I’m struggling to remember an early September when the grass looked greener and the plants (and weeds!) looked lusher. There are compensations to having a summer as we have had in the south, when the sun has been VERY reluctant to put his hat on (although quite fed up with Caroline’s reports of daily sunshine in Scotland). No matter what weather you’ve got, early autumn is when the gardening tasks start to pile up again though, so let’s get on with some mulching, cutting-back and berry-pruning, amongst other things…………
The kindest cut
Is your garden now filled with plants that have done their thing beautifully through the summer but are now ‘past it’ (I recognise the feeling after a hard day among the borders)? What’s your plan for them – will you leave the stems and seed-heads on because you want the birds to have shelter and sustenance during the winter? Or because you’re too busy at the moment to do it? Or because you’re bone idle (‘How very dare you!’)? Well, you certainly can put off the whole cutting-back operation until early spring, but if you don’t cut ANYTHING back, there are some dangers:
- You’ll be leaving all the plants that die back in an ugly way – Aconitum, Leucanthemum, lupins, etc. along with all the pretty or architectural ones – Phlomis russelliana, Ajuga, Helenium, Cardoon etc.
- You’ll be faced with a lot more work in February/March.
- Heavy rain can make tired lank stems look an awful mess.
- You’ll be giving slugs and snails lots and lots of cover among soggy rotting foliage.
- You may well be missing out on some September lovelies that are being leaned on or obscured by the heaps of old stalks belonging to its summer-flowering neighbour.
- Things like Aster, Hesperantha (Schizostylis), Liriope, Ceratostigma or Hyelotelephium (Sedum) as in the feature pic this week, etc. will shine out so much more in the softer autumnal light if they are given more of the stage.
So be judicious, look critically at your borders right now, and decide which plants to cut back and which to leave until the new year. Maximise your chances of prolonging the colour and interest in your garden.
Early autumn 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 (no problem round here this year, I can tell you!) and then you will help to keep that moisture round the roots during the winter. As Marc Hamer says in his lovely book Life in Nature (or How to Catch a Mole), this ‘top-dressing the gardens in autumn with compost is simply imitating what nature does with falling leaves and grasses’. It’s also 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, cocoa-shell (the smell is delish!) shredded bark or home-made compost, which gradually become absorbed into the soil itself, and improve its structure and richness.
Lay the mulch-layer on as thickly as you can manage between clumps of perennials, and around shrubs and trees. 2 inches is good, but 4 inches is much better. 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.
And try to remember to collect up the leaves of deciduous trees into black plastic bags once they start to fall. Aerate the bags with holes using a garden fork and shove them in an out-of-the-way place. the contents will make a fabulous autumn mulch for you in a couple of years’ time.
- If you grow cultivated blackberries, tayberries and the like (our lovely Japanese wineberries, for instance), cut out the fruited stems as soon as you have finished harvesting them right down to the ground. Tie in the new canes ready for next year.
- Lift main crop potatoes by the end of this month – yes, I know they might get even bigger if you leave them in there longer, but the risk of massive slug attack becomes greater with each passing day…….
- Keep deadheading your dahlias – remember the pointy squishy buds are the finished ones, and the more rounded ones have yet to flower – don’t muddle them up!
- Sow some Hardy Annual flower seeds for strong, early and fabulous blooms next year. More on this topic and other September tasks in this earlier blog.
By the way, if you want a few ideas about some plants that will brighten up your September garden, check out our 3Growbags thoughts on the subject here.
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