Homes - Gardens

Mid-September garden chores

As summer nears an end, gardeners relish the last of their garden's beauty and set to work preparing for winter.

Well, that's it then, right? Summer is as good as over. No more gin-and-tonics on the garden wall or dinners under the plum tree. No more garden tourists till next spring, either, and just as well. The annuals look leafy and leggy, the slug and earwig damage is starting to show, and even the tireless bellflowers are down to their last buds. Time to slip into the duck shoes, haul out the big tools and get to some serious work.

Despite what others may think, fall is a grand time for gardeners, with no one looking while we reappraise the season past, harvest our triumphs, compost our defeats and surreptitiously prepare next summer's delights.

There is, for instance, no better time for transplanting – or planting, come to that. The only problem with putting in new things now is that garden centres don't want to be stuck with inventory for the winter, so they don't stock nearly the range of plants they have in spring. If you can find what you want, though, or only want to move things you've got, now is the time. Most trees, shrubs and perennials have stopped producing leaves and flowers and are just entering a period of vigorous root growth. They won't resent new digs to dig into, and may well welcome the notion – especially if there's some fresh topsoil or compost (though not fertilizer) involved.

Plants moved now (or planted new) will have up to two months to settle in and spread their roots before they go dormant. Plus another roughly two months' jump on next year's April transplants, because their roots will start growing again as early as February. The size of a perennial's root system pretty much dictates its size aboveground, so the plant you put in next April will not, for at least a season, much overshadow an area the size of the pot it came in. But put the same plant in the ground now and the diameter of its roots – and consequently next year's plant – could double that.

The flip side is, of course, that any perennial weeds left in the garden now will also have the same weeks of root growth to get bigger and stronger for next spring, so it's in your own interest, no matter how thankless the task may seem, to also now get the garden as weed-free as you can, starting with the weeds at the edge of the bed – the ones you've been fertilizing all year.

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