October 1: What to do with fallen leaves; add some extra bulbs
Autumn is now definitely with us. Even though the weather is like summer at the moment, the day length has dropped and the leaves are turning their bright autumn colours. Soon the weather will turn back to winter and the winds will blow the leaves everywhere again. The temptation is to rush out and collect them as they fall and put them on the compost heap. However it isn't always best to remove fallen leaves. They can be beneficial, improving the soil and adding nutrients to your borders, just by being left where they are. Leaves do make excellent compost, though, and should be added to the compost heap in layers with other garden waste to get the best results. Chop up large leaves to aid the process. Even leaves that look like they have been infected with fungal rot can be used but they should be pushed to the centre of the heap where temperatures will be hottest. If you have too many leaves for the compost heap they will break down inside black bin liners, which can be stored in your garden shed or garage, and gradually add them to the heap.
•Autumn-pruning roses are only in need of cutting back by a third or so just to stop them being loosened from the soil in winter by strong winds. Rake the clippings up with the fallen leaves and burn them. Give these roses a careful prune in spring to remove deadwood and diseased material.
•Although many plants are going into a winter shutdown now, there are many that are just starting to look their best. Tricyrtis formosana or Toad lily is one such plant. It produces a large clump of interesting stems topped with very exotic-looking flowers similar to wild orchids. Tricyrtis are perfect for shady corners, woodland gardens, or anywhere that could use a splash of colour. They are easy to propagate by division in spring or stem cuttings in summer; the important thing is to keep them in a shady spot.
•I love spring bulbs and although I have planted hundreds in my front lawn over the years I always like to add a few more each autumn. I think it is best in a lawn to plant only the large flowered types in single colours in groups of around ten. Although it is hard work planting them when they all come up you will reap the benefit of taking some time now. The bulb is a marvellous thing being skilfully produced by the bulb grower to have the energy and ability to flower the following spring – however, to ensure they continue to flower each year after that the conditions need to be suitable. Daffodils and Narcissi will thrive in most garden soils. They need a position in sun or partial shade. Most are unable to cope with the deep shade at the base of a north-facing wall. On heavy and light sandy soils it is worth mixing some well-rotted compost to improve the soil. Most people do not plant the bulbs deep enough. It is essential that they are planted three times the depth of the height of the bulb. On a clay soil it is worth putting grit at the bottom of the hole to allow some drainage, and on all soils it is a good idea to loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole. Make sure all the bulbs go in the right way up.
•Now is the time to grab a bargain mower. Most of the big DIY stores and garden centres are trying to clear stock and you can get some real bargains.