Summer can be a chore, spring and winter are a breeze, but autumn is the time to make the garden sing.
While I love all the seasons in my garden, autumn is my favourite, with its delightful sunny days, cool nights, flowers and stunning autumn tones.
Summer can be a bit of an ordeal, watering, keeping things alive and protected from the heat, however in autumn, the pressure is off as the worst of the heat passes.
While there is always a sense of relief that I (or should I say my garden) have survived summer and made it through to autumn, this is not a time to rest on my laurels. Indeed, it’s actually time to get busy because what we do now will set us up for the months to come.
ASSESS YOUR AUTUMN GARDEN
Now is a great time to reflect on how our gardens fared over spring and summer, and looking at the plants that have thrived as well as those which haven’t done so well. Plan to add some of the good performers to parts of your garden that can do with some enhancement.
It’s also a great time to look at the design and structure of your garden and work out where it can be improved. Do you perhaps need more summer shade, shelter from hot north winds, privacy from neighbours, or just to make your outdoor living area cooler so it is more comfortable for summer entertaining?
PREPARE YOUR SOIL
Before you plant anything though, look to prepare and improve your soil as this gives your plants a head start. To quote a common garden saying; ‘Plant a $1 plant in a $10 hole’. Clay soils benefit from the addition of gypsum and sandy, non-wetting soils benefit from the addition of clay in the form of a clay slurry or bentonite clay. Adding organic matter in the form of aged animal manures and compost is also hugely beneficial, whether preparing for new plantings or working on existing garden beds.
If preparing a new bed, aim to fork this organic matter through the soil to fork’s depth. With existing garden beds where you are unable to dig around without disturbing established plants, simply throw compost on top of the soil and let the worms work it through for you. Using up your compost also makes room for you to start a new batch, incorporating the leaves of deciduous trees as they fall. One exception is if you are planting local indigenous plants into natural soil as they are adapted to your natural local soil conditions. That said, these days most soils are no longer ‘natural’, having been changed by development.
PLANT NOW FOR SPRING JOY
Fill in any gaps where plants may have died or start a new garden bed and by spring, the new plants in your garden will have settled in and will look great. Use a seaweed-based plant tonic to help them develop a good root system and overcome any transplant shock.
TRANSPLANT VOLUNTEER PLANTS
Autumn is a great time to get a feel for your garden.
In my garden I find some perennial and annual plants self-seed while others layer themselves, with branches touching the ground developing roots and forming new plants. Autumn is the best time to transplant these ‘freebies’ to other spots in the garden, to fill in a gap or to simply add to the colour in an area, or extend the flowering period in one area.
Dig them up with as much soil as possible and replant them where you want them to grow. Treat these with a seaweed-based plant tonic also, and as long as you keep them well watered while they are tiny, they will power away.
NOURISH AND NURTURE
Feed your whole garden and lawn now with an organic-based fertiliser. As always, it is best to feed on a cool day and water it in afterwards, or, if you are clever enough to time your feeding properly, feed just before the rain and let the rain wash it in for you.
In areas with cold winters, the secret to having a good-looking lawn over winter is to make it strong and healthy in autumn, and to lift your mowing height as the weather starts to cool. Most waterwise lawns such as Kikuyu, Couch and Buffalo, are active in the warmer weather and go dormant over winter in cold weather so if they are hungry going into winter, they will look very sad during this time, whereas the greener and stronger they are now, the more they will handle the cold. In very frosty areas however, all of these summer-active running grasses may brown off.
PRUNE FOR GROWTH
Now is the time to prune summer-flowering plants that have finished their main flowering period. Ever-blooming plants such as Seaside Daisy respond well to a hard haircut at this time, as long as you water them well. Cut them down to only 2cm above ground level to remove the old thatch. This will encourage fresh new growth and flowers.
Lightly prune hedges that have become unsightly throughout summer, prior to them putting on new growth with the rains.
So, enjoy autumn in your garden, and try to do as much as you can over the Easter break to set your garden up for the rest of the year.
Over the next few months, gardens with deciduous trees and plants will have access to an abundance of autumn leaves. View them as a precious resource of organic matter and recycle them, either by adding them to your compost, or, if they are small and soft and break down readily, use them directly on your garden beds as mulch. If you have huge quantities of deciduous leaves, too many for your compost bin to handle, use the leaves to make leaf mould, a wonderful additive for your soil to help increase the soil’s water holding capacity.
To do this simply make an enclosure about 1 to 1.5m square from wood, corrugated iron or even chicken wire wrapped around 4-star droppers. If you make the chicken wire option, line the inside with large pieces of cardboard held in place with twitched wire or cable ties to best contain the leaf mould. Then simply pile your leaves inside, adding a layer of organic fertiliser every 15-30cm. To make this break down quicker, run your mower over dry leaves first to chop them up. Keep the pile moist and ensure you turn regularly.
PLANT OF THE WEEK: CHERRY PIE
This long flowering dwarf shrub is grown for its deliciously scented clusters of purple or lavender flowers, which have an intoxicating vanilla-like scent. There are several forms including a golden leaf form and ‘Lord Roberts’ with dark purplish green leaves. This plant will bloom from spring until autumn. They grow well in the ground, but also in pots or hanging baskets, however they prefer a sunny warm position, without being too hot. They are frost tender and in colder climates they are best grown in containers so they can be brought under cover in the depths of winter. Cut the plants back to half in early spring to keep them nice and compact.
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