6 slightly surprising garden jobs you need to do now (and 3 which just waste your time)

October 18th, 2015 Posted In: Gardening know how

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.

Garden jobs for fall & autumn

It’s the beginning of the garden year, not the end…

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.’

Take notes or photographs of your garden

I’m a bit chaotic about taking notes, but I find that photographs make an excellent record of the garden. I find it helps to name each photo – this one is ‘garden August 2015’. Then you can quickly call up the month and see what the photos say.

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’.

Plan perennials in October.

Marchants Hardy Plants is known for its perennials. This is a gorgeous flower arrangement I spotted in their shed this week, made with rudbeckias and asters (now symphotrichum) from the garden.

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.

Order seeds and bulbs now

If you want to achieve a particular effect with bulbs or are passionate about growing specific types of veg, order seeds and bulbs now. You can always go back for the bargains in the sales.

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.’

Cover your vegetable beds with mulch or cardboard boxes

Once I’ve cleared the veg away for the year, I plan to cover the beds with flattened-out cardboard boxes (from our last bulk wine order). Saves a trip to the tip!

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.)

Spike and scarify your lawn before it gets too dark and cold

I feel like apologising to the lawn. We have not spiked or scarified, and we won’t be managing it this weekend. So that’s it for the year…

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.’

Move pots to where you can see them in winter

Outside the front of the house is also a good spot for winter containers (so that you can enjoy them when you go in and out). These evocative grasses were planted up by garden designer Graham Lloyd Brunt.


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.’

Save time and improve your soil

I’m very pleased to hear what I don’t have to do…

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)’.

Place winter planters where you can see them

Don’t let them get waterlogged…

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.

Save time and money by not doing garden jobs that are just a waste of time

Close-up we can still see some weeds in the lawn – but they won’t take weed-killer up now.

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!

12 comments on "6 slightly surprising garden jobs you need to do now (and 3 which just waste your time)"

  1. Nothing to do! =
    Perennials: Now is the time to take out a plant you’re not happy with – no – take them out as soon as you see they aren’t right, whenever it is, and replace them then.
    Bulbs and seeds: Order them now – bit late for all except tulips.
    Garden jobs: cover your soil up for winter – keep your soil mulched always, all year round.
    Lawns: It’s your very last chance – only if you’re a bit nutty about the state of your lawn.

    1. Good advice, Anne, especially ‘take a perennial out as soon as you’re not happy with it’. I always feel really guilty about taking anything out that’s growing well…but the ruthless gardener undoubtedly has the better garden.

  2. andy says:

    thank you for the tips all noted

  3. Kent Piano says:

    Bulbs and seeds to order! Must get on with browsing through the catalogues! At least my lumbago gets a rest over winter.

  4. Adem says:

    Great tips. I got my bulbs in 2 weeks ago so feeling pretty smug about myself :)

  5. Marcel says:

    Great tips especially number 4!

    Looking forward to get stuck into the garden tomorrow. :-)

  6. Katie says:

    Brilliant inspiration!! Sadly I am on heavy clay soil so dig I must! Boo! I have to do so much tidying in my raised beds and vegetable garden but somehow no matter how much coffee I drink today it’s not happening, best intentions for tomorrow!!



    1. Yes, I gather that very heavy clay does require winter digging (I’ll add that in, thank you for reminding me.) I love your shepherd’s hut. I have often wanted one but it is really not suitable for a walled town garden and neither would I be able to get it through the garden door.

  7. Thank you for these great tips. I must get out and prepare my MSG for what sounds like the early arrival of a bad winter. Glad to have found you via the Weekend Blog Share!

    1. Thank you – yes, Weekend Blog Share is a good place to find good blogs, and I always find WWWblogs and Mondayblogs good too.

    2. And, by the way, I love the photography on your blog. Beautiful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

+ 40 = 46