It’s time to ease yourself out of the deckchair and put on your gardening gloves because autumn is almost upon us, and with it, a plethora of tasks to wake you from your summer slumber.
There’s a host of jobs to do to get ahead this autumn, so make the most of the last warm days by perking up your plants, then enjoy the season change as the leaves turn from green to brilliant shades of warm yellow, burnt orange and burgundy.
Here’s just a few of the tasks you could be doing to get a head start:
When your summer bedding is past its best and beyond reviving, chuck it out and treat yourself to a fresh batch of winter-flowering pansies, evergreens and shrubs including autumn heather, skimmia japonica ‘rubella’ and variegated ivy to drape over the sides. Plant bulbs such as dwarf narcissi underneath.
Spring-flowering bulbs in pots combine well with winter bedding plants such as pansies, evergreens, grasses and heathers.
Group taller bulbs in the centre of the pot and use seasonal bedding nearer the sides.
Boost your lawn
Autumn is a great time to sow a new lawn, when the ground is still warm and there is likely to be some rain. You should have prepared the soil the previous season, making sure it has been well firmed and settled before levelling. Mark out your area and sow the seed evenly, scattering it in both directions before raking it into the soil surface. If it doesn’t rain, water the seed well and keep the soil moist until the grass starts to appear. Net the area or put up a scarecrow to keep birds away. If you have bare patches, mow the lawn, rake the surface to remove debris then spread seed over the sparse areas, sweeping it into the surface, before covering it with a fine layer of compost and watering it in.
You should be ordering your spring bulbs now, some of which can be planted as early as August. Among the first spring bulbs for planting are narcissi, both in the border and in containers. Others for planting in early autumn include muscari, crocus, iris and hyacinth. Plant dwarf bulbs in your patio pots underneath winter-flowering pansies and foliage-fillers including euonymus and ivies. Plant your bulbs in gritty compost and place pots on feet to avoid the bulbs becoming waterlogged.
You don’t have to just sow seeds in spring, because a range of flowers and veg can be sown in autumn to give a longer harvesting time or simply to have a better start after overwintering. Salads can be sown through to mid-September for overwintering, some lettuces will reach a size which is perfect for picking before the cold slows down growth. Use cloches to cover those to be left in the ground a bit longer. Baby spinach leaves and corn salad are worth sowing if you can cover them later, as are several types of overwintering lettuce. Sow overwintering onions in vacant rows in the veg plot and transplant in October.
You can also sow some hardy annuals in late summer - Chiltern Seeds (www.chilternseeds.co.uk, 01491 824675) is now offering a number of new varieties including centaurea americana ‘aloha blanca’, which is robust and tall growing, bearing beautiful, fluffy, ivory-white flowers six inches across, and papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s grape’, which has crisp, velvety, deep plum-purple petals and attractive grey-blue-green foliage.
Now’s the time to clear out those cracked and broken pots, rusty tools and snapped bamboo canes to make some space for yourself. Invest in a tool rack from any good DIY store on which to hang your forks, spades, lawn edgers and other large tools which will otherwise take up valuable floor space. Disinfect and neatly pile seed trays which won’t be used until next year and give your hand tools a good clean, wiping blades over with an oily rag before prolonged storage.