I love planning. I have lists, sub lists, sub sub lists. When it comes to gardening I like to start planning on the 1st of September.
Why? Well if you want a great spring, with healthy plants and rich soil, then you have to get your organic garden ready now.
I always think of September as a time for planning, preparing and protecting. You’re getting your kids ready for school and your garden ready for autumn and winter – as well as planting bulbs and ordering bare root trees to provide a spring display and future harvests.
- Do you want to work smarter and not harder in the garden and have more time to enjoy it?
- Do you want to have healthier plants that can withstand pests and diseases better?
- Do you want healthy soil to produce bumper crops?
Then by putting in some leg work now, and you can achieve a super-productive and healthy happy garden, teaming with wildlife.
So what can organic gardeners plan and prepare, to ensure the best protection for their garden?
Here’s what I’ll be doing in my garden in September.
Filling some gaps with winter perennials
Hellebores, heather, primroses and lungwort Pulmonaria are great for late winter flowers for your pollinators.
I’ve got a few hellebores in my front garden, in partial shade where they are thriving. They are also evergreen which is great for the winter. Try a native variety like Helleborus foetidus or Helleborus x hybridus (syn. Helleborus orientalis) from Penlan Perennials. Penlan grow organic plants in peat-free compost as well, so you can be sure your plants are truly pollinator friendly and don’t cost the earth either.
Plant out your bulbs
This year, I’m choosing bulbs that are good for pollinators and provide nectar right through winter and spring.
I’ve already got Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) for January, Crocuses for February and Daffodlis to cover most of early to late spring.
I also have blue Grape hyacinths, but am experimenting with some white ones. These tiny hyacinths are loved by the solitary hair footed bee.
Plus swathes of bluebells for April and May.
Crocuses are great not just for nectar, but also to provide beds for bees, as they close up at night, providing shelter for the sleeping bee.
I have a mix of inherited double petalled daffodils (not good for pollinators) but I’ve ordered some British Wild Daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus ‘lobularis’ to fill in some gaps. In the US, Narcissus poeticus
But you could add some Eranthis Hyemalis (‘Winter Aconite’) to this early mix as well. Other great early spring bulbs for pollinators are Snake’s head fritillary, Starflowers Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’
I’ve also divided a lot of Primroses, Primula vulgaris which flower from March – they also spread really easily too. I’ve added in some Alliums as well this year and the Nectaroscordum silicum (‘Sicilian Honey Garlic’) – also known as Allium silicum for mid to late spring.
I’d love to have fields of Wild Garlic, Allium ursinum, but the bulbs I planted a few years ago have been slow to establish.
If you want to plant tulips, why not try some botanical tulips. These are ones that grow in the wild and are ‘naturally designed’ for attracting pollinators. They also bloom really early.
I’m trying Tulip sylvestris – this is a wild British native tulip with delicate yellow petals, that I’m hoping will naturalise and spread in the garden.
Order bare root trees
Bare root trees are much cheaper than the ‘heavier’ potted and often older trees.
These young trees can be more easily trained and are CHEAPER! Key point.
This year, I’m on the hunt for some heritage apple trees, native to my part of Northern Ireland. Heritage trees are often much hardier and I’m hoping a local variety will be better adapted to my climate too.
Collect your leaves for leaf mould
Being surrounded by mature trees, autumn in the garden has been renamed – LEAFAGEDDON.
We have mountains of leaves. We even lost a child in a pile one year. Every year I stand and yell at the trees – to keep their leaves please, we’re drowning down here.
Good quality, well-rotted leafmould (more than two years old) can be used as seed-sowing compost, or mixed equally with sharp sand, garden compost and good quality soil for use as potting compost.RHS
So before bagging and disposing of your leaves, why not create an area in your garden to store your leaves. You can just stick them in a bag and leave them there for a couple of years.
Or, you could create a dedicated area in your garden to store them. In the past I’ve used just some canes in a circle, wrapped with some chicken wire to make a leaf cage. All the leaves have then been dumped in there and left for a year or too to compost down. You can use any leaves for this, but the RHS recommends oak, beech and hornbeam leaves to make the best leafmould. I you are using a bag, just make sure everything is moist before closing.
Add your garden trimmings and leaves to your compost
I’m going to be adding a few more garden trimmings to my compost piles and then leaving them over winter to finish off. The rest I’m going to chop and drop before adding my mulch.
For my remaining leaves…well, this year, I’m taking a leaf (HA!) out of Monty Don’s book and mowing leaves on the grass and then adding this direct to my compost. That means you’ve got a good mix of nitrogen and carbon together to add to a new compost pile.
I’ll add some accelerator plants like comfrey, borage and nettles and will turn it once a week as well to speed up the composting process.
I usually bypass my oak and holly leaves as they are much tougher (with more lignin) and way harder to compost. The oak leaves I leave in situ as a mulch to protect any bare soil.
Put tender plants under cover
It gets MUCH wetter in autumn in my garden. At the time of writing we’ve already had two storms and one with bad flodding. This is BAD news for my mediterranean herbs. So I’ve already moved my lavenders and thymes into my greenhouse. I say greenhouse, but it’s more like a cold frame as the plastic covering is broken. But it means I can shelter them from the worst of the rain and raise them off the cold ground as well.
I’ve also repotted my pelargoniums and put them in the cold frame too. I had them in the house last winter, but they grew leggy and pale and I don’t think it did them any favours.
Preserve your herbs
I have tried taking herbs in the house during winter before, but the light levels in my house are so low over the autumn and winter, that they struggle for light and grow leggy. So leggy that I’m scared to pick any leaves from them. So instead, I’m just giving all my herbs a severe hair cut, and drying and freezing what I can.
Add some slow releasing fertilizer
I used to use those chemical pellets in the garden, and I’m still finding them in my soil.
Instead, I’ve made up my own mix using “Grandpa Al’s Can’t Fail Recipe” from Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis and combining sustainable fish meal, kelp meal, rock phosphate and dolomitic limestone. I also added some Neem Meal to help the plant’s own resistance to pests.
Apply some vermicompost
My worms have been busy feeding away most of the summer, so I need to start harvesting the worm castings (vermicompost) and add it into my finished compost to apply to my beds.
Not only will I be adding in nutrients, boosting water retention, improving soil aeration, but I’ll be adding in GAZILLIONS of micro-organisms that will help the plants as well.
If you apply compost and fertilizers in the autumn, then your soil should be in tip top condition come the spring.
Mulch with compost
It’s important to add mulch once you have added the compost. This helps prevent all that goodness washing away. It will also keep some heat in during the winter.
By providing different kinds of organic matter as mulch, you can establish or supplement different members of the soil food web, ones that will provide more of the type of nitrogen preferred by the plants grown in the area.Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, p124, Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis
Use ‘brown’ mulches, like straw, woodchip, leaf mould for your trees and perennials who prefer things fungal!! Whatever you use, just make sure your mulch is organic and degradeable.
It makes me feel good to have my garden ready, prepared and primed for the spring time. Then I know everything will emerge renewed, refreshed and full of vigour for the next year.
I wanted a bulb emerging….but I’ll settle for this cat.