A real change in the air now as the garden takes on its autumn colours. There’s plenty to do as you pack away the outdoor furniture and make sure that your plants are ready to face the winter. Here are some ideas for tasks such as sowing Hardy Annuals and broad beans, laying a soil mulch, and taking hardwood cuttings – all the sorts of jobs that are usually done in the company of an inquisitive robin round here at this time of year……..
HARDY ANNUAL SEED-SOWING
Plants from annual seeds can complete their life-cycle in one summer and so it’s perfectly possible to sow this seed in early spring and get a super crop/show from them. But ‘Hardy’ means that they’ll withstand frost and by sowing them in autumn, you will get much earlier stronger flowers next year.
You don’t need a rich soil for most Hardy Annuals – grit for increased drainage is a handier thing to add to most soils rather than compost. Choose the area where you want them to flower, dig it over, pull out any weeds, and rake it. Sprinkle the seeds thinly and cover them with a bit more soil. Don’t sow the seed too thickly, as you will need to do a lot of thinning later which is so depressingly wasteful.
Keep the area moist but not drenched, and wait for results! Obviously, germination times vary – I find a lot of them come up and then just sit there for months doing very little, but that’s fine because they are gently growing a strong root system.
I have had very good results when sowing pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) in this way, as well as bishop’s weed (Ammi majus), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) and honesty (Lunaria annua). Many of the annual poppies would be fine grown in this way too, and that lovely quaking grass Briza maxima.
Broad beans can also be sown now, in a 2-3 inch (5 cm) -deep trench, in either a single or double row. It should ensure an earlier crop of delicious beans next summer, and even bring the bonus of less likelihood of black fly infestation.
HARDWOOD CUTTINGS ARE NOT HARD!
This is a crazily simple way of increasing your stock of many deciduous shrubs, including roses, clematis, ornamental elder, philadelphus, cornus, buddleia, even gooseberries and redcurrants.
The wood in their shoots is now hardened and can be treated with a lot more casualness than if they had been softer. Another plus point is that you can just stick your cuttings in any piece of spare soil or in pots and largely forget about them for months at a time!
Cut a little trench first – 6 inches (15 cm) deep and maybe put some grit or sharp sand along the bottom. Then cut long straight healthy stems from your chosen shrub of roughly a pencil’s thickness, cutting just above a bud on the mother plant. Trim them up, cut the top at an angle and the bottom straight across (ostensibly so the rain will run off the top, but mostly because it will remind you not to plant them upside-down which would spell disaster!)
Then you just……..stick ‘em in the soil! I bury up to about half of the stem in soil, give them a water and a label (very important!) and basically leave them to get on with it. I made a short video on the subject a short while ago. You do need to be patient with these hardwood cuttings – they can take up to a year to root, but even if they show signs of growth in early spring , I strongly advise you to leave them in situ until autumn (you can tell that I’ve been too eager with some promising-looking cuttings in the past, dug them up too early and lost them……..)
October can be a perfect time to give your garden plants a mulch to lock in the warmth from the summer gone by. A mulch can act as a barrier to rain, so wait until you’ve had a wet spell and then you will help to keep that moisture round the roots during the winter. It’s a great way of dissuading weeds from germinating into the soil around your plants. The permanent mulches like granite chips and gravel are smart choices (though you’d be amazed at how many weeds adore germinating in gravel!), but I prefer using the biodegradeable materials like straw, leaf-mould, shredded bark or home-made compost, which gradually become absorbed into the soil itself and improve its structure or richness.
I lay the mulch-layer on as thickly as I can manage between clumps of perennials, and around shrubs and trees. I do try not to put mulch on the crown of plants or right up to the stems of bushes and trees, because if it becomes sodden, it can rot the stems and cause fungal problems.
So at least collect all those tiresome falling leaves into black plastic bags, aerated with a garden fork, shove them in an out-of-the-way place, and use them as a fabulous autumn mulch in a couple of years’ time.
• You want as much light as possible coming into the greenhouse now, so take down any shading or netting, clean off any dirt or mould, and wash the glass with a solution of warm water and detergent until the panes sparkle.
• Plant garlic cloves now in rows with the tips about an inch (2.5 cms) below the surface of the soil, unless your soil is particularly heavy and wet. If it is, start them off on modules instead, overwinter them in a cold frame, and plant them out in spring.
• Try to get your daffodil-planting finished by the end of this month – the shops and websites are full of tempting varieties. Tulip-planting can be left until November or even later.
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