7 jobs to do in your garden this week
Some gardens still look good but it’s time to tidy up and decide which plants to leave standing over winter.
Perennial plants die down naturally in winter. Their stems and foliage wither, helped along by winter frosts and rain. The plants stay dormant until weather, and soil, warm up again in the spring and the growth cycle starts again.
Despite the fashion for leaving plants standing, their dying remains can look pretty awful, especially in wet, windy winters so if you are a tidy gardener the decision to cut is an easy one. Cutting plants down also makes it easier to spread mulches and compost on the soil.
But in wildlife gardens, leave at least some stems standing – the seeds and stems provide food and shelter for insects, birds and small mammals.
Perennials - Many perennials are tough customers able to withstand harsh weather; others such as hardy fuchsias, need a protective mulch to see them through the coldest months and some, including grasses, tolerate the cold but dislike winter wet.
Tough plants such as asters and golden rod can be cut them almost to ground level once they finish flowering. Other plants such as hydrangeas and sedum can cope with autumn and winter weather if their spent flowers are left on the plants to bear the brunt of any frosts. Borderline hardy plants such as penstemons will survive the cold better if they keep their stems until spring.
Grasses - Cut deciduous grasses down between now and late winter. If the winter stays dry, most deciduous grasses such as Stipa tenuissima and calamagrostis can be left to bleach and die down gracefully. Just cut them back when they look too bedraggled.
Exceptions are miscanthus and pennisetu – the overwintering stems will protect the crown and the old shoots can be cut out in spring before new shoots start to appear. Remove any straggly seed-heads from evergreen grasses and tidy the
plants in autumn – they don’t need an annual prune.
Chrysanthemums - Cut early chrysanthemums down to around 10cm (4in) above the ground. In all but the mildest areas, lift and store them over winter in trays of compost. Late varieties can be in bloom until early winter; pot some up to use as stock plants for cuttings.
Rake leaves off the lawn - Use them to make leafmould
Gathered up and left to break down, fallen leaves make a wonderful soil conditioner. But raking and clearing leaves is a never ending job just now, particularly if you have lots of deciduous trees in and around your garden. Use a spring-tined rake to gather leaves or if your lawn is large, collect them up with a rotary mower. This shreds the leaves as it goes which helps speed up the rotting process.
Drain your hosepipes - Store hosepipes under cover
Now that night time temperatures are dropping rapidly, it’s best to drain and store hosepipes, hose reels and irrigation systems. If they are left outside, plunging temperatures can cause rubber pipes to freeze and split. Cold weather also makes plastic fittings brittle and likely to crack. If you haven’t got anywhere to store your hosepipe, try lagging it with some sacking or fleece to make sure it survives the winter.
Check pansies for black spot - Remove affected leaves to protect plants
Cold wet weather in autumn and winter can speed up the development and spread of mould and fungal diseases. Winter pansies are particularly susceptible to black spot and downy mildew so start checking plants now for signs of disease. Black spot causes dark blotches on pansy leaves while downy mildew produces paler blotches and grey mould (botrytis). Bad infestations can kill the leaves and eventually the whole plant. There is no effective chemical control.
Feed birds as winter nears - Help garden birds to survive
Seeds and nuts are good all-yearround bird foods, but putting out some high-fat food for garden birds now will provide them with extra energy for the winter. Sunflower seeds, peanuts, niger seed, millet and suet mixes with seeds or fruit are all nutritious winter foods. If you’re putting out fat balls, take them out of their mesh bags as birds can easily get caught and injured in them.
Check gladioli corms in store - Make sure they’ve dried out properly
Check gladioli corms and throw away any that are showing signs of softening or mould growth. See if the old corm can be snapped away from the new one now. If it is fully dried out, then gently twist the old corm and it should come clean away if it is ready. When storing gladioli corms over winter, don’t remove the husks as they help stop the corm drying out. Just rub away the soil-covered outermost layer.
Group potted plants in shelter - It’ll give them some winter protection
While containers of summer bedding have been emptied, pots of permanent plants remain. Give these plants maximum protection by grouping the containers together in a sheltered part of the garden. This will keep compost and plant roots protected from severe cold and also protect foliage from drying winds. If very cold weather is forecast the whole group can be easily covered with fleece or a layer of newspaper.