumn is the best time to plant spring bulbs, because the soil is still warm. You can leave planting tulips until November and alliums until early December but the smaller, early bulbs need to be in by the end of September if you want them to flower in March.
It may sound like a cliché, but spring bulbs really do add a touch of sparkle and much-needed colour when little else wants to show itself above the cold soil. Bright, beautiful blooms such as Hyacinth, Daffodils, Crocus and Allium are all on sale now at garden centres up and down the UK, with many special offers being included.
Keep tools handy
Gardening tools can cost a fair bit. And so, from the spade to the shovel, garden fork and all the other tools you regularly use, before you store them away for winter, they too need some care. Clean them off so that there is nothing to attract insects or rodents. Next, oil hinges and clasps such as on your secateurs and pruners so that they don’t seize over winter. Clean out water cans and the like too, leaving them to dry in an autumn breeze before putting away for winter.
Clean garden furniture
Now is also a great time to clean your garden furniture, any benches or dining sets, loungers and parasols that may have gathered rain and leaves, moss and lichen. Start gently, for teak especially, use mild soapy water and plenty of elbow grease. It’s better to avoid using strong chemicals, as this can damage the finish of the wood and impact its visual appeal. However, if you feel more comfortable using a ready-made product, there are lots of wood-friendly cleansers available to buy from your garden centre that you can use in conjunction with a soft cloth to wipe away grime.
If you’re tempted to speed things up and are already reaching for the pressure washer, you might want to reconsider. You’ll find video after video on the internet of members of the public recommending the use of a jet washer to clean teak and other wooden furniture but we cannot stress enough that this is not recommended!
Our furniture expert says “While power washing is very tempting to achieve quick results, aggressive spraying could destroy the cellulose fibres and structure of the wood, which could irretrievably damage your furniture. However, should you choose to use a power washer, turn the power down and do not direct the jet into the joints.”