Early autumn can seem positively relaxed after the spin of trying to keep up with plant growth, cutting and deadheading over the summer months. Yes, we can slow down a bit but don’t put your feet up just yet! There are plenty of jobs to be done during the autumn months to get your cutting patch into the best possible shape for winter so that it emerges flourishing and pest-free next spring.
Remember that specific tasks may vary depending on your garden’s size, location, and the types of plants you have. If in doubt, consult local gardening groups or garden centres for advice tailored to regional conditions. Or ask in any of our Facebook Groups – we have a very knowledgeable flower community at Learn with the Cut Flower Collective and within our Best Bunch membership group.
Here’s some suggestions (not an exhaustive list) from me:
Dividing Perennials: Autumn is a good time to divide perennials that have become overcrowded, if the ground is not too wet (leave until early spring if so). Dividing plants every 2-3 years, or more often if needed, not only rejuvenates and makes them more vigorous but you get new plants for your garden, cutting patch or to share with friends and neighbours.
You can also plant container-grown shrubs and trees now.
If dividing plants gets you hooked on getting plants for free, join the wait list for our intermediate level propagation course ‘A Cut Above’ which starts again in October.
Planting Bulbs: Autumn is the ideal time to plant spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, and crocuses. See my recent blog on planting autumn bulbs.
Autumn Rose Care: Most roses benefit from hard pruning in early spring before they start their next season of growth. In autumn you should cut out any dead or diseased stems and remove rotting flower heads as well as any leaves showing signs of black spot. If you have black spot, mildew or rust, all the leaves should be carefully collected from around the plant and put into the bonfire or council waste bin. Never put diseased plant matter into composts or leave mould piles.
Tall bush roses should be cut down by about one third to reduce wind-rock during winter gales which can loosen and damage the roots. Cut stems just above an outward-facing bud wherever possible. You can then give them a hard prune in early spring.
General Pruning: Prune any summer-flowering shrubs that have finished blooming. Later flowering deciduous plants should be pruned in early spring.
Start a Leaf Mould Pile: Leaf mould, made from leaf debris that’s been broken down by fungi, makes a great soil conditioner. You can spread it around plants as a mulch in early spring or (for leaf mould that is at least 2 years old) add it to growing media for new seeds. Most leaves are OK to add to the pile but evergreen or conifer needles take longer to rot so are best left out or only added in small quantities.
On the farm we’ve created leaf mould bins from chicken wire but any container where air can circulate and you can add from the top will do the job. Bottom-lining your bins with membrane prevents weeds growing through.
Compost Management: Continue adding organic matter to your compost pile. Spent annuals and cut-back herbaceous perennials can all go into the mix, along with the grass from that final lawn mow. These are classed as ‘green waste’ so will add nitrogen to the compost. Remember to add plenty of ‘brown waste’ as well such as cardboard, paper, straw and leaves (if you don’t have a separate leaf mould pile) to keep the balance of green and brown. Brown waste items contribute carbon to the mix.
Clean and Store Garden Tools: As we head towards winter, this is a good time to clean and sharpen your tools and equipment. Proper storage can help prolong their lifespan and you’ll be so happy you did this when you open the shed on that sunny day in March!
Clean out polytunnels and greenhouses: If yours is anything like ours, there will be plenty of unwanted seedheads floating around, along with general plant debris from a season of growing. Wait until the weather is cool enough to spend an extended period of time in the polytunnel or greenhouse and then have a good clean. Remove any shading you put in place and open doors and windows to give the structure a good airing. If you don’t have time in early autumn, cleaning is a good job to do when temperatures drop and digging or pruning jobs become off limits.
Protecting Tender Plants: If you have tender plants or rare species in your garden, protect them from frost by covering with fleece or moving them to a greenhouse, polytunnel or conservatory. Storing Dahlias for winter is a subject all of its own which I’ll cover in a separate blog.
Wildlife Support: Help wildlife prepare for winter by providing food and water sources. Keep bird feeders topped up as natural food sources decline and where possible leave seed heads, berries and hips for the animals’ winter larder. If you’re clearing away dead matter from annuals and perennials, try to leave at least a corner where small animals such as hedgehogs and frogs can continue to hide out.
Pond Care: Remove debris from ponds and clean out filters. Reduce feeding fish as their metabolism slows down in cooler water.
Are there any autumn jobs you’d add to this list? Comment below!