Garden Gnome: Autumn

Our trusty Gnome is back on the case with a list of lovely gardening chores to carry out over the coming season.


It’s the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness so most fruits and vegetables need to be harvested to store or freeze except the hardy winter ones which can stay where they are until needed; weed and clear beds before winter. Top Tip: while the soil is warm get organic matter into the ground the easy way: sow newly cleared beds with green manures. Compost and well-rotted manure can be spread on moist soil now too to feed the soil overwinter.  On thin, easily draining chalk soils, you might want to cover this with something like cardboard so the winter rains don’t wash all the nutrients out of the soil.  Or wait until early spring to mulch.

Hardy annuals such as calendula (pot marigold) and nigella (love in a mist) can be sown now for early flowers. September isn’t too late to sow winter salads including chard and lettuce, and you can even overwinter runner or climbing beans in a frost-free site.

Plant Japanese onion sets and garlic from mid-September, also spring cabbage, [protect from butterflies and pigeons with fine netting over a frame]. Plant broad beans for an early spring crop.  Give leeks and winter brassicas a feed. Plant spring bulbs; take hardwood cuttings in October.

Start saving seeds, collect into paper bags and put to dry thoroughly; remember to label and date. More detail can be found on the seedy sunday website.

Do a final turn to the compost bins to let in more air. The semi-rotted stuff half filling the bins may be too wet or too dry to be ideal, so remake it like lasagne: into a new bin put a layer of dry then a layer of soggy and so on, if it’s all too wet add some crumpled cardboard or newspaper.  Keep covered over winter, even if not perfect by spring it can go into spud and bean trenches. There are plenty of spent crops to fill the bins now; try to fill a whole bin in two days to cook it fast, activators like chicken pellets, seaweed meal or human pee help; turn contents after two weeks to reheat. Bring the worm bin somewhere sheltered for the winter, or even bring it indoors.

Winter pruning: hedges and shrubs can be trimmed and tidied, removing any dead, diseased or congested wood, (not conifers, nor those that will flower before the longest day;) large shrubs like hazel, elder and buddleia can be coppiced almost to the ground. Apples and pears can be pruned between November and March, and blackcurrant bushes reduced by a third, cutting the oldest stems down to the ground. Trees and bushes planted  this year may need  protection from frost, snow and wind; rake mulches away from fruit trees so that birds can eat the soil dwelling pests; put grease bands around the trunks of apple and pear trees to stop the wingless female coddling moth from climbing.

Planting: bare rooted trees (including fruit trees and bushes), shrubs, hedges and roses can be planted from November throughout the winter; on heavy wet soil its best to wait until February so that the roots aren’t rotting in the cold and damp, but now is a good time to do it on well drained land as there is still a little warmth left for the roots to settle into. Be sure that the ground is well cleared of perennial weed roots and has organic matter added, plus a handful of bone-meal. For winter fragrance, plant a scented winter flowering shrub near to the house; Christmas box: Sarcococca confusa; Winter honeysuckle: Lonicera fragrantissima; Viburnum X bodnantense are all good choices.

Repairs and renewals: it’s a good time to mend paths, fences, bed edging, compost bins and sheds; tools can be cleaned, sharpened and oiled.

Cleaning: The greenhouse can be emptied out, sterilised with a sulphur candle and given a good clean, scrub the staging and clean the glass before insulating; check plants for pests and diseases before bringing them in to over-winter. Get ahead by cleaning pots and seed-trays. Tidy the shed and chuck out anything no longer needed. Clean out bird nest boxes and put food out for them. If pond plants are congested it’s a good time to thin them; put netting back afterwards to keep autumn leaves out.

Wrap up warm and enjoy the autumn colours.

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