Autumnal preparations in the garden

Pumpkins basking in the autumn sun
Photo courtesy Susan O’Brien

BY Susan O’Brien

In local parks and along our neighbourhood streets, the green leaf tones of summer are slowly giving way to lime tree yellows and orange tones of the chestnut. All around, there is a sense of a rising swell as flowers, fruits, and seed-heads surge towards a concert-like crescendo, in one final display. 

As the days become cooler and the evenings draw closer, most late season specimens will fade gracefully into the winter months.

If buds are still developing, herbaceous performers, Anemones, Dahlias, and Salvias, can easily be encouraged to continue flowering, with regular snips. Once finished, there is no great rush to cut everything back. The stiffening stems and shapely seedheads will create a transitional structural interest, to carry the space forward. The above-ground mass will also help to protect the plant base and insulate the root zone, on colder nights.

So too will a thick cover or ‘top dress’ of organic mulch, spread over the soil surface. Both decorative and highly functional, it will gradually break down, enriching the soil and improving structure. If you have a plot that has just been cropped, apply well-rotted manure or compost. 

All frost-hardy vegetable varieties will survive well over winter, especially with a cover of protective fleece, kale, chard, perpetual spinach and sprouting broccoli. Similarly, a winter selection of cabbage, peas, and broad bean plants can all be transplanted now. The mighty garlic can be planted too.

Choose ‘certified’ disease-free bulbs of soft or hard necked varieties. Oriental leaves do well at the beginning and end of the main growing season. Store surplus seeds in their packets, in a sealed container. Add rice grains as a desiccant. Place in the fridge or a cool, dry dark space.

As ground conditions become wetter, harvest remaining courgettes and marrows before the slugs do it for you. Lift ripening squash or pumpkins directly off the soil surface to prevent rot. Place a slate underneath. Remove excess leaves to increase ripening. Once ready, harvest the fruit with several inches of the stem attached to maintain quality.

Before winds begin to pick up, now is a good time to check wire supports on walls, tie in new growth on climbers and ensure tree ties around trees are loosely secure. Tall stems on shrub roses can be roughly cut back to prevent catching in the wind and rocking the roots. More precise pruning can take place in the new year, before bud break. 

Although not entirely necessary, an annual pruning of deciduous flowering shrubs will encourage strong, healthy shoots and improve display. Of course, specific pruning requirements depend on the type of shrub, but there are some simple guidelines. If you are unsure, it is always best and easy to seek some advice.

Evergreen shrubs require little or no regular pruning. If space is an issue, cut back in mid to late spring after any risk of frost has passed and before new growth begins. If the shrub is still flowering or starting to flower in mid-spring, prune immediately afterwards.

For a quick tidy-up, remove all damaged, diseased and dead material, the three “D”s. Cut out any weak, twiggy growth and any rubbing stems, which create access points for disease. Reduce in size or remove entirely, a few ill-placed stems, avoiding excessive cutting. Take a step back and look at the plant before proceeding. 

Deciduous shrubs that bloom after mid-summer and into autumn like Buddleja davidii, are pruned in early to mid-spring. This allows time for the new stems to grow, mature and flower in the same year. Deciduous shrubs that bloom in late winter, spring and early summer like Jasminum nudiflorum, Forsythia or Philadelphus are pruned immediately after flowering. 

Whilst the calendar provides a general guide, nature is a more accurate indicator!

If readers are looking for additional gardening guidance or tips please email