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So here we are, already dipping into the mellow days of early autumn when the light levels are often perfect for photography in the garden. Rather than mourn the loss of summer, there’s work to be done outdoors. Here are five tips to help you get the garden in order so that it will look good for the rest of the autumn, through into winter.
Firstly, it's the season for spiders! You might not want too many indoors, but leave them in peace in the garden where they can weave a little magic. They eat many garden pests, provide food for creatures further up the food chain and also present you with the most amazing photo opportunities!
Before leaves are tumbling into every crevice and corner, cover your pond using fine mesh or at least some pea netting. It will stop most of the debris from creating havoc. The leaves under water release toxic gases as they break down and this pushes valuable oxygen out of the water. You want your pond to become a haven for nature, and balance is the key.
A certain amount of leaves, decomposing in the bottom of a pond, is entirely natural, normal and even desirable. The tiny amounts of phosphorus that each leaf releases is a valuable nutrient for plants. They also deposit nitrogen and whilst a little is fine, an overload will turn the water into a soupy mix with nutrient overload. Remove the majority but don’t disturb the ecosystem of the pond by rummaging around along the bottom.
Before you do any cutting back of seedheads and dead or dying perennials, consider the feeding value for birds. Many plants can be left in-situ over the entire winter. They provide much-needed food and shelter for birds, small mammals and mini-beasts. They also make wonderful subjects for photography if you can capture the right light.
It’s also a great idea to collect seeds for propagation. Make a little store of your favourites and you can scatter them when the time is right. Check the conditions required for germination – some seeds need ‘cold stratification’ which means that they are unlikely to germinate unless they undergo a cold spell first. They include many trees including maples, most shrubs including dogwoods and forsythia, climbers including clematis and perennials such as penstemon, nepeta and lavender.
- It’s the perfect time to prune climbing roses and those of the shrub variety too. This is a spikey but rewarding task. The difference you can make will be immediate as you make sense of tangled stems and restore a pleasing shape that will reduce the risk of loosening of the roots due to winter winds rocking the plants.
- You can also give herbs such as lavender and rosemary a gentle trim, as they don’t take kindly to clipping in deep winter.
- Prune soft fruit bushes including summer-fruiting raspberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants. Thin them out, prune away the fruited stems and reduce the size of healthy stems back to pairs of forming buds.
- Hedges can now be cut and neatened, before the freezing winter temperatures become part of a normal day.
- Most hedges appreciate a mulch around the base. This will protect and warm the roots through the winter. Mulch also provides an excellent habitat for microbes and minibeasts which is highly valuable during the winter. A word of warning, however. Take care to research before applying wood chipping or even bark. Some shredded wood can change the pH value of the soil dramatically and others can deplete the nitrogen levels within the ground below.
Love your lawn
Then there’s the lawn, which will benefit hugely from having the edges re-cut, the old thatch raked out and a gentle mow, taking care not to cut too short. Longer grass swards will help protect grassy roots during frosty weather. Many people like to apply autumn lawn fertiliser at this stage. It’s high in potash and phosphates and these will help the plants to withstand cold. Avoid high nitrogen feed which will encourage soft, green growth which will be easily damaged during frost.
Plant some happiness
Then it’s time for planting. Wallflowers, pansies, violas, cyclamen and evergreen groundcover such as heuchera can all go in now. And don’t forget your spring-flowering bulbs including daffodils, crocus, iris, snowdrops, hyacinth, alliums and more. Some will give you an immediate, impactful boost, whilst wallflowers and bulbs will prepare themselves to shine later on, just when you are in desperate need of colour.