10 Essential Things to Do in the Garden this Autumn

After a warm September, autumn has definitely swung in with a vengeance in the last few days.  These colder, far wetter days may not be ideal for getting out to enjoy all your fun autumn bucket list activities but this is a great time of year to get out in your garden, whether that's simply tidying up to make your garden look better, harvesting crops and flowers or planting for spring.  Here are all the essential jobs to do in the garden this autumn.

Give the Garden a Tidy Up

Autumn is a beautiful time of year with all the stunning tree colours and leaves on the ground.  On breezy days it may see pointless raking up leaves, but if you do you can put them on the compost heap and look forward to rich leaf mulch next year.  Leaf mould provides nutrients for the soil, helps reduce weeds and allows the soil to retain more moisture.

If you don't already have a compost heap or bin then October is a great time to start one, with all those leaves and cuttings to dispose of.  If you really don't have the space then rake up the leaves and store them in a bag (these leaf sacks are great for this) so they can break down and be added to the garden.

Remember to be on the look out for these little guys in any leaf piles, untidy areas or bonfires.

If you have time, trim your (non-berry bearing) hedges so that they are crisp and tidy for the winter months.  The sharp edges will look stunning when coated in frost or snow over winter.  Time to grab your camera!

Elsewhere go around removing dead foliage, pulling up weeds and removing old ground cover plants or mulch.  Clear the vegetable garden of decaying plants to prevent pests and diseases from harbouring there.  If possible, leave some leaf piles and untouched areas in your garden as shelter and food sources for hedgehogs and other wildlife.

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Take some time to wash out any pots and seed trays, and clean your greenhouse thoroughly inside and out.  Your pond may also need a clean, tidy and refresh before winter, and make sure water butts and gutters and clean and ready for all that winter rain.

Harvest Vegetables

Harvest any remaining root vegetables, pumpkins and squash, and any cool-weather greens that are ready.  Pumpkins that were planted earlier in the year are ready for harvesting now and will potentially keep you going till Christmas with some succession planting in April, May and June.

If you have any spare pumpkins or skins to discard, hollow them out to make bird feeders.  Leave sunflowers and any berry-bearing hedges, trees or shrubs for birds too.

Enjoy those delicious fall vegetables with these recipes:

How to Make the Best of Autumn Vegetables
20 Easy Pumpkin Desserts
Roasted Pumpkin Macaroni
Autumnal Root Vegetable Soup
Turmeric, Carrot and Watercress Soup

Tidy Up Perennials

Autumn is a great time to trim back spring and summer flowering herbaceous perennials and to split up larger clumps for transferring to new spots around the garden.

Dividing them will ensure healthy, vigorous plants that will continue to perform year after year.  It’s best to do this on a dry day when the soil is not too wet.  Plant some of the newly divided plants back in the ground and move the others to other areas of the garden, or pot them up and give away to friends.

Dig up dahlia tubers after the first frost.  You can find out more here.

Prep the Soil

Dig existing soil to a depth of about 25cm / 10 inches removing any stones, weeds or dead foliage as you go.  Spread 4 to 6 inches of peat-free compost or soil improver on top and mix it into the soil then rake to level it out.  Add compost to the soil before planting annuals, fall edibles, or perennials.

Water and Mulch

Give your perennials, bulbs, trees and vegetable garden a good drink of water and spread mulch to reduce weeds and help retain moisture.  Lay about 5-7cm (2 to 3 inches) of organic mulch on the soil and around plants.

Plant Vegetables

Believe it or not, there are plenty of vegetables that will enjoy the chilly weather to come.  Plant cold crops such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.  Find out what varieties are suitable for autumn planting.

Garlic is also best planted in autumn.  Plant it in your vegetable patch with the pointed ends up, just below the soil surface and spaced 10cm (4 inches) apart.

Plant Spring Bulbs

Autumn is the best time of year to plant spring bulbs, as they need to be chilled in the ground before they break dormancy and begin growing and blooming as the warmer weather returns.  Spring bulbs like daffodils, tulips, crocuses and alliums should be planted about 6 to 8 weeks before the first hard frost.  We love this wide range of gorgeous bulb varieties.

Plant bulbs now to ensure a colourful display when spring arrives.  Try planting clumps of five or seven bulbs of the same variety through a border or in pots for a really effective display.  Plant bulbs at a depth equal to twice the height of the bulb.  You can also start spring bedding plants and biennials, like wallflowers, off in less exposed beds and containers.

Indoors or in a warm greenhouse plant prepared hyacinth bulbs in pots and vases to provide winter scent and a splash of colour in your home.  The bulbs labelled 'prepared' at the garden centre will be the ones that bloom over Christmas.  They should be planted in early October.  These make ideal gifts for friends or hostess gifts over the holidays.

Related post: Home-Made Christmas Gift Ideas

What Else to Plant Now

Fruit bushes like raspberries and blackberries can also be planted now to give you glorious blossom in springtime, and an abundance of fruit in the summer.

Add life and beautiful autumn colour to your garden by planting fall annuals like pansies, marigolds, red salvia, white alyssum, nasturtium, lobelia, snapdragons and ornamental kale as early in the season as possible.

Plant cover crops to suppress weeds over winter, keep the soil fertile, conserve moisture and control pests and diseases.  Rye, buckwheat, clover, sorghum and hairy vetch are a few popular examples.  Once the crop is fully matured, it should be cut back or removed before planting other vegetables or flowers.

Look After Your Lawn

Autumn is the perfect time to take care of your lawn by aerating the grass and fertilizing it with a phosphorus-rich fertilizer.  Aerating the lawn allows oxygen, water, and fertilizer to penetrate the grass roots, resulting in a fuller and richer lawn.

Cut the grass for the last time at the end of October then leave it until well into next year.  If you can set your mower blades make sure they are slightly higher than usual so the longer grass helps to protect the lawn from winter frost damage.

Prepare for Frost

It's time to protect plants and structures from early frosts.  It may seem early but preparation is key before the first frosts, snow and high winds arrive.  Check any high structures such as fences, sheds and gates for signs of weakness and rot and repair or replace as necessary.

Insulate any outdoor containers from frost using bubble wrap or fleece covers and, where possible, move pots with tender plants or borderline hardy pots into a greenhouse.  Wooden garden furniture will also need covering or storing for the winter and terracotta pots will need bringing inside, so that they don’t freeze and crack over winter.

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