I love autumn as much as I love spring. The colours on the trees and the bare stems of shrubs like ‘Cornus’ or ‘Dogwood’ as commonly named, are simply stunning. The days may be shorter at this time of year, but that makes the daylight hours even more precious in the garden. Here are a few ideas to get you out and about and busy in the garden for the next month or so.
Autumn is a time to do a little housekeeping outside, clean your tools, order seeds and generally give your garden a good tidy. But it is also the time to plant bulbs such as Tulips for spring colour, as well as many varieties of shrub and trees.
Don’t be tempted to cut back some plants too soon though. Plants such as ‘Sedum Spectabile’ and some of the grasses like ‘Miscanthus’ and “Carex Pendula’ look magical when left to catch the early frosts. Small birds such as Goldfinches will still feast on seeds from perennials like ‘Phlomis’ and ‘Echinecea’, so leave the flower heads on if you can.
It is a good idea to clear the garden of fallen leaves (a never ending task it seems at times) and resist the temptation to burn them by making your very own leaf mulch. You can very easily make a container using a chicken wire as a frame to put the leaves in and stop them blowing about and very soon you will have a wonderful soil improver. Remove leaves from paths as these are trip hazards especially when wet.
November is also the perfect time to plant bare rooted roses, which will be cheaper than container grown ones. Make sure when planting roses you prepare the soil properly by digging in plenty of organic matter with some bonemeal and if your roses have arrived by post, soak the roots in a bucket of water for a good few hours before planting. Dig the hole twice the width of the plant’s roots and make sure the graft union (where the cultivar joins the rootstock) is at soil level. Give your roses a good soak after planting and cover with a layer of mulch. Some people say adding banana skins when planting roses, improves the soil quality by adding nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous to the soil as they start to break down.
As the soil is still warm, this is also a good time to plant hedges and trees. As with roses, many hedging plants and trees will be available as bare-root or root balls wrapped in hessian. Plant as soon as possible, and new research suggests not digging circular hole for a tree but a square one, and to avoid planting too deeply as the roots spread outwards. Do not plant in frozen or water logged soil and don’t let your newly planted hedges or trees sit in pools of water. Make sure you stake your trees firmly to prevent wind damage.
Container plants need protection from frosts, which can damage the roots so either, bring them indoors where possible or if the pot is too big use hessian or bubble wrap around them. Placing pots together outdoors near a wall away from sharp winds will also help with more protection. Remember, frost resistant does not necessarily mean frost proof, so check pots before buying.
If you are planting tulips into pots, plant them two to three times the depth of the bulb, and if you are unsure which way up to plant, lay them on their side as the stem will always find it’s way up. Make sure when selecting bulbs you choose big fat firm ones and avoid any that show signs of mould. Some smaller bulbs won’t flower in the first year. If you are planting your bulbs in the garden, plant them deeply and if you have a problem with squirrels put some chicken wire around the area to form a small cage.
Tie is whippy shoots on climbers to prevent them being blown about and damaged in strong winds and check your fencing for any signs of weakness. With less plant growth on fences, pergolas and trellises, this is the perfect time to do any structural repairs and see what you are doing.
If you have a vegetable garden this is a good time to dig over the area allowing any rain to get into the soil and improve the structure making it easier to cultivate in the spring. There are still some hardy vegetables that can be sown now too such as garlic and broad beans to extend the season.
For those of you lucky enough to have a pond, if you haven’t already cleared the debris, before it gets too cold it is best to try where possible if your pond is small enough, to net over it to collect any fallen leaves. If your pond has fish, try and remove as many dead plants and foliage as you can. Leaving rotting plants in the water if it becomes frozen, will produce toxic gases and may kill your fish.
And lastly if we get snow at this time of the year or a bit later ( good for killing off many bugs and diseases) don’t despair about any damage to plants, as blankets of snow will act as a natural duvet, keeping plants warm underneath. In fact frost does a lot more damage than snow as it causes water in the plant cells to freeze damaging the cell wall. Try and avoid walking on your lawn if it snows as this can ‘burn’ the grass below.
Flowers may be scarce in the garden at this time of year but embrace the berries, decorative bark and evergreen foliage which adds interest on the dullest of days and enjoy the late autumn colours.
Claudia de Yong