Autumn Garden Jobs

In previous pages on this site we’ve had a look at the different types of location and soil required by garden plants, at ways in which to plan beds and borders in relation to the size and shape of different types of plants, and at the immense range of colours and textures available among annuals, biennials, perennials and shrubs. Here we consider all these matters in the context of time: how to organise work in the garden during autumn.



Michaelmas daises and Japanese anemones are still giving a lavish display, China asters do their best to hold attention, and the single daisy-like and button varieties have a certain charm; but annuals are almost played out, and the days are visibly shortening planting time is near.

If space does not allow for a tree, choose a large shrub. For those on acid soil it could be Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’, a striking Himalayan rhododendron, or strawberry tree (Arbutus). More chalk-tolerant is the magnificent false acacia, Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’, with its elegant yellow-green foliage. The aromatic rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an accommodating plant that thrives in a light soil.

Other significant work this month is the potting up of ‘prepared’ bulbs in the home and greenhouse, the planting of daffodils, snow-drops and other early-flowering bulbs in the beds and borders (or in the grass if there is a wild garden), adding perhaps a few of the brilliant tulip species that do not require autumn lifting.

Many berrying trees and shrubs add extra colour at this time, including cotoneasters, pernettyas, cultivars of the mountain ash (Sorbus), and the firethorns (Pyracantha). Some of the first glowing autumn leaf colouring is provided by the snowy mespilus (Amelanchier). Many species and cultivars of the dainty autumn-flowering crocuses and colchicums begin to bloom.

If peonies have to be moved or divided, this is the best time to do it; also the winter-flowering Iris unguicularis. From now until mid-October is the second period when lifted conifers and other evergreens can be moved safely. After planting, water them freely in dry weather. Prune rambler roses, removing or shortening the old stems and tying in the new ones to replace them. Many roses, especially ramblers, can be raised from cuttings taken now.

The tougher hardy annuals, such as calendulas, cornflowers (Centaurea), and godetia, can be sown now to provide larger plants and earlier flowers next season. Lift and pot any pelargoniums, tender fuchsias, and cannas you want to save before the first frost arrives; keep them in a warm greenhouse, or in a light place indoors, for the winter.


Flowers are scarce this month, but the berried trees and shrubs, alight with autumn colour, take their place. Here the mahogany paper-bark maple (Acer griseum), with dazzling red leaves, the orange fruits of the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), and the gorgeous flame of the sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), play their part. If there is a trellis, archway, or wall where the magnificent Japanese crimson-glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) can ramble fancy-free, it will provide a blaze of exciting reds. This is a climber, quick and willing to camouflage any structure given a helping hand from the gardener. The lace-like Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and its forms give the same dramatic effect and have the advantage of being self-clinging.

Any gardener looking for an elegant addition to the small garden should consider Young’s weeping birch (Betula pendula ‘Youngii’), or even the decorative, common silver birch, known so aptly as queen of the woods.

The display of brilliant berries continues and the brightly coloured crab-apples (Malus) add to the show, some hanging on long after the leaves have fallen. Some autumn crocus and colchicum species continue to open their frail blooms, and many border plants, such as ice plants and Michaelmas daisies (Aster), hold their display well into the month, while others make a second, smaller, but nonetheless welcome showing. The first glistening pink blooms of Nerine bowdenii open now, as do the kaffir lilies (Schizostylis), and most bedding plants continue to be colourful until cut down by the first frost.

Complete the work of planting all bulbs (except tulips) as soon as possible. Weed any hardy annuals sown last month and thin them out to 75 mm (3 in) apart for the winter. Clear fallen leaves from low-growing plants. Lift and store gladiolus corms and dahlia tubers once their top growth has been frosted, or at the end of this month.


This is the best month for planting hedges; here are a few of many: the dark and distinguished yew (Taxus) slow in growth; the beech (Fagus sylvatica) that keeps its russet leaves through winter (a copper beech planted here and there is a colourful addition); the holly (Ilex), often a slow starter, but with a useful prickly and resistant quality; the escallonia, a decorative seaside lover, but suitable for mild districts only; the easily pleased laurel (Prunus) or despised privet (Ligustrum), both willing and cheap (nine broad-leaved privets to one golden privet makes an attractive hedge). The hawthorn (Crataegus), tough and fast-growing, presents a fine boundary; Berberis stenophylla is decked with a mass of bright yellow flowers in April and May; rhododendrons also make a grand early-flowering summer hedge for the garden on acid soil; the sweet-briar (Rosa rubiginosa) forms a delightful scented fence from 1.5-2.5 m (5-8V4ft) tall, while the cluster-flowered rose ‘Queen Elizabeth’ is excellent for the medium height informal planting.

As deciduous trees and shrubs shed their remaining leaves, the winter garden scene emerges, but provided it is well planted with evergreens it never looks empty and dead. The coloured-leaved conifers, especially, can provide plenty of variety. Also revealed when the leaves fall is the colourful bark of some trees and shrubs, like that of the coral-bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Senkaki’), and this is attractive the whole winter through.

03. July 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | Comments Off on Autumn Garden Jobs


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