After all the intense events and emotions of the past couple of weeks, it’s good to get back to some quiet and reflective early Autumn tasks in the garden, like tidying perennials, planting hyacinths, collecting seeds and moving evergreens…
Are you one of those gardeners who likes everything neat and trim through the whole winter? I know some folk do, and it’s a fair cop. Having a total blitz on all the summer-flowering plants and shrubs now, means that you can survey your patch with a calm sense of control while you’re wrapping Christmas presents and sipping mulled wine. I am afraid I’m not one of those people, as you can probably see from the featured image this week!
I’ve become convinced over the years that leaving much of the dying foliage on until early spring protects the crowns of many plants, protects the soil surface, and provides important cover and food for many birds, small mammals and insects. BUT sometimes if I’ve left everything soggy and blackened, the borders can look just too depressingly messy for too long.
So my strategy (which might work for you as well) is to work my way along a section of the garden at a time, assessing each plant for its winter value. Has it got some nice seedheads, hips or berries on it? Yes? It can stay as it is until springtime. Does it cover the soil preventing weeds from germinating, even though the flowers are long gone? Yup, that’s fine too. Are its straggly old flower-stems and foliage leaning about all over the place especially over paths, a spring bulb area or evergreens? Then I’ll whip out the secateurs and give it a really good back-and-sides.
If you live in an area that’s prone to hard winter frosts, I would say that it is especially important to keep this autumn cut-back to a minimum – a tent of old stems can really help to shield the heart of a plant from deep cold penetration, and it’s standard practice to cover the crowns of plants like Gunnera with their old leaves for exactly this reason.
Letting the grass grow
Over the past 20 years, ornamental grasses have soared in popularity, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be without mine, particularly for value in providing contrasts in texture and their ‘see-through’ qualities.
But what a price they are now! If you or a friend already have some, do consider collecting seeds from them now to sow next spring. Lots of them would make enough growth to provide you with good garden-worthy plants by the end of the summer. And they would be FREE! (apart from a bit of effort on your part).
Lots and lots of grasses can be propagated in this way – Cortaderia (pampas grass), Briza, Festuca, Miscanthus, Pennisetum, Stipa, Eriophorum (this is that lovely fluffy-looking hare’s tail cotton grass), Anemanthele (pheasant grass)……….even Sanguisorba can be easily grown from seed.
Here’s how to do it:
- Choose a dry day to cut off mature seedheads with a short length of stem.
2. Make a note of the name of the grass on an envelope.
3. Gently pull the seedheads apart, clear away any chaff and seal the cleaned seeds in the envelope.
4. Keep the envelope in a cool, dry place until next spring when you should sow them thinly into modules of peat-free compost.
If you sowed some broad beans a few weeks ago, now is the time to plant them out into the garden. They will grow on through the winter to give you a welcome early crop of beans next year. Don’t forget to add some supports to tie the stems to, for some help in the teeth of winter gales.
Plant Madonna lilies now – this type of lily needs to be planted early and shallow. Laura shows you how to do it in a video – link is at the end.
Early autumn is a good time to move evergreen shrubs if you need to. The shrub gets the chance to put on some root growth before winter while the ground is still warm. Water the plant well the day before. Lever it up keeping as much soil as possible round the roots, move it straight away to its new position, backfill the hole then give the whole area a really good soaking.
I got fed up with a tall woody old Hibiscus that looked pretty awful next to the garden path so I cut it down to a stump this spring. But I never got around to digging out the stump. And look what it’s done now! It’s full of 4′ tall shoots that I bet will be full of flowers next year! You can’t keep a good plant down, can you. The lesson here is clearly this: if you don’t like what a shrub is doing in your garden, hack it right back and see if it can improve itself before giving it the old heave-ho entirely.
It’s a good idea to get your main spring-bulb planting finished by the end of September, though leave tulips till November. Caroline has been doing her bulbs using the great National Trust dibber we’ve got in our shop. Again, link at the end.
Give Amaryllis a nice little ‘rest’ now before their busy season! Stop watering them and let their leaves die down before cutting them off. After 10-12 weeks, move the bulbs into a bright sunny position indoors and start feeding and watering again.
This is the link to my border walk-through.
Here is Laura’s chat about planting Lilium candidum.
And here Caroline is giving you the low-down about planting spring bulbs.
And here’s the link to that bulb dibber!
Finally, and you may have already caught up with this from our Twitter or Facebook posts, (and it’s nothing to do with gardening!), but Laura has written a moving account of her time in The Queue for the Queen
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