So, we have but a week left of summer, September a mere stone’s throw away. But before you put your lawnmower and pruning shears away for another year, there are plenty of gardening tasks to do yet before you can rest easy.
We’ll go into detail about half a dozen ways you can get more out of your garden in autumn in a moment. But first, it’s worth noting that here in Bristol, gardeners young and old won’t mind reminding you that September is notoriously dry. On average, over the last twelve years, only April has been drier:
Bang goes the theory about April showers, eh? But with expectations of less than 3″ of rain (if this September reflects recent times), all hobbyist and professional gardeners in Bristol are praying for no hosepipe ban.
With a yellow weather warning for the coming week, August looks like finishing with a flurry of precipitation – wet stuff, to you and me 😉 – fingers crossed. This combination of downfall + dry spells (+ downfall, October being the wettest month) should get us mileage out of our gardens for at least another 5-6 weeks.
So while your garden is having one last hurrah!, here’s what you can be doing this autumn. First, three ways to get more out of your crop this year. Then, three ways you can prepare your garden for a bumper haul of flora, fauna and fruit baskets next year.
Six of the most important garden tasks for autumn:
Here we are in the last week of August already. Our minds are still fresh with the not-so distant memories of our gardens in glorious full bloom. We nod in appreciation of nature’s gift (and our labour), before thinking about maintenance, tidying up and sowing the seeds (literally) for next spring and summer.
Here, I’d just like to share my top six tips for the coming weeks before the clocks go forward in October. They might seem like a chore after a long, hard summer tending your beds. But, if you can go the extra mile, you’ll reap the rewards both next year and before this year’s out!
1. Time to turn over a new leaf
To make the most of our mild climate, it’s always worth thinking about what will work in those conditions.
Typical vineyard fruit and plums and blackberries are in abundance right now. But they’ve had the benefit of summer sunlight to nurture them as they came to flower and then to fruit.
Although Bristol Septembers tend to be dry, they’re not bright, like the weather between June and August. Expecting another crop of the vineyard type this year if you were to start from scratch now would be foolhardy.
But that’s not to say either your allotment or greenhouse are done yet. Thompson-Morgan have compiled a great ‘top ten’ list of vegetables to grow later in the year, or plant now in anticipation of bumper early crops next year.
Leafy vegetables have still got plenty of mileage in them, as have salad vegetables. If you like a good old stir-fry or salad dressing for the table and your lunchbox, you’re in for a treat.
Now’s the time to get planting your fast-germinating winter vegetables. ‘Giant Winter’ Spinach, winter cress and even your Christmas potatoes can all go in now.
2. Go stir crazy!
For the wok, pak choi and other far-eastern leaf vegetables will still flourish in your garden, despite the lessening light. Do be sure to water them, though, as leaf vegetables demand good hydration.
If you’re planting garlic, which can go in from September and all through autumn into winter, the opposite is true. If the ground is too moist, your crop will fail, as it will if it’s too firm.
And what would a stir-fry be without bean-sprouts? Though not technically a gardening tip, bean sprouts are both a great source of nutrition and ideal for growing when there’s not much light. Compared to the price you pay in the supermarket, growing your own bean sprouts is both fun and inexpensive.
3. Winter veg – Yule be so glad you did!
And wouldn’t it be great if the potatoes on your Christmas dinner table had come right from your back garden?
Plant potted seed potatoes now, let them establish before the weather gets too cold, keep them watered and you’ll have your own Yuletide spuds.
If you have a greenhouse, you have even more choice. You may think your greenhouse is only for hothouse flowers, but lettuce can stand the long, dark months.
You’ll keep the worst of the cold off the winter varieties if you grow them in your greenhouse, giving you succulent lettuce throughout winter, perfect with Mayo and cold turkey to keep the troops going over Christmas!
4. From hothouse to workhouse: tidy your greenhouse
Talking of greenhouses, there’s nothing so off-putting at the start of Spring than having to clear a ton of stuff you left rotting/soaking/mud-stained last autumn.
This is going to sound sad on my part, but there’s a very real reason I make sure my greenhouse is spick and span before BST ends.
Yes, of course sprucing it up helps me rest easy when considering what I’m going to grow next year. But throwing out all the broken plant pots, rusty tools and dying vegetables and flowers helps me take stock.
Not only that, but remember, we’re still growing in that glazed escape from reality. Over the year, the glass gets grimy, mildew can start to appear and, as the leaves begin to fall, our greenhouse roofs and gutters have some sort of unnatural magnetism.
To give our autumnal and winter veg the best chance, we need to let in as much light as possible. There’s no point in scrubbing down the inside of your greenhouse if, from the outside, it looks like you’ve built an outdoor dark room.
5. Christmas list for the would-be gardener: sorted
I said there’s nothing like dampening your ardour at the start of a season than a dirty greenhouse. For many fair weather gardeners, a blunt pair of secateurs or rusty trowel is enough to help them decide to defer starting the gardening ‘next weekend’.
So, perhaps even worse than last year’s clutter is finding out, after you’ve built up that courage to tackle the triffids at the first sniff of sunshine in March, that your tools and plants have all gone to pot over the winter months.
If you take the time to clean your greenhouse now, you’ll know what needs replacing and what’s got another season or two in it. And here’s why it’s such a good idea to put the time in now.
Many women whose gardens I tend ask me what they can buy for their menfolk as “men are so hard to buy for”. Well, not me. When anyone asks me what I want for Christmas, I’ve already got my list prepared and rarely have to bother Santa.
Plus, if you ask your good lady for something practical instead of new golf gloves or car mats, it shows intent on your part. Brownie points for you and new tools to play with, come Springtime! Win-win!!
6. Be the garden with the greener grass
This time of year, another thing I hear said often is, “Time for the ‘last cut’ soon, Russ, eh?”
While I agree that trying to mow a lawn in the dead of winter is like treading water in treacle, there’s more you can do for your lawn now to get beautiful results next year.
When October rolls around, Bristol and the South West gets wet. With the Celtic Sea to the west and the English Channel to the south, our little peninsula is as exposed as anywhere in the British Isles.
The damper the air, the greater the chance for moss and lichen. On picture postcards, it can look great. For the health of your garden (and your own, if it spreads to your walkways), moss is anything but.
A good, hard scrape with the rake will break the back of it. Use that same rake to remove thatch, your old grass clippings, from your lawn, too. Both thatch and moss prevent drainage, which your lawn needs throughout winter if it’s to stand a chance of looking its best come Spring.
Getting rid of those preventatives plus forking the lawn and maybe even sprinkling it with sand in the worst parts will get your grass off to a great start next year. The BBC has a great guide to preparing your lawn for winter if you want to bowl your neighbours over or make them green with envy.
After all that hard work, you want somewhere you can kick off your shoes and enjoy the fruits of your labour come summer. And, of course, somewhere to enjoy the fruits of those vineyards I mentioned right at the beginning of this Autumn Gardening Tips piece once they’ve been pummelled and fermented into your favourite West Country cider.
I did also hint that some of my tips bordered on being ‘sad’, as the kids would say. But there’s something about living in the West Country that just brings the gardener out in me all year round. That people ask me to look after their lawns and gardens is an honour and a privilege. Now that is worth raising a glass to!
1 – Bristol rainfall: http://www.worldweatheronline.com/Bristol-weather-averages/Bristol/GB.aspx
2 – garden cress, wikimedia commons (CC 3.0), garden cress, Till Westermayer
3 – Moos (Moss), wikimedia commons (CC 3.0), Moos, Oliverherald