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There's just time to prepare for whatever winter brings

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Gardening on the Edge by Diana Wayland

Herbaceous bed tidied for winter.
Herbaceous bed tidied for winter.

Autumn jobs include cutting back, tidying and weeding. This will help protect plants against the ravages of winter: wind, rain, frost and snow, in differing proportions depending on location.

Bush roses (not climbers or shrub roses) should be cut hard back in autumn to reduce wind rock, which can weaken any plant that is subjected to it. It is advisable, depending on the plant, to tidy climbing plants and securely tie them in.

Most shrubs can be left. Any hedges are worth cutting now. Bring in or protect tender plants – I cover a peony with a cloche.

Cut back herbaceous plants, especially if tall. They die right back, but dead stems left standing can also wind rock the plant. Some, however, are worth leaving as their seeds provide feed for birds.

Some vegetable crops can be left throughout winter. These include sprouts, kale and neeps, none of which I managed to grow this season, and which are already sorely missed. Leeks are another. This year we have a bed of leeks that I am really proud of.

Parsnips (planned for next year) can be left for a few frosts, but are best lifting before the ground freezes. Carrots are best lifted – they do well left in the ground but, had I grown any this year, they would have split as soon as the rain arrived with determination in mid September. I have usually lifted them all by September anyway.

This year we are trying out leaving tatties. Those accidentally left always sprout in spring regardless. This year we grew so many that we ran out of space to store them (darkness so they don't go green, which is toxic, and mouse-proof) so we have had to leave some in the hope we will get spells between frosts when we can lift some.

However, we are still waiting on the results. If I thought October 2020 was wet, this year has gone to great lengths to prove me wrong. An even soggier October has been followed by a continuing soggy November, which has severely hampered my winter tidying. So we don't as yet know if we still have any tatties in the ground!

It is a good time to sow the seeds of plants that require stratification (a spell of cold weather) in order to germinate. I have sown some wild flower seeds this autumn, hoping they will germinate in the spring. A couple of years ago I was successful with gorse seeds and I plan to plant out the young plants in spring now they have grown on. Always check the seed packet as it will tell you if they require it.

From September until December is also time to plant spring bulbs. This year I am trying scilla, fritillary, chionodoxa and dwarf multi-headed tulip in our ornamental beds, in addition to the usual snowdrop, native bluebell and wild daffodil. They must be planted before the first frost.

If you have trees, collect the leaves and store in a pile in a sheltered place for two years to make leaf mould. I put them in hessian sacks weighed down with rocks.

Finally, if the weather will allow, catch up with the weeding. Small weed plants left for the winter will be much bigger in spring, some with root systems to match. Catch them early, and you are ahead for next year.

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