Guide to Autumn Garden Jobs

Autumn is a lovely time of the year in the garden. The leaves begin to colour and the fruits to ripen. When the frosts begin to strike and the foliage to die back, one automatically thinks of next year; there are bulbs to plant and new shrubs to establish.



Plant spring bulbs, spring bedding plants and summer-flowering biennials.

Sow some of the tougher hardy annuals for an early show.

Rake, spike, top-dress and feed the lawn.

Lift and store frost-tender plants.

Prune rambler roses.

Plant ornamental containers with plants for winter/spring interest.

As herbaceous plants die down, cut down the stems to soil level.

Pull up and discard summer bedding plants when the display is over, plus hardy annuals.

Make final trimming of hedges, if they need it.

Good month to sow grass seed.


Prune trained forms of fruit trees. Lift and store maincrop carrots, beetroots and potatoes.

Plant spring cabbages.

Pick any green tomatoes and ripen them in-doors.

Clear tomato plants from the greenhouse at the end of the month and bring in chrysanthemums in pots for autumn flowering. Sow greenhouse lettuce for winter salads. There are varieties for both heated and unheated greenhouses.



Apply timber preservative or paint to fences and gates, plus garden buildings.

Clear out bases of hedges, removing all rubbish and weeds.

Start making a compost heap with garden rubbish.

Protect newly planted evergreen shrubs and conifers from cold winds by erecting a screen.

Continue planting spring-flowering bulbs and spring bedding plants.

Continue cutting down herbaceous plants as they die back.

Continue dead-heading roses if they are still flowering.

Give lawns a final mowing if still growing.

Carry out turfing this month.


Start digging the vegetable garden after clearing away old crops.

Prune soft fruits such as raspberries, black currants and blackberries.

New fruits can be planted in well-prepared soil.

Finish lifting maincrop vegetables, such as carrots, beetroots and potatoes, and store for winter use.

Pick and store apples and pears.



Before the winter sets in make sure timber fences, gates, trellis panels, sheds and summer-houses are protected from the elements. If moisture penetrates timber, it will soon rot.

All of the items mentioned can be treated with timber preservative, instead of paint, so that the natural wood shows through. In the garden I would strongly recommend that you only use a horticultural timber preservative which will not harm nearby plants, for instance climbers growing up trellis. However, if there are no plants nearby, creosote can be used, but do bear in mind that timber so treated can later give off fumes in warm weather that can damage nearby plants.

Several companies now supply timber preservatives for garden use and the latest are water soluble, strange though it may seem, so brushes and hands are easily cleaned. Probably the most popular preservative colour for the garden is red cedar. All timber can be treated with this, not just cedarwood. You may on the other hand prefer dark oak, or perhaps chestnut. All are natural colours which will blend into any garden.

How often you need to treat timber depends largely on exposure to the elements. But on average I would suggest treatment every two years. Do not wait until the fence, gate, shed, or whatever, looks unsightly.

Apply timber preservative only when the wood is dry, first cleaning it, if necessary, by brushing with a stiff brush to remove algae (green growth), dust and general grime. If you accidentally splash plants with preservative, wash it off immediately with water.

Of course, you may prefer to paint your timber items. Ranch-type fencing and picket fencing look particularly good painted white. Old paintwork should be rubbed down well with glasspaper and old flaking paint removed. If you expose the bare wood, retouch with priming paint, then apply an undercoat, followed by a finishing coat.

If you have some bare wood to paint, you might like to try the new microporous paints. When dry, the paint forms a film with tiny pores (or holes) in it which allows moisture to escape instead of remaining trapped as happens with ordinary paint. This causes rot to set in and the paint to blister and crack. With microporous paint you don’t have these problems.


Wrought-iron gates, panels in walls, or railings need to be painted regularly to prevent them rusting. You can use ordinary black (or white) gloss paint over an undercoat, or you might like to try a paint with a hammered enamel finish. You only need apply one thick coat of this, even if the surface is rusty. Not much preparation is needed either: simply rub off the loose rust with a wire brush.


If the mortar bonding between bricks starts to crumble and fall out, it must be replaced or the wall will quickly deteriorate, because rain and frost will penetrate.

Chisel out the old crumbling mortar to a depth of about 12mm (1/2m) and refill. Use a builder’s trowel for this, and a mortar mix consisting of one part cement and six parts builder’s sand. The idea is for the ‘pointing’, as it is called, to deflect rainwater, so make sure that the mortar is smoothed off.


All too often, established hedges receive no attention other than clipping in summer. Many of them would be better if weeds and any rubbish were cleared away from their bases in the autumn. Obstructions at the base can exclude light, so causing the lower shoots of the hedge to die off. This, of course, results in a bare base. If there is any dead material, cut it out to live healthy wood, or back to the main stems. It will help to give a scattering of bonemeal, lightly pricking it into the soil surface in the autumn. Apply a band about 450mm (18in) wide on each side of the hedge.



September is the main month for planting spring-flowering bulbs, although some, particularly tulips, can be planted as late as November.

Daffodils (narcissi) should be the first to go in and certainly should be planted by the end of September. Tall, large-flowered daffodils, such as ‘Cheerfulness’ and ‘Unsurpassable’, look superb naturalized in a lawn around a specimen tree, say, or on a grassy bank or even in drifts among shrubs in a border.

Do not forget the miniature daffodils, either, such as the hoop petticoat (Narcissus bulbocodium), which is ideal for the rock garden or the front of a small border. You may also like to try the following garden varieties: ‘Tete-a-tete’, ‘Small Fry’, ‘Jack Snipe’ and ‘Little Gem’.

Tulips are better suited to more formal beds and borders, and look good intermixed with spring bedding plants such as wallflowers. Species tulips, such as Tulipa greigii, T. kaufmanniana and T. tarda, which are dwarf species, are ideally suited to the rock garden and containers, such as window boxes.

The hyacinths are also formal-looking and again are best mass planted in beds or containers, perhaps with spring bedding plants.

Crocuses are best mass planted at the front of a border, on rock gardens or in short grass. Varieties of the very small species crocuses, such as Crocus chrysanthus, are best for rock gardens.

There is a wide range of other miniature bulbs, such as grape hyacinth (Muscari), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa), squills (Scilia), snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria), snowdrops (Galanthus), and winter aconites (Eranthis). They have several uses, such as mass planting at the front of shrub borders, or on rock gardens.

Most bulbs need full sun and well-drained soil, but daffodils will take partial shade, and so too will snowdrops.

All miniature bulbs are planted about 75mm (3in) deep and 75-100mm (3-4in) apart each way. The larger daffodils are planted 150mm (6in) deep and a similar distance apart, while large tulips and hyacinths should be set 100-125mm (4-5in) deep and 150mm (6in) apart.

If you have a lot of bulbs to plant consider using a bulb planter which takes out a neat core of soil; you place the bulb in the hole and return the core of soil. This technique is ideal for planting bulbs in grass, too. Otherwise take out planting holes with a hand trowel.


Also planted in the autumn are spring bedding plants such as forget-me-nots (Myosotis), wall-flowers (Cheiranthus), double daisies (Bellis), polyanthus, and winter-flowering pansies. You can either plant them in bold groups at the front of mixed borders, or give them their own special beds, perhaps mixing them with spring bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths. In this instance plant the bulbs first, followed by the bedding plants: the bulbs are planted deeper than the bedding plants and will not be damaged this way.

The majority of plants are spaced about 150-200mm (6-8in) apart each way, but the larger wallflowers may need a spacing of 300mm (12m).

Spring bedding plants are ideal for containers such as window boxes and tubs. Some will happily flower in shade, particularly polyanthus and forget-me-nots.

Biennials for early summer flowering, such as foxgloves, Canterbury bells (Campanula medium) and sweet williams (Dianthus barbatus), are planted in autumn.


The tougher hardy annuals can be sown in early autumn to make them flower earlier the following year. It should be said, though, that this is not always successful, particularly in cold northern counties. And if we get a very severe winter the tiny plants may be killed. It is essential to sow them in really well-drained soil, in a sunny sheltered spot. They could be covered with cloches during the winter.

Try the following plants: sweet alyssum, calendula (pot marigold), cornflower, Convolvulus tricolor, Eschscholzia californica, gilia, godetia, annual gypsophila, candytuft, larkspur, Limnanthes douglasii, nigella, Shirley poppies, sweet peas and Virginia stocks.


Garden compost is bulky organic matter and the next best thing to (perhaps even as good as) farmyard manure for improving the soil.

Compost is decomposed garden rubbish and il well made is a medium or deep brown, crumbly, slightly moist, sweet-smelling material, with none of the original rubbish identifiable.

Garden compost is added to the trenches produced when digging and should be used when preparing both the vegetable and ornamental garden for either sowing or planting. It helps to retain moisture in dry periods, opens up heavy clay soils and assists in drainage, and provides plant foods.

Use garden compost also for mulching, in both the ornamental and utility parts of the garden.

Garden compost can be made at any time, as rubbish becomes available, and most people steadily build up a heap over the year. Most rubbish is collected in autumn during the ‘big clean-up’, so this is as good a time as any to start making a compost heap.


Use only soft garden rubbish for compost making: soft hedge clippings, lawn mowings, old bedding plants, leaves and old vegetables are ideal. Do not put perennial weeds on the heap or any annual weeds which have set seeds. Do not try to rot down woody rubbish such as shrub prunings. These are best burnt.

You will need something to contain the heap, either a proprietary bin or a homemade one, such as a timber or wire-netting enclosure.

A compost heap should be sited in a sheltered, shady part of the garden, for hot sun can dry it out too much and the rubbish will not rot. On the other hand, do not let the heap become excessively wet or you will end up with a soggy mess. Cover it with a sheet of polythene to keep off the rain, unless you are using a proprietary container with a lid.

A compost heap is built up in layers. The roughage at the bottom is to ensure good drainage and air circulation. Air is important to help decomposition. Alternate layers of a fertilizer, such as sulphate of ammonia, and ground limestone should be added between the layers. Alternatively, use a proprietary compost accelerator. Both of these speed up decomposition. The ground limestone is to prevent very acid conditions, and to ensure a ‘sweet’ end product. If you use a proprietary compost accelerator there is no need for limestone.

How long will it be before the compost is ready to use? This depends on temperature. Decomposition is quickest in warm conditions, so if the heap is built in the spring or summer, it may be ready to use in three or four months. However, if it is built in autumn or winter it may take at least six months for the materials to rot down completely. It is a case of inspecting the heap regularly.

If you have a lot of garden rubbish, it is a good idea to have two heaps going – one ready for use and the other in the process of decomposition. In this way you will always have a supply.


Autumn is the time for digging the vegetable garden, before the bad weather sets in. Aim to complete it by Christmas at the latest as generally after that the ground is too wet or hard to dig. The soil should be left rough over the winter for the weather to break it down, so that by the spring the soil can be easily worked and you will be able to prepare seed beds and planting sites in no time at all.

A vegetable plot is best double dug (to two depths of the spade) about every three years, as this creates a good depth of loose soil in which plants can easily root, and ensures good drainage by breaking up any hard soil lower down. In the intervening years carry out single digging (to the depth of the spade).

Bulky organic matter, such as garden com-post, well-rotted farmyard manure, mushroom compost, spent hops, leafmould, peat or shredded bark, should be added to part of the vegetable plot every year while digging, perhaps in conjunction with a crop rotation system.


A system of vegetable growing which is becoming increasingly popular, especially in small gardens, is the deep bed system. Basically it involves dividing the vegetable plot into 1.2m (4ft) wide parallel beds, with 300-450mm (12-18in) wide paths between them. The beds are initially prepared by double digging and the addition of organic matter, so that they are raised about 100-150mm (4-6in) above normal soil level, greatly assisting drainage. As with traditional cultivation methods the beds should then be double-dug every three years, and single-dug in the intervening years.

The crops are grown in blocks or broad bands across the bed: they take up less space than traditional long rows and therefore it is possible to grow more plants in the available space. You do not tread on the beds except when digging, but work from the paths, so you always have a good depth of loose, easily worked soil in which to sow and plant.


The plot is best divided into 1.2m (4ft) wide strips for double digging (whether or not it is laid out as deep beds). You then dig down one strip, turn round and work back up the other, and so on, until the plot has been dug.

Start at the end of one strip by taking out a 600mm (2ft) wide trench across it, the depth of the spade. Place the soil near to where the last trench will fall, and use it to fill the final trench.

Get into the trench and break up the soil in the bottom to the depth of the spade or fork. Then spread a layer of organic matter over the bottom. A quarter of a barrowload is about right for a trench 1.2m (4ft) long.

Now take out the second trench, immediately behind the first, again 600mm (2ft) wide, and throw the soil forwards into the first one, at the same time turning it over to bury any weeds. (If there are perennial weeds in the soil remove them, complete with roots.) Again get into the trench, break up the soil to a spade’s depth and add organic matter. Proceed in this way until the bed or plot has been dug.


This is much easier and quicker than double digging. Again you will find it more convenient to divide the plot into strips. This time start by taking out a trench 300mm (12in) wide and depositing the soil near to where the final trench will be. Next, add a layer of organic matter. Then, 150mm (6in) back from the first trench, dig a second trench, throwing the soil forwards into the first one, at the same time turning it over. Add organic matter. Proceed like this until the bed or plot has been dug.


After digging you may wish to apply a soil conditioner, particularly if your soil is ‘difficult’, for instance heavy clay. Horticultural gypsum can be used. Sprinkle over the dug ground and leave for the winter. It will help to break down the soil and take the stickiness out of it, making it easier to cultivate in the spring. There are lots of proprietary soil conditioners available, too. Some are based on seaweed. A good garden centre will stock a range of them.


Most vegetables like a neutral soil (neither very limy nor very acid), so do not add lime haphazardly. It’s best to carry out a soil test first. If lime is needed, use hydrated lime. But do not apply it at the same time as manure. If you are manuring in the autumn, apply lime in the spring.



Leaves will be falling thick and fast any time now. They should be raked up off the lawn and flower beds, using a wire lawn rake. Don’t allow them to lie for long periods, for they can smother grass and small plants. Stack them in a heap, in a wire-netting enclosure, to allow them to rot down into leafmould, which can then be used for mulching or dug into the soil. If you do not have many leaves to deal with, put them with other rubbish on the compost heap.

To make the job of leaf clearing easier, cover the pool (if you have one), the rock garden, and any small plants with small-mesh plastic netting earlier in the season. Then, when the leaves have fallen, all you need do is pick up the netting with the leaves in it.


In the autumn there are several aspects of lawn care which should be attended to if you want a nice green sward next year.

Most lawns benefit from raking or scarifying, using a wire lawn rake or a mechanical scarifier. Either of these will remove a large amount of debris, such as dead grass and moss (kill the moss first with a lawn moss killer), allowing the lawn grasses to ‘breathe’.

After raking, carry out spiking or aeration.

This helps to improve drainage and is particularly important if you have a heavy wet soil. Il also allows air to penetrate to the grass roots, and relieves compaction of the surface resulting from heavy use of the lawn during the summer.

If these problems are not too bad, aeration can be carried out with an ordinary garden fork. Insert it to a depth of 75- 100mm (3-4in) at intervals of 150mm (6in) all over the lawn. If you have a large lawn, then consider using a mechanical aerator or spiker.

If the soil is a heavy clay and is inclined to lie wet over winter, use a hollow-tined fork, which takes out cores of soil, resulting in larger holes. This is used in the same way as a garden fork. Sweep up the cores of soil and put them on the compost heap.

I must admit it’s not often done, but I can assure you that top-dressing a lawn with bulky material is well worthwhile as it helps to improve the soil and therefore results in better growth of grass. It gives a more springy lawn.

The top-dressing mix should consist of good-quality loam or soil, peat and coarse sand. Make up a mix to suit your soil: For ordinary loamy soil: four parts loam, one part peat, two parts sand (parts by volume, e.g. barrowloads). For heavy clay soil: two parts loam, one part peat, four pans sand.

For light sandy or gravelly soils: four parts loam, two parts peat, one part sand.

Apply this mix after spiking, spreading about a shovelful per square metre (square yard). Brush it well into the holes, using a besom or other stiff broom. Any surplus remaining on the surface should be removed.

Don’t forget to apply a proprietary autumn lawn fertilizer, which will help to ‘harden’ the grass so that it overwinters well. Apply according to the instructions on the bag.


Any frost-lender plants that you want to keep for next year must be lifted before the frosts start, which generally means sometime in September. Dahlias, however, can be left until the leaves are blackened by frost. The stems are cut down to 300mm (12in) and the tubers lifted carefully with a fork. Remove any soil adhering to the tubers and dry them off in a dry, cool, frost-proof place, placing them upside down so that water drains from the stems. Gladioli are stored in flat trays for the winter, under the same conditions as dahlias; cut the stems down to just above the corms.

Plants such as tender fuchsias, pelargoniums and heliotropes are lifted, potted and kept either in a frost-free greenhouse or on a windowsill indoors. Tuberous begonias should be lifted, dried off and the tubers stored in dry peat for the winter in frost-free conditions.


Newly planted evergreen shrubs, and conifers, are prone to cold drying winter winds and may need some form of protection during their first winter. Later they should be better able to cope with the rigours of winter. If young plants in an open, exposed situation are not protected, their foliage may become scorched and brown and they may even die. It is easy to provide protection. Simply insert four or five stout canes or wooden stakes around the plant, slightly higher than the plant and about 450-600mm (18-24in) away from it. Then surround the plant with either fine-mesh windbreak net-ling or clear polythene, securing it to the stakes or canes. Take down this protection when weather conditions improve in the spring.



As most people these days have small gardens, fruit trees are invariably trained as flat shapes against walls, fences or supports of posts and wires, so they take up little space. There are several recognized methods.


Apples and pears can be grown as cordons – single-stemmed fruiting spurs, planted at an angle of 45 degrees in a straight row. These dwarf trees are convenient to look after; the fruit is easily picked, and spraying and pruning can be carried out without the aid of a ladder. They should be pruned in summer as well as autumn. Summer pruning consists of cutting back lateral or side shoots to four leaves, and any sub-laterals (secondary side shoots) to one leaf. Any further shoots growing in that year from laterals that have been pruned should be shortened again in September or October to one leaf. As the main stem grows, tie it to the wired. When it grows above the support, cut it back in spring.


Apples and pears can also be grown as espaliers.

The tree consists of a central stem with pairs of branches on either side, spaced about 450mm (18in) apart. Trees are normally bought with the first pair of branches already formed. As the stem grows, you train further pairs of branches until the required height is reached. Pruning is the same as for cordons, that is, each branch can be considered as a cordon for pruning purposes.


These are popular for peaches and cherries grown against walls or fences. If a three-year-old tree is bought, it will already have its main framework of branches. Cut these back in late winter after planting to leave about 600mm (2ft) of last year’s wood. Cut back to a cluster of three buds. This will produce shoots that can be tied in.

When the tree has filled its allotted space, concentrate on pruning for fruit production. Allow the end bud on each of the leading branches to grow out and tie it in. Rub out buds that are growing directly towards or away from the wall or fence. Select shoots growing from the top side and the bottom of the main branches and space these about 100mm (4in) apart, rubbing out others or pinching them back to two leaves. Allow the selected shoots to grow to 450mm (18in) and then pinch them back. Tie in these shoots at the end of the summer or in early autumn and they will produce fruit next year. Each year, train a new shoot arising from near the base of each lateral to replace it when the lateral is cut out after fruiting.


Blackberries and loganberries: prune as soon as the fruit has been gathered. Cut down to ground level the old stems which have carried the fruit. Tie in the new shoots, spacing them out evenly. These will produce fruits the following year.

Raspberries: prune as for blackberries, cutting out completely all old shoots which have carried fruit, leaving and tying in the young ones. In spring, cut back the tips to around 150mm (6in) above the top wire. Autumn-fruiting raspberries should be pruned before coming into growth in spring by cutting down to ground level.

Black currants: prune after fruiting. With varieties that produce lots of new shoots from soil level, cut away much of the old fruited wood. The young shoots will bear next year’s crop. Varieties which produce side shoots from the stems are pruned differently: the wood that has carried the fruit is cut back to new side shoots.

Gooseberries: cooking varieties need up to one-third of the oldest wood removed in autumn or winter, plus half of the new growth produced at the ends of the remaining stems.

Dessert gooseberries are also pruned in autumn or winter: cut back by half the new growth on the leading shoots. Older bushes can be pruned harder, by two-thirds.


These roses, unlike the climbers, have flowering period per year, and this is over by the middle of August. As soon as flowering is over, cut out to ground level all the old stems which carried flowers. Tie in the new ones that will produce blooms next year.


Most ornamental trees do not need much in the way of pruning. However, do remove any dead wood or branches, cutting back to either a branch or the trunk. Do not leave snags, as these will rot back and affect healthy wood.

If two branches are crossing over each other and rubbing, remove one of them. Most trees should have a reasonably open centre, so any branches growing in to the centre are best cut out. Any pruning cuts over 25mm (1in) in diameter should be ‘painted’ with a proprietary pruning compound to prevent water and diseases entering the wounds.


No doubt your ornamental pots, tubs and window boxes have been filled with colourful summer bedding plants over the summer, but now that the display is over do consider planting something for winter and/or spring interest.


Many people will replace their summer displays with spring bedding plants which, although they make a beautiful show for several months, are, like summer bedding, temporary features, discarded after flowering. The choice will be from forget-me-nots, double daisies, wallflowers, polyanthus and winter-flowering pansies (which also continue into spring). If you want to plant bulbs with them, choose hyacinths, which go very well with polyanthus, or dwarf tulips, which can be underplanted with forget-me-nots or dwarf wallflowers.


Instead of planting twice yearly why not consider permanent plants for some of your containers? These will provide some greenery all the year round, which can be topped up with seasonal colour.

A particularly pleasing scheme, perhaps for a window box, could be produced from the blue-green dwarf conifers, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Minima Glauca’ or Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’, with golden or lighter-coloured evergreen plants such as the golden ivy, Hedera helix ‘Buttercup’, cascading over the edge – a beautiful arrangement for winter.

Other plants suitable for tubs and window boxes include:

Aubrieta. Low-growing hardy evergreens that prefer a limy soil but are easy to grow. The flowers, which appear from March to June, are usually in the pink-purple colour range.

Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’. The dwarf box makes a good evergreen edging to a box, and it will take shade.

Convallaria. Lily-of-the-valley also likes partial shade and is a good companion for box. It spreads quickly and the waxy, white, bell-like flowers appear in April or May.

Erica carnea (syn. E. herbacea). There are many varieties of winter-flowering heath, which can have flowers in white or shades of pink and red. It never exceeds more than 300mm (12in) in height. It makes an ideal companion for dwarf conifers. Plant at the edge of the container.

Hebe pinguifolia ‘Pagei’, a dwarf shrubby veronica with grey leaves and white flowers in summer. It is useful for winter foliage colour.

Hedera. The many varieties of the common ivy are ideal for planting at the edges of containers. Some have green leaves, while others are golden, or variegated green and white.

Lavandula. Dwarf lavenders, with their grey evergreen foliage, give winter interest and make a nice foil for spring-flowering bulbs.

Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ is a trailing plant with golden foliage, suitable for the edges of containers.

Saxifraga x urbium. London pride is the most familiar member of the large saxifrage family. It prefers shade and produces masses of small pink flowers in late spring or early summer. The evergreen foliage is useful for winter effect, especially that of the golden-variegated variety.

Senecio compactus. A small evergreen shrub with silver-grey foliage. In a hard winter it may be damaged or killed, as it’s not one of the hardest plants. It can reach a height of 900mm (36in) so may need clipping.

Vinca minor. The lesser periwinkle is a useful evergreen trailing plant for boxes, tubs and hanging baskets. It has bright blue flowers in spring or summer.

19. August 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | Comments Off on Guide to Autumn Garden Jobs


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