Autumn Maintenance

During the summer you can relax and enjoy your garden, but autumn is a key time for some important maintenance tasks.

Tidying faded perennials

A lot of perennials will start to die down from early October onwards. Some plants can stand upright for a long time and can add interest through their shape and form and attractive seeds heads as well as offering seeds for birds and a place for insects to overwinter. However others just start to look untidy and are best cleared away. Some foliage can just be removed by pulling the foliage away gently. On stiffer stems you may need to cut them down close to the ground. You may see some new foliage appearing at the base so you can cut as close to this as possible to avoid leaving unsightly stems.

If you do leave stems through the winter they should be cleared before new growth starts in the spring.

Remember to add your prunings (unless they are diseased) to the compost heap to make free compost for next year.

Dividing perennials

If perennials are more than about 3 years old and have grown into a large clump you can lift and divide them. Once the plant is lifted you can use two large garden forks back to back inserted into the centre of the plant to prise the two halves apart. For some plants with very congested roots you can use a spade to slice the root in half, or even a garden saw. You might find that the centre of the clump is old and unproductive, and this can be discarded. Any piece should have plenty of roots and should not be smaller than about 10cm.


Most shrubs will have been pruned earlier in the year, however, climbing or shrub roses and Buddleja should be partly pruned back to prevent damage from winter winds.

Bulb planting

There are many bulbs to choose from. Buy them early and from a reputable supplier. Those that flower early in spring such as crocus and daffodils should be planted by late September; those that flower later in the spring such as Alliums by October; and Tulips in November. They can be planted in garden borders, in containers or naturalised in grass. Remember to add grit if your soil is heavy.

Maintaining lawns

If the lawn is not looking its best, it should be scarified with a spring-time rake or a mechanised scarifier to remove a build up of old grass stems and moss (you might want to add moss killer first.)Then aerate the soil with either a garden fork or hollow-tined aerator (for heavy or waterlogged soils). This encourages root growth. Topdress with an appropriate soil mix, or mix your own of one part compost, three parts sandy loam and six parts sharp sand, and brush this into the holes.

Seed can be sown in any bare patches.

Clearing leaves

Some leaves can be left under shrubs for the worms, but it is a good idea to clear away leaves from perennials and lawns. They can be put into a leaf bin if you have one, or in black plastic bags and allowed to rot down. This can then be used to mulch acid loving plants or to make potting compost in a couple of years.

Tender plants

Any tender plants should be lifted and kept in the appropriate conditions for the plant type. Annuals that have been frosted can be removed and composted.

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