1. Spruce up borders - There can be a strong urge to cut back garden borders at this time of year, but resist being too tidy. Leave anything that has attractive seed heads, seasonal colour or berries as these will create interesting silhouettes in the low autumnal light, catch the frost and provide food and shelter for wildlife. Instead take your secateurs to soggy foliage flopping onto paths, as this can become a slip hazard, and anything that is dying an unattractive death.
2. Order bareroot roses - Planting bareroot roses is more cost effective than buying them as container-grown plants; they also tend to establish more quickly. Bareroot roses are only available from November to March as the plants need to be dormant when they’re despatched by the nursery. The best time for planting is late autumn before the ground is frosted or waterlogged, so order now to ensure delivery in time.
3. Make leaf mould - Decayed leaves are generally low in nutrients but they’re fantastic for adding organic matter, which improves the structure and water-retaining properties of soil. Leaves tend to break down more slowly than other vegetation, so it’s best to compost them separately. Either rake or gather up the leaves and store them in plastic rubbish bins with holes drilled in the base and sides to allow for drainage and air flow or fill black bin liners and use a garden fork to make some holes, or make a cage for them using wooden stakes surrounded by chicken wire.
4. Lift or mulch dahlias - Lifting and storing dahlias over winter is the best way to ensure they’ll survive. Wait until the first frosts have blackened the foliage, then cut the stems down to the ground. Carefully lift the root ball and remove as much soil as possible from around the tubers. Store the tubers upside down somewhere dark, dry and frost-free for a couple of weeks to allow any moisture to drain away. Brush away any remaining soil, wrap in newspaper and pop them in crates or trays over winter in a well-ventilated, frost-free place to prevent rotting.
5. Take hardwood cuttings - Hardwood cuttings are an easy way to propagate a whole host of woody climbers, trees and shrubs. Choose long, healthy, vigorous shoots from this year’s growth, about the thickness of a pencil. Use secateurs to remove the shoots above a bud.
Remove the soft tip then, cut into sections about 20cm (8in) long. Cut above a bud with a sloping cut. This will allow water to drain away and also indicate the top of cutting. For the bottom of the cutting cut just below a bud with a straight cut. Put them in a well-drained compost. Fill deep containers with a free-draining compost mix – 50:50 compost and horticultural grit. Push the cuttings in around the edge leaving one-third above the surface of the compost. After watering, place them in a cold frame, cold greenhouse or a sheltered spot. Leave them in their pots until the following autumn, making sure they don’t dry out in the meantime. Once they’ve rooted, pot on into individual containers.
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