The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us, with frosty, foggy mornings and the smell of bonfire smoke lingering in the air. It’s time to savour Mother Nature’s kaleidoscope of rich autumn colour and put the garden to bed for winter, say the gardening experts at Robert Dyas…
Clean out greenhouses
Greenhouses full of dying plant material and old compost are a breeding ground for pests and diseases to overwinter. Take advantage of a fine day to empty all contents and sweep structures out. Glazing should be disinfected by scrubbing down with warm water containing outdoor cleaner (wash pots and seed trays out at the same time). Clear leaves and debris from gutters that risk obstructing the flow of rainwater into butts, then wash the entire structure down using a hosepipe fitted with a powerful spray nozzle. Leave doors and windows open for 24 hours to allow the greenhouse to thoroughly dry out.
Build a bonfire
By October, gardeners face dealing with a mountain of rubbish. While green waste can be composted, twiggy prunings, dead wood and branches are best disposed of in a bonfire – one of the joys of autumn and a great way to celebrate the turning seasons. The safest method is to use a garden incinerator, which has the added benefit of being enclosed, so garden wildlife – especially hedgehogs – can’t climb in ahead of the fire being lit. Stand incinerators on a level, paved surface away from fences, decks and sheds and use firelighters, never fuel, to safely get the blaze going at dusk when neighbours won’t object.
Plant for winter colour
Millions of planters and pots sit empty over winter once summer bedding has fizzled out. However, containers can be packed with colour by mixing flowers and berries that will lift spirits during the freezing months, so get planting now! Raised planters in natural timber provides a stylish backdrop to winter stars such as Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’, famed for its deep-red flower buds and the winter cherry (Solanum capsicastrum) which bears an abundance of vivid orange ornamental fruits. Add in trusty winter-flowering pansies, violas and miniature cyclamen then soften the edges with trailing ivy for a beautiful display all winter-long.
TLC for houseplants
It’s that time of the year when the central heating on is switched on and log burners are fired up – great for keeping us cosy as temperatures fall; not so good for houseplants which can struggle in the warm, dry atmosphere of our homes. Raising humidity levels by misting holds the key to keeping indoor plants healthy. Fill a small, hand-held sprayer with tepid tap water and mist the leaves of foliage plants every few days to keep displays at their prime. Standing plant pots in a large tray of water once a week will help root systems to absorb exactly the right amount of moisture they require (these trays are also ideal for storing tubers of dahlias and cannas in dry compost or newspaper in sheds and garages over winter, once tubers have been lifted from gardens in autumn).
Tidy lawns and lay turf
Clearing leaf debris from lawns, whether using a lawn rake, leaf vacuum or brush, is a must to keep turf healthy over winter. Leaves left in situ over winter will decompose, creating muddy, slippery patches on grass, but they’ll break down into wonderful soil improver if gathered and placed in a compost bin. October is likely to be the final mow of the season, so raise the blades on lawnmowers, as grass that’s clipped too finely can suffer at the hands of winter cold. October also represents the last chance to lay new lawns from turf this season: dig soil thoroughly, remove weeds, tread level then rake to a fine tilth before positioning rolls of turf. Keep new lawns watered well and avoid trampling over newly laid turf for the first few weeks.
Sow sweet peas
Fragrant, vigorous and flowering profusely during summer, it’s no wonder that sweet peas are one of the nation’s favourite flowers. Starting seeds in small pots of compost in October gives seedlings a head start over plants sown in spring as they’ll flower earlier next season. Once seeds have germinated and established, seedlings should be placed in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse over winter (it’ll prevent plants becoming leggy) before being acclimatised to conditions outdoors and planted in their final growing spot ahead of summer.
Restore hosepipe order!
One of the most common reasons why flowers, shrubs and trees in containers perish over winter is a lack of watering. Sure, plants need less moisture during cold months, but dense canopies can prevent rainfall from reaching the compost, placing plants under stress. Check container plants every week during winter, keeping hosepipes handy. Hoses left sprawling over patios over winter are unsightly and a trip hazard, so now’s the perfect time to wind unruly pipes onto a hose reel for neat winter storage – it’ll also prevent pipes from kinking. Replacing broken or dripping hose connectors will ensure that winter watering or car washing is leak and hassle free!