We’re well and truly into autumn now and winter is just around the corner. Most of the fun jobs are over, but local expert Andy Colquhoun suggests there are still some new things you can do to spice up your gardening.
Start a leaf compost heap
While you’re out enjoying the autumn colours, if you don’t already have a compost heap or bin, October is a great time to start one. With all the leaves and cuttings to be disposed of, you can rake the leaves off the lawn and start a leaf compost heap.
Autumn leaves are mainly broken down by the slow action of fungi, rather than by bacteria that decompose other compost bin ingredients quickly, so it’s best to compost them separately in a simple heap. To stop the leaves blowing away, you can create a simple cage for them. Get some chicken wire and make a ring, using a small wooden post to support the wire. Small thin leaves, such as birch, break down fairly quickly, while large leathery ones, such as chestnut, benefit from being shredded first. Evergreen leaves and conifer needles take far longer to rot and should not be included in great quantities, and then only when chopped.
After a year, the leaves will have only half rotted, but can be used for soil improvement or for mulching around shrubs. After two years, most will have turned into fine, dark leaf mould. Use it as a seed-sowing medium or mixed with equal parts of fine garden compost, loam and sharp sand for potting.
The time for clearing up
October is definitely the time for clearing up – greenhouses, ponds, gutters and water butts may all need cleaning out. Wooden garden furniture will need covering or storing for the winter and terracotta pots will need bringing inside, so that they don’t freeze and crack. And be wary of frost - the first one can come early in October, so don’t get caught out. Bring in all half-hardy plants, tender herbs (even mint and parsley can be damaged by frost), chilli plants, if they’re still out, and citrus fruits. You can always line pots that might be prone to cracking with some fleece, hessian or spare bubble wrap.