The American poet Helen Hunt Jackson may have described September as having “summer’s best of weather / And autumn’s best of cheer”, but so far this month around Oxford, summer’s weather seems to be long gone! We’ve had rain, rain and more rain for the last few of weeks, and the garden is showing the effects. It’s time to get out there in those beautiful September mists and start a spot of early autumn pruning.
Pruning at this time of year is all about preparing for next spring in the garden, cutting back growth so that shrubs and perennials regrow in a nice compact shape. Just beware of Indian Summers – late warm periods can mean unwanted regrowth. Wait for a dry spell and start with your perennials – they can be pruned back to ground level this month.
It’s a good time to be cutting back Buxus – box hedges and shrubs. Pick a nice chilly day to do this, otherwise you’ll risk scortching the newly trimmed leaves in a hot sun. Keep pruning light so that growth starts again quickly in the spring.
Trees such as leylandi also benefit from cutting back in September, to avoid rampant growth. The recent rain will have made them particularly prone to overgrowth, which leeches minerals from the soil, affecting other garden plants. Don’t get too over-enthusiastic though – too vigorous pruning will leave you with unsightly brown patches.
It’s the time of year to get started on deadheading plants like buddleia, the butterfly bush. Those gorgeous heads of flowers are going brown, so get snipping; but don’t prune back too far.
Roses can also be deadheaded in September, but if you’re a keen wildlife gardener like me, you might want to leave them for a little longer until they develop berries – they’ll be a real draw for the birds during the autumn. You can cut back later in the year.
September Kitchen Garden Tips
If you’ve planted potatoes, this month they’ll be reaching a good size, so it’s time to start harvesting. If you leave them too long, they’re prone to rotting and disease, so get them up and store them somewhere dark and dry – or eat them!
Carrots will soon be ready too; to check if they are, take the top of a root and twist gently – if they slip out easily they’re ready to eat. Use a trowel to dig out carefully to avoid snapping.
It’s also that marvellous time of year when apples are coming into season. To tell if they’re ripe, gently lift away from the branch. If they come away easily, they’re ready. Remove and discard rotting or diseased apples to avoid spreading the problem.
September General Garden Maintenance
Elsewhere in the garden, it’s a good time to think about some routine lawn care. You can repair bare patches by putting down a little compost, sowing grass seeds and watering well. Leave for a week then use a general autumn lawn feed to keep the grass going through colder weather.
Autumn is just around the corner, and the trees are starting to shed their leaves. Starting to rake leaves now will keep them under control as the month goes on. You can pile leaves together in a wild or woodland area as a wildlife habitat (hedgehogs love them), or use them as compost. If you choose to compost them, keep them separate from other compost as they take a while to break down. Leaf compost is not particularly nutritious for plants, but it’s excellent for improving soil drainage.
Get ahead for October! Autumn Prep Tips
As the nights start to draw in, start to give some thought to planning, landscaping and garden design – October is the month to be out there doing it, so get your drawings, ideas and budgets straight now!