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  • Chair & Louise

The Arrival of Autumn

It feels as though summer is barely over before the gardener’s thoughts of next spring begin. With shortening days, cooler nights and heavy dew on the lawn in the mornings, the season of mists is on the way. There is plenty waiting to be harvested and suddenly it feels like there is lots to be getting on with! Time spent now will hopefully leave you in good stead for spring so don your gardening gloves, grab a rake, your secateurs and have a good tidy. Don't forget that there are also some things that you can still be sowing for eating now or early in the spring.

Perennials, Shrubs and Trees

● Collect seeds from perennials and annuals for sowing in the spring. Ensure they are labelled and stored somewhere cool and dry.

● Continue to deadhead perennials, particularly dahlias to encourage flowering until the first hard frost.

● Autumn and early spring are good times to plant or move evergreen shrubs, while the soil is still relatively warm and moist. This gives time for the roots to establish themselves before the winter cold sets in. If transplanting, dig around the rootball to remove as much of it as possible and ask for an extra pair of hands if it is a particularly large plant.

● Take hardwood cuttings of roses. Select a shoot of about pencil thickness, approximately 30cm long. Remove the soft growing tip and all leaves except the top three sets. Trim the base of the cutting immediately below a node. Cuttings can then be placed in a tray or containers with two-thirds of their length buried beneath the surface. They should root and be ready to transplant to their flowering positions next autumn.

● Prune climbing roses as flowers start to fade. If they are still going strong, this can wait until next month. Start by removing any dead, damaged or diseased wood. Then look for new shoots that might be worth tying in and old stems that need to be removed. Prune all the side shoots from the existing framework back to two or three buds. Don’t forget to clear fallen leaves from the base of the roses as well in order to prevent the spread of diseases.

● Plant new perennials. Remember to choose plants carefully to ensure they are right for your garden, soil and specific planting position.

● Divide existing herbaceous perennials, particularly those that have become bare in the centre. Clumps that need dividing can be lifted and, using two forks back to back, can be prised apart. Smaller pieces can be pulled apart by hand. At the time of replanting, refresh the soil with organic matter. Remember to water in well after transplanting.

● Support tall-growing clumps of asters so that they are not blown over in windy conditions. The easiest way to provide support now is by placing 3 or 4 canes around the plant and winding string around the canes to enclose all the stems.

● This is the main month for planting spring-flowering bulbs for bursts of colour next spring, including daffodils, scilla, grape hyacinth and crocuses. Bulbs can be planted in containers or naturalised in grass. Just remember to hold off on the tulip bulbs - it’s a little early to plant those yet. The best time for tulips is in November when we’ve had some frosts.

● Keep an eye on the weather forecast as tender perennials will need lifting before the first autumn frost hits. This includes pelargoniums, osteospermums and lantanas. They need to be taken under cover in a cool, frost-free place over winter as high temperatures will encourage spindly growth. Now is also a good time to remove yellowing leaves and spent flowers; don’t be afraid to give them a hard prune.

● Now is a good time to propagate pelargoniums as well. Take a 1 ½-3 inch cutting and remove any lower leaves, flower buds and the leader. Insert the cuttings around the edge of a pot filled with a mix of 50% compost and 50% grit. Leave them somewhere warm to root. Remember to keep the compost moist but not too wet. They should root in 2-3 weeks. Keep them frost free and pot on if roots are appearing at the base of the pot.

Kitchen Garden

● Harvest marrows, pumpkins and squashes, leaving them out in the sun for a couple of weeks or inside a greenhouse to ripen and dry off before storing them in a cool, dark place. Try to ensure that ripening fruit isn’t sitting directly on damp or wet soil. They should keep well until after Christmas.

● Begin harvesting root vegetables for storing, including beetroot, carrot and turnip. Do not attempt to store any damaged roots; these should be used straight away instead. Parsnips are best left in the ground for now as they benefit from a frost.

● Lift maincrop potatoes by the end of this month. This is best done on a warm, sunny day and they should be left out on the surface to dry out. Only store undamaged ones, in paper sacks tied at the neck. They should be stored in a dark, frost-free place.

● Lift and dry any remaining onions to be harvested and bring them into a cool, dry storage before the damp autumn weather sets in.

● Sow some winter varieties of lettuce (e.g. ‘Winter Density’) in shallow drills and cover with cloches. Thin the seedlings to 15cm apart when they are large enough to handle.

● Plant garlic now so that it has a period of cold weather to enable it to grow well. Buy good quality bulbs that have been specially cultivated for planting. They should be planted 10-15 cm apart on a sunny site in well-draining soil.

● Plant onion sets in shallow drills 8cm apart. Firm the earth around each set so that the tips are only just visible. Onion sets benefit from a chance to get growing before winter sets in.

● Plant out spring cabbages 15cm apart in rows 30cm apart. Every other plant can be harvested as spring greens, leaving the others to heart up. It’s best to cover the plants with netting or fleece to prevent birds from eating your crop (or any cabbage white butterflies that are still lingering about the garden).

● Keep harvesting autumn-fruiting raspberries. Once the fruit has been harvested, leave the canes unpruned until late winter or early spring.

● Continue harvesting fruit as it ripens. Cooking varieties of apples and pears may not be ready for picking until nearer the end of the month and into October. Handle all fruits as gently as possible, individually wrapping each fruit and only storing those that are unblemished.

● Continue to harvest tomatoes as they colour up. Remove some of the leaves to increase the amount of light that reaches the trusses of fruit; this will speed up ripening and increase ventilation around the plant, reducing the likelihood of botrytis. Most tomato plants in the greenhouse should keep producing fruit until well into October and possibly November even if the plant itself looks far from healthy.

Other Jobs

● Start mowing the lawn less frequently as the growth of the grass begins to slow down with the cooler temperatures. Now is also a good time to remove thatch, aerate and top dress the lawn to keep it in good condition. Bare patches can also be re-seeded.

● Start preparing your greenhouse for winter. If you haven’t already done so, remove any shading and, now that nights are getting longer and cooler, reduce watering and ventilation. It can also be a good time to clean your greenhouse before you move tender perennials inside for winter protection.

● You might also need to start clearing fallen leaves from lawns and other areas of the garden. Leaves can be collected and stored in bags to be used as leaf mulch once well rotted.

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