Autumn: nature’s time for planting
It may look and feel like the garden’s beginning to wind down for winter now, but that doesn’t mean the same applies to gardening! It’s the ideal time for some key tasks which will help to kick-start your garden’s good looks early next year.
Why is it a good time to plant?
Soil temperature’s at its peak, making the kindest of environments for plant roots to snuggle into. Coupled with autumn’s rain means plants have a couple of months and a good chance of establishing themselves before they shut down for winter.
It also means less work for the gardener—spring planting tends to be followed by a period of dry weather more and more these days, which means increased watering duties and the need to check on plants more often.
What can be planted?
Trees and shrubs in containers are a good bet. They’re concentrating their efforts less on leaf growth and producing seeds, and more on replenishing a good root system instead. This increases their chances of survival through the winter.
The bare rooted plant season starts around the end of October (and finishes around the end of February), or when the first frosts start, so it’s a good time for these too. Plants should be set out straight after purchase, as long as the ground isn’t completely frozen or waterlogged at the time.
Hardy perennials are another good choice as long as you don’t mind them looking a bit dog-eared. Many specialist nurseries close for the season towards the end of October and hold clearance sales. It can be a good time to find plenty of bargains to re-stock your garden at a fraction of the usual cost.
Lawns can be replaced or refreshed at this time of year too, with September being a particularly good month as autumn’s rain helps with sward establishment. This applies irrespective of whether seed or turf is used.
Don’t forget seeds, bulbs and pots
Plenty of hardy annuals can be sown directly in the soil now to ensure an earlier display next year. They include: Ammi majus, marigolds (Calendula), Nigella (love-in-a-mist), all kinds of poppies, and larkspur.
Annuals which need some protection, such as sweet peas, Californian poppies and gysophila can be sown in pots and protected using horticultural fleece, or by leaving in a greenhouse or cold frame.
Look out for bargain seed sales at your garden centre too—check the back of the packet to see which ones can be sown now.
Early autumn is the key time for planting spring flowering bulbs, particularly daffodils, crocus and hyacinths. Tulips should be left until November to reduce the risk of tulip fire, a fungal disease which results in withered and distorted leaves.
Hardy summer bulbs, such as alliums, crocosmia and lilies are good to go in September or October.
Finally, containers and hanging baskets need their summer displays refreshed. Replace with plants such as pansies, violas, primroses and cyclamen. The first three can be slow to flower, so use a central small conifer, berrying plant or trailing ivy to provide interest until they do. Pop in a few of the smaller spring flowering bulbs, to keep the interest going in the spring.
Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and blogger from Wiltshire. She is the author of the award winning blog, Veg Plotting, where she writes about her small town garden, seasonal food anything else which strikes her whilst up at her allotment.