There’s no getting away from the fact there’s a change in the air. With days getting shorter and nights getting longer, it’s time to say farewell to the warm embrace of summer, as there’s a new season waiting in the wings; hello autumn!
Despite fading flowers and falling temperatures, autumn can be a glorious time. Its palette is awash with rich golds, fiery reds and burnt oranges. Fruits and vegetables are ripe for the picking, ready to be stored and turned into hot soups and warm treats for the colder months ahead.
On gardens and allotments, we need to make ready for winter, but also keep one eye ahead to spring. Clean the greenhouse, clear away the used veg beds and plant those spring bulbs, making the most of the mild weather before first frosts arrive.
After a very dry summer, and with constant use, lawns will need your attention. Re-lay any bare patches with new turf or re-sow seeds directly into the soil. Scarify, aerate and apply a dressing to the lawn. Keep edging in check and remove any fallen foliage. Any leaf build-up can harbour pests, stop light getting to your lawn and create a ‘browning off’ effect.
Your perennials will have seen better days, but these plants can still offer benefits for wildlife searching for food throughout the colder months, so I’d always encourage you to keep them if you can. Otherwise, cut the plants back to the base. Summer flowering perennials can be lifted, divided and re-planted, increasing your flower stock next year. For protection against dropping temperatures, ensure you mulch around the plant. Don’t cover them over, as this will encourage rot.
Dahlia bulbs can be lifted, and their foliage cut back to several centimetres above the tuber. Turned upside down, they should be left a day or two to drain. Once dried, they can be stored somewhere cool, dark and frost free.
Speaking of bulbs, spring bulbs can now be planted either straight into the ground or into pots and containers. Ensure they’re planted three times the height of the bulb, and don’t let them sit in water throughout winter. If drainage is a problem for your soil, add horticultural grit to the base of the hole, as this will help the water to seep away. Bulbs worth considering are tulips, daffodils and alliums.
Now’s the time to clean the greenhouse. Dispose of old plants and remove all empty pots and containers, as these maybe harbouring pests. Ensure all glass is cleaned with warm soapy water. If you’re planning to grow anything in the next few months, such as winter salad or hardy spinach, then your greenhouse will need as much light and warmth as possible. Seeds such as sweet peas, centaurea and poppies can be sown into trays or modules. Don’t let them dry-out and as temperatures slowly start to drop, ensure preparations are made to see them through the colder months.
If you’ve been harvesting apples and pears and are planning to store them, ensure none are spoilt and place them apart on dry sand in a paper-lined box. Store them somewhere dark and cool, such as a pantry or cellar, and check every so often to make sure none have gone off.
Garlic needs a good cold period to help develop its cloves, so plant them now and leave over winter. Don’t be tempted to use bulbs from a supermarket as they may harbour disease. Instead, buy them from a garden centre or online supplier.
In well-drained, fertile soil, place the individual cloves at 20cm apart, in rows 30cms apart. You should only see the tips of the cloves. You may want to cover over with either a fleece or netting, just to stop birds from pulling them up.
If you’re leaving vegetable beds empty over winter, turn the soil to aerate it and to expose hiding pests. You can also add a thick layer of well-rotted manure or compost. The worms and weather will help break it down, and integrate it into your bed.
Finally, your squashes and pumpkins should be looking their best, and with their vines cracked and withered, this is the time to cut them away. Place them somewhere dry and bright for a few days so the skins can harden off. Stored correctly, these could last you well into next spring. But if it’s a Halloween pumpkin you’re hoping to carve, this is a great opportunity to get children involved with the allotment or growing patch. Not only will they have seen the pumpkin grown from seed, but they’ll get to harvest and enjoy it. Make sure you don’t waste the flesh though; pumpkins make tasty autumn soups, curries and risottos! In fact, why not try our recipe for pumpkin and chilli soup?
Get yourself warm and cosy round the fire this season, raise a cup of homemade soup, and celebrate the harvest!