The lovely autumn leaves are starting to flutter and fall, and it’s no longer possible to ignore the shortening of the days now – our wonderful summer has come to an end at last, and we gardeners must think about winter-protection, as well as planning for next year, even while we are savouring the gorgeous colours and scents of autumn.
The usual time for pruning shrubs like Lavatera, Buddleia and bush roses is early spring, and I will still be doing that during March next year. But these plants can become big leggy bushes by the end of a summer, and those long stems can make them prone to wind-damage in equinoctial gales and harsh winter weather. So I like to cut them back now by about one-third to one-half, so that high winds are less likely to rock them loose in the soil. At the same time, I will remove any manure-mulch from the soil around them and clear up any fallen leaves, particularly of roses which suffered from blackspot this summer, as fungal diseases like this can overwinter and infect the plant again next year. Don’t forget though that there are some more tender plants, like kniphofias and penstemons, that will need MORE mulch at this time of year, just to give their crowns more protection from deep frost.
LOVING THE LEAVES
Okay, I know that clearing the fallen leaves from the garden and the paths and the lawn can often be a very tiresome task, especially on a breezy day. But you can ease the irritation of it a little if the job is helping you to make a fabulous free mulch or compost for your garden. It’s called Leaf Mould, and even if you have just a very small garden, it’s worth doing. In a nutshell, the process is Gather, Water, Leave Alone.
Using a rake is my usual method, but a lawnmower on a high-blade
setting will pick up leaves on a lawn very well, and this has the added advantage of chopping them up which aids the process. It won’t matter at all if you end up with a bit of grass in there too. Gather the leaves into ………something! I suppose the very best option would be an airy wire enclosure, but it doesn’t really matter. Moisture and air are the two main requirements, and I have had great results from a couple of black plastic bin-liners with a few holes punched in the bottom with a fork. Black is the best colour for the bags as this colour absorbs more heat from the sun, which aids the fungal process.
Water the leaves really well and keep them moist all winter. Dry leaves will take much longer to make leaf mould. The heap will not need turning or the addition of accelerators like ordinary compost because it’s actually fungi that perform the magic trick rather than decomposition (I suppose the clue is in the name ‘Leaf Mould’!) In 6 months you will have a really good mulch to use all round the garden, and in 12 months, you will have a delicious, sweet-smelling dark brown potting compost or soil conditioner.
Just a word about different leaves: it’s reckoned that oak, beech and hornbeam make the best and quickest leaf mould; sycamore, walnut and horse-chestnut can take longer and evergreens such as holly, bay and cherry laurel can be much slower, unless shredded. If pine needles are put into their own separate leaf-mould pile, they will create a wonderful mulch to use beneath ericaceous plants like rhododendrons, camellias or blueberries.
PLANTING FOR SPRING
Here we go with the great bulb-planting season, and it’s usually best to start with the daffs. These prefer to have a longer growing season than say, tulips. Whether you’re planting your narcissi (the generic name for all daffodils and narcissi) in a garden border, naturalising them in grass, or putting them in pots, there’s an easy rule of thumb for the planting depth:
In any ordinary soil, plant the bulb (flat side downwards) in a hole two times deeper than the bulb’s width at its fattest point. So for instance, a bulb that’s 2 inches wide, should be planted 4 inches deep.
The only variation on this is if your soil is very sandy or light, when you should plant the bulb 3 times deeper than its width, instead.
Cover the bulb with soil and firm it down. Then just try to make sure that the soil stays moistish until the leaves appear.
* Some of your decorative pots may well need some protection to prevent them from cracking in frosty weather, so don’t forget to cover them in fleece or bubble-wrap, if you can’t bring them under cover
* You can sow some broad bean seeds now to give you a harvest 3-4 weeks ahead of spring-sown seeds. ‘Masterpiece’ and ‘Stereo’ are two good varieties to try for autumn- sowing.
* We have a quince tree which has exquisite, though fleeting
blossom in spring, and is now laden with heavy aromatic fruit. These should be picked when they change from light green-yellow to golden-yellow and stored in a cool dark dry area, but not for too long before being used to make fragrant jams, jellies or that delectable quince cheese known as Membrillo. A bowl of this fruit will fill the room with a lovely spicy honeyed scent.