Gardening Tips

Cutting back and sorting out – Growhow tips for early October


There is a certain wistfulness at the start of October about another summer gone by, but this month has its glories too – be sure to stop and appreciate the coming autumn colours and harvests while you are busy cutting-back or making leaf-mould amongst other tasks…..

Pruning for protection

The usual time for the serious pruning of summer-flowering shrubs like Lavatera, Buddleia and bush roses is early spring, and rest assured, I will be doing that during March next year.  But these plants can become big leggy bushes by the end of the 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. This is particularly important with roses which suffered from blackspot this summer – fungal diseases like this can overwinter and infect the plant again next year.

A judicious cut-back will stop them rocking about too much

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.

Leaves for a lovely garden

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. After all, it’s exactly what Nature does every year in a wood or copse, providing the perfect environment for the trees to grow – Real Recycling! 

In a nutshell, the process is Gather, Water, Leave Alone. Using a rake is my normal method but using a mower 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.


Use the leaves you rake up to make a fabulous leaf-mould out of them

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.  They 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.

A natural carpet of leaves mulching the ground beneath trees – let’s copy them!

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.

Gardening shorts

  • A few weeks ago we 3Growbags invited you to add to our list of plants that have become more enemies than friends in our garden, and we promised you an update. Here are the suggestions that came in (and I daresay, you may be nodding like me in recognition as you read through it!) : teasels, Cornus, ‘Kiftsgate’ and ‘Bobbie James’ roses, some Crocosmia, wild strawberries, lily-of-the-valley, snowberry (Symphoricarpus), Alchemilla mollis, willowherb, violets and spearmint. You have been warned……………………
Alchemilla mollis – too much of a good thing?
  • It’s a great time to turn your compost heap, before any creatures choose it as their hibernation spot – I talked more about this in a blog last year – link at the bottom.
  • A friend asked me the other day for suggestions for making the pots on his flat balcony look bright during the winter – I reckon he should go for some of the berrying shrubs that often keep their berries on for months and months – Cotoneaster, Pyracantha (as in our feature pic this week), Pernettya or Gaultheria (use ericaceous compost for this one). Some winter-flowering pansies, Cyclamen and early miniature Narcissi tucked around these, and his balcony should look just as welcoming in winter as in summer!
Gaultheria procumbens
Gaultheria procumbens – bright welcoming colour for a winter pot
  • There is something very lovely about ‘see-through’ plants like the ornamental grasses we saw so much of at the September Chelsea Flower Show this year. Verbena bonariensis is one such, airily dancing around plants but never blocking them, and utterly covered in butterflies , bees and even goldfinches. A while back I read a great tip about propagating them : you can of course collect the seed you’re not leaving for the birds, but in October you can also layer them – take tall healthy stems, bend them to the ground, and cover them with soil at each leaf node. As long as they don’t dry out, you apparently have new plants growing from the covered points by April next year – magic! You then just cut each one off from the parent plant and plant them wherever you want them. I am DEFINITELY going to try that!
Verbena – try layering them for lots more!

The link to the blog where I talk about compost-making amongst lots of other things is here.

We are branching out a little! I have made a podcast of this blog which you can access here.

NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

4 replies on “Cutting back and sorting out – Growhow tips for early October”

Hi Caroline, Elaine here. Well, as I said in the blog, I haven’t tried this myself yet, but read that layering a verbena works well: you take 4-5 stems, cut the seedbeds off, and bend them down to the ground without snapping them off from the parent plant. Cover each stem-section that contains a leaf-node with soil (I might try to pin the stem down with bits of bent wire too). Try to keep the stems moist all winter, and with luck and a following wind, next spring you should see new growth coming from those leaf-nodes meaning that they have rooted. Cut your new plants off from the parent plant, and plant them wherever you want to. Good luck – hope we both have success!

I planted your suggested tubs last Spring and had a fantastic showing of the Pineapple plant . Can I save the heads and plant the seeds next Spring?
Christine MacDowel

Hello Christine, yes the pineapple plants were terrific weren’t they, but alas certainly down here in the south, the summer wasn’t South African enough to induce the watsonias or the agapanthus to strut their stuff in the way I had hoped (maybe next summer??…). But yes the Eucomis comes well from seed and grows quite quickly into flowering size. I would wait a bit longer until the seed pods have become dry and papery rather than fleshy and then pick them and remove the seed. Store it in a cool but dry space over the winter then sow in pots in spring, indoors if there’s likely to still be a frost, otherwise outdoors. Only cover with a very thin layer of compost (or grit/vermiculite) as they need light to germinate. You can also propagate them by splitting the bulbs once they have bulked up a bit and produced offsets. Remember to put your pot of bulbs somewhere frost free for the winter, or if space is a problem you can let them dry out completely then lift the bulbs and store in a paper bag or net somewhere cool indoors for the winter. Good luck! Laura

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