As the garden begins to go to sleep for the winter, it’s time to get down to those jobs which will make life much easier come the spring. I have prepared a little Autumn gardening to do list just for you.
We have donned our wellies this week and begun to tackle some jobs around the garden that were a little overdue.
Since we’ve had a mild autumn so far, the garden isn’t quite ready to go to sleep and our little annual plants are still fighting on and flowering. Although, the ground underfoot has begun to get a little squelchy and wet.
Autumn, however is a great time to begin to put your garden to bed for the winter. This way, you can put your feet up and stay in the warm during winter, when it is particularly cold outside and begin planning your patch for the following year.
What Should I do in the Garden During Autumn?
Let’s face it, there are always little jobs you can find to do in the garden. The list is endless, but at least you won’t get bored. I have made a little list of jobs that you can be getting busy with, this Autumn.
1. Make Your Own Leaf Mould Compost
Leaf mould is a great soil conditioner that is made as leaves break down and decay with fungi.
You can make your own leaf mould from the leaves of deciduous trees (a tree that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season, ready for winter). In Autumn, if you have trees nearby, there is usually plenty of leaves to collect.
To make your own leaf mould, start by collecting the leaves on a dry and calm day. Attempting to gather leaves in the wind and rain will prove quite frustrating and take much longer.
There are two different ways in which to store and make leaf mould. Firstly, you can collect the leaves into bags, moisten the leaves a little, if they are dry and tie the tops of the bags closed. Pierce some holes in the sides of the bags and store them out of sight until the rotting process is complete.
If you find that your leaf mould is slow to rot down, try aerating the leaves by removing them from the bags and turning them over before placing them back again. If the leaves dry out too much, moisten them with a little water.
An alternative to making and storing your leaf mould in bags is to build a frame using wood and chicken wire. Cover the bottom with some weed proof membrane and fill the frame with your leaves. The rain will moisten your leaves and any excess water will escape through the chicken wire.
Leaf mould takes around 1 to 2 years to full rot and be ready to use. In a frame, you can add more leaves as the pile rots and begins to shrink.
2. Plant out Autumn Onion and Garlic Sets.
The quickest and most effective way to grow onion and garlic for beginners is to grow them from sets.
Onion and garlic sets are a mini version of the full grown plant that haven’t been allowed to grow to their full size. They are usually heat treated to prevent them from bolting into flower. Sets are a great place to start when you are new to vegetable gardening.
Whilst onion sets will be sold in packets that look like lots of mini onions, garlic sets are usually sold in the same form in which you would buy garlic from the supermarket.
You might be tempted to use garlic from the supermarket, but this is ill advised, since you could, unknowingly, introduce disease into your soil and the result may be a bit unreliable.
Garlic sets need a dormant period in cold weather in order for the bulb to break into cloves, this process is called vernalisation. If you are late to planting or have a particularly mild winter forecast. Placing your garlic sets in the fridge for 2-3 weeks before planting out, creates an artificial vernalisation and will give you a better outcome.
To plant the garlic sets, you break the bulb into individual cloves and plant each one separately. with the flat side facing down into the soil, this is where the roots will form. Onion sets are planted as they come with the more pointy side facing up. Plant them both just below the surface of the soil with about 10-15cm in between each one, allowing them the room to grow.
If your garden is visited by mice or rabbits or other wildlife, I suggest covering the area where you have planted, with some chicken wire, to prevent your sets from being dug up and eaten.
3. Tidy up Your Strawberry Bed
If you have grown strawberries in a bed or in pots, Autumn is the time to put them to bed.
Strawberry plants produce runners, these are like clones of the original plant. A runner will look like a stem that has grown above the soil in a horizontal fashion. If grown in pots, the runner will hang out over the sides.
Strawberry runners, are a good way to reproduce your plants but they will tire the plant out and should not be attempted in the first two years to allow the plant to establish itself. You can find out how to propagate your strawberry plants in the summer if you want to try this.
Autumn is not the time to try and grow the runners so these should be removed.
Clear away any dead foliage from the strawberry, but leave any green or new growth in place. Cutting the strawberry back in this late season, removes any protection the plant has over the winter and could kill it.
Your dormant strawberries need protecting from the cold weather. This is done by mulching the ground around the plant. For a strawberry mulch, you can use straw, shredded leaves or bark. Not only will this mulch help to protect your strawberry plants, it will also act as a defence against weeds. Weeds will compete with the strawberry plant for the nutrients in the soil and could weaken them.
If your strawberries are grown in pots, frost proof them with fleece or bring them inside into a greenhouse or shed or the winter. Placing your pots closer to the walls of your house will also help, as some of the heat from inside will help to protect your plants as it emanates through the walls. Don’t bring your plants inside a heated house, they need the dormant period of winter to rest and begin their growth again in the Spring.
4. Insulate Your Pipes
Outdoor pipes that supply water to hoses and outdoor taps are at risk from damage in frosty conditions.
Pipes will freeze in cold weather if they aren’t properly insulated. Foam tube insulation is inexpensive and easy to install.
Simply wrap the foam tubes around the pipes and secure it with cable ties or duct tape.
Autumn is a great time to carry out this job and can save you money in the long run.
5. Tidy Up Your Empty Beds and Vegetable Plots
Autumn is a good time to dig over your empty flower beds and vegetable plots.
Remove any old roots and weeds and spread a thick layer of manure over the top. This will help improve the soil condition over the winter while you have nothing growing there.
Another option for a soil improver is green manure. Green manures are actually fast growing plants that are used to cover an empty bed. They help retain any nutrients in the soil and smother weed growth. They also provide some shelter for beneficial garden insects too. You will often see farm land covered in green manure to help overwinter their fields and keep the weeds in check.
In the spring, you can dig your green manure directly back into the soil where they will release their nutrients back into your plot.
6. Aerate The Lawn
Aerating or Spiking is method used to improve the drainage and aeration in a lawn. It helps prevent water logging and moss growth over the winter.
Using a garden fork, spike your lawn, spacing the holes about 10-15cm apart. Pay particular attention to areas that are known to get water logged and muddy. Once you have finished, apply an autumn feed. If possible, take care to limit the amount of time that you walk on your lawn during the winter. Especially when it is particularly wet or frosty. Walking on the lawn during this time can damage it.
7. Tidy the Greenhouse
Giving the greenhouse a thorough tidy and clean is essential to prevent any build up of pests and disease. The end of the growing season is the perfect time to begin this project.
Carry this out on a relatively mild day and begin by removing any overwintering plants you may be storing inside.
Brush the framework and windows to remove any old plants, debris and dust and sweep clean the floor.
Be careful to leave any hibernating spiders in their place. While it is tempting to remove them, they are actually very beneficial to a greenhouse, they eat many pest causing bugs. They will help you limit the use of pesticides as they are natures form of pest control. Spiders will die if you put them outside in the cold.
Sort through and declutter any old pots and seed trays. Give them a thorough clean with disinfectant before putting them back inside, after you have completed your greenhouse tidy.
Using soap and water and a glass cleaner where necessary, thoroughly wash the inside and outside of your greenhouse.
Clean the greenhouse gutters thoroughly, removing any blockages and fixing any damaged areas.
8. Protect Tender Plants
Autumn is the time to protect your delicate plants from the frost.
You can overwinter your potted plants inside a greenhouse if they are still green and need access to some light. For plants that have turned dormant and are no longer showing signs of growth are quite happy to be stored in a garage or shed. Alternatively, you cover them with some frost-proof fleece and move the pots closer to the walls of the house, if you have no other options.
Mulching around the base of plants, helps provide the roots with an layer of insulation. Mulching will also provide the plants with some nutrients when they are ready to begin growing again. You can use bark, compost of leaf mould as a mulch. Fleece can also be used to cover plants that are planted in the ground.
Dig up the tubers from delicate plants such as dahlias, leaving about 5cm of growth and being careful not the damage them. Allow the tubers to dry out in a frost free location out of the sun before brushing off the soil and leaving about 3cm of the stem intact.
You can store your overwintering tubers in boxes or baskets filled with vermiculite in a dry and cool location.
It’s important to check your tubers periodically throughout the winter for any signs of rot or disease. If you spot any, remove the rotting part immediately to prevent it from spreading.
If your tubers appear too shrivelled, you can lightly spray them with water before returning them to storage.
Remember, many plants will do just fine during the winter without any extra protection, it really depends on the plant. It’s important to check the requirements of the individual plants that you grow when deciding what you need to do for them.