GETTING READY FOR AUTUMN 2.EVERYTHING ELSE
After the busy, busy days of spring and summer it can be disconcerting when the work lessens a bit. However there is still a lot to be done in the garden in autumn and winter. Here are a few ideas to keep you busy and let your clients know that you are a gardener that really knows what they are doing.
- TIDY PATHS AND PAVING
Clear up all the leaves and debris once the trees are bare (it’s much easier while everything is still crisp and dry). It’s also worth giving the paving a thorough clean with a stiff brush and some detergent before the frost arrives so it will be less slippery and safer during the wet winter months. Alternatively, if you have one, just give it a blast with a pressure washer.
- MAINTAIN BORDERS
Cut back the herbaceous perennials in the borders close to the ground as they begin to die down and remove annuals that have finished their show. It’s also well worth generally tidying up the borders by removing any dead foliage, leaves and weeds.
Clear spent stems from perennials, but save anything with attractive seed heads – these look great when frosted. Similarly, don’t cut back deciduous grasses; leave these until late February, as the dead foliage also helps protect the plant’s crown.
Design-wise, narrow strips allow little space for plants, and thin borders tight to boundaries are somewhat unimaginative. Be generous; using an edging iron, make borders bigger.
- PAY ATTENTION TO SHRUBS AND TREES
Prune any wayward branches on the structural shrubs to improve the overall shape and, if they need it, give the hedges a final trim before the frosts hit. Remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches, particularly with the trees, to prevent the stems from rubbing together and creating wounds or deformities.
To add some winter interest to the garden, look for trees and shrubs with brilliantly coloured bark. They are at their best now, and ideal in smaller gardens, where two or more seasons of interest are desirable. The Burgundy Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrulata), chalk-white paper birch (Betula papyrifera), striped snakebark maples, and the cinnamon paperbark maple (Acer griseum) are favourites. Shrubby dogwoods are striking, too, and come in flame-orange, scarlet and yellow.
- REPAIR GARDEN STRUCTURES
Once the borders and structural shrubs and trees have been cut back, it’s a good opportunity to gain easy access to carry out any maintenance work that may be required on the summerhouse, greenhouse or fencing. Keep a particular eye out for any decaying timber or pest infestations and treat or replace accordingly.
- PROTECT PLANTS
Move any pots planted with tender species like Cannas, Agapanthus or palms, into a conservatory or greenhouse for winter protection. Wrap horticultural fleece around the trunks of any palm trees planted in the ground and spread a thick mulch of bark around the base of these and any other delicate trees, like Japanese maples, to protect them from the frost.
Small deciduous trees, shrubs and roses can be lifted bare-root and replanted before mid-March. Everything else, especially evergreens and conifers, needs rootballing. For detailed advice and step-by-step instructions on this, search for ‘moving plants’ on the RHS website.
- TIDY PONDS AND WATER FEATURES
Try to prevent the pond or water feature clogging up with leaves by temporarily covering in a net during ‘the fall’. If the pond hasn’t been cleaned in a number of years and is beginning to look murky, then late autumn is the ideal time to tackle it while many creatures are becoming dormant. If there are fish in your pond, then try to be vigilant during frosts to ensure that the water’s surface doesn’t completely freeze over, even if you just have a ball on standby to float on the water’s surface it will help.
- PLANT OUT SPRING-FLOWERING BULBS
Plant out your spring bulbs before the winter kicks in. From snowdrops to crocus and daffodils, they all like well-fertilised, free-draining soil, so dig in lots of sharp sand and some bone meal for a slow release of nutrients that will feed the bulbs over a long period. When planting bulbs, the general rule of thumb is to plant at two or three times the depth of the bulb itself. Spacing also works well at two or three times the width of the bulb, and for the most natural and dramatic effect, plant the same variety of bulb in large drifts.
- WATCH OUT FOR SNOW
It cannot be overstated how devastating heavy and prolonged periods of snow and ice can be to the trees and plants in your garden. If you simply knock off the snow resting on the leaves and branches of your prized specimens while it’s still soft and fresh there is a good chance that you will be preventing severe damage – so it’s worth staying on alert when the white stuff arrives.
- INDULGE IN WINTER GREENERY AND COLOUR
Just because the winter is a time of dormancy for many living things, doesn’t mean that the garden can’t still be interesting and exciting. Incorporate architectural evergreen shrubs like the Phormium tenax to add crucial structure alongside deciduous shrubs like the Cornus sanguine ‘Midwinter Fire’ to set the winter border alight with its flame-coloured stems.
Fill containers with winter pansies, polyanthus and violas, one species per pot. For more creative displays, partner them with evergreen grasses, perennials, small shrubs and bulbs.
- ACT ON ANY PRIVACY ISSUES THAT BECOME APPARENT
If gaps in boundaries begin to show in winter, then trees, particularly evergreens, tall-but-thin shrubs and bamboo, hedges and pleached trees (hedges on ‘stilts’) are useful, but they’re not immediate solutions – unless you use large plants. For instant impact, choose woven hazel or willow screens, tight-knit trelliswork or wooden louvres, all of which will let in light.
- INSTALL OUTDOOR LIGHTING TO ADD ANOTHER DIMENSION
Outdoor lighting is a must for cheering up a garden in winter. Sunlight doesn’t discriminate, but in the night garden you can focus attention on sculptural elements, trees and topiary. Spotlights are the most versatile fittings and can be positioned at different angles for varying effects. Use a powerful torch to experiment.
- MAKE A TO-DO LIST
The garden is relatively quiet in winter, in terms of day-to-day tasks, so it is the ideal time to tackle any garden jobs that you may have put off doing. Experienced gardeners also know that, even though the growing season has finished, there’s always work to do and spring isn’t that far off. Anything done now will lessen the load later on. For new garden design ideas, put your ideas down on paper, ideally to scale, before you invest in anything new. Whether you are creating a new bed entirely or just giving a facelift to existing borders, it’s always best to design the area first before undertaking the work.