Time for Bed – putting your garden in order for the Winter

Its time to put the garden to bed and to tidy up before the winter weather. Its tempting to leave those annuals in for just a bit longer, when they are still flowering in this unusually warm year, but they will soon start to rot and get fungal infections, so now is the time to clear them out. Also if you want to plant pansies, primroses or polyanthus for flowering next spring, then the sooner they get their roots into the soil while it’s still warm, the better. Likewise in the vegetable garden, its time to harvest everything that fruits above ground, although you can leave leeks, carrots and parsnips in the ground to harvest later.

Late summer flowering bulbs and tubers such as Cannas, Dahlias and Begonias also need to come inside now. Allow the growth to die off then store bulbs and tubers in some dry compost in a frost free place over the winter.

It is fashionable with many TV gardeners, to tell you to leave some perennial plants that have flowered uncut over the winter for added interest or to feed the birds. Although laudable this needs to be balanced against the likelihood of some plants simply rotting and affecting the growing crown and the propensity of other plants to set seed excessively. So, for example Jerusalem or Turkish Sage, Phlomis russeliana may look “magical” covered with frost, but if the seed heads are left it will also seed absolutely everywhere! Many of the ornamental grasses do look wonderful in winter, offering both movement and lovely frosty silhouettes throughout and even deciduous grasses can be left until January or February before being cut back, just before their new shoots start to appear. You should now be cutting back, to the ground, the spent flower stems of perennials like : Monarda, Bronze Fennel, Aquilegia, Day Lilies Crocosmia, Helianthus, Salvia, Ligularia, Paeonies and Hollyhocks to name but a few.

On the other hand some plants need to be left untouched, so that the old growth protects the new, so don’t cut back Sedums, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Hydrangeas or Heucheras and don’t prune any woody plants now, wait until they are fully dormant in late winter or early spring. The only exception to this is Cherry trees or plums which should always be pruned while they are still in leaf or you risk silver leaf infection or bacterial cankers.

As we reach the end of a very dry summer some plants are now looking distinctly sad, but resist the urge to feed and fertilise them, doing this now will simply encourage tender new growth just as the weather starts to become damaging to new shoots.

If you’re feeling at a loose end this is a great time to clean, disinfect sharpen and oil your tools so that they are protected and ready to go next spring. You also need to bring any non-frost resistant pots, ornaments and tender plants indoors.

You can even get ahead for next year by planting sweet peas for next spring if you have a cold frame or somewhere cool to keep them frost free. Outside In the vegetable garden, plant Garlic, autumn onion sets, Perpetual spinach, Broad beans (use Aqua dulce Claudia variety) and even peas (Meteor or Kelvedon Wonder) to overwinter.

Once you’ve done all this, it’s time to hang up your secateurs, clean off your boots and get warm and cosy reading those seed catalogues for next year.