September 25, 2008

Getting Busy in the Garden

AS the seasons change and crisp autumnal leaves start to fall, now's the perfect time to ensure your garden is ready for the harsh winter conditions.

Autumn is traditionally a time to protect your very own horticultural haven from the bitterly cold winds, rain and freezing temperatures of the approaching winter weather.

If you're keen to keep your garden in tip-top condition over the coming months, key jobs to undertake in September/October include covering ponds with a net to prevent leaves falling into the water, making sure you keep watering any new plants, dividing perennials to keep them healthy, collecting seeds from trees and shrubs on a dry day and storing them, ready to sow in spring, trimming evergreen hedges to keep them in good condition, and covering vegetable crops with netting to prevent birds from damaging them.

For a garden that's bursting with vitality and lusciously bright colours come spring, it's essential to plant spring flowering bulbs, such as tulips, muscari and daffodils, in September and October.

Sow hardy annuals like limnanthes and poppies, and bring any tender perennials like fuschias inside to protect them from frost.

Now is also the time to sow vegetables, so they are mature by spring. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, you should think about covering vegetable crops with a horticultural fleece to protect the plants from the cold.

If you have a herb garden, make sure you divide herbs before they die in the colder weather, take cuttings and ensure you cut back flowered herbs.

At this time of year, lawns grow much slower than in summer months, so start to mow the lawn less regularly, sow lawn seeds to cover any bare patches and apply an autumn lawn feed to prepare it for winter.

Dead, rotting leaves can be a source of disease in the garden, so make sure you gather them as soon as they fall. Consider putting them into a composter at the bottom of the garden - keep adding to it throughout the season with vegetable peelings, leaves and other garden waste to create a rich compost that's perfect for improving your soil.

You can choose to pile your compost in an open heap which will decompose slowly, or, if you prefer, you can put your garden waste, fallen leaves and kitchen waste into a compost container.

There's a wide range on the market, but most work by insulating the heap, which accelerates decomposition to create compost more quickly.

As well as autumn leaves and garden waste, you can also compost things like paper, card and pet waste and bedding from herbivore animals, such as rabbits or guinea pigs.

If you're keen to encourage wildlife in your garden this autumn/ winter, now's also the time to clean out bird baths and fill up bird feeders.

If you start to feed the birds now, make sure you continue to feed them throughout the winter months, as they will come to rely on your food and may starve if you forget them.

With a little bit of preparation now, your garden will be a horticultural haven all year round.

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