As Wool Week draws to a close, we turn to guest blogger, Alison Marsden for pearls of wisdom as we move through the Autumn garden…
Autumn is a season of contrast and change, with misty mornings and warm sunny mid-days – when it is not raining – and the bright colours of leaves and berries offer a ‘last hurrah’ before subsiding into winter. It is a busy season for gardeners with lots of clearing and tidying and the inevitable raking leaves off lawns. So in the spirit of light relief, I am highlighting activities that focus on preparation for future bounty:
Climbing roses may still have a final few flowers but now is the time to prune and train new growth to get a good display of blooms next year. An established rose will already have structural stems tied onto the trellis or wire support and the main task now is to decide which of the summer’s long flowered wands will be trained into the (more or less) permanent framework and which are surplus; the latter are pruned back to 2 or 3 buds which should produce flowering shoots next summer. A good tip is to train everything in front of the support so that you can easily replace older growth and remove dead, damaged or spindly stems. Tucking new shoots behind the wires can seem easier than getting twine to tie them on but is a false economy. I use twool to tie in my roses and twist it between the wire and the stem to prevent damage to the bark.
There are several GYO crops that can be sown or planted in the Autumn garden for an earlier harvest but there is one that needs to be in the ground through the winter: Garlic. Although associated with Mediterranean cooking, Garlic needs a cold spell after planting to produce a good sized bulb the following year. Hence the tradition of planting before Christmas (at the latest). What is going on here when we all know that a garlic clove left too long in the kitchen will sprout? Like other bulbs, the garlic has stored food to support the development of new roots and leaves until it is a viable plant but wants to be sure that spring has really arrived before committing to full growth and this is triggered by a spell of cold weather. Draw out a straight drill for planting using 2 canes and a line of twool so that you can weed with a hoe between the rows.
Finally, a fun activity to help your garden eco-system by sheltering insects over winter in a bundle of offcut stems. I prefer not to cut down the majority of my perennials and grasses until the spring because the remaining top growth protects the crown, and also insect life, from the worst of the frost. But where I have cut back shrubs to prevent winter damage or perennials that look ridiculously tatty, I chop them into short lengths and tie into a bundle with twool. Tucked into a sheltered spot, hollow stalks are particularly good but small insects will creep in between too. Being cold-blooded they need to hunker down before winter kicks in so now is the ideal time.
What are your Autumn garden jobs?