Shorter days, cold nights and regular falls of colourful leaves herald the start of Autumn. It’s time to tidy up, prepare for winter and finish off planting new roses, shrubs and trees. But don’t be depressed because Autumn gives us some fantastic colours; from the large shrub Rhus through to Acers, Colchicum or Autumn Crocus`s with their attractive purple flowers and those gorgeous Cyclamen nestling in shady places.

There are bulbs to plant, winter Pansies and Polyanthus, the displays in your local garden centre can be enough to prompt you into action. It will soon be time to dig up Dahlia tubers after the first frost has blackened the leaves. First take time to wash the tubers carefully to remove the earth between the fingers. Then leave them for a few days upside down in a shed to allow the stem to drain and the tubers to thoroughly dry. For maximum protection dust the tubers with yellow sulphur before storing in several layers of dry newspaper in a cardboard box, and keep frost-free.

Gladioli corms should also be dug up and stored in a frost-free place to protect them from “average” winters that freeze the ground for several days. Again cut off flowering stems close to the corm and allow to dry for a week or so. You could then wrap them in newspaper or hang in an old onion bag, again, somewhere frost-free.

For the earliest Sweet-pea flowers next summer, sow seeds this Autumn to give them all a head start. Individual seeds sown one per cell, or even use old toilet roll centres filled with compost will give great results. Store them in an unheated greenhouse or frame and remember to pinch out the tops as soon as they have produced three or four true leaves.

If you have already fed your lawn with an appropriate Autumn feed such as EverGreen Autumn it’s now time to improve drainage and repair bumps, hollows and bare patches. Drainage should be improved each Autumn with an overall spiking of the surface. If your soil is fairly light then use a garden fork to drive holes into the surface about 10 cm (4in) deep. On heavy clay soils, and where the lawn gets a lot of traffic, you would be better to use a hollow tine fork that removes plugs of soil. Simply push the special fork into the lawn and then sweep up the plugs. The resulting air channels then provide much better drainage and aeration, especially if you sweep in a ‘top dressing’ of Lawn Soil mixed 50:50 with sharp sand.

After a time lawns start to look thin and show bare earth between the individual grass plants. This indicates that you need to sow some new grass over the whole area to thicken up the turf and provide fresh young grass that will enliven the whole look of the lawn. First check on the height of cut of your mower as scalping the grass will gradually weaken it over time.See that the grass is being left to a height of at least 2cm (1in) during the Autumn and Spring so that existing grass has the energy to recuperate. Now you need to feed and reseed the whole area. Simply rake the soil to roughen up the compacted surface and use an all purpose grass seed, which will work wonders really quickly.

Cut the edges of the lawn with a half-moon edger to give a sharp definition between the great expanse of lush green lawn and the replanted flower borders that surround it.

Last but not least my second book a novel about two young lads on a holiday in Southern France in the 60`s is out now. ‘Two Weeks in Nice’ is published by Pegasus costing £8.99 and available from

Posted in Gardening By Stuart Elsom On 20th November 2009

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