A golden hue and warm light envelops the land and the days are growing shorter and crisper as we approach Autumn. If it wasn’t for the cheer of late Summer colour in the form of dahlias and zinnia, cosmos and sunflowers- you’d be forgiven for thinking the gardening season was over. There is still so much to be enjoyed at this time of year however, whether it be the slow changing of the leaves, crips mornings or watching the fruit ripen on the trees- here are some jobs that can be done this month in the garden that will rejuvenate your spirit…
Maintain and Protect…
Now is a great time to protect any ponds from leaf fall inundation by netting them. This will stop rotting matter from blocking the precious wildlife habitat, and make your life a lot easier in the months to come. It’s also a good idea to have a look around the garden and start tidying fallen debris, deadheading those plants you don’t wish to save seed from, and generally keeping the space free from weeds, dead plants and tidy for the onset of winter- why not invest in a compost bin for all the debris? Tidying now helps stop pests and diseases from overwintering. Raise any pumpkins or winter squash still ripening on the vine off the ground, onto a piece of slate, or damp free surface to prevent them from rotting, and cover brassicas with netting to prevent the birds from eating them all!
Remember to stake or support all tall late flowering perennials, and keep feeding French and runner beans, as they can still produce huge amounts of food even at this late stage. Cover trained peach trees to stop them from getting drenched in wet weather- peach leaf curl is a fungal infection that is brought on by wet conditions in the Autumn and Winter.
Now is a great time to clear up the strawberry patch- weeding out invasive tap-rooted weeds and dead plants that will keep the area disease free over winter.Now is a good time to stop feeding tree and shrubs in containers, as well as tomatoes, chillies and peppers, collecting the last ripe fruits and composting the plants as they are spent, and cleaning the greenhouse as you go with disinfectant.
In the orchard, mow grass under fruit trees so that windfall fruit is easier to spot. You can treat your lawn with nematodes, which are an organic biological control method, to stop any infestations of leatherjackets. Raise pots off the ground in anticipation of any early frost, and empty those that have old compost or dead plants into the compost bin if not diseased. If they are, add them to the bonfire, and burn to stop the diseased material from overwintering. Please make sure to always check compost piles before burning for wildlife such as hedgehogs who may make it their home.
Prune and Cut Back…
Many fungal spores are proliferant from September to May. However, cutting back flowers and late blooming shrubs in September, gives the garden late season interest. Why not start to prune climbing roses when the flowers are over and get ahead of the season. Knautia, rose campion and aquilegia, will all benefit from being dead headed, but dahlias and roses will reward the most. If you’re not fussed about keeping all your spent sunflower seed heads for wildlife nibbling purposes ( or your own culinary use) then dead heading these will allow more side flowers to bloom, prolonging the smile of their beautiful faces. If you like to have vases of flowers in the house, you’re also helping the garden become more floriflorous to boot. Cornflower, phlox, marigold, zinnias and anthirrinum will all look wonderful on a windowsill or kitchen table, and production will ramp up in the garden too. In the vegetable garden, cut back summer fruiting raspberries and take away large leaves which may be shading pumpkins and squash. This will speed up their ripening in time for Halloween! It’s a great idea to now cut away spent pea and French bean plants, leaving their roots to release nitrogen back into the soil to benefit next years crop.
Increase your stock….
Everyone loves strawberries, and if you have a particularly well performing plant, why not pot up the runners to make new stock, which you can move to other areas of the garden or give to friends and family.
Now is a great time to plant new trees, shrubs, climbers and perennials. The soil is still warm at this time of year, so roots become established quickly before Winter sets in, and will get off to a flying start in the Spring. The oncoming rainy season will provide ample moisture for the growing roots, and so this makes this season the perfect one for planting new trees, and an array of plants in general.
Taking hardwood cuttings from roses can be completed in September, and speaking of cuttings- don’t forget to increase your stock of pelargoniums also by taking simple softwood cuttings. A guide to taking hardwood cuttings from roses can be found here.
Cut down and divide perennials that have finished flowering or not looking so great, and any clumps of these plants that are looking bare or old in the centre, should be divided. Do this by digging up the entire clump with a fork and placing on a surface on the lawn- such as a sheet. Pull the clump apart with either two forks, or your hands for smaller pieces. Revitalise the soil with lots of organic matter, and plant the smaller clumps in groups of three or four for a spectacular show next year- all for free.
Continue planting spring flowering bulbs such as narcissus and iris. This is the main month for plating these bulbs ( with the exception of tulips, which should be left until November). Planting an array in pots gives a stunning effect in Spring, but also dotting them in groups in existing beds, and naturalising under trees gives a wonderful pop of colour early in the season. A bulb planter is always a great tool to have on hand for this job.
Try and acquire organic bulbs if you can. This ensures the bulb has not been treated with neonic pesticides, which are harmful to bee populations.
Sow & Harvest…
The great September harvest is here, and when you’re not picking the last of the ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash and chillies, it’s actually worth thinking about sowing some plants to overwinter such as kale, chard and collards. Theres nothing better than visiting the vegetable patch or allotment in Winter and finding a supply of organic goodies- without the added packaging. Keep sowing lettuce, spinach and leaf beet. Mizuna mix lettuce will do well over the colder period, and have a go at sowing some green manure in beds that need a nitrogen fix. Try Wizard Field Bean or Buckwheat for a great nutrient boost to the soil come spring, when dug in. Garlic can be sown from now until the Winter Solstice, and onions sets that are frost resistant can also be planted now. Try ‘Radar’ or ‘Troy’ varieties.
Sowing flower seeds in Autumn often results in earlier blooms and more robust plants- plus you can spread out the planting, leaving less of a mad sowing rush in Spring. Try marigolds, sweet peas, Queen Anne’s Lace, cornflower, nigella, and California poppy now. You’ll thank yourself next year…