Guide to Tending Shrubs and Trees in Mid Autumn

Jobs to do

Preparing the soil for planting

The woody plants are the most permanent part of the garden, and the most costly, so it pays to take steps to avoid death of the plants shortly after planting. It is essential to supply the roots with as favourable conditions for re-growth as possible. Late autumn is the best time, as far as weather is concerned, for planting roses, deciduous shrubs, climbers and trees; advance soil preparation in mid-autumn (except for light soils) will result in food, aeration and drainage being at their best by the time the plants are put in.

Unless your soil is a well-drained, deep, fertile loam, it will be the better for the addition of rotted organic matter. Use any of the materials suggested in Late Spring for mulches: farm manure, garden compost, leafmould, spent hops or spent mushroom compost. It must be rotted, because unrotted material may remain in the state in which it was added to the soil for many months. Heavy soils can have about 3kg per sq m (7lb per sq yd) mixed in, medium soils about 4.4kg (10lb per sq yd) and sandy, shingly or chalky soils need about 6-1/2 – 8-1/2kg per sq m (15-18lb per sq yd).

In the case of these light soils, preparation should be left until a few days before planting, otherwise the organic matter added will be absorbed too quickly by the soil flora and fauna and be less useful.

Soil should be dug two spits deep, keeping the topsoil separate from the lower spit. The bottom of the second spit should be forked up, mixing organic matter with it at the same time. Planting holes should be at least 60 x 60cm (2 x 2ft) square; as the soil is replaced, organic matter is mixed with it, and the whole left to settle until planting.

If you are planting at the beginning of late autumn, bonemeal should be added about a week before the end of mid-autumn, at the rate of about two large handfuls per sq m (sq yd); mix it into the top spit with a fork. Bonemeal contains phosphorus, the mineral plant food so much needed by developing roots.

When preparing the site, large stones and weeds should be cleared away; roots of perennial weeds should be dug out completely. Bindweed, ground-elder, couch grass and horsetail will be a particular nuisance later if not thoroughly dealt with now.

You may want to grow rhododendrons, azaleas and other plants that love acid soil in a neutral-to-alkaline soil, but although you can create pockets of acid soil for them, in time these will become alkaline, due to soil drainage and rain. It is a constant fight to grow plants under these conditions and, in any case, they never look quite right in their surroundings. On the whole, it is better not to go against the grain: try, instead, some of the many attractive lime-tolerant trees and shrubs available: clematis, cotoneaster, buddleia, box, ceanothus, cistus, forsythia, fuchsia, laburnum, syringa and viburnum, for example.


It is not too late to plant evergreens, except in cold districts, though even in the warmer ones they should go in as soon as possible. Deciduous shrubs and trees can also be planted now, as well, though it is better to wait until leaf fall, and rooted layers and cuttings, including vine eyes, will be ready.


Rambler roses can be pruned in mid-autumn if not so treated in early autumn.

If potentilla was not pruned in spring, and it has some rather old, non-flowering growth, this growth, which may be several stems, can be removed to ground level. Such pruning need only be done every few years. Potentilla is one of the few shrubs which naturally has a brown cambium layer, rather than a green one, below the bark, so do not assume that it is dead because of this.

Summer jasmine produces a lot of annual growth which gets much tangled; flowering falls off unless one or two of the oldest shoots are cut off to soil level in mid-autumn and the remainder thinned by cutting shoots back here and there. In cold districts this can be left until spring.


All fruit trees can be mulched now, even if a crop is not yet picked, as later mulching will not be made use of to the same extent. Keep the mulch clear of trunks, otherwise mice and voles nest in it and feed on the bark of the trees during the winter months.


Roses will still need removal of finished blooms; hebe flower spikes are better removed and so are hydrangea flowerheads if the garden is warm and the buds below the flower heads do not need their protection from cold.

Sweeping up

In the last week or so of this season, the leaves will start to fall; rather than let them smother the ground-cover shrubs and provide a place for pests and disease to winter, they should be collected up into a heap to rot down into leaf-mould. Leaves which should not be added are the leathery kinds, usually evergreens, and those infected with diseases such as scab, black spot and mildew; these are better burnt.


Mid-autumn is the best season for increasing woody plants from hardwood cuttings. These consist of the end 22.5-30cm (9-12in) of new shoots, cut off just below a leaf, pair of leaves, or buds. By now the bark should be firm and brown along the stem to its tip, though it does not matter if the last 2cm (inch) or so is still soft and green. These hardwood cuttings can be put straight in to the open ground in a sheltered place, lined out in a trench.

This is a good way of increasing such roses as ramblers and climbers, shrub roses, some species roses and some of the stronger cluster-flowered kinds. Hedges, particularly privet, laurel, holly and deutzia, can be much more cheaply obtained this way and there are many other shrubs which can be so propagated. Rooting may not take place until the following spring; this type of cutting is usually slower. Once rooted, the plants can be put in their permanent positions the following autumn.

Mid-autumn is also a good time to increase plants, particularly trees, from seeds which are to be stratified through the winter. Stratifying simply means putting the seeds, in layers, into containers filled with a mixture of peat, coarse sand or a mixture of the two. The containers are then plunged (sunk up to the rim) in a bed or border close to a north-facing wall or fence. They should be covered with close-mesh netting to prevent mice getting at the seeds. Seeds treated like this are those with hard coats; roses (the whole hip is buried), hawthorn, peach and plum stones and holly are examples. They may need to stay there until spring only, or a year and a half, and the more they are frozen the better.

Treating pests and diseases

Be sure to spray for peach-leaf curl, just as the leaves are about to fall. Black spot and mildew may still be present on roses; birds may be menacing fruit.

General work

There may be a little weeding left to do. The compost heap will be completed now and can be covered for the winter; in a dry autumn newly planted specimens should be kept well watered. Give the orchard sward a last mow.


Certain varieties of apples, pears and quinces can be stored through the winter until late spring, but they must be in a frostproof place and they must be safe from mice and rats. Sheds and garages are not necessarily frostproof in bad winters and storing the fruit in wooden boxes or on slatted racks invites trouble. Thick, wooden chests, with slatted shelving inside, lagged against the cold with fibreglass wool or several layers of sacking should be safe, but a cellar, unhealed attic or spare room is better.

Apples, pears and quinces should be stored separately from one another; they can be placed four or five in a clear plastic bag, stored singly, or wrapped in oiled paper. If stored in a pile in a box or chest, all must be quite free from injury or disease, otherwise trouble spreads rapidly, and you do not want to turn out several hundredweights of apples every few weeks to see whether the bottom ones are rotting.

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


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