Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Gardening -

Out on the road the sound of one neigh­bour’s leaf-blow­ing machine is try­ing to outdo an­other’s lawn mower. In the next house down, the hedge trim­mer is be­ing wielded as if it’s a prop from Ed­ward Scis­sorhands. It seems that every­one is in their gar­den, do­ing chores and mak­ing noise! We are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some dry au­tum­nal days so the na­tion is tak­ing the op­por­tu­nity to do what they can to pre­pare their gar­dens for au­tumn and beyond.

I’ve been busy weed­ing beds and ap­ply­ing a heavy layer of mulch in the hope of sup­press­ing any fur­ther weed growth. I’m us­ing a re­ally rich, dark crumbly com­post — this makes a great con­trast with the white bark of the birch trees and crisp green fronds of ferns.

It does an ex­cel­lent job of tidy­ing ev­ery­thing up and draw­ing at­ten­tion to spec­i­men shrubs in their au­tum­nal beauty like ac­ers and par­ro­tia. And over the next year the com­post will grad­u­ally be bro­ken down by earth­worms, thereby im­prov­ing the soil struc­ture.

Col­lect­ing fallen leaves is a weekly task at the mo­ment, hence the roar of leaf-blow­ing ma­chines in the air. A more ecologically friendly and qui­eter method is to rake. This will have the added ben­e­fit of giv­ing a gen­tle scratch to your lawn — oth­er­wise known as scar­i­fy­ing.

A vig­or­ous rake will not only re­move leaves but also thatch that layer of de­cay­ing ma­te­rial that builds up on lawns such as bits of grass left over from mow­ing and dead moss.

There’s still enough warmth to sow grass seed in bare patches and it’s the per­fect time to lay new sod.

It’s very im­por­tant to re­move dead leaves from paths. If the rain comes these will be­come in­creas­ingly slip­pery and cre­ate a haz­ardous route for you and your post­man com­ing up the gar­den path. While you’re at it, check that your home’s drains and gut­ters aren’t get­ting clogged up.

Gather leaves in black bin bags, pierc­ing a few holes in the bag for air and al­low to com­post. They won’t need turn­ing but you can help the process along by dig­ging up some earth­worms and adding them and a bit of soil to the mix­ture so there’s plenty of bac­te­ria present. It might take a year or so but it makes a lovely dark com­post.

Scis­sor-happy gar­den­ers can get out and about with their se­ca­teurs and tidy up or prune de­cid­u­ous shrubs — but don’t hard prune ever­green shrubs at this time of the year. Climb­ing roses are nearly fin­ished their sec­ond flush of flow­er­ing so it’s time to cut out weak, cross­ing or dead stems and re­duce side-flow­er­ing shoots by a third. If the rose is old and get­ting con­gested, you can re­move one or two old shoots com­pletely from the base. Ponds need at­ten­tion be­fore win­ter sets in. Re­move and clean the pump if you have one. Thin out oxy­genat­ing plants if these have taken over and re­move old leaves and de­bris from the bot­tom. Don’t use a rake or any­thing sharp to do this as you might punc­ture the lin­ing. Ide­ally your pond won’t be si­t­u­ated near a tree but if it is, con­sider cov­er­ing with a net to stop leaves fall­ing in — these will rot and pro­duce gases poi­sonous to fish.

Tubs and con­tain­ers with sum­mer bed­ding will need a facelift. Some daisies will keep flow­er­ing mer­rily but most bed­ding will need clear­ing. If you’re go­ing to plant some win­ter and spring bed­ding, I would rec­om­mend re­plac­ing at least half the com­post in your pots as it will be tired and leached of all good­ness at this stage.

Re­place with home­made com­post and soil or shop-bought com­post. In­dulge your in­ner child and have fun with the pri­mary colours —zingy reds, blues and yel­lows and ev­ery shade be­tween on the colour wheel can be har­nessed us­ing pan­sies, wall­flow­ers, bellis peren­nis, polyan­thus and cy­cla­men. En­joy!

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