Professional Gardener - Tender plants, new seeds and the big tidy

It is essential to prepare for deteriorating weather conditions as autumn approaches, says Sally Drury.

Tender plants

October weather can be extremely variable. Last week's dry, sunny and warm conditions were no doubt welcomed by many working outdoors, but it is important to be ready for autumn gales, heavy rainfall and plunging temperatures.

Make sure that space is available, cleaned and ready for any tender plants that need to be brought into glasshouses and conservatories for the winter months. For those plants that cannot be moved, protection should be at hand.

Frosts could occur at any time, so make sure that all dahlias and chrysanthemums are labelled and ready for lifting. Check over the fleeces and hessian required for wrapping those species that must go through the winter outside and replace any that are thinning or damaged.

Also make sure that all members of staff have appropriate winter clothing, including suitable boots and gloves.

New plants and seeds

Check nursery catalogues and make any final orders of plants, especially roses. Request seed catalogues if they have not already arrived.

Various berries and pods can be collected now with a view to growing plants from the seeds. However, do not forget to leave some for the birds.

Start the big tidy

Empty well-composted material from bins for use where required and prepare bins to receive volumes of autumn debris, spent plants and prunings.

Cut down yellowing stems and remove plant debris and weeds from herbaceous borders. Give a last trim to hedges where necessary. Start thinning out oxygenating plants in ponds and remove old water lily leaves.

To reduce the chances of disease, start clearing fallen leaves from lawns as soon as volumes amass and time allows.

Remove all of the fallen fruits from fruit gardens to limit the risk of pests and diseases spreading - although a scattering of apples across a spare piece of ground some distance away from your orchard areas will provide a tasty meal for hungry blackbirds and thrushes.

Planning

Depending on your location, the planting of evergreens should be completed soon. Make sure that all plans are in place for autumn planting of all other trees and shrubs. Now is also a good time to construct new heather beds or to restock tired beds and borders.

Prepare and plant flower beds for spring bedding and keep a check on how wallflowers and pansies are doing if you are growing them from seed. Where soil is heavy, these should be planted out sooner rather than later.

Spend some time thinking ahead to next year. How will water be provided for irrigation purposes if 2012 turns out to be a dry year? Collecting and storing winter rainfall might be a solution. Research available products and consider the possibility of installing a tank - perhaps locating it underground if necessary.

The effects of autumn in terms of leaf colour vary from year to year and there can be as much as four or five weeks' difference in the autumn colour coming to its peak in gardens in the south of England compared to those in the north of Scotland.

Wherever you are, do not miss out on the vibrancy of autumn. Visit neighbouring gardens, estates and parks, and note species that are putting on spectacular displays.


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