The end of the summer is always a sad time as our summer displays come to an end and the days get shorter. But all need not be doom and gloom.
Garden centres and mail order companies now offer a fantastic range of plants that can replace all the spent summer bedding to ensure you have colour throughout the winter and early spring. Just look out for wallflowers, pansies, primroses, violas, polyanthus, sweet Williams and Bellis.
Remove all the old bedding plants with a light weight fork, a ladies or border fork being ideal. Remember to compost anything that is not diseased as it is a good source of compost next year. Then rake over and level the bed and throw up the edges of the soil so that you have a gutter to the bed. Then with long-armed edging shears create a clean sharp well-defined edge.
Then it’s time to create your planting scheme on the bed by placing the plants into their final positions and get planting them with a good, strong but well-balanced trowel. I personally like to use one with a stainless steel blade, as it is much easier to clean if your soil is on the heavy side.
Remember that any half-hardy perennials can be potted up and over-wintered in a heated greenhouse for use next year. Plants such as Osteospermum, Fuchsia, Pelargonium, Penstemon and so on may be lifted and any dead, diseased, or drying and thin straggly growth can be cut back with a sharp pair of secateurs.
Check that you are not bringing in over-wintering caterpillars on the plants, as, once in the warmth of the greenhouse, they can do a lot of damage. A spray with a systemic insecticide is a good precaution before the plants are placed under protection.
Having lifted all your plants and potted up those that need protection, remember to wash all the empty pots adding a bit of garden disinfectant to the water. Once washed and dried place in a shed ready to recycle next season.
If the weather is still being kind it’s still time to sow a hardy annual border. This is a dying art form which I feel is a great shame, as for a few pounds a large border can be grown from seed to give colour, height, interest and cut flowers from late May right the way through to late frosts the following year. Select such plants as Calendula, Agrostemma, sweet peas, Centaurea, Clarkia, and Nigella. There are many others that would suit your colour requirements, so take a look at a seed catalogue and get sowing.
On light soils it is worth sowing a green manure to protect the soil surface over winter, to retain all the nutrients in the upper levels of the soil, to prevent weed growth, and, when dug in during the spring, to improve the soil structure.
A wide range of different seeds suitable for all soil types and conditions are available by mail order from Edwin Tucker and Sons Ltd., Brewery Meadow, Stonepark, Ashburton, Devon, TQ13 7DG. Tel. 01364 652233. Email. firstname.lastname@example.org
All that is needed is to produce a rough seedbed, rake it level and then broadcast the selected mix over the area and rake in. It will germinate in about 3-4 weeks and then it can be left until the spring and just dug in during your normal spring digging. On my sandy loam I tend to do all the digging in January or early February so that the winter rain does not compact the surface over winter.
On a heavy soil it is best to winter dig in the autumn, late October / early November being a good time. Remember to remove all perennial weeds and, when inverting the soil, leave it as rough as possible. Winter rains and any frost will help to weather the soil and make it easier to work in the spring. Use a well-balanced stainless steel spade if you can and ensure the shaft is the correct length for you and is comfortable.
Remember to do a few warming up exercises before you start to dig - stretch and bend a few times before getting going – and, remember, you do not have to do it all in one go. An hour at a time is ample if you are not used to digging, and doing a little bit everyday will soon get it completed without hurting your back or straining any other muscles.