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Autumn tips for a healthy and happy winter garden

The nights are setting in, the weather’s turned: probably the very last thing you’ll want to do is get out there in the garden and attend to your plants. Unfortunately, time waits for no man or woman; nor sadly is it any kinder to gardeners. There are certain jobs that need to be done in autumn. These are unfortunately jobs that need doing, so it may well be that you just have to face all that nature can throw at you and bite the bullet. After all, these essential jobs are vital if you’re going to prepare your garden for the cold winter months ahead. So here are Ladybrook Nurseries top tips for getting your garden prepared for winter.

Spruce up your greenhouse and remove greenhouse shading

In September the days become shorter and the quality of light deteriorates, so now’s the time to remove greenhouse shading to maximise the sunlight available to your plants. Clean off the glass to allow more light through, and check the guttering for trapped leaves to prevent rainwater overflow on to your greenhouse. Spring clean your greenhouse in autumn

After you’ve tackled the outside, turn your attention to the inside. This will help to reduce overwintering pests and diseases. It’s important to remove the plants before sweeping out any plant debris. Disinfect the greenhouse paths and staging, and clean the inside of the glass too, using a hot solution rinse with a disinfectant like Jeyes Fluid. After cleaning allow adequate ventilation and drying in the greenhouse for a couple of days. Clean any pots and seed trays in preparation for spring sowing and planting.

Tidy Borders

Dig up ant spent annuals and put them on the compost heap. Replant your beds with winter bedding such as Pansies, Bellis Daisies and Wallflowers for a colourful display next spring.  Move poorly located plants, and divide overcrowded perennials while the soil is still warm. Cut back faded perennials to 5cm above ground level, but don’t be too obsessive as many perennials have attractive seed heads that look attractive in autumn month. Once you’ve tidied and cleaned your plant borders, mulch them with a thick layer of compost, bark chips or well-rotted manure.

Plant evergreens

Evergreens form the backbone of any garden, and provide structure and year-round interest. With warm soil and cooler conditions, autumn is the perfect time to fill any gaps in your borders. Plants like Sarcococca and Daphne will add glossy green leaves and beautifully fragrant flowers in the depths of winter while the rest of your garden is dormant. For larger gardens try planting elegant architectural shrubs like Camellias or Fatsias.

Lift tender species

Before the frosts arrive, make sure you’ve lifted tender species like Begonias, Dahlias and Cannas. Cut back the stems and gently lift the tubers/rhizomes from the ground. Clean the soil from them and store them in trays of dry compost or sand, with just the top of crown visible. The trays can be kept in a cool, frost free place over winter until they can be replanted in spring. In very mild areas it may be possible to protect tender species without lifting them. Simply cover the crowns with a thick blanket of mulch.

Lawn maintenance

If your lawn looks slightly worse for wear then autumn is the perfect time to revitalise it. Remove thatch (old grass clippings) and moss using a spring tined rake and add it to the compost heap. If you have large amounts of moss then you may want to use a moss killer first. In areas that receive a lot of wear (such as paths and play areas) the soil can become compacted. Improve drainage and aeration by making deep holes with the prongs of a garden fork every 10cm across the entire area.

A sandy top dressing can be brushed in afterwards, followed by an application of autumn lawn feed to prepare your lawn for the cold winter months. Autumn is a great time to lay new turf too, giving it plenty of time to establish before next summer.

Make leaf mould

Leaf mould adds structure and organic matter to your soil. Most leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs will rot down to make lovely leaf compost in a couple of years, although some leaves will take longer than others. Oak, alder, beech and hornbeam rot fairly quickly while sycamore, walnut, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut may take a little longer. Shredding the leaves first will help to speed things up. Evergreens are best shredded and added to the compost heap as they are very slow to decompose. Once the leaves reach a crumbly texture they can be spread as a mulch throughout your borders.

Clear out compost bins

Before adding to your compost bin with this season’s cleared vegetation, clear out last year’s compost and use it around the garden. If your compost isn’t quite ready, then turn it to improve decomposition, and create a new heap.

Net ponds

Decomposing leaves can foul pond water and block filters on pumps. Try to catch the autumn leaves before they fall by spreading a fine meshed net across the pond and pin it down with weights – brick or stones for example. The leaves can then be added straight to the compost heap or collected up to make leaf mould.

Maintain garden equipment

Finally, spare a thought for the tools that have served you well during the growing season and give them a little TLC. Send your lawn mower for servicing before storing, sharpen shears and secateurs and clean and wash spades, forks and other garden tools. If your garden tools have wooden handles, clean and protect them with linseed oil.

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