Time to take stock; what have you got planned for your garden this month? Yew hedges should have had their annual cut by now; summer borders tidied but not necessarily cut back to nothing (this can wait until spring); too early for blanket mulching; too late for taking cuttings from tender perennials; too late for applying herbicides – what can you do?
All of the above are examples of ‘doing things by the book’. In reality you’ll probably still get away with many of the above, although the optimum time has passed, but there are risks attached to performing them ‘out of season’. It’s the age old homily of “once you’ve learned the rules then you can break them”. For less experienced gardeners it’s always safest to ‘do it by the book’.
In the past it was generally suggested that autumn was the perfect time for lifting and moving shrubs, and for establishing new ones, although the exception to the rule was evergreens; they are “not suited to planting or moving in the autumn”. The reasoning is that evergreens transpire (‘breathe’ out water vapour) constantly, through their leaves, whereas deciduous plants shed their leaves in winter and practically stop transpiring.
This means that if the ground becomes frozen, in a hard winter, plants cannot take water in via their roots and, literally, die of drought as they cannot replace the water lost via their leaves. Newly planted evergreens are at a higher risk because they haven’t grown roots deep enough to be able to extract water from non-frozen ground.
These days we rarely get winters that are so severe, or long-lasting, that an evergreen is likely to suffer this fate so the advice is, in my opinion, something else which has been overtaken by the effects of by global warming.
Having said that, if you do plant evergreens now, to give them the best possible chance they need to be watered in well and mulched thickly with organic matter to prevent the surrounding ground from freezing. In case it gets really cold keep a ready supply of horticultural fleece handy to chuck over your choice specimens as an emergency measure.
The flip side is that now is the optimum time for general replanting, messing around with and restructuring plants in beds and borders. The soil is still warm enough to encourage good root establishment and the promise of increased rainfall means that plants are unlikely to be stressed by heat or drought while they are recuperating from the planting process and finding their feet in their new home.
While getting to grips with planting schemes don’t forget that we are in mid bulb planting season. A bit early still for tulips, which are best planted in November, but just about anything else goes. Not too late to go ‘online’ and order from the numerous suppliers which trade over the internet. Shop around; wholesale businesses can be many times cheaper than the glossier ‘premium’ suppliers and, if they are big enough to be trading wholesale, the chances are their bulbs will be just as good as anyone else’s (almost without exception spring flowering bulbs come from huge Dutch producers). Bulbs are best planted in profusion so don’t be afraid to buy in the hundreds rather than the tens. Distribute them amongst your gardening friends or club together to buy in quantity then share them out. Gardening is a shared experience and in these ‘credit crunch’ times finding ways of buying plants for less makes more sense than ever.
New plants from cutting are the prime example of ‘thriftiness’. If you took tender perennial cuttings throughout the summer then there will probably be some which need potting up, or potting on, now. Do it before the really cold weather arrives and then tidy up the greenhouse / coldframe / porch in readiness for the influx of other tender plants which need to be brought in from the garden soon. Don’t wait until we’ve had the first frost or else you’ll suddenly have a myriad of plants crying out for shelter and no time to prepare it for them.
Don’t forget about autumn colour and autumn flowering bulbs. To make sure that you know what you are getting these are the sorts of plants which is does pay to buy while they are ‘performing’. You can slot them straight into the garden where they’ll have the most impact and you get to enjoy them ‘in situ’ right from the word go. This is particularly true if you are investing in a stunning Acer specifically for autumn colour. Go out now, to a nursery specialising in such beauties, and pick one when it is mid display.
To me they’re a bit like Siamese fighting fish; they look well enough when they’re just swimming around the tank but, when choosing the best, you have to hold a mirror up to the tank and see him in full battle dress. And it will be a ‘him’ because, as in so much of nature, it is the males that have all the good looks (fortunately Acers are, like most of the ornamental plant world, both ‘Arthur and Martha’!).
With that I feel I have excelled myself and need to go for a little nap. I bid you farewell, gentle reader.
PS – if you read Alys Fowler’s “Gardeners’ World” blog then you’ll note that I am now famous………. for buying flaming teacups. I ask you; two decades of professional gardening and I get a mention for the skilful purchasing of crockery from ‘Pams Place’!