Reaping what you sow: Harvest edition

Harvest display. Photo by Geneva Pattison

BY Geneva Pattison

Autumn is a peaceful affair. We’re winding down from a jam-packed Summer and have a break before the Winter festivities and exciting Christmas rush.

Autumn could be considered the gardener’s Christmas with the amount of gifts it produces. If you were hard at work planting seeds as far back as April and May, now is the time to collect your bounty.

Apples will be ripe for the picking, perfect for making pies and tarts. Be sure to prune any diseased or dead branches as you see them. Hard pruning an apple tree is best done during the dormant period when the leaves have all fallen off.

Another harvest favourite that should be primed and ready for the picking is pumpkin and squash. All of these kinds of cultivars from the squash family have similar needs – good fertilisation, warm days and consistently well watered moist soil, without getting the leaves wet!

If you planted the seeds in late Spring, you should have enough squash and pumpkin to start your own jack-o-lantern business by now – or maybe a pumpkin spice latte stand?

Late-fruiting berries like blackberries and raspberries will be in abundance at this point. The great thing about blackberries in particular is that they grow wild in many areas around Ireland.

If you do go wild blackberry picking make sure to identify the fruit completely, as there are many poisonous berries that grow in similar conditions. Alternatively, if you grow them in your garden, once you’ve picked all the fruit, cut back the fruiting branches all the way to the base of the plant.

It takes two years for fruiting branches to produce anything, but once they do fruit, they never will again. Hopefully you’ll have enough to make a nice blackberry crumble as a reward for your fruit growing prowess. 

Plants to cut back before the frost:

Another aspect to consider looking into, in Autumn, is pruning back your perennials. Hostas are leafy shade-loving plant that need to be completely cut down to their base before any frost takes hold. It seems scary, but your hosta will love you for it and it may encourage flowering.

As mentioned above, berry bushes like blackberries and blackcurrants need to be pruned to ensure fruiting next year. Cut all the fruit-bearing branches to the bottom of the plant and prune any unsightly or overgrown non-fruiting branches. 

Herbs such as lavender and rosemary can be cut back at this point in the year to promote good air circulation for the plants. For the lavender, do not cut it all the way back to the woody base, just prune the existing shoots and stems by one third.

Trimming rosemary isn’t technically necessary, but by pruning a few inches from the top of each branch during autumn, you’ll promote more rigorous and full growth.

If you’re a lover of roses, you’ll be feeling the sting from the loss of colour in your garden at this time. To distract yourself, give your roses a pre-winter tidy. Prune any diseased leaves or foliage away from the plant. If you see any fallen, diseased or mouldy leaves around the base of your roses, get rid of them too to avoid anything nasty spreading to the rose bush.

Prune browning and wilted roses away, but, you can  leave a few dying flower heads if you have a cultivar that produces rose hips. In winter, the rose hips will make for a colourful display of red to break up those Winter garden blues.