Late Autumn Jobs in the Shrub and Tree Garden

Jobs to do

Preparing the soil for planting

You may not be able to plant until the end of this season, or even sometime during early winter, but soil will need digging and manuring a few weeks in advance. If it is very wet, due to early autumn rains, leave the soil alone, especially clay soil, which can become severely compacted if trampled on while wet. It will also be very heavy work.


The reason for planting at this time of the year is that the soil is still relatively warm from the summer,the air temperature has not fallen really low and the plants are not completely dormant, but still capable of growing new roots. At this time of the year, it should be possible to put in plants directly they arrive when bought by mail-order from a nursery. If, however, conditions are cold and the soil frozen or waterlogged, they can be left in their wrappings for a few days, provided the roots have moist peat, compost, or sacking round them. If the weather looks like being difficult for some time, as it may do in winter, they should be heeled in to a shallow trench in a sheltered place for the time being.

If you are using container-grown plants from a garden centre or bare-rooted plants from the gardening department of a general store, you can, of course, choose your time for buying, so that it coincides with good weather.

Spacing of plants is very important. You need to know the spread, almost more than the height, of a mature tree or shrub. In nearly every case, not enough space is allowed, and the plant has cramped growth, flowers and leafs less well than it might and becomes much more prone to infection and pest epidemics. If proper spacing means rather large gaps for some years, you can fill them up with annuals, herbaceous plants or quick-growing shrubs like the tree lupin, rock rose (cistus) or broom.

There is one major rule about planting, which really amounts to the difference between success and failure: always make sure that the roots are spread out to their fullest extent in the planting hole. Never plant so that the roots are in a doubled-up handful; it is tantamount to strangling them, and even if the unfortunate plant survives, it never grows well.

Dig out a hole which is more than wide enough and deep enough. Make a shallow mound in the centre and set the plant in the hole so that the roots spread naturally over and down the mound. Crumble good topsoil or a compost mixture in over the roots, shaking the plant gently every now and then so that all the crevices are filled and firming as the hole fills. Firm by treading, starting at the perimeter of the hole; firming from the centre outwards will result in the tips of the roots pointing upwards rather than downwards. Do not tread on the roots unless they have soil on them.

If any roots are torn or broken off with a jagged edge or are much longer than the others, cut them cleanly below the damage. Plants produce two sorts of roots; anchoring kinds which are long and stout and fibrous ones which are fine and short and which are the feeding roots. It is these that the plant will need most urgently; anchoring can come later. This is why you should plant firmly and provide a stake and/ or shelter from wind while the plants are young and establishing.

Planting should generally be at the same level as in the nursery or container, shown by a soil mark on the stem, but fuchsias can be about 5cm (2in) lower if planted now and will then survive the winter with a heaped-up protective mulch over them. Roses must always be planted so that the grafting bump is above the soil.

Some plants will arrive from the nursery with the root-ball wrapped in sacking or other material, having been lifted with the soil because they have formed a tightly packed mass of fine roots. Rhododendrons, azaleas and many conifers are examples. When planting, the roots should be left undisturbed and the soil-ball planted intact, with a little topsoil crumbled over the top.

If a stake is needed, put it in position in the hole before planting, to avoid later injury to the roots and, if you are dealing with standards, use a stake which reaches to just below the main head of branches. Bush tree fruits can have shorter stakes.

After planting, water the plant in and rake the topsoil gently to produce a rough rather than a smooth surface, for better drainage and aeration. It is advisable to keep the soil round the plants clear of grass or weeds, in a circle about 60cm (24in) in diameter for two or three years, to avoid competition for water and food while the plants establish.

Unless there are any very strong or ungainly shoots on the plants, there is no need to do any initial pruning at this time except to the roses. The large-flowered and cluster flowered kinds should be cut back very hard, to just above a dormant, outward-pointing bud, leaving a stump of some 10-15cm (4-6in) long, the longer length for cluster-flowered kinds. Ramblers are usually cut back in the nursery, but if not, the stem or stems should be reduced to a length of about 60-90cm (24-36in); climbers are left alone. This pruning can be done before or after planting, whichever is most convenient.

Of the ornamental climbers, clematis are the only ones that really must be pruned after planting, but rather late, not until the buds begin to swell.

As regards the fruit, some of these need pruning, but others will already have been pruned by the nurseryman to form the beginning of the main framework. The single main stems of bush apples and pears should be cut back to a bud positioned at the height suitable for a bush — about 75-90cm (2-1/2 – 3ft) above ground. Espaliers are cut down to about 30-45cm (12-18in), to a bud above the two buds chosen to form the first two arms of the espalier. The shoots from these two buds are trained out horizontally to right and left as they grow. Cordons are not pruned after planting. Plums and associated fruits, and bush cherries, are pruned in the same way as bush apples and pears.

Medlar, mulberry and quince, usually grown as bushes, have generally been dealt with in the nursery, but otherwise can be regarded in the same way as bush apples for the purposes of after-planting pruning.

Fan-trained wall-grown fruit, such as peach and Morello cherry, are cut down to about 30cm (12in) above the grafting union, and the growth from the two topmost buds about 20cm (8in)above the union used to form the first ribs of the fan. These are tied down gradually as they grow to a final angle of 45degrees.. Figs usually have the basic fan formed in the nursery and need not be pruned immediately.

Grape vines should be cut down to leave two or three dormant buds, which may mean reducing the stem to about 15-45cm (6-18in). However, if they are planted later than the end of mid-winter, do not prune, otherwise they will ‘bleed’ and this will weaken them. The leading shoot which then grows strongly from the top bud in summer is used to form the fruiting ‘rod’ and will also need to be cut hard in late autumn by as much as two-thirds of its length.

Newly planted hedges will need some degree of cutting back directly after planting, but if planted in late winter or early spring, should not be so treated. They should be left to grow during the summer and then cut back in late autumn as directed for those planted in autumn and the early part of winter.

The informal hedges, with the exception of the brooms and the evergreens, should be cut down hard to leave about 30cm (12in) of stem. This will ensure good bushy growth right from the base.

In the second winter after planting, Groups B and C are treated as in the first, but Group A should be cut back hard so as to remove half the growth produced in the summer.


As with planting, this is a good season to transplant woody plants. The method is much the same; when lifting the plants, try to keep the roots as intact as possible and replant as quickly as possible. This means having the holes dug ready beforehand. Keep a good ball of soil round the roots. If the plants have to be out of the ground for a while, cover the roots with moist peat or wet sacking as soon as dug up. If they become dry and then wither, especially the rootlets, their chances of establishing and developing successfully are much decreased.


Towards the end of late autumn, after finishing any mulching left over from mid-autumn, you can start to prune the bush-tree fruit and finish the pruning of the restricted forms, such as cordons, fins and espaliers, started in summer. Rambler roses can still be pruned, if there has not been time to do it so far.

Late autumn is a suitable time to root-prune fruit trees to encourage them to fruit. Some trees, in a very fertile, deep soil, become too strong and put all their energy into producing shoots instead of fruit. One way to overcome this is to dig a trench round the tree about 30cm (12in) deep and 45-60cm (18-24in) wide, so that the roots can be seen and loosened. The smaller and finer ones are tied back out of the way and the thickest sawn off; then the fine roots are replaced in position and the trench filled in with fine soil. With established trees, this should be done in two stages, half one autumn or winter and half the next year.


Any mulching not done or finished in mid-autumn should be completed early this season; on romneyas, eccremocarpus and fuchsias it will serve as a frost protection if 15cm (6in) or more deep.

Sweeping up

This is the season for collecting leaves. All will make good leafmould, except the leathery and/or evergreen kinds.

Those infected with fungus disease, such as black spot and scab, should be burnt and it is particularly important to sweep these up so that fungus spores do not overwinter on them.


Although it is difficult to believe, bullfinches and other birds are quite likely to start pecking out the fruit buds of gooseberries, greengages, damsons, plums, pears, cherries and apples at any time from late autumn through winter to spring, so protective netting, webbing, or bird-repellent sprays should be put on now before they start.


Hardwood cuttings can still be taken early in late autumn and seeds stratified. If you have clematis you would like to propagate, you can do so by layering, at any time from now until spring. Use a shoot which was produced the spring before last, ie., about 18 months old, close to the ground. Plunge a 15cm (6in) pot full of cutting compost into the soil to its rim, bend the shoot to form a ‘U’ into the pot so that it is buried in compost and keep it in place with a wire hook or wooden peg. By the following autumn it will have rooted and can be detached and planted.

General work

There may be a little weeding to do; the summer spraying of pests and diseases is over and winter spraying, if it is necessary, need not be started until pruning is finished. Securing of ties, stakes and supporting trellises should be done before gales start in earnest. The last late varieties of apples and pears can be put into store.

30. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Trees and Shrubs | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Late Autumn Jobs in the Shrub and Tree Garden


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