Homeschool Garden Club - Autumn Tidy Up

Autumn is your opportunity to get rid of dead vegetation left over from the summer, tidy your flower borders, clear out your gutters, sweeping paths and more. This season is all about picking up and packing down before the arrival of winter. Here at the Orchard Training Garden Club this is what we are doing to make the most of our autumn gardens.

A Good Autumn Clean

As the nights draw in, make the most of the available light by scrubbing shade paint from the greenhouse windows. This lets more of the sun’s rays through the glass, helping winter temperatures to climb that little bit higher.

Help the person who has the greenhouse to remove everything from the greenhouse, sweep out plant debris, so they can disinfect the path and all the staging. A bucket of hot water, some elbow grease and somebodies (yours) time, is all it takes to bring the glass up sparkling clean. You can help check and replace damaged panes, and clear out the greenhouse gutters too.

However, this is a boring job and I am sure that somebody might appreciate a hand for some pocket money.

Then you can help them bring in the over wintering plants, see the paragraph below.

Another pocket money job for you – offer to clean the pots and seed trays in preparation for spring sowing and planting.

Lift Tender Species

It is time to lift tender species like begonias, dahlias, and cannas. Look out for the notes on when to do this. Cut back the stems and gently lift the tubers/rhizomes from the ground. Clean the soil from them and store in trays of dry compost or sand, with just the top of crown visible.

Put the trays in a cool, frost free place over the winter ready for replanting when spring arrives and all risk of frost has passed. In very mild areas it may be possible to protect tender species without lifting them, instead covering the crowns with a thick blanket of mulch.

Tidy Up Borders

If you have enough experience in gardening you might volunteer to help with cutting back faded perennials to 5 cm above ground level. If you can try to persuade people not to be too tidy – attractive seed heads are great for insects, look wonderful covered in autumn dew, and provide handsome winter silhouettes.

You could help with ensuring a vibrant display next spring, dig up annuals and plant your beds up with pansies, bellis daisies and wallflowers now.

Once your borders are planted up and looking as clean and tidy as the wildlife need it to be, spread a thick layer of compost, bark chips or well–rotted manure. Don't worry about digging it in – let the worms do the hard work for you.

The Lawn Will Need Some Looking After

If you have a lawn, remove thatch and moss using a spring-tined rake and add it to the compost heap. If you have large amounts of moss, you may want to use a moss killer on your lawn first. Brush in a sandy top dressing afterwards, followed by an application of autumn lawn feed to prepare your lawn for the cold winter months.

Improve drainage and aeration around paths and play areas by making deep holes with the prongs of a garden fork at 10 cm intervals. Autumn is a great time to lay new turf too, giving it plenty of time to establish before next summer.

Make Leaf Mould

The tree next door sends me lots of tree seedling which I have moaned about over the last year. However, at this time of the year it sends me plenty of free leaves. Leaf mould adds structure and organic matter to my soil and is a great way to recycle fallen leaves. So, get sweeping particularly over paths areas where decomposing leaves make a dangerously slippery surface Choose a sheltered spot that won’t spoil the view of your garden and using wire mesh and wooden stakes, make a large bin. Fill with leaves, sprinkle with water and leave.

Once the leaves reach a crumbly texture, spread as a mulch throughout your borders. Oak, alder, beech, and hornbeam rot fairly quickly while sycamore, walnut, horse chestnut, and sweet chestnut may take a little longer. Shredding the leaves first will help to speed things up, but in general the process takes about two years.

Net Ponds

Some of you are very lucky to have a pond. Now is the time to think about those leaves in a different way. Decomposing leaves turn your pond water foul and block filters on pumps. Save time and effort later, by catching falling leaves before they hit your pond.

Spread a fine meshed net across the pond and pin it down with bricks. Remove any leaves that fall onto it and add them to your leaf mould bin or compost heap. More free mulch coming your way!

Clear Out Compost Bins

This year, the Orchard Training Garden Club has been very active with the compost bins so we won’t need to do too much with them. However, the autumn clear up of borders and vegetable plots always generates a lot of plant material for a compost heap. Now is the ideal time to clear out last year's compost if you haven’t already down so after our session and use it around the garden, making room for this year’s waste.

If your compost isn't quite ready, turn it to improve decomposition, and create a new heap next to it for fresh organic matter. You can never have too much compost.

Plant A Tree

This autumn we are being invited by the RHS, along with other groups, schools, businesses, local authorities and individuals, to plant trees in memory of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. 

I think this might be a lovely thing for our Homeschool Garden Club to do, as we are approaching All Hallows (end of October) which is the traditional day to remember lost ones and Remembrance Day (the start of November) Even if we don't know somebody personally who has passed away we could plant a tree and dedicate it to the staff of the NHS who have lost their lives whilst treating others.

We can choose one larger tree to plant from all of us or we can plant small trees in our own garden. Let's have your ideas.

The trees can be any size, shape or variety in order to suit everyone's budgets and capabilities. When trees are planted, we can complete the RHS survey letting them know where it is. They will then use that information to populate a map of the UK displaying all the trees that have been planted for loved ones.

We'd love for as many people to take part in this as possible, even if you only have your say about what we do as a community.

The Last Job of the Year - Maintain Garden Equipment

Before your parents or grandparents store the lawn mower at the back of the shed for the winter, it’s well worth reminding them to send it for a service to ensure that it’s in perfect condition when they need it next spring.

Shears and secateurs need sharpening, while spades, forks, and other tools benefit from a good wash. Dry everything thoroughly and oil metal parts to prevent rust. Wooden handles can be cleaned and protected with linseed oil – but do dispose of rags carefully as linseed can combust as it dries.

After Half Term

Now our Orchard Training Garden Club garden is clean, tidy and ready for winter it is a really lovely view from the window. We will have a head start when spring arrives, when it will be time to get growing again.

In the meantime, we have a few gardening things to do inside over the next coming months. Look out for gardening magazines and seed catalogues collet them together, as we will still have some things up our gardening gloves for our evidence diaries.

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