Diarmuid Gavin - gardening: ready for autumn
From scarifying the lawn to dead-heading roses, get your patch in shape for a new season with my garden to-do list
Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30
Having four distinct seasons allows for regular fresh starts; time to say goodbye to a vigorously productive season, to regroup and consider successes and failures. It's rarely difficult to say goodbye to winter but there's always a sadness when summer ebbs and days get shorter.
Now is the time to open the door to a new season, to appreciate the garden for what it's given this gardening year, and to begin the preparations for the next three months. As I look outside, the climbers are still climbing, apples are bunched on the trees, ornamental grasses are flowering, but the summer colour is slowly draining away.
To prepare our plots for what may come, we need to delve into maintenance mode. Lawns will need deep treatment, borders require reassessing, soil can do with conditioning and we can plan for colour from winter through to spring. First, take the time to assess what has worked and create an action list.
Next, attack the lawn. Lawns have served us well during the spring and summer months. We've had a nice mix of dry spells but also relatively regular rain in most places. They haven't been burnt to a cinder, but over the last six months of growth they've had dead material building up at the base of the individual grass plants and a lot of compaction as a result of regular use, and even us treading after heavy lawnmowers.
This organic matter will harbour disease and fungal growth, weakening the stems of the grass through winter, allowing patches to emerge which will be filled by moss and weeds.
You have to be cruel to be kind, so use a spring tine rake to scarify - this means give your lawn a vigorous raking after cutting. Soon you will see the dead yellow and brown material come to the surface.
Next, aerate either with a hired machine or by inserting the prongs of your fork to a depth of 7in, at 9in intervals. This will enhance drainage and the exchange of gases good and bad.
Once regrowth has started in a couple of weeks, you could apply some autumn lawn feed which will help to strengthen the roots for the winter ahead.
There's still plenty of colour to be had in the herbaceous borders but, soon perennial plants will begin to die away. So, it's a good time to assess what worked, what didn't, what needs moving, what needs dividing and what needs to be gotten rid of entirely.
While it's still easy to identify what you have, make some notes and label your plants - in the blink of an eye you'll be dealing with just roots and some stubby shoots with very little hints of what the plant is.
Plants such as catmint (nepeta) that are going brown can be chopped back - you may even get a bit of regrowth in this clement weather. If you have big gaps in your border, you could plant some late-flowering perennials, such as sedums and asters, which will give you flowers and interest through the autumn.
It's time to trim evergreen bushes and hedges, such as box and privet, as well as conifers. With the exception of yew, don't trim conifers back into old wood as they won't put on fresh growth. Your wisteria is probably looking a bit mad as well - you need to cut back all that whippy growth to about five or six leaves in length.
Pots and containers still need plenty of care so maintain feeds and watering. If you have camellias (pictured) or rhododendrons in pots, it's very important that they don't dry out now while they are forming next year's buds. Remove any tired bedding and put on the compost heap if you have one. Remember to give the compost heap a turn every month to help aerate.
I've been dead-heading roses and hoping to encourage that magic second flush of flowers. Rambling and climbing roses can be pruned now unless they are repeat-flowerers. Remove suckers from roses bushes and from the base of trees. If you have variegated plants, remove any stems that have reverted to being green.
Collect seed from plants you'd like to propagate… or eat! I've been eyeing up a wild fennel in my garden (a fantastic architectural plant) and will collect the seeds shortly for culinary use. The same goes for poppy seeds - you can use these in baking - or scatter them for next year.
So even if the summer joys are lessening, we are moving into a new vigorous gardening season and if you are to believe the forecasts, it looks as if the weather is going to continue to smile on us for some time to come. Happy gardening!