Guide to Caring for Trees and Shrubs in Early Autumn

Jobs to do

Preparing the soil for planting

Ideally, soil should be dug, manured, fed and cleared of weeds about four or five weeks before planting but it is often difficult to get the timing right, taking into account delivery from the nursery and the fickleness of the weather. The object of this early preparation is to ensure that the additions to the soil become broken up and absorbed to some extent by the time the plants are put in, so that they can make use of the added goodness at once. Then their establishment is much quicker and your chances of success are much greater.


Early autumn has been found to be the best time to plant most winter-flowering and evergreen or evergrey shrubs and trees. The least hardy kinds can be left until mid- or late spring if time is short now or if your district is a cold one. Sometimes the autumn is dry and warm and, if so, the planting sites should be thoroughly watered a day or two before planting, as well as immediately after preparation. Make sure that all the plants are well firmed in and securely attached to supporting stakes before the big autumn gales start.


Roses, particularly the ramblers, are one of the main groups of plants to need treatment in early autumn; they flower profusely on the previous season’s new growth and can be encouraged to produce good long stems if the flowered shoots are cut right away to ground level. The job can be simplified by untying both flowered and new shoots and placing them full length on the ground; weak and stunted growth should be pruned off as well. The new canes are then retied to their supports, well spaced out.

Fan-trained sweet cherries grown against walls should have the side-shoots, which were cut to five or six leaves in mid-summer, further cut to three or four now. If the leading shoots have grown too tall, they should not be pruned, but bent over and tied down, when they should produce side-shoots.

If the peach harvest has finished, the trees can be pruned.

Plums which have finished cropping can be pruned and will be all the better for being cleared, not only of their fruit, but of unnecessary shoots and twigs.

The summer pruning of restricted apples and pears should be finished early in autumn; at the same time, if any secondary shoots have grown after the earlier summer pruning, these should be completely removed. They will never mature satisfactorily and the tips will be damaged by cold, which can lead to fungus infection setting in.

As far as the shrubs and climbers are concerned, both flowering and foliage kinds, no pruning is required in early autumn unless it was missed in late summer and some catching up has to be done.


There is still time, early this season, to trim formal deciduous and evergreen hedges, if they were not done in late summer. In fact, some are best left until now; these include bay, elaeagnus, laurel and spotted laurel (aucuba).


Plants to deadhead include Buddleia davidii varieties, late-flowering lavenders, all types of roses where necessary, rue if still flowering, and hebe. In warm districts the flower-heads can be taken off hydrangeas, but otherwise they provide a little protection from cold for the buds just below them which will flower next year.


Although feeding plants is not generally recommended at this time of the year, it is the leaf-and-shoot-producing nutrient, nitrogen, that could result in trouble. Its application would encourage rapid, ‘soft’ growth, easily burnt by frost and cold wind. Phosphorus and potassium, however, will make the roots stronger and mature the shoot growth without increasing it, thus making it harder and more resistant to low temperatures. A compound fertilizer with a small nitrogen content could therefore be applied now and would be particularly beneficial to plants growing in sandy or shingly soil.


By now the compost heap started in spring should have rotted down to the brown, crumbly substance which does so much good to the soil structure. It can be used as a mulch for shrubs, climbers, top fruit that has been picked and pruned if necessary, rambling and climbing roses and hedges. Privet has a bad reputation for taking all the goodness out of the soil and herbaceous plants growing close to privet hedges grow poorly because of this, so it pays to mulch such hedges well now, besides feeding them in spring.


There are some autumns when the idea of artificial watering is that season’s joke but, equally, there can be others which make the Gobi Desert look wet! Whatever the weather, keep an eye on the wall plants, the evergreens and the new plants so that they never become parched.


Semi-ripe cuttings of deciduous shrubs and climbers can still be rooted this season, preferably early rather than late.

It is a good time to increase conifers, such as cypresses, juniper, cedar and larch from heel cuttings and other evergreens, for which semi-ripe cuttings are used. Heel cuttings are much used for the conifers, and may only be 5 or 7.5cm (2 or 3in) long. The shoot is pulled off, not cut, so that a sliver of bark and older wood is attached to the shoot; this ‘heel’ is trimmed of its ragged edges and the cutting then put into a moist sandy compost, or moist silver sand alone. If the latter is used, the cuttings must be potted as soon as rooted, as there is no food in the sand.

Some conifers, such as spruce (picea) and fir (abies), have a good deal of resin in them. Dipping the ends of the cuttings in hot water for a few minutes prevents this resin from forming a callus over the end of the cutting, which would prevent rooting.

After potting, the cuttings can go into a shaded cold frame.

Treating pests and diseases

Birds and slugs will still be damaging fruits a good deal and mildew on vines and roses can be very troublesome in early autumn. Black spot on roses, and earwigs generally, are other current plagues. Female winter moths and March moths will be preparing to lay eggs on branches of apples, pears and plums and can be prevented by putting grease-bands round the trunks of the trees (and supporting stakes) about 60-90cm (2-3ft) above the ground. Grease-bands can be bought ready for use from garden shops.

General work

It is a good idea to get on top of weeds in rose beds, in beds round specimen plants and those growing beneath wall or fence-trained plants and hedges, in early autumn. Otherwise, by next spring, they can easily have got completely out of hand. Orchard swards may need mowing, depending on the weather. The second compost heap or heaps will be nearly finished. There will be few, if any suckers and plain green shoots to remove and climbing plants will have finished their upward growth. Hydrangeas should be given one more blueing treatment.


The apple and pear harvest will be in full swing during early and mid-autumn. If you are in doubt about the maturity of a fruit, test it by holding it in the palm of your hand and pushing it gently upwards. The stalk should come away easily, but if it needs a good tug, leave the crop for a few more days. A colour change from green to yellow is another indication and a third, if you can bear to cut a fruit open, is the colour of the pips. They should be dark brown when the fruit is ripe. Other fruits to harvest include: apricot, damson, fig, greengage, nectarine, peach, plum and vine.

30. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Trees and Shrubs | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Guide to Caring for Trees and Shrubs in Early Autumn


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