We all remember the children’s story of ‘Goldie Locks and the Three Bears’ and how when she tries the porridge; one was too hot, one was too cold, but there was one that was just right.
Autumn in the garden is like the porridge that was just right, I often think about it as the ‘Sweet Spot’ of the gardening calendar. The heat of summer has passed, and the cool of winter is yet to come.
With this in mind, I’ll share with you my top three autumn gardening projects for these cooler months.
1: Autumn is a Great Time to Plant
Autumn in many parts of Australia is an ideal time to establish plants in the garden. The daytime temperatures are not too extreme, which makes gardening more pleasant for us and the milder temperatures mean the plants themselves are less likely to suffer heat stress.
In Autumn, soils also have retained heat from summer and for many of us, there is also good soil moisture after the recent rainfalls. The combination of warm soils with good soil moisture is the perfect recipe for good root establishment and plant growth before winter comes and things slow down. All of this makes for what I call the ‘Sweet Spot’ for plant growing conditions.
Autumn is also an excellent time to relocate under-performing plants by transplanting them to a more suited spot in the garden. I remember a saying from an experienced gardener that goes, “A plant is never happy until it has moved three times”. That’s not to say you should move plants just for the sake of it, but rather if a plant isn’t happy where it sits in the garden don’t be scared to transplant it to a more suitable place.
Plants for autumn planting:
Grasses fall into two groups, Warm-Season Grass, (WSG), grasses that are actively growing over the summer months and Cool-Season Grass, (CSG), these grasses are actively growing over the winter months. Autumn is the ‘Sweet Spot’ for grass establishment, the WSG will develop roots and put on some growth before winter comes, and the CSG is just about to enter its peak growing season.
Most flowering plants the world over follow the seasons in their growth habits. Plants are most active in their growth during the warm seasons of spring, summer, autumn and tend to slow in their growth over the colder winter months. Planting groundcovers and hedging plants in autumn give them a head start before winter arrives.
2: Fertilising Your Plants
Fertilising plants in autumn will give them a boost heading into winter by promoting strong root growth, healthy plant foliage, improved flowering and fruiting. For deciduous trees and shrubs, that is plants that lose their leaves over winter, fertilising in autumn will aid them in storing energy which they will need for spring growth.
There are many forms of fertiliser available from Controlled Release Fertiliser, (CRF), liquid fertilisers, pelletised chicken manure and well as old school cow manure or horse manure. Many fertilisers have specific applications such as formula’s for roses or citrus, or you may need a native plant food for phosphorus sensitive native plants. It is essential that before making your choice, read the label and select the one suited to your needs and the requirements of your plants.
I’m a fan of a Katek product called ‘Organic Super Growth’, it comes as either granules or pellets and is chicken manure with all kind of other trace elements. I have found I can use this product on all types of plants, including natives. The pelletised version acts as a slow-release food for plants. In contrast, the granulated formulation is ideal for lawns. Being an organic fertiliser, it is also great for soil health as it feeds and promotes beneficial micro-organisms and encourages earthworms in your garden soil.
3: Mulching Your Garden
There are so many different garden mulch products available. These include:
- pebbles and decomposed gravel
- hardwood chip
- pine bark
- tea tree mulch
- sugarcane mulch
- straw or hay, and
- recycled wood and leaf mulch.
The type of garden mulch you decide to use will depend on your budget, garden style or personal preference.
Mulching your garden is a straightforward step that will reward you tenfold. Apply mulch to the garden to a depth of 5 to 10 cm.
Applying mulch will help to suppress weed growth, retain moisture in the soil, keep the root zone of plants cool during hot weather as well as offering protection for plant roots from frost over winter. Many mulch types can also add organic matter to the soil, which will promote good soil health.
For my garden, I like to use wood and leaf mulch which I buy direct from a local arborist company.
Wood and leaf mulch is a byproduct made from chipping tree limbs and branches and contains wood chip of varying sizes and shredded leaf material. I always ask for seasoned mulch, this is the best in my experience as it not only provides all the benefits noted above, but it also helps to build a healthy soil structure by adding organic matter as the mulch breaks down over the following years. I have also found it to be the most cost-effective. The only downside with wood and leaf mulch is that every few years you need to renew it, but I feel this is a small price to pay for the enormous payoff of improved soil.