September marks the traditional end to summer, as the schools start back and the leaves begin to colour up, but there’s no reason to think this is the end of being out in the garden until spring. There are as many, if not more, tasks out there now and over the coming months. Keen gardeners are busy all-year-round.
Your lawn may have struggled over the hot summer, so give it some TLC to help it cope with the winter. An autumn feed now will nourish the grass and toughen it up ready to face whatever the winter throws at it. Make sure it is an Autumn feed though, the last thing you want is lots of soft, lush growth that will need cutting into December.
Keep mowing until the growth slows down, but leave the setting slightly higher than in summer to protect the grass roots from frost. If your lawn suffers from moss or poor drainage, aerate it by pushing a garden fork into the grass to the full depth of the tines and rock it backwards and forwards to create holes. This allows water to drain or evaporate more quickly. On very heavy or solid soils, you can brush horticultural sand into the holes to keep them open.
If you are considering planting, then this is the ideal time while the soil is still warm. The roots will begin to grow immediately, giving the plant a better chance of surviving the winter and a head start next spring. Even deciduous plants are never completely dormant and will continue to grow, albeit very slowly, over the winter.
Don’t feed as you plant in autumn, because the plant won’t have time to use it and the winter rain will wash it away. Wait until spring and apply the fertiliser around the plant, fork it lightly into the surface and water well to wash it down to the root zone.
Saving seed is a great way to fill your garden for free next year. Collect it on a dry day and spread it out on newspaper or kitchen towel so you can remove any bits of leaf or debris or any damaged seeds. Dry seeds can be stored in small envelopes in an airtight container, such as a coffee jar, in a cool, dark, dry place until you are ready to sow. Make sure you label the seeds or you may get an unexpected result next year.
Most tree and shrub seeds need a period of cold in order to germinate (the equivalent of a winter) and should be either sown in seed trays outdoors or mixed with dry peat or sand and stored in plastic bags in the fridge for 3-4 months before sowing.
Stored well, the seed will keep until spring and possibly longer, but remember that these are living things and they will dry out over time. The percentage that germinate will reduce the longer the seed is kept.
Good hygiene is essential in the garden, especially where there has been a pest or disease problem this year. Fungal spores overwinter in wooden fences, walls, bark and on the soil so start by clearing away as much of the fallen debris as you can. Clearing underneath roses that have had black spot is particularly important, because any remaining spores will splash up onto the new foliage in spring and the whole problem will start again.
Once it’s empty, wash down the inside of your greenhouse with a cleaning solution to kill off spores and insect eggs. If the floor is paving or gravel, apply it there, too.
Go through all the bottles, jars and containers in your garden shed and be ruthless. Some chemicals and fertilisers will be out of date and should be disposed of (contact your local council for advice).
Rooting powder goes “off” and stops working, so if you had trouble with cuttings this year, check how old it is - take a tip from the professionals, tip out only as much as you need into a small saucer and close the top again immediately. Never dip cuttings into the tub of powder or you will contaminate it and it will go off even more quickly.
Mowers and tools
Whichever kind of mower you use, it will benefit from a little attention before being stored for winter. Clean off all the old grass, clear the vents and wipe the blade with light oil for protection.
Garden tools should be cleaned to remove soil residue, sharpened if required and wiped with oil. If you tend to lose track of smaller tools in the garden, paint the handles with brightly-coloured waterproof paint to make sure you can find them next time.
And finally, if you need some cheering up over the winter months, plant something that will be in flower. Many of the winter-flowering shrubs have a stronger fragrance in order to attract the few pollinating insects that are around. A tree like Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ flowers during warner spells all winter long and shrubs such as Viburnum, Sarcococca, Lonicera, Mahonia each produce good displays. Herbaceous perennials for a superb display include Helleborus and Bergenia and then there are bulbs like winter aconite, cyclamen and early crocus to help get you through until spring.
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