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Autumn is officially here

In all its golden glory. The ground is wet with dew in the mornings and the garden is covered in cobwebs, but some days may still be glorious and warm. This may be the first month some areas of the country experience their first frosts. The leaves are falling from the trees in abundance and a lot of summer crops are coming to an end.

Sowing and Growing

Collect seeds from summer-flowering plants for planting next year. Or with beautiful seed heads such as alliums, cut off from the plant whole, dry and spray paint in silvers or golds for glorious Christmas decorations. It's also a good idea to leave some seeds in situ in the garden for hungry birds

Plant out the hardy annuals you've been bringing on inside and any biennials still not placed.

Save seed from your favourite plants – it is easy to do and will provide you with plenty of plants to fill gaps or make an existing scheme have more impact. Leave a few seedheads on your plants after they've finished flowering to allow the seeds to ripen, then collect them and store in paper bags in a cool dry place until you are ready to sow them.

Dig up any scented-leaf pelargoniums still outside and pot them up as winter houseplants. Most will remain happily on a sunny window ledge for much of the winter, to be cut back early next spring.

Bulbs and Tubers

You can continue to plant spring bulbs in the still-warm ground, to give them the longest possible growing time ahead of next year.

Alliums are also happiest planted while the soil is still a little warm in early-mid Autumn, in contrast to tulips, which benefit from going in to the ground when the temperature has dropped (when the diseases and fungus that they are prone to during the warmer months have died off).

Plant peonies this month as well, and established peony plants should be pruned shortly after the first frost.

Brighten up shady bits of your garden with spring-flowering, shade-tolerant bulbs. Go for snowdrops for January and February, followed by Anemone & narcissi for March and April, finishing with bluebells in April and May.

If we have early frosts, remove dahlia and gladiolus bulbs and tubers from the ground, cutting back their stems to approx 5cm from the roots first. Leave the bulbs somewhere warm and dry for a couple of days. Then store in dry compost in a box lined with newspaper, or in a pot, somewhere warm and dry, until spring. Alternatively, mulch your dahlias in late autumn under several inches of mushroom compost or similar and just clear this away once the worst of the frosts are over in the spring.

Lift and divide large clumps of crocosmia, and replant into freshly prepared soil. If you have any spring bulbs in storage that you lifted earlier in the year, now’s the time to check them over before replanting. Dispose of any that are showing obvious signs of rot, or that feel soft to the touch.

Pot up roots of lily of the valley to provide fragrant winter flowers. Any spent compost from containers of summer bedding can be spread around the borders to use as a mulch.

Plant new amaryllis to give you beautiful flowers for winter and early spring. Plant them firmly, cramming the soil around the bulb. Amaryllis like their soil rich, but exceptionally well drained.

Plant some mini iris (Iris reticulata and Iris histrioides) for pots inside, cramming them into pots with the bulbs almost touching. Planted now, they will be in flower in February when forced on a sunny windowsill.


Pruning and Tidying

Continue deadheading.

Keep weeding. Perennial weeds may pull out easily now, but make sure that you don't leave any of the root to overwinter!

Bring tender plants, eg. pelargoniums, in out of the frost and begin to cut them back.

Divide and replant overcrowded spring and summer flowering perennials, such as geraniums.

Lift, divide and replant congested clumps of perennials. Use two garden forks back to back to split larger clumps.

Remove plant supports and store away.

Prune climbing roses and rambling roses once they've finished flowering and tie in the stems before autumn winds cause damage. Cut back any dead, diseased or damaged branches to the ground or a healthy bud. Cut side shoots back by about two-thirds to a outward facing bud, and tie in horizontally to encourage flowering shoots. Collect fallen leaves from under rose bushes so they don't carry diseases over to next year.

Prune tall summer flowering shrubs such as Buddleia to about half their height in order to prevent damage by winter winds and to tidy their appearance. Remove suckers growing around the base of trees.

Fruiting plants

Plant new soft fruit canes.

As soon as you’ve finished picking this year’s blackberries, the old fruited canes can be pruned out to make space for next year’s to develop. Cut back all the stems that have produced blackberries this year to ground level and tie in new growth. Leave autumn fruiting raspberries until later in the winter.

Move citrus trees indoors to a frost-free postion away from radiators or draughts.


Continue to clear leaves from lawns to avoid brown patches; collect up the leaves in leaf mould bags or pile them onto the compost to create lovely mulch for next year’s borders. Rake them up, then mow over to chop, then gather them up – this will make their conversion to leaf mould much quicker.

Check that newly planted container grown trees/shrubs/roses are firmed in, strong winds can rock them and loosen the roots forming a gap at the base which will collect rain water, freeze and damage the roots.

Aerate and feed lawns to help them recover from heavy summer use, and prepare for the coming cold months.

Start to wrap containers that need protection with fleece, or hessian. Alternatively, bring the whole thing inside before the risk of a hard frost. Citrus, tender agapanthus, dahlias and pelargoniums all need to come inside to somewhere frost free. They don’t need light in this dormant phase, so under a bench in a potting shed or greenhouse is ideal.

Pile bark mulch over the crowns of hardy fuchsias to provide winter protection.

After a good summer, the soil is warmer than usual. It’s moist too, so now is a good time to mulch wherever there’s bare soil. Spread home-made compost, leaf mould or green waste from your local council a good inch and a half deep. It helps to condition soil, retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Raise the cutting height when mowing the lawn and apply an autumn food. Use a fork or hollow-tined aerator to spike your lawn and improve drainage. Continue to collect fallen leaves. New turf can still be laid.

On a dry day, mow the grass quite tightly, particularly where you have bulbs. They will then show clearly through the grass next spring. Crocus and snowdrops on the lawn edge are a huge addition, and you’ll see them so much more clearly if the grass is well cut

Wildlife and pests

Winter moths can devastate next year's crop of apples and pears. The eggs hatch into caterpillars that can decimate leaves and blossom in spring, so act now to avoid them. Wrap grease-bands around the bases of all your fruit trees. The wingless females will soon emerge from the soil and as they attempt to crawl up the trees they will be trapped in the bands.

Remove fallen leaves and dead foliage from borders and pots to prevent pests overwintering amongst it. Most pests are on the decline with the onset of colder weather, but botrytis and mildew may still be a problem if the weather is moist. Remove any affected material and make a note of affected plants to take preventative steps next spring.

Check bonfire piles for hibernating hedgehogs or toads. Do not discourage them – they are great at disposing of pests!

Top up bird feeders and put out food on the ground and bird tables. All feeds, including peanuts, are safe, as the breeding season is now over.

Let seedheads form on last of the flowers to attract finches.

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