Mid September is the time you realise that summer has gone and the first chill of autumn night has arrived and with it the work of preparing your garden space for the return of spring.
Yes, there are jobs that you will have to put your back into but the flip of that is there is plenty of creative planning to do and lots of end of seson sales at garden centres where you can pick up bargains.
- Time to prune any plum trees you have (when you've picked the last plum that is). The problem with plums is that you're supposed to prune them in the summer, any other time means they're at risk from developing "silver leaf" a fungal infection that can easily kill the whole tree. If you do prune in summer then you lose the fruit on your pruned branches, not to mention what you would knock off adjacent branches as the pruned wood fell. A good compromise is to prune immediately the years crop has been picked, not quite high summer, but enough to keep the tree reasonably safe.
- Scour the retail outlets for summer plant bargains. The end of the year is the best time for new plantings, the soil is still warm and there's time for plants to get established before the winter. At the same time drought and being baked by the sun is much less likely so new introductions don't need the fussing over that they may do at other times of the year. Come the spring they're all ready in place and ready to perform as best they can with minimal intervention from you.
- Shrubs and perennials that have sat in nurseries and garden centres all summer have been growing strongly in good conditions and are now large and vigorous. They pose a problem for the retailer in that they will need potting on to ensure they remain healthy, in the main, if the plants are not sold they will end up on the compost heap or in the skip. So this becomes an extra special time of year to buy and plant new introductions to the garden.
- What stops people doing it? – the thought that things are now going to wind down and there won't be any reward seen until next spring from their efforts. Not a problem for the real gardener though – go on fill those gaps before you start pulling the purse strings tighter in time for Christmas.
- Sow hardy annuals for early flowering next spring. Calendulas, Larkspur, Nigella (love in a mist) Shirley poppies and my favourite blue cornflowers all do well if sown in rows in a sheltered position. Don't bother with the "broadcast" method of sowing as often advised for hardy annuals, the additional individual attention of short rows drawn in the soil with a stick, seed sown thinly and then covered properly and watered in is much more successful. The rows don't need to be straight or aligned, as long as the seeds aren't left so much to their own devices.
- Plant spring flowering bulbs for next year. Spring flowering bulbs and shrubs
- Detach strawberry runners and plant them out in well dug over and manured soil now. You can get huge amounts of free plants if you've grown any strawberries. If you're not ready to plant them out, them place each little plantlet in a space of its own in a small pot or several in a seed tray and they'll soon root and be ready to plant out later. It's also a good way of getting extra plants to give away to friends and neighbours which is always one of the nice things about gardening.
- A good time to make a new lawn using turf. if you've put it off over the summer (or for even longer). The cooler but still reasonable temperatures and reliable rainfall at this time of year mean that it is one of the best times to do this.
- Tidy the garden. This help to reduce the amount of hiding places and food that slugs and snails in particular will have to tide them over the winter, which is good news for you next year. Don't be too enthusiastic though, some plant seed heads can look good through the winter, particularly of ornamental grasses.
- If you have any half hardy plants such as fuchsias or Pelargoniums watch out for cold weather and frosts that may kill them off, they need to over-winter in frost free conditions if they are to survive the winter. It's a good idea to take cuttings in a protected place as an insurance policy.
- In the 19th Century, Devon girls would go "crabbing for husbands". Crab apples, gathered on 29th September (Michaelmas Day) would be arranged in the shape of the prospective lover's initials. Those best preserved on Old Michaelmas Day (10th October), were thought to indicate the best prospects.
Sow the seeds of any perennials or shrubs as soon as they're ripe. If you collect your own seed from existing plants, then sow them when nature intended them to be sown. They might not always germinate straight away, so keep them somewhere sheltered from too much rain and sun and they will do in time.
Still from last month's list
- Continue feeding bedding plants in the ground or in containers, and the same for crops such as tomatoes in grow-bags, use a liquid fertiliser. Once a week at least now especially in containers as most composts contain only a little nutrient and this will now be used up.
- Still time to sow seeds of winter flowering pansies and violas, under cover if at all possible, in the space made by under cover crops coming to the end of their season. Pansies and violas are among the easiest plants to grow from seed and if started off now will be good strong plants by late autumn and so able to flower throughout the winter period finishing off with a final flourish in the spring. Strictly speaking they are perennials and can be kept going after the first season, but they are never again as good as they were in the first year, so are best discarded and replaced. One of the main reasons I grow from seed rather than buying them as plants (as well as the satisfaction of growing from seed) is that you can get a bed or group of all your favourite shades and colours.
- A good time to take cuttings of shrubs, preferably with some protection. Cut a piece of new stem about 6 inches long and remove all flower buds and all but the end 3 or 4 leaves. Place several of these around the rim of a small plan