Autumn’s raking is never ending

By Richard Wright

Published on Friday, November 09, 2012 - 11:30


Autumn’s raking is never ending

The never-ending task of raking up leaves.

GARDENING IT IS that accursed time of year in my garden when I look to the ground and all I see are leaves — and to the sky where all I see are leaves that will soon be on the ground.

While some trees retain their leaves to create a magical display of autumn colours, most will fall to the ground before December is with us — and keep me busy.

Some, such as the scarlet oak, acers, maples and dogwood, will produce brilliant foliage colour and, now that tree-planting season is upon us, perhaps the best foliage species to consider is liquidambar styraciflua.

Liquidambar is renowned for putting up with clay and the poor drainage which goes with that but it also does not like the soil to dry out, which has proved the problem with the sapling I planted three years ago.

It has failed to flourish and is just about hanging on but I live in hope.

The species is native to tropical Central America and the warm temperate states of eastern North America but has branched out across the world as an ornamental tree, growing best in moist, acidic loam or clay.

I have more leaves of the less colourful kind than I know what to do with, so I tend to leave them on borders to rot down as the compost heaps fill to overflowing, but that is not recommended by the tidy gardener.

Leaving them to rot down in situ provides comfy shelters for slugs, snails and other destructive pests. On the flip side of the coin, there is not much for them to eat at this time of year and they might make a snack for a hedgehog or two before the big sleep.

If you have a manageable quantity of leaves and no space for a heap, they can be compressed into empty compost bags and thoroughly wetted.

They will gradually rot down over the next couple of years to provide some great leaf mould that can be mixed into home-made compost or provide useful mulch.

Fallen leaves on the lawn should be collected at least once a week, which is a tough ask in these sodden conditions. If they are left for any length of time, the leaves will create bare patches and encourage the development of lawn diseases and moss and broad-leaved weeds, which will quickly populate the space.

There is still time to apply an autumn lawn feed, such as EverGreen Autumn 2-in-1, to lawns to help strengthen the grass and get rid of any existing moss that may have been encouraged by the wet late summer and even wetter autumn.

Moss will also be encouraged by heavy shade, starved grass, compacted soil or poor drainage. In the worst case, this weed may be present throughout the year because of all four.

Some choose to live with the balance between moss and grass but if you want to tip the scales in favour of the sward by putting the moss to a gentle sword, trim back overhanging trees and bushes and correct poor drainage with spiking.

Lawn spiking lets in air, improves drainage and generally reduces compaction of the soil.

For slight moss problems, drive a garden fork into the area at 6ins intervals as deeply as possible and wiggle it about. A hollow tine tool, that can be driven into the lawn to remove plugs of soil at regular intervals, is more effective.

The plugs need to be brushed off the lawn and the holes filled with a good soil and sharp sand mix. As a result of making the habitat more grass friendly, it will root more deeply, out-compete the moss and shade it out.

Sometimes, and especially in new-build properties where builders may have used what was to become the garden as a 'knocking up’ area for concrete and render before covering with a veneer of soil, a soak-away system may take away excess water.

A simple soak-away should be sunk at the lowest point of the lawn. Dig a hole 2ft square and 3ft deep. Fill the bottom 2ft or so with rubble and top this with a 6ins layer of small stones and a layer of free-draining top soil on top of that.

If the lawn still remains wet, then you may need to dig out gravel channels 18ins deep topped with soil, which will naturally take water from the lawn to the soak-away.

If we continue to get summers like that last one then that sort of work may be increasingly necessary. It is that or a rice crop.

Make a colourful show with pansies

CUTTING back the stems of border plants, such as peony, achillea, Russian sage and columbine, to a few inches before winter sets in is good garden hygiene. Pests and diseases have less host material to over-winter on and the look of your borders will be much tidier.

Compost all the material that is disease free.

Only when stems are carrying seed heads that are attractive to birds or visually pleasing is it worth leaving the stems of grasses, poppies, echinacea and other cone flowers.

Planting up with winter flowering bedding is well worth the expense. Pansies and viola are the cheeriest and nowadays come in all manner of forms.

Ultima Morho is a bi-colour viola of yellow and soft violet and Rose Shades are dark reds. They make great garden plants because they produce so many flowers and repeat bloom in all manner of weathers.

The large blooms of winter-flowering pansies often show contrasting markings usually described as 'faces’.

The flowers are large but unfortunately they do not produce quite so many individual blooms. For something new, look for Fizzle Sizzle Burgundy or Penny Primrose that have picotee edges and others such as Can-Can that are truly frilled.

Trailing types of pansies are relatively new, providing an abundance of flowers and produce a great display in hanging baskets, window boxes and around the edge of large pots or patio containers.

They can usually be found at your local garden centre although Thompson & Morgan is selling plugs and packets of seed of a large-flowered trailing pansy called Plentifall.

It is a mixture of purple, yellow and white scented flowers that bloom on branching stems from mid-winter to the end of March.

Other trailing types, such as Babbling Brook, can be bought as seeds or plug plants from Suttons. So all need not be doom and gloom after the clocks fall back.

Pumpkin purloiners

THERE was the most miserable greedy gastropod of a person down my road the other night.

And, sadly, unlike the slug which is active at night and leaves a trail, there are, as yet, no clues as to who stole the family’s Halloween pumpkin.

Each year it has been a family tradition to pick the pumpkin from the allotment the day before All Hallow’s Eve.

My daughters would then design the face and I risk limb by carving it.

This year was a little different and a bit special because, for the first time, our elder daughter, Roseanna, was not at home for Halloween but away at university and coming home at the weekend for the first time since leaving.

Bella, the younger, and I, came up with what we thought was the best design yet and we were looking forward to showing it off.

But we reckoned without a mean-spirited individual who took the trouble, despite gales and torrential rain, to stop his car and steal the pumpkin.

I say 'he’ because Pumpy probably weighed four stone and would have taken a bit of lifting.

At least we took some photographs so Roseanna could see what he looked like. If you’ve seen him I would really appreciate knowing where.

As usual all things gardening can be sent to me at or to the County Press at Brannon House, 123 Pyle Street, Newport, PO3O 1ST.

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