By Katie Costain and Ben Freeman
Now is a great time of year to be out in the garden. We still have warm, sunny days, with crisp mornings, which are perfect for completing the garden jobs that need doing following the heat of summer.
It is the ideal time for sowing a new lawn, planting trees, shrubs, bulbs and establishing the vegetable garden for the coming months.
Autumn is the shoulder season between the hot and cold months, where a little preparation and cleaning can have your garden ready for winter and looking its best by spring.
Autumn is the best time to give your garden a haircut! Pruning summer growth will keep your garden looking neat and tidy. It is also the best way to promote new plant growth and can encourage late autumn flowering.
Cut back any old growth on plants by trimming at the base. Remove dead leaves and flowers, and excess, unwanted growth from your shrubs and vegetables. It’s also time to dig up your annuals (plants that only last one season), and cut back flowering perennials (plants that spring up each year from their roots).
Your seasonal clean up shouldn’t be confined to just your garden beds – you need to pay attention to your gutters too. Once the leaves start falling, clean out any leaves, debris or rubbish, so they don’t overflow in the autumn rain. If you have a blocked drainpipe, you could try sticking your garden hose down the pipe and turn it on to flush it out.
Compost and mulch
Use the fallen leaves from your deciduous trees, lawn clippings and vege scraps to make compost – just make sure you don’t add any meat, diseased plants or plants that have been treated with pesticides.
As the items in your compost break down, they produce a nutrient-rich organic material which will give your garden a great boost for the next growing season. Using a garden fork to turn your compost heap will help it to decompose.
Garden mulch should be added to your beds and topped up year round as needed. Mulch improves soil quality, keeps the soil from drying out or eroding and stops weeds from growing. A healthy layer of mulch should be between 5cm and 10cm deep. Make sure you remove all existing weeds from the soil before placing your mulch.
At this time of year, the soil is still warm but moisture levels are starting to increase. This is one of the best times to plant; there is still enough time for plants to establish themselves with a good root system before winter sets in.
Your plants will appreciate the cooler conditions and have time to settle in before the first frosts arrive.
Now is also the time to reposition shrubs and trees in their desired position; plant your bulbs (such as tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and lilies), lavender, ferns, hydrangeas and new perennials for that pop of colour in your spring garden.
Love your lawn
With the weather cooling down, you can start to mow your lawn less frequently and raise the height of the grass (it should be taller than 5cm), as the growth rate slows and long grass blades makes better use of low sunlight.
Although it is still a long way off, putting in a bit of work now to prepare your lawn for next spring/summer will pay off. For a lovely lawn come spring, scarify the turf by raking out and removing dead grass and moss that has accumulated over the summer.
Apply a slow-release fertiliser to help develop a strong root system and thicker grass, and a specialised autumn lawn feed which will release the correct balance of nutrients throughout the winter months. It is also a great time to seed over thin lawns and to patch up any holes/worn areas.
By putting in a bit of extra time and effort into your garden now, you can rest assured that your plants and lawn will be prepared for winter and have everything needed to thrive next spring.
Katie Costain and Ben Freeman are the directors of Billygoat Landscape Architecture (BGLA), based in Canterbury and Wellington. For more information, visit www.bgla.co.nz.