Autumn To-do list
The crisp mornings, clear starry nights, seasonal colour change and still overcast days with a hint of bonfire smoke in the air all combine to lift the spirits. Head outdoors – it’s time to plant bulbs, tidy the landscape, and plant trees, shrubs, climber
FLOWERS TO SOW
• Cinerarias, coreopsis, cornflowers, cyclamen, delphiniums, dianthus, forget-me-nots, foxgloves, godetia, hollyhocks, honesty, impatiens, larkspurs, linaria, lobelias, mignonette, nemesias, nemophila, nigella, pansies, polyanthus, poppies, primulas, violas, snapdragons, stock and wallflowers.
• Sow sweet peas in cold climates, but hold off till late winter if you live in the north. In warm areas, autumn-sown sweet peas grow too tall – by the time they flower in spring the first blooms will be up to 2m off the ground, leaving you staring at their scrawny legs. Sow sweet peas direct or in trays to transplant. There's no need to nick the hard seeds with a knife, or soak overnight – or even mollycoddle them.
FLOWERS TO PLANT
• Autumn’s the ideal season to establish trees, shrubs, climbers and perennials.
BULBS TO PLANT
• Spring-flowering bulbs need perfect drainage or the dormant bulbs will rot before they sprout. If you have heavy clay soil, mix the top layer with sand or compost, or plant bulbs in pots.
• As a general rule, bury bulbs at twice their depth, with the pointy end facing up.
• Anemones, crocus, early daffodils and ranunculus go in first. Plant these between early February and late March (though anemones can be planted up until the end of April).
• Plant freesias, daffodils, bluebells, grape hyacinths (muscari) and hyacinths from late February until the end of April.
• Tulips are last in line. Plant these in May or June. In frost-free climates, pop tulip bulbs in the fridge, away from your veges, for 6-8 weeks prior to planting. This false winter kick-starts their flowering.
• Mixed bags of bulbs and end-of-season bargains are good value but can be a lolly scramble on the colour front. Plant in a temporary bed for the first season, and take note of their colours as they bloom. Bulbs can easily be dug up and shifted once their foliage has died down.
• Mass-planted bulbs look best. Group bulbs together, spaced 10-15cm apart. In pots you can plant even closer, but make sure the bulbs aren't touching each other.
• To fill gaps in your spring garden, plant bulbs in plastic pots that can be sunk into flowerbeds when in bud.
• Most bulbs need sun, but bluebells, freesias and daffodils do well naturalised under deciduous trees, as they die down before the trees are in leaf. Trilliums, arisaemas, chionodoxa and erythronium also grow in shade.
LIFT & LABEL
• In cold climates, tender tuberous plants, like cannas and dahlias should be lifted and stored indoors. In warm areas, leave them be.
• Many perennials die down completely in winter, leaving no trace. If you're planning winter landscaping projects, mark where your favourite hostas, delphiniums, Solomon's seal, ligularias and deciduous daylilies are hiding so you don't dig them up.
• Take leaf cuttings now from African violets and fancy-leafed begonias.
• For insurance, pot up cuttings of tender pelargoniums and Marguerite daisies, just in case they're knocked off by winter frosts.
• Save seed of chamomile, cleome, cornflowers, cosmos, foxgloves, hollyhocks, larkspurs, nicotianas, salvias and sunflowers.
• Divide perennials, including asters, bergenias, campanulas, daylilies, hostas, penstemons and Shasta daisies. All perennial daisies require division after three to four years, or plants become unproductive – which means no flowers!
• Take semi-hardwood cuttings from camellias, fuchsias, hydrangeas, roses and woody perennials such as lavender, hebes and azaleas.
• Rhododendrons, azaleas and daphnes won't say no to a handful of sheep pellets.
• Sprinkle blood and bone around bedding annuals that bloom in winter, such as pansies and polyanthus.
“In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil. And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time, do we get such superb colour effects.” ROSE G. KINGSLEY, THEAUTUMNGARDEN, 1905