As the nights begin to draw in and the daylight hours come with a chill in the air, it's time to think about preparing your garden for winter. And while the best of your blooms may be over, there is still plenty to do outdoors.
Autumn is the ideal time to plant bulbs for next spring, as the soil is still warm from the summer sun, allowing the roots to be well established before the wet and cold sets in. Perennials, daffodils and tulips can all go in during the autumn months, with tulips hardy enough to go in as late as the end of November. Aim to plant each bulb at two and a half times their own depth. Alternatively, consider planting your bulbs in pots, particularly if you haven't quite finalised your plans for next spring, as the colour can be moved around the garden as you please.
Divide and remove
Perennials such as geranium and Achillea can be cut back at this time of year, but make the most of these hardy plants by lifting them gently with a fork and teasing them apart. By reusing the healthy, outer growth, the roots will happily take hold in the warm ground before the frosts begin. Meanwhile, deadwood, diseased or yellowing foliage can be removed. Just be sure to get rid of seed heads or weeds with seeds - leave them lying around and you may find them appearing where they shouldn't come spring.
The lying autumn foliage can help to nourish the soil so if possible, leave it where it is. You will, however, want to rake dead leaves off the lawn if they tend to build up, as this will brown the grass. For lawns that have taken a bit of a battering during the summer, a good autumn feed will stimulate root growth and keep your grass robust enough to cope with the coming cold weather.
Remember to keep ponds in good condition by covering with a net to prevent leaves clogging up the water, or removing them on a regular basis. And if you do clear your pond out during the late autumn or early winter, be aware that frogs often hibernate in the mud and silt at the bottom.
Despite the chillier weather, early autumn can often be dry, so it's important to water shrubs, trees and roses. Evergreens are particularly thirsty as they don't lose their leaves in winter, so only plant these if you are prepared to water throughout.
No doubt many of you will have potted plants that have been enjoying the fresh air and sunshine during the summer, but to keep them frost-free and in good health, aim to bring them in during October. Try to acclimatise them slowly into a warmer atmosphere, as the sudden heat of central heating can cause problems.
This is an exciting time for fruit and vegetable growers, who can harvest squash, pumpkin and apples. Take up any windfall apples, and try twisting tree-hanging fruit half a turn - if it comes away with a snap, it's ready to be cooked or stored. Keep all your hardy autumn harvests in a cool shed or pantry for a long-lasting winter store of goodies.
What are your top tips for gardeners this autumn? Leave your comments below...