September: 5 must-do gardening tips
With the new season on the horizon, don't let all your hard work during lockdown go to waste. Green-fingered expert Richard Key shares his top tips on giving your garden a little TLC this month.
Gardening whizz and Fellow of the Society of Garden Designers Richard Key has over 30 years in the landscape industry, has created medal-winning gardens at both Chelsea and Hampton Court Shows, and – luckily for Muddy – happens to live locally. We collared him for his expert tips on how to tame your garden this month. Take it away, Richard…
September marks the beginning of Autumn, with the promise of rich leaf colours and bright berries. It is also the month to begin the garden tidy-up for both the flower beds and the lawn in preparation for Winter.
1. Cut and Divide Perennials
After a long summer, many of the flowering perennials like Astrantia, Monarda, Phlox and Hemerocallis (day lilies) are finished for the year and their stalks have wilted, leaving an untidy mess. So with a pair of secateurs you can cut them down to ground level to improve the look of the border. The plants will then over-winter in the ground, ready to send out fresh shoots in the Spring.
The great thing with perennials is that if you have a favourite plant, you can simply dig it up at this time of year and divide it with a fork and spade to get two or three new plants from one (for free!).
2. Restoring Lawns
Rake lawns (or scarify) to remove the build up of thatch (a layer of fibrous debris of old grass), so that water can penetrate and reach the grass roots. For small lawns you can do this with a spring-tine rake but for larger lawns you would be better to hire a powered scarifier.
Most lawns will benefit from scarifying but occasionally you may also need to aerate the lawn, particularly those heavily trodden places around play equipment or where water tends to puddle. Where lawns have been compacted, the soil particles are squeezed together, preventing free drainage and water reaching the roots of the grass. Use a garden fork to spike these areas to a depth of about three inches at spacings of approximately six to nine inches. For large areas then a powered aerator from a hire shop will be the best solution.
3. Planting Plans
You would be wrong to think that Spring and Summer are the only times to see the best flowering plants. I happen to love the colours of late Summer/Autumn ; the rich rusty reds of Helenium and Crocosmia with the pale blue Aster frikarti ‘Monch’ and the fleshy Sedums (iceberg plant) which all look stunning against the back drop of architectural grasses like Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Fontane’.
It is a great time of year to get out to see these plants and be inspired to plan for next year’s borders. Waterperry Gardens is one local gem that is definitely worth a visit for this purpose. You will find inspiration here for large sweeping borders or for your own small cottage garden. Visiting speakers and expert in-house staff will advise on what plants work well together for eye-catching displays.
Late September is usually the time when Primary School teachers ask the children to bring in produce for The Harvest Festival, and if you do have a vegetable patch then there should be plenty of choice.
Marrows always look impressive and can be harvested through to the end of September. Main crop potatoes may be lifted and left on the ground to dry for 24 hours before being stored in boxes in a dry and frost proof shed.
Autumn raspberries (including the long fruiting ‘Lloyd George’ variety ) need picking before cutting down the old fruiting canes and tying in the new canes to wires for next year’s crop.
Though it may feel like hard work if you’ve had a bumper crop, try not to leave any fruit unpicked as it will only over ripen and attract pest and disease. Many crops will be ready to harvest at this time of year including onions, sweet corn, tomatoes, apples and pears.
5. New Lawns
September is the perfect month to sow new lawns or patch in bare areas of an existing lawn; the soil is still warm and there will be less need for daily watering. Like most jobs however, good preparation is essential; throwing grass seed on to bare earth is not enough.
First, dig over the ground to create a crumbly soil surface, then the trick is to walk over the ground on your heels (more pressure this way ) like you were doing a rain dance. This is hard work over a large area, so get the whole family to join in. If you try to avoid this task then the ground will settle and you will end up with an uneven lawn. After treading the ground, rake the surface to create a seed bed and spread grass seed at approximately one handful per square metre. A final rake in the other direction helps to cover the seed and keep the moisture in.