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WORD ASSOCIATION started May 2023
The nights may be drawing in but there's a lot you can do now to help your garden survive the much colder months. To prevent any unfortunate horticulture casualties, here is our selection of simple, but effective gardening jobs for the season ahead. Use this as a checklist, but remember that these tasks are designed to be completed over autumn. There's no rush to finish them all in one go and plenty of time to schedule them in around those inevitably rainy afternoons.
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This involves the slightly laborious task of leaf sweeping and picking up debris that has started to fall as summer sadly comes to an end. Clear any leaves from paths and paving slabs to stop people slipping on them.
Remember to create small piles of debris and twigs throughout your garden to give homes to insect life and invertebrates. These piles needn't be in places where everyone can see them - a collection of leaves and twigs under the shed will provide a perfect hibernation spot for insects and hedgehogs.
Dig the soil over, feed it with bone meal fertiliser where necessary and prepare it in larger areas for frost to break it down. Clear any dead bedding plants, carry out any needed soil drainage and replace with quality compost or manure for winter bedding. You can also plant wallflowers and pansies for spring display in addition to bare-rooted plants ordered from nurseries, such as peonies and roses.
Hardwood cuttings provide a relatively cheap and easy method of growing plants for next year. Take semi-hardwood cuttings of plants - lavender, camellias, honeysuckle, artemisia and osmanthus work well - and hardwood cuttings of cornus, weigela and perovskia. Keep them in pots on the window sill until you're ready to use them in spring.
Scarify your lawn by removing built up dead grass, weeds and moss from the lawn's surface using a metal rake. You should also consider aerating the lawn, which helps the roots to grow deeply and produces a stronger lawn. Go over it with a mixture of sharp sand and good soil, being sure to fill any holes. If you need a new lawn, prepare for it to be laid now - autumn is the ideal time.
Alternatively if you want to lay a meadow lawn with wild flowers like scabious and red clover, this is also the best time to prepare the soil. Make sure not to add compost, fertiliser or plant food as wild flowers like low nutrients soil.
Hedges need a good tidy up now, especially if they've been neglected over summer. It's also time to prune your fruit trees to stimulate the formation of fruit buds and flowers. This should be followed by a final prune in November before winter sets in. Once you've given your hedges a trim remember to water to keep them in good condition.
Create spaces for new trees and shrubs and also transplant items to fit your new garden design. Make sure to keep weeds and grass away from the perimeter of where the new plants will be growing as this will help them to grow faster.
Perennials will likely have run out of steam when autumn comes around. Decide on the layout of your garden that you want to leave for winter and cut down the remaining perennials when they have finished flowering.
It is also the time to take offshoots from perennials that may have outgrown their allotted space and either pot them ready for next spring or place them in appropriate bare spots in the garden. They'll stay dormant until next year but provide a cosy shelter for wildlife over winter.
If you're lucky enough to have a pond, now is the time to cover it with netting to prevent leaf drop. Add a polystyrene float or ball to ensure a hole stays open if the surface ices over during the winter. Tidy any aquatic plants or blackweed to reduce debris that would otherwise rot and increase nitrogen levels in the water.
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This is a good time to fix or purchase parts, repair broken window panels and repair any leaks before the bad weather begins.
Now is a good time to check if any plants need a windbreak or protection. Plants can be protected from the cold with horticulture fleeces or moved to drier and more sheltered areas. You could also look at your fencing and decide whether any repairs are required before it gets too cold to make repairs.
Gardeners are nature's optimists, perpetually preparing for each new season. The temperature has started to drop, the sun is lower in the sky and the days are getting shorter. Some people will be huddled inside but gardeners will still be outside, tidying and snipping and looking forward to what's coming next. If you have any questions about gardeing you can get advice year-round from our forums.