How to make the most of your autumn garden
Gold-medal winning Chelsea designer, and MD at Hillier Nurseries and Garden Centres, Andy McIndoe, highlights techniques for making the most of your autumn garden.
The highlights of the autumn garden are some of the most heart-warming and surprising and can represent a great opportunity for garden projects. Maybe it’s the rich fall colours that seem to glow even on dull days. Or perhaps it’s that lush burst of growth of the grass, encouraged by morning dew and more frequent rainfall. The gardening and landscaping year is far from closing, there’s plenty that you, or your gardener can do to make the most of the season and prepare for the future.
There is a treasure trove of seasonal plant material on sale in garden centres and nurseries. Even if it’s still alive, get rid of summer bedding from those patio containers and pots. There are lots of wonderful autumn and winter container plants that will really brighten up the patio and doorstep: violas, pansies, heathers, heucheras, cyclamen and a host of foliage subjects. Many of these will stay looking good through winter.
There are also all those lovely spring flowering bulbs to plant in preparation for another season. Plant any small bulbs such as snowdrops, iris and fritillaries as soon as possible; they deteriorate quickly if left out of the ground for long. Hold off planting tulips until late autumn as if planted too early they can suffer from frost damage or the disease ‘tulip fire’. Daffodils and narcissi can be planted at any time.
Leaves are falling, so keep gathering them regularly and do not leave them lying on the grass. It’s best to mow them up with the mower on a high setting if possible. This chops the large ones coarsely and adds a few green grass cuttings that help the composting process. It is certainly much less backbreaking than raking – quicker too – so if you don’t have the right equipment, ask your local lawn care professional for advice.
Remember, if you’re looking for help around the garden, autumn is often the best time for planting trees and shrubs, and can be a good time of year for general garden maintenance, as well as removal projects once barbecue season is over.
Some shrubs will give instant impact if planted now and they can also benefit wild birds that visit your garden. Cotoneasters are a great choice – tiny white flowers in spring that attract bees and other pollinators, scarlet berries in autumn and winter that the birds really enjoy. If you are thinking of a planting a tree, think beyond spring blossom. Sorbus and malus both have colourful fruits that provide winter food for birds, if you can tempt them to something organic away from the bird feeder.
If you choose just one shrub to plant it has to be a hydrangea: these have gone from being old fashioned to super-trendy in the past couple of years. They are at their best in autumn when their brighter colours fade to something far more sophisticated and beautiful, before they turn parchment in winter. For flower arrangers this is the time to cut them and dry them to preserve their faded beauty.
Whatever you have planned for your garden, ground preparation and careful planting gives the best results. So fork over the ground and mix in plenty of garden compost or shrub and tree planting compost. Dig a hole that’s plenty deep and wide enough and plant firmly. Always stake and tie any new trees securely.
While summer is unfortunately drawing to a close, this is certainly no time to abandon your garden. Taking care of your garden now will reap rewards all through autumn and winter and give you the chance to play host when others can’t!
Follow @AndyMcIndoe on Twitter for more expert insights.
Andy is MD at Hillier Nurseries and Garden Centres, as well as a tutor and blogger at the online gardening school MyGardenSchool