6 slightly surprising garden jobs you need to do now (and 3 which just waste your time)
Garden jobs to start the gardening year don’t begin in the spring. They begin in October, according to Graham Gough of Marchants Hardy Plants.
So I’ve asked experts in different gardening fields (ha ha) what we really have to do in autumn and what we can safely cross off the ‘to-do’ list.
1) Garden design: Make a list of what worked & what didn’t in 2015.
‘Some gardeners take notes throughout the year, but if you’ve forgotten, now’s the time to look back and write it down,’ says gardening and landscape consultant, Matt Jackson, author of Lunar & Biodynamic Gardening. ‘You’ll have forgotten by spring next year.’
2)Perennials: Now is the time to take out a plant you’re not happy with
Graham Gough says that this is the best time to take plants out of the garden if you’re not happy with them. ‘You can still see where it is – in the spring, it may have disappeared under ground. Then fill the hole with good compost and you’ve got a wonderful planting spot all ready to plant up in spring’.
3) Bulbs and seeds: Order them now
If you care about which bulbs and seeds you want, order them now, says Matt Jackson. ‘I’ve often left it to the last minute, and then I find that the varieties I really wanted have sold out.’
And plant all bulbs – except tulips – as soon as possible, say the RHS. ‘Every week of delay will reduce performance and longevity,’ say Guy Barter of the RHS.
4) Garden jobs: cover your soil up for winter
Don’t leave beds bare, says Garden Organic, the domestic gardening advice arm of the Henry Doubleday Research Association. ‘Plant a green manure or cover the soil with mulch, cardboard, newspaper or the last thin layer of grass cuttings. This will protect the soil from being leached of nutrients in heavy winter rain. And, as the topping breaks down, it will improve the soil structure.’
5) Lawns: It’s your very last chance
‘The race is on for scarifying, feeding and spiking your lawn’, says Guy Barter of the RHS. ‘We’re still doing this at Wisley, but you need to get it done before the cold and dark (and probable waterlogging) means that the lawn will no longer respond. (If you live in the north, it may already be too cold and dark. Transfer this point to the ‘don’t’ list below until next spring.)
6) Pots: Move pots to where you can see them from the house
Gardener and consultant, Harriet Rycroft, teaches online container gardening courses at My Garden School (find her on Twitter @harrietrycroft). She advises you to drag any pots with tender plants to a sheltered spot. I have had 3 bay trees here and the one that lives against the kitchen wall flourishes, while those further out in the garden died.
Harriet adds that if you want to enjoy container planting in the winter, plant them with evergreens, winter bedding and wedge a few spring bulbs into every pot wherever you can.’ You’re only going to see them from the windows, so put them where you will see them.’
GARDEN JOBS WHICH WASTE YOUR TIME AND DO NOTHING FOR YOUR GARDEN
1) Soil: Don’t dig your soil over in winter
Garden Organic say. ‘Unless you have very heavy clay soil, digging now is bad for it (and for your back!). If you dig now, soil nutrients will be leached away in heavy winter rain. They may be redeposited lower down the soil profile to form a pan, which will impede drainage in future year.
If you dig, you destroy soil structure and disturb microflora. Also, standing on wet winter soil to dig compacts it, and worms die in compacted soil which destroys the structure even more. And if you dig, you’ll bring weed seeds to the surface, ready to germinate on a warm day or in the spring.’
2) Pots: Don’t use compost with water-retaining granules in winter.
‘A surprising number of garden centres still sell this compost throughout the winter,’ says Harriet Rycroft. ‘Cold, water-logged compost will rot your plants and bulbs. And don’t use a ‘drainage layer’ of broken pottery at the bottom, says Harriet. ‘Tests have shown that this doesn’t improve drainage and I never bother. I do put just a few at the bottom to stop the drainage hole getting blocked with earth. This also makes it easier to push the plant out when you eventually need to.
Pot feet don’t help drainage either – I’ve planted thousands of pots over the years and only ever use pot feet when I don’t want to mark the surface the pots stand on (for example, decking)’.
3) Don’t bother with weed-killers, especially on lawns
Don’t use lawn weed treatments on the lawn, say the RHS. The weeds may be waving their cheery little heads at you – but they aren’t growing now, so weed-killers will be wasted. Save it for spring. Just hand-weed any that are defying the weather.
In many gardens, the days of clearing away all the perennials in autumn are pretty much over – everyone seems to agree that it’s much better to enjoy some of the beautiful outlines of dead seed heads and grasses. Mounds of dead foliage help to protect the plants, and offer sanctuaries for wild life.
Do share any slightly surprising tips you have, either here or on the Middlesized Garden Facebook page, where you can see extra pictures and stories about the gardens featured here. And I’d really appreciate it if you could share this on any of the buttons below – thank you!