We’ve been running an Autumn Gardening Q+A series over on our email newsletters and social media channels, answering all of your gardening conundrums!
Here’s a roundup of the series so far, with our experts’ advice on your seasonal gardening queries…
Q: How do you mulch perennials properly? And is spent mushroom compost an appropriate material?
A: We recommend you mulch your perennial borders each autumn to bed them in for overwintering, even if they are fully hardy perennial plants. A good 2-3 inches of an organic matter based mulch, such as bark, garden compost or, as you say, mushroom compost, will provide a warm blanket for your perennials.
Cover the crowns, too! This will protect plants from frosts, add vital nutrients and organic matter back into your soil, reduce moisture evaporation, eliminate weeds and provide a fresh, clean look to your borders. Who doesn’t love a freshly mulched border?
Q: When is the best time to prune a smoke bush that has grown too large for its allotted space?
A: We love these shrubs! A fiery multi-tonal smoke bush (Cotinus) in autumn is a vision to behold, however, they can grow quite large if left untamed. The best time to prune these deciduous shrubs is in January when the plant is dormant. They are vigorous specimens that respond well to a good chop back, so don’t be shy!
If you would like to know exactly how far to go, send us a picture of your shrub (once the leaves have dropped) and its planting site and we will advise further. Alternatively, you could leave it a little larger and plant a scrambling climber under it, which will use its branches as a living frame.
Q: When should I prune my Bramley apple tree?
A: Bramley apple trees produce crops of the most popular cooking apples. If you are lucky enough to have one in your garden, the best time to prune is in January, when the tree is completely dormant.
Established trees don’t require drastic pruning. Cutting approximately 10-20% of the overall canopy each winter will remove old wood, ready to stimulate new growth. Aim for an open structure to allow more light to reach and ripen the fruit for a tasty harvest.
Q: How do I look after my greenhouse at this time of year?
A: Maintaining your greenhouse will provide your plants with the best growing conditions, whilst helping to control pests and diseases.
Remove any shading material left from the summer to make the most of the remaining daylight. Making any repairs now, especially to cracks and holes, will also reduce heat loss.
Before you move your tender plants indoors, thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces of your greenhouse to kill pests and diseases (Jeyes Fluid is good for this). Check the plants that you bring inside for pests, and ensure plants are well spaced. You may wish to give your plants an extra helping hand over the cold winter nights by insulating your greenhouse with bubble wrap.
Q: I have a small supply of your lovely plants, still in their pots and waiting to be planted…I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get them in the ground. Will they overwinter as they are or should they have some sort of protection?
A: We would always encourage planting your plants as soon as possible and, as we are having such a mild autumn, there is still plenty of time to do this. After all, autumn is a great time to plant most hardy perennials and shrubs. As a rule of thumb, we recommend planting if the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen.
However, we also understand that sometimes life has a habit of running away with us. Our plants are so established and healthy (whilst not being rootbound) that they should overwinter without any problems, ready to be planted in spring after the last frost. Please feel free to get in touch with our team with your order details if you would like bespoke advice.
Q: How often should I water overwintering plants in my greenhouse?
A: This really depends on the type of plants you are overwintering, as different specimens will have different moisture level requirements. As a rule of thumb, never allow plants to sit in water for an extended duration.
When assessing whether a plant needs moisture, use the back of your hand. The soil should feel cool to the touch and some compost should stick to the back of your hand. Failing that, the risk-averse of us will always underwater and top up if the plant looks like it’s beginning to wilt. Of course, if you want bespoke advice, let us know what you will be overwintering.
Q: How can I make my garden wildlife-friendly at this time of year?
A: Autumn and winter are difficult seasons for wildlife, but there are lots of things we can do to give them a helping hand. Berry-bearing shrubs and seed heads make a great food source for birds. As natural food sources decline over the colder months, it’s important to keep bird baths and feeders topped up and cleaned regularly.
Create a pile of fallen leaves, collect bundles of twigs and stack plant pots in a sheltered place to provide habitats for wildlife. Avoid tidying the garden too much, as decaying plant material in borders will act as a cosy blanket for small mammals. Give hibernating creatures access to your compost bins and leave a small gap in your fences for hedgehogs and frogs to pass through.
Q: How do I make leaf mould and what do I use it for?
A: Deciduous trees and shrubs shed their leaves every autumn, and now they have finally done it for another year. These fallen leaves can be made into leaf mould to benefit your garden.
Collect the leaves and place them in a compost bin or a breathable bin bag. We recommend adding water if they are dry. You may also want to shred or mow any leaves which are large or leathery, so they break down quicker. Store the bag away for up to two years. To speed up the process, turn the leaves regularly and add moisture during hot, dry spells. When decomposed, the leaf mould will be dark in colour and easily crumbled, moving easily through your fingers.
Use the leaf mould around your garden as a mulch or soil improver. It’s particularly liked by plants which are naturally found in woodlands.