Jo Whittingham: Dig in for autumn while you have the light

Regular raking of leaves in autumn will keep lawns in good condition
Regular raking of leaves in autumn will keep lawns in good condition
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Come October, I suddenly have less time for gardening. It’s not that I’m one of those who downs tools at the first spot of rain or chill in the air; it’s just dark in evenings when my children are in bed and, during the summer months, my gardening gets done.

This is not a disaster, as there shouldn’t be too many urgent jobs in an established garden this month, and a bit of dew and low autumn light add their own sparkle to borders on a sunny morning – whatever state they’re in.

If, like me, you are pushed for gardening time, prioritise tasks this month and make the most of any good weather. Top of the list must be raking leaves. Not the most glamorous job, but vital to prevent lawns and plants succumbing to a lack of light and fungal diseases while trapped under a rotting mass of fallen foliage. Rake little and often to make the job easier, and if possible create a separate compost heap for slow rotting leaves, which will eventually yield dark, crumbly leaf mould.

Next, now that the nights are colder, bring any tender plants in pots indoors to overwinter.

Covering late sowings of summer crops with cloches or fleece can help spur them on to give a good autumn crop, but many are best harvested promptly this month. Pick apples and pears as soon as they come away with a gentle lift and twist. Many will store for weeks or months in a cool, frost-free place, if arranged in trays so fruits are not touching one another.

There is still time to plant garlic and spring cabbage in the vegetable plot, as well as spring-flowering bulbs in the rest of the garden. Even if summer bedding still looks passable, get winter bedding planted at the beginning of October, to give it time to establish and fill out before things turn really cold. This is also the last opportunity this year to lay new turf, but never skimp on soil preparation to get this job done faster.

Finally, spare some time to prepare trees and shrubs for winter weather. Bush roses can be pruned down by about half their height now, to stop them rocking in the wind, as can summer-flowering shrubs such as Buddleja davidii. Check to ensure tree ties and stakes are secure, but not rubbing and damaging bark, and inspect the supports of climbing plants, while tying in or removing any long stems that might snap in high winds.