Autumn is usually the safest time to plant hardy plants whether they are trees, shrubs, bulbs or perennials. The warm and reasonably moist soil is so welcoming for plant roots; the conditions are just right for encouraging new root growth without the burden of having to support masses of leaves. The result is that the plant is nicely settled before the spring when the pressure is really on and the plant is calling for the maximum amount of water and nutrients to support top growth.
So plan your project now and then plant it this autumn. Clay soils around this part of the world can be difficult to manage if they are too wet at the end of the winter but with a little added coarse grit and well-rotted compost they are very productive and this is usually another good reason to get things done sooner rather than later. For many folk new to gardening, timing the garden care jobs can be a bit of a mystery.
Lawn care and weed control are good examples but if you can understand what is happening to the plants then the mystery lessens. As temperatures fall, growth rates get slower as the plant prepares for the dormant season. They will want to make sure that their fruits are ripened and dispersed to provide for the next generation, or draw back all the goodness from their leaves to store overwinter and provide for the following spring.
Most lawns need some attention – a good raking and an autumn feed. Spike the surface and add sharp sand to improve the drainage and reduce the amount of moss. Hard work but well worth the effort. Lawns benefit from a high phosphate and potash feed which produces a good strong healthy root system rather than green top growth. Turf can be laid in all but the very coldest weather, but it is really too late now to expect grass seed to germinate and establish well, although the grass seed breeders now have a seed which will germinate at low temperatures, 3ºc, this is what football stadiums use to re-establish pitches during the winter.
A lot of autumn work is to do with clearing up and protecting plants for winter. Some perennials with colourful or shapely seed heads can be left as they are; the birds will collect the seeds and the top growth, even though it has finished, it will act as a bit of insulation for the underground part of the plant that will go dormant until the spring. Newly planted trees will need to be properly staked to survive the buffeting winds and evergreens may need protection from cold freezing winds. We can do that with various windbreaks, fleece jackets or covers that provide excellent protection that allows the plant to breathe.
Bulbs are high on the planting list. Most garden centres take in their bulbs from the growers at the end of August so the earlier you look the better the selection will be. You can usually find the right colour combination if you have a definite colour scheme in mind but you may have to compromise with the time of flowering and heights if you leave it too late. Once you have bought your bulbs, planting is best done before the end of November for most sorts.
There are lots of plants for autumn and winter colour in tubs and borders. Compact hardy chrysanthemums, winter pansies and violas are firm favourites – so too the hardy cyclamen hybrids that give a good display until January. [Hardy to –5ºc at least]. Wallflowers planted now will flower next April -May, similarly Sweet Williams and Brompton Stocks.