Although we had some warmer days last month, autumn is now definitely here and it's starting to feel colder. It is though a lovely time of the year, with the trees starting to change colour. It might seem pointless raking up those leaves when the wind just blows even more around and all over the lawn, but think of all the lovely leaf mould you can make! Believe it or not it's also time to start preparing for early frosts!
In the meantime here are a few jobs that you might want to start thinking about:
1. Look after your sward. In autumn, grass grows more slowly, so you can mow less often. Make sure you raise the height of your mower blades to about 4cm and collect the clippings and put them on the compost heap to prevent possible disease problems in damp weather. Try not to mow a wet or frosty lawn, as this can damage the grass.
Once you’ve given it a trim make sure you rake the lawn vigorously with a long-tined lawn rake to remove moss and all the thatch that has accumulated over the summer. The lawn will end up looking rather ravaged but it’ll soon bounce back.
Then spike the surface with a garden fork, about 8cm deep every 15cm. This helps grass root growth and improves surface drainage, preventing waterlogging over the winter. Its sometimes a good idea to brush sharp sand or fine horticultural grit into the holes to improve drainage and prevent further compaction.
Finally give your lawn a treat after all its hard work over the summer. An autumn feed must be high in potassium and low in nitrogen, or you will promote soft growth that is vulnerable to fungi and cool temperatures. Diluted liquid comfrey works well.
2. Think Spring. If you haven't already planted some containers with spring colour, there's still time to plant some up now using bedding plants such as violas and wallflowers, along with some spring-flowering bulbs.
Keep your pots in a sheltered spot, such as under a porch, to encourage blooms through the winter and to avoid plants rotting off in the winter wet. Plants such as Cyclamen are particularly vulnerable to rotting in damp conditions. You won't get masses of blooms during colder weather, but any milder spells should see a good show.
3. Think frost! If you’ve got tender plants then now is the time to start thinking about protection. If you've got plants such as canna, now's the time to bring them indoors before they get killed by the frost.
Choose a light, frost-free place such as a greenhouse, coldframe or porch. Then keep them on the dry side during the winter, so they don't put on much growth. The plants can then be brought back into growth in spring by gradually increasing the amount of water they receive.
4. Tidy up. Especially those perennials and summer bedding plants. Cut back any that have started to look past their best. Ones with seedheads can be left to help feed birds over winter. Remove summer bedding summer bedding is past its best by now, and it’s time to pull it up and put it on the compost heap. You can then mulch the bare soil with compost for the worms to drag into the soil and improve it over winter. It will then be ready for you to start over in spring.
5. Weed and mulch. Weeds will still be germinating and growing strongly in mild periods of weather, so be vigilant and remove them when you see them. Try to dig them out rather than pulling them up, as you’re more likely to get them out with roots and all that way. After any last harvests, weed thoroughly and spread a 3-5cm-deep layer of compost.
This protects and feeds soil organisms, which keep soil aerated and structured. Not only does that help the soil and conserve moisture – it also helps keep weeds at bay – and saves us all a job.
6. Check your figs. We’ve got a couple of fig trees that we got our hands on earlier this year that we’re going to plant up in a couple of galvanised tanks and see how they do. We also know someone who this year didn’t hack her fig tree about and by her own admission it looks far better for it.
What she needs to do now is remove the larger fruits that have failed to ripen and leave pea-sized fruits to develop for harvesting next year. And then when the time is right to do so – February when the tree is dormant - we'll tackle a prune..
7. Keep sowing. Now is a good time to start sowing batches of hardy broad beans and peas outdoors for early crops next year. In the past we’ve mainly sown our broad beans in the spring – having tried autumn sown ones in the past, that simply fed the pigeons! This year though we’re giving some Aquadulce Claudia another go – and we’ll look after them this time – with some Suttons in the spring.
You can also plant garlic cloves in a sunny well-drained spot, 15cm apart, with their tip 5cm below the surface. Again we’re trying that and again with suitable protection!
And finally we’ve got our sweet pea seeds and we’re giving them an early start too.
8. Organise your seed packets. Check what you’ve got left over from this year, or what you’ve been able to harvest yourself. Then think about what you want to grow next season, what grew well this year and what didn’t, what you enjoyed and what you want to grow again or try.
If you’re planning to store seed then make sure label the packet that you keep them in and keep them cool and dry. Small envelopes in an air tight container with some silica gel is ideal – and then keep the container in the fridge.
Then it’s time to get whatever seeds you need for next year. So sit down with a glass of something warm and autumnal and thumb through the seed catalogue.
9. Think trees. With the soil still warm and with the availability of bare root trees increasing, now is a great time to get planting. We’d love to reinstate the old cast iron railings at the front of our home but they’re difficult to get hold of.
We have a really spiky hedge that is really out of place now so we’re going to pull it out, dig the ground over and manure it and plant some maiden pear trees. We’ll then prune them back and train them as espaliers. That will become what we’ll call our living railings. And will, over a few years, grow into a nice productive display for our veg bed in a bed.
10. Think gourds. Raise pumpkins and squash onto bricks to keep them dry and expose them to more sun, to ripen the skins. They’ll be ready to harvest when the stem begins to crack and the skin hardens. Pick them before the first frosts in October or November, cutting to retain as long a stem as possible.
And if you didn’t grow your own this year and are now gazing at the ones in the big boxes in the entrance to your local supermarket then why not have a look at the article on our website and get some seeds now for next year.