What Plants to Use in Your Garden in Autumn

Patio planters need not fade away as summer comes to a close. There are lots of plants that will leap into action as the days shorten, filling your patio with colorful foliage and plenty of flowers.

When to plant: Late summer or autumn.

At their best: Autumn.

Time to complete: 4 hours.

You will need: Planters, broken clay pot or plastic pieces, all-purpose potting soil.

Selection of plants to use: Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’, Lamium galeobdolon, Carex conica ‘Snowline’, Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’, Aster dumosus, purple hybrid, Heuchera ‘Amber Waves’.

Prepare the pots

Add clay pieces to the base of each pot. If you are using tall planters such as these, half-fill with clay or plastic pieces, then fill with soil to within 4 in (10 cm) of the rim.

Position the plants

In autumn, plants don’t grow very much, so avoid leaving gaps as you would when planting summer bedding. Pack your plants in closely to make the planters look “finished.”

Aftercare

Densely planted containers can get very dry, even in wet weather, so water them regularly. These plants do not need feeding since they will soon become dormant and growth will halt over winter.


How to Turf a Lawn

The quickest, if not cheapest, way to achieve a beautiful lawn is to lay turf, but if your money is to be well spent, take time to prepare your site a month or two beforehand.

When to plant: Early autumn or early spring.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 1 day to prepare; 1 day to lay turf

You will need: Turf, well-rotted organic matter – such as manure, horticultural grit, all-purpose granular fertilizer, rake and broom, sharp knife, topsoil and horticultural sand.

Turf options

Buy your turf from a specialist supplier and, if possible, inspect it before purchasing to ensure that it is weed- and disease-free. Reject turf with patches of yellow or dying grass. Your choice of turf will generally be limited to high-quality ornamental grass for formal lawns, and hardwearing utility turf for walkways and play areas.

Prepare the site

Two months before the turf arrives, weed the site thoroughly. Dig 4 in (10 cm) of organic matter into the soil, and plenty of grit into heavy clay to increase drainage. Level with a rake. Tread over the soil on your heels in one direction, and repeat at right angles in the other direction.

Lay the first row

Remove stones and debris from the site, and leave for five weeks for the soil to settle. Weed the site again and apply an all-purpose granular fertilizer at the recommended rate. Make sure the soil is moist, not wet, before laying. Place the first piece of turf at one edge, and tamp it down with the back of a rake.

Stagger the joints

Create a tight seam between turves by butting them together so they almost overlap and then pressing the crease down firmly with your thumbs. Continue to lay the turves in rows, and stagger the joints, like a brick wall. Stand on a plank of wood to protect the turf you have already laid.

Apply a top dressing

Do not use small pieces at the edge of the lawn because they will dry out quickly and shrink—instead, lay them in the middle of the site. Scatter sandy loam, made from topsoil mixed with horticultural sand, into the joins and brush it into the turf to fill any gaps. Water well, and water the lawn in dry spells during the first growing season.

Tips: Shaping a lawn

Use a hose or rope to create a guide for a curved lawn, and with a half-moon grass cutter or sharp spade cut around your template. For a straight edge, stretch some string between two pegs pushed into the soil at each end.


How to Create a Rockery Wall

Dry stone walls make perfect homes for alpines, such aubretia, which creates a mass of evergreen foliage and cascades of pretty flowers in spring. Choose small plants and use this planting method to secure them in the wall.

When to plant: Early autumn.

At their best: Spring.

Time to complete: 30 minutes.

You will need: Bucket, piece of dried turf.

Alpines, such as: Aubrieta, Campanula poscharskyana, Houseleek – Sempervivum, Gold dust – Aurinia saxatilis, Saxifrage – Saxifraga.

Prepare to plant

Take the dried turf and dunk it in a bucket of water to drench it. Remove and allow to drain. Water the plant and remove it from its pot. Wrap the damp turf around the plant roots.

Ease plants into crevices

Carefully wedge the turf-wrapped plant into a crevice. Fill around it with a half-and-half mix of horticultural sand and soil-based potting mix. Mist the plant regularly.


How to Create a Checkerboard Design in Your Garden

This simple design of square paving stones and plants could be used to create a dramatic courtyard or a fun space for children’s playground games. Plant it up with turf, chamomile, mind-your-own-business (Soleirolia soleirolii) or low-growing herbs, such as thyme or Corsican mint (Mentha requienii).

When to start: Spring.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 1 day.

You will need: Turf or low-growing plants, rake, wooden boards, tape measure, string and sticks, sand and mortar mix, mallet, spirit level, square paving stones.

Compact the soil

Clear the area of stones, weeds, and grass, and rake it to create a flat surface. Lay down a wooden board and walk across it, moving it along systematically to level the whole area.

Mark out the squares

Measure the paving stones, and using string and some sticks mark out the area into squares of equal size. Cover squares that will be used for paving stones with a 2 in (5 cm) layer of sand.

Level the sand

Using the back of a rake, tamp down the sand to compact and level it. Don’t worry if some sand spills out into the surrounding squares; any surplus can be mixed with the soil for the plants or turf.

Apply mortar

Mix up a wet mortar mix of four parts sand (half-and-half sharp sand and builder’s sand) to one part cement, or use a prepared mix. Place a trowel-full in the corners and in the center of a paving stone square.

Bed in paving stones

Position the paving stone on the mortar and use the wooden end of a mallet to gently tap it into place. Use a spirit level to check that it is level. Mortar in each one in the same way and leave them to set for a day or two.

Plant up

Fill between the paving stone with topsoil and plant up the herbs or turf. If using turf, lay it slightly above the paving stones so you can run a mower over the whole area. Water in. Keep plants watered until they are established.


How to Make a Wall of Fiery Geraniums

Wander down any residential street in the Mediterranean region and you will find houses ablaze with fiery geraniums. These drought-loving plants bask happily in the burning sun in their tiny terracotta pots, creating a dazzling display that requires very little care. If you have a sunny wall, buy young plants in late spring to create your own summer holiday effect at home.

When to plant: Late spring.

At their best: Early summer to early autumn.

Time to complete: 2 hours.

You will need: Bedding geraniums – Pelargonium, small terracotta wall pots, broken clay pot pieces and gravel, multi-purpose soil, slow-release all-purpose fertilizer, masonry nails or rawlplugs and coach bolts, hammer or electric drill.

Prepare the wall pots

Buy at least five wall pots and make sure that each has a drainage hole—if not, make one with an electric drill. Cover the hole with a piece of clay pot. Add 1 in (2 cm) of gravel and then a layer of soil to the base of each container.

Plant the geraniums

Water the plants. Put one geranium (Pelargonium), still in its original container, into the wall pot and check that it will sit at least 1 in (2 cm) below the rim when planted. Remove it from its pot and plant up, firming in around it with multi-purpose soil mixed with a little slow-release fertilizer. Water well.

Fix pots to wall

For a more dramatic effect, paint the wall white or a pale color. Hammer in a masonry nail at a slight angle; alternatively, if you can’t drive in a nail, drill a hole with an electric drill, push in a Rawlplug, and screw in a coach bolt. Fit the pots onto the wall.

Tips: Watering your pots

Geraniums require watering every few days in summer, so make sure you can reach them easily or use a long-handled hose. As the plants grow and their roots develop, it is best to water them from below by placing the wall pots in a bowl of water for 30 minutes.


How to Shear Your Lavender Hedge

Although lavenders are generally easy plants, requiring little or no additional watering once established, they do need annual care. Leave small, young plants unpruned for the first 12 months after planting to allow them to put on some growth, but in subsequent years cut your hedge twice a year to prevent it becoming leggy.

When to start: Late summer, after flowering, and early spring.

Time to complete: 1 hour or longer depending on hedge size.

You will need: Garden shears, household disinfectant, clippers, all-purpose liquid fertilizer.

Prune into shape

To keep your lavender plants young, bushy and healthy, cut them back in late winter or early spring. Clean your tools thoroughly and spray them with a household disinfectant before you begin work. Then, using sharp shears, cut the stems back as close as possible to the old wood.

The correct cut

Take care not to cut into old brown wood, since the plants will not reshoot from this. Shear to a few healthy leaves above the brown stems, and work systematically along the hedge, keeping it as level as possible.

After flowering

In late spring or early summer, the sheared plants will grow an abundance of side shoots to create a compact, bushy hedge. To keep it neat, cut it back again after flowering in late summer: remove all the old flower heads to prevent the plants from putting their energy into making unwanted seed.


How to Create a Lavender Hedge in Your Garden

The perfume from a lavender hedge is without equal, while the beautiful purple flowers attract scores of bees and butterflies in summer. The strongest scent is released when the flowers are brushed, so plant your hedge where you can run your fingers through the stems as you pass.

When to plant: Spring.

At their best: Summer.

Time to complete: 2 hours.

You will need: Small lavender plants, well-rotted organic matter – such as manure, horticultural grit, trowel or small spade, all-purpose liquid fertilizer.

Prepare the ground

A month or two before planting your hedge, dig plenty of wellrotted organic matter into the soil to improve drainage. Also dig horticultural grit into heavy, clay soils, as lavender will rot in wet conditions.

Space plants evenly

In spring, buy small plants and make holes at 12in (30cm) intervals, or dig out a long trench. The plants will not require additional fertilizer at this stage. Plant so they are at the same level as they were in their pots.

Firm in soil

In heavier, clay-rich soil, plant the lavenders slightly above the soil surface, and draw up soil around the root ball, to encourage water to drain away from the base of the plant. Firm in around all the plants with your fingers.

Water in

Water the plants well. Although lavenders are very drought-tolerant, they will need to be watered for the first growing season until they are fully established. In spring, apply an all-purpose liquid fertilizer to the plants and cut them back twice a year.


How to Make a Formal Hedge

Yew, hornbeam, and beech make excellent closely clipped hedges, and you can reduce the cost by buying young bare-rooted plants from late winter to early spring from specialist nurseries and growing them on yourself. Prepare your soil in advance and plant immediately, unless the soil is frozen or waterlogged.

When to plant: Late autumn to early spring.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 4 hours or more depending on hedge size.

You will need: Young bare-rooted hedging plants (like yew, Taxus baccata, for example), well-rotted organic matter – such as manure, spade, fork, stakes, garden string, watering can or hose, all-purpose granular fertilizer.

Prepare the site

Six weeks before planting, remove all weeds from the site and dig a trench the length of the hedge and 3 ft (1 m) wide. Fork in organic matter, and refill the trench. Set out a line to mark the edge of the hedge.

Mark planting intervals

Dig a trench twice as wide and as deep as the plants’ root balls. Using a ruler or guide, lay stakes at 18–24 in (45–60 cm) intervals along the string line to mark the planting distances.

Check planting depths

Check that the plants will be at the same depth as they were in the field when planted—you will see the soil line just above the roots. Place one plant by each stake, and backfill around the roots with soil, removing any air gaps with your fingers.

Firm in well

When in place, check that the plants are upright and then firm in around them with your foot. Create a slight dip around each plant to act as a reservoir, and water well. Add a thick mulch of compost or manure, keeping it clear of the plant stems. Water for the first year and feed plants annually in spring.


How to Create an Informal Hedge

If you prefer a relaxed, rustic style of garden, avoid formal hedges, and opt instead for one that contains a mix of species. This style of hedge is good for wildlife, as it provides food and somewhere to live. It is also relatively easy to look after, needing just one trim per year in late autumn.

When to plant: Autumn.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 3 hours, or more for long hedges.

You will need: Wildlife hedging plants (blackthorn, dog rose, hawthorn, hazel, holly), spade, fork, string and pegs, well-rotted organic matter, such as manure.

Selection of plants you could use: Berberis darwinii, Blackthorn – Prunus spinose, Dog rose – Rosa canina, Field maple – Acer campestre, Guelder rose – Viburnum opulus, Hawthorn – Crataegus, Hazel – Corylus avellana, Holly – Ilex aquifolium, Rosa glauca.

Prepare the site

Hedges are permanent structures, and fare best in well-prepared soil. Dig over the area, removing all weeds, especially the roots of perennials. Fork in some organic matter deep into the soil to improve its structure.

Compress soil

Use your weight to compress the soil, shuffling slowly over the entire area. Then repeat this at right angles. If planted immediately after it has been dug over, the soil will settle, and plants will not be anchored properly.

Mark guide lines

For a deep hedge, set out two lines of string, held taut by pegs, 14–16 in (35–40cm) apart. These form the planting guides for your two rows of plants. For a narrower hedge, you will need just one line of plants.

Plant in trenches

To ensure a really straight hedge, dig out a long trench, rather than individual holes. Plant one line at a time and position the plants along its length, about 14 in (35 cm) apart. Alternate the different plant species for a mosaic effect.

Check planting depths

Hedging plants suffer when planted too deeply or shallowly, so take care to ensure that they are at the same depth as they were in the nursery, or in their pots. The stems will be darker where they previously touched the soil.

Stagger planting

If planting a double row, stagger the second line, so that the plants grow in the gaps between those in the first row. Water in all plants well, and mulch with organic matter, keeping it clear of the stems. Water the hedge regularly throughout the first year.

Thorny barriers

An informal wildlife hedge can also double as a barrier to deter intruders because many wildlife-friendly plants are covered in vicious spikes and thorns. Deer will avoid barriers that look tricky or painful to negotiate, and are more likely to go elsewhere for easier pickings. Alongside the classic native plants, there are also many roses that make beautiful but fearsome hedges.

Site and soil

Ideally most hedging plants, including roses and the other plants used here, prefer a sunny site, with well-drained and fertile soil. If your soil is not perfect, spend some time preparing the ground by digging in plenty of organic matter down to a spade’s depth.

Plant species roses

Follow the advice for planting roses. However, species roses, which are ideal for hedges, do not have a graft union, and are planted at the same depth they were growing at in their pots, or in the field.

Aftercare

Once plants have started growing in spring, cut them back by about a third to encourage bushy growth from the base. Keep them watered throughout their first year and regularly remove any weeds around their base. This will prevent your roses from having to compete for nutrients and water while they are in the process of becoming established.


How to Plant Cherry Trees in Your Garden

There is no more spectacular harbinger of spring than an ornamental cherry tree bursting into bloom. After a winter of bare branches come clouds of fluffy, pastel blossoms. Some produce fruits that attract birds to the garden, and many also have good autumn color to end the year with a bang.

When to plant: Late autumn.

At their best: Spring.

Time to complete: 2 hours.

You will need: Cherry tree, stake, tree tie, spade.

Choose a site

Ornamental cherries grow best in fertile, moist but well-drained soil, in full sun, although they tolerate partial shade and a drier soil once they are established. Make sure there is ample room for the tree to grow because some mature into large trees.

Planting and staking

Dig a hole the same depth as the rootball and twice as wide. Plant the tree so that its rootball is slightly proud of the surrounding soil surface. Hammer in a stake angled into the prevailing wind. Attach it to the tree using a flexible, adjustable tree tie.

Aftercare

Water the tree thoroughly after planting, and apply a mulch, keeping it away from the trunk. Water for the first two years. Check the tie often, and loosen it if need be. In a couple of years, you can remove the stake because the tree will be fully established.

Planting choices

Cherry trees come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors to suit all gardens. Prunus ‘Spire’ has a slender, upright habit, ideal for smaller gardens. P. x subhirtella and P. incisa are both compact trees with pale pink flowers and attractive autumnal color. P. ‘Shizuka’ is medium-sized, and has large, scented, white semi-double flowers.

Tips: Pruning

If you choose the right-sized cherry for your garden, the only pruning required will be to remove dead, diseased, or damaged growth. If you need to shape your tree, do so after flowering in early summer, because there are fewer diseases then, and you will not remove the flower buds.