Our gardens are at their best over summer but in autumn things start to go rapidly downhill. Beds and borders that were in their pomp a few months ago are on the verge of becoming eyesores, while vegetable plots contain the remains of plants that have long been harvested. Don’t lose sleep. An unruly plot can easily be tamed within a few hours, leaving it in great shape until spring.
Start by tackling perennials that have finished flowering. Delphiniums, crambe and valeriana should be cut leaving 25cm (10in) of growth to protect the crown over winter, while the spent stems of others can be given tougher treatment. Cut to ground level, spent stems of filipendula, helianthus, crocosmia and euphorbia.
Don’t be too hasty to prune everything; sedum, monarda, alliums, rudbeckia, Jerusalem sage and echinacea, along with most ornamental grasses, can be left until early spring. Their seed heads will add sculptural interest and provide food for hungry birds in winter.
Get rid of weeds
Once there’s room to move in beds and borders, pull up annual weeds that have grown unnoticed beneath the canopy of plants. Those with long tap roots, such as dandelions, will need levering up with a weeding tool. Finish by spreading a 7.5cm (3in) layer of garden compost, leaf mould or well-rotted manure over the surface.
Pruning deciduous shrubs
Prune overgrown deciduous shrubs when the leaves drop. First, remove any dead, diseased, damaged or dying growths to prevent infection spreading to other parts of the plant. Either cut out the damaged branch completely or prune back into a portion of healthy wood. Also, remove any really thin, wispy shoots.
Now you can see what you are doing you’re in a great position to restore the shape of the plant, ensuring it looks attractive and fits within its allotted space. Trim back wayward branches and cut out any crossing shoots. Take out a few older stems from the centre of the plant to improve air flow. Always cut right above a bud.
Clear up the veg plot
Spruce up the edible garden by dismantling wigwams of canes and other plant supports, decant pots and pull up tomatoes, beans and sweetcorn, along with other annual crops that have been harvested. The stems can be chopped up by hand or fed through a shredder before adding to the compost heap.
Dealing with falling leaves
Falling leaves are a nuisance but can be turned into leaf mould, a fabulous mulch and soil conditioner. Rake up leaves regularly and store in black bin liners, with holes punctured in the side and bottom. When bags are full, tie up and put in a shady spot. In a year, open bags to reveal sweet-smelling, crumbly leaf mould.