It's time for an autumn tidy up

Torbay Weekly

I must be getting older, looking at pumpkins for their aesthetic merit as opposed to how scary it might look with a candle flickering inside it.

I've spent too much time thinking what variety they are or what conditions they've had. I need to get out more!

The mass of pumpkins around at this time of year always reminds me to start the autumn tidy up that I often leave until as late as possible.

Us gardeners tend to take a lot out of the soil in terms of nutrients and healthy bacteria that we have an understood responsibility to put it back where we can.

The autumn tidy up is a good time to do that.

Not only does it mean the simpler tasks of say, putting tender plants in the greenhouse, it might also mean wrapping tree ferns and banana plants against the impending cold.

I like to wrap chicken wire around the tree ferns (Dicksonia Antarctica) with enough space to stuff the gap with straw.

The banana plants, ((Musa basjoo) I tend to cut the leaves from and then wrap them tightly in horticultural fleece.

Although they are said to tolerate temperatures of  -20 degrees, I'm not so sure.

Tall shrubs can be cut back, buddleia in particular can turn into a monster if not cut back.

Cutting back also reduces stress on the root system by not having so much weight to anchor.

Borders can still look impressive all through autumn and winter with just a small amount of time and effort.

Tidying up is an apt phrase here and it really is similar to what you might do in the living room when children have left.

Any damaged or droopy leaves and stems can be removed with anything that looks like it’s dying or dead.

Leaves can be removed, particularly under roses to prevent black spot and rust establishing over winter.

My overwhelming favourite task to do in the autumn tidy up is mulching.

For me this is a column in its own right, or even a book on the subject wouldn’t be overdoing it.

Everyone will have their own models, methods and skills when it comes to mulching anything, not just the borders.

My preference is to go with a no dig approach which works so well in the veg patch.

For a few weeks now I’ve been accumulating a cache of cardboard from my local shop and elsewhere and removing the plastic tape in readiness for shaping it around established plants in the border.

At some point I’ll order a load of aged manure from a trusted source - the best stuff has no smell at all and crumbles like compost.

Once I've got both together, I’ll give myself a sunny Sunday morning and place the cardboard in between the shrubs and perennials before shovelling the manure on top at a thickness of around 20cm, although you don’t need to be quite so precise and get the ruler out.

Try and do it after a bit of rain and you will lock the moisture in.

The cardboard acts as a biodegradable blackout screen and will suppress weeds until next spring at least.

Any perennials underground will grow through it because, surprise, surprise, it will get saturated and rot down to nothing underneath the manure.

Cardboard has the added bonus of keeping weeds down as well as feeding the soil for later planting.

If you can’t face the prospect of manure, you could use compost but this has an added expense.

Moving unwanted or spent plants to the compost heap is another job along with the dreaded washing down of the greenhouse. It's amazing how much moss and algae collects in the glass and aluminium joints.

Try and do these in your own time if you can and they can be seen as relaxing pottering tasks rather than labour intensive.