Fall Season Gardening: Looking After The Plants – Keeping a garden isn’t as easy as laying out a plan, planting a few plants and sitting back to watch them grow. Those plants will need a bit of looking after. This may seem an obvious statement to those of us whose enjoyment centres around working in our gardens more than sitting in them, but it is worth mentioning a few essential jobs you will need to make time for in looking after the plants in your garden.
Between the months of October and April most plants receive all the water they need from rainfall and moisture retained in the soil. However, there are a few times and circumstances when you will need to water garden plants. The most obvious time is in summer when rainfall can be scarce and the soil can dry out. Pay particular attention to young plants which quickly wilt in dry conditions, container plants and also those plants you want to produce crops for you such as soft fruit and potatoes.
The best times to water plants are early in the morning before the sun has properly risen or at dusk when the air is cooler. Never water a plant that has wilted in the sun. Move it into the shade to allow it to cool down before watering. If you can’t move it, then wait until the evening. There are also certain things you can do to make sure you use water efficiently and economically. Having a water butt installed is always a good idea. When watering your plants, water below the foliage so that all the water goes into the soil where it is needed most. If you use a hose, fit a trigger so that you can stop the water between plants. Make sure you use a steady spray of water rather than a jet which can damage plants and expose roots. It is best to water your plants well once a week than sparingly once a day. However, this rule doesn’t apply to container plants which dry out more quickly than those planted in the ground. A good tip for container plants is to sink a plastic bottle with no bottom into the soil and fill it with water which will gradually seep down to the root system.
You can save yourself a lot of time as far as feeding plants is concerned if you regularly fertilise your soil with plenty of well rotted manure, organic fertilizer such as blood, fish and bone, or mushroom compost. Other good organic fertilizers include seaweed, your own garden compost, chicken manure pellets, and bonemeal. As a general rule it is better to feed the soil around a plant than apply it directly to the base of a plant, as the plant can then take up the food from the surrounding area as and when it needs it.
Some plants will need a more specialist type of feed. A good example is tomatoes. They will need regular feeding with liquid tomato feed in order to produce a healthy crop. Most tomato feeds are based on properties derived from comfrey. You can make your own comfrey feed by steeping the leaves in water for a few weeks and then straining the mixture before use.
As a general rule, plants do not need pruning in order to stay healthy. After all they do not get pruned in the wild. We prune plants to keep them tidy and to stop them growing out of hand. However, there are a few general rules you need to follow when pruning garden plants. If you don’t do much else, it is always a good idea to prune out dead wood or stems which can attract disease if left. It is also crucial that you know how to prune properly. You need a good sharp pair of secateurs. When pruning, cut back to just above a healthy outward facing shoot or bud. Make sure your cut is clean and at a slight angle away from a bud or shoot.
Another important consideration is when to prune. This will depend on how each plant grows. For plants that flower on stems that grow in the previous year, prune after flowering to encourage more growth ready to flower on the next year. For plants that flower on new growth, prune them in late winter to stimulate growth for flowers later on in the year.
There are a number of reasons why you might want to remove dead flowerheads from plants in your garden. It stops the garden from looking tired and shabby. Deadheading encourages the plant to produce more flowers, this is especially the case for plants such as pansies and violas and repeat flowering roses. Deadheading can also prevent those plants which self-seed all over the garden from seeding. It is a good idea to leave seed heads on plants after mid-autumn as they will provide much appreciated food for birds and other wildlife during the winter months.
Adding a layer of material to the soil surface around your plants is important for conserving moisture and keeping weeds down. You can either use organic mulches such as leaf mould or manure that also add valuable nutrients to the soil, or you can use other types of mulch such as plastic sheeting which is best used on large areas such as a vegetable patch.
Staking and supporting plants
There are some plants which will need support to keep them upright. In particular, young trees need staking to prevent them blowing over in the wind. Many herbaceous plants will flop over without some support. Bought or home-made plant supports or hoops will keep plants such as dahlias, delphiniums, poppies and peonies from collapsing in your borders.