Easing your garden from summer into autumn...

Autumn leaves

Autumn leaves - Credit: Archant

Gardening is an all-year-round job, but this time of year allows the green fingered to move at a steadier pace.

September sees the transition of late summer into early autumn; and while there are always things to be done in the garden, this point on the calendar gives gardeners a chance to potter rather than rush.

Autumn is a time to armour your garden for the cold wintry months. Spring is all about regeneration and planting. And summer is a time to enjoy a garden, but maintain it as you do so. But now you get a slight break and gardeners have the opportunity to get bits and pieces done outside before the frost sets in. Late summer is a time for chores, rather than work. And it’s your last chance to garden without having to wrap up against the British winter.

Trim the tree:

The garden sheers only need to come out in late summer if you’ve got conifers. And this is only if you’ve noticed dead or diseased branches here and there. Most deciduous trees can be left til later in the autumn, or should have been pruned midsummer depending on the species. Any plain green shoots which appear on variegated conifers need to be snipped, as should any out-of-the-ordinary looking shoots on other conifer types. If you have yew hedges September is the best time to tidy these up too, so that they’ll remain hardy throughout the winter. If removing brown patches causes gaps to appear, tie nearby healthy shoots together so that they outstretch across the area as they continue to grow.

Up the apples and pears:

Pruning espaliers and cordons should be done right now. Fruit trees of this kind are trimmed in the summer to boost fruit bud growth for the following year and to let sunlight into the fruit that already exists. Cutting back earlier than this can cause vegetative buds to form, rather than fruiting buds. This doesn’t put them in good stead for early frosts that may creep in. Adding calcium is also a relatively new tip for this type of core fruit. Stone fruit, such as cherries and plums, should be prioritised before any other as they should really have been pruned in the last days of August.

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Bring planters back to life:

There’s no need to write off your summer pots and planters yet. These are easily salvageable by tidying them up and adding foliage in the form of flowering kales and cabbages, winter pansies, decorative peppers and hardly mums. These will continue to look colourful as the rest of the garden begins to turn a shade rustier.

Currants and berries:

Black and redcurrants, gooseberries and raspberries will be much better equipped to face the winter if they are trimmed back now. Use secateurs to prune out already-fruited stems of summer-fruiting raspberries and as September gets cooler do the same with gooseberries and blackcurrants. With redcurrants, make sure they are cut right back, down to a pair of buds at the base. Doing this prepares them for the winter and sets them up for a healthier crop when they fruit next year.

No room for ugliness:

Dead flower stems and unattractive seed heads are a trait of herbaceous perennials, which are typically taller border plants that will draw unwanted attention when they’re past their prime flowering season. Simply remove the uglier bits of the plant. It will thin them out, look better and ready them for growth next spring. Similarly, if you have cistus, rosemary or certain types of lavender, do the same with these this month. These Mediterranean plants won’t survive if you wait til the weather gets cold. Check your lavender type first though as this applies to cotton and common lavender only, and be sure not to cut into old wood.

Splendour in the grass:

This is a great time to plant particular grasses, which not only thrive in this season but also give your garden an attractive zest even when a lot of the other greenery is starting to wilt. Stipa tenussima, for example, boasts shimmering, fluffy plumes that have flicks of gold and don’t need tending to until the early spring.

Planning ahead:

Lastly, while you potter, trim and tidy, start thinking about how you want your garden to look during the winter. Think about any winter flowers you might want to plant, and which bulbs should be established in time for next spring. How will you cover the less hardy greenery? Where will you store plants that need to be brought inside. Are the feeders ready to keep the birds provided for while the cold starts to arrive? All of this needs actioning later in the season, but it doesn’t hurt to start planning now.