Now that we are well into Autumn the flower garden will be past its best and will need tidying up in preparation for winter. All spent soft vegetation should ideally be recycled on the compost heap.
Plenty of raw material for the compost heap will become available during the next two months, so if you don't have a compost heap, then now is the time to think about providing one in the garden. Even a small compost heap / bin can provide decent amounts of rich humus and save you money by reducing the need to buy-in similar materials required for soil enrichment in the garden.
Garden compost provides much needed raw material for the important and mysterious humus which encourages growth, and helps plants take in plant food via their roots. Compost also provides a certain amount of plant foods, and thus reduces the need for too many additional fertilizers. It retains moisture and helps make heavy soils workable while putting 'body' into sandy soil. If you make a compost heap properly, decomposition will start quickly and, in a few days, a good heat will have built up inside. This, in turn, will kill weed seeds, fungal diseases and any pests in the raw material.
To make the best compost, the following conditions are required:
Raw material from any soft plants will make excellent garden compost, such as: lawn mowings, most weeds, hedge clippings, spent vegetable plants, flower stalks, leaves of all sorts, soft prunings, sawdust, wood ashes, straw and hay, pet droppings, and animal manures. You can also use household waste such as cabbage leaves, vegetable peelings, tea leaves and dead flowers. Also, at this time of year and into winter, autumn leaves are plentiful. When composted alone they make leaf mould, but it will take about a year to form, even when a suitable activator is used.
Woody hedge clippings, prunings, brassica and herbaceous stalks will normally take a long time to rot down. If shredded first, though, and then composted with an activator and a mixture of softer materials, they make an invaluable addition to any compost heap. A wide range of electric shredders are available which will do all the work, and are easy to operate.
There are many uses for garden compost, the main one being for digging into the ground in vegetable plots and flower borders. Roses and shrubs appreciate it especially. Another popular use is as a surface mulch on beds and borders, where it acts as a water retainer and smothers weed. Also, sifted compost makes a good autumn top-dressing for a lawn. Finally, a sack or porous bag filled with well-rotted compost can be hung in a bucket, or butt of water, to make a weak but very effective liquid feed for plants.
Dig up summer bedding displays that have died back and put them on the compost heap and clear the area ready for planting new ones. It is always tempting to leave summer displays for as long as possible, but this means that the replacement plants will only have a relatively short time to become established before the winter. You can replant such areas now with a spring display of tulips, hyacinths, wallflowers, and polyanthus. If you buy your plants choose those that are strong, medium-sized, and healthy.
Other summer displays of annuals should also be dug up when they have finished flowering, and the ground either dug in readiness for the next display or left rough for the winter.
Start lifting, dividing and replanting any herbaceous plants that have finished flowering and whose foliage is yellowing. Further details are given in November, which is the main month for this task.
Continue planting spring flowering bulbs, which should be finished by the end of the month to make the best use of the comparatively warm soil.
Lift tuberous rooted that have died back. Lay them on their side under cover, in a cool dry place, and allow them to die right back to the tuber. Once the vegetation has withered completely, clean off the top and roots and store them in a cold but frost-free place until the spring. Label each tuber with its name and description.
Lift gladioli and store them for next spring, if this has not already been done (see September).
Dahlias will still be in full flower, especially in the southern half of the UK. If an early frost threatens, cover them overnight with netting or polythene, which is usually enough to protect them - with luck, they might keep flowering for another month.
Any stakes or canes that have been used for supporting gladioli and other tall plants should be cleaned and dried before being stored away for next year. Look after them as they can be expensive to replace.
Half-hardy fuchsias are often a great deal tougher than you would think, especially in the Midlands and south. If they can survive the first winter they can often survive for many years after. Cut off all the twiggy growth, dig a deeper hole, replant them and cover their crowns with a good layer of coarse peat, chopped bark or garden compost. If the winter is not excessively severe, the plants stand a very good chance of coming through with flying colours.
Fuchsias growing in pots that you wish to keep should be brought inside towards the end of the month. They can then be dried off and stored dry (but not parched) in a frost-free but cold building for the winter.
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