Plants’ life cycles determine the look and character of your garden. One of the greatest delights in gardening is the impact of seasonal change on plants, because colors, forms, and textures play a different role in various parts of the garden at different times of year.
The gardener’s calendar begins just at the point at which nature is winding down. Autumn is the time of year to plot, plan, and dig over the garden so that everything is ready for growth the following spring. If you have recently acquired a garden, take note in late summer of what is growing where, and which plants you enjoy and will want to keep.
By late autumn, any herbaceous perennials will have disappeared, and you may inadvertently dig them up if you fail to mark them. The fall is a good time not only to dig over the soil and remove any weeds, but also to add fertilizer, ideally in the bulky form of compost or manure, which will enrich the soil and improve its structure.
If the garden lacks vertical features, use this time to plant trees, shrubs, and climbers to give them a chance to settle in before the new growth starts in spring. In a small garden, choose plants that offer more than one season of interest—spring flowers and autumn color, for example, or scented flowers, aromatic foliage, and attractive fruit. Evergreens are useful for providing the garden with a permanent structure throughout the year, but even the naked skeletons of deciduous trees will help to give the garden shape in the winter months. It is worth including one or two winter-(lowering shrubs or trees, such as the delicately scented witch-hazel (Hamamelis), with its golden flowers, or the winter-flowering I Iigan cherry (Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis’).
Spring-flowering bulbs are also planted in the fall, mostly around lour to six months before flowering time. For convenience, you can order your bulbs from one of the many specialty mail-order companies. Catalogs arc sent out by seed companies in late summer, so that you can choose your flowers in plenty of time.The growing season At the tail end of winter, you can start sowing edible plants and summer-flowering annuals indoors to be transferred outside when the frosts have passed. Once spring is fully underway and the soil warms, you can plant summer-flowering bulbs. Prune summer-flowering climbers and shrubs in early spring. New lawns can be sown now if this was not done the previous autumn. Once the weather begins to warm up in spring, the grass will start to grow and you will need to establish a regular mowing routine for any lawns (generally once a week). Weeds will also begin to generate themselves at an alarming rate and will need to be removed. (You can suppress their growth by surrounding shrubs and other plants with a mulch, such as chipped bark.)
Soft-stemmed perennials and vigorous climbers will need support, and climbers that arc not self-clinging will need to be tied in to their supports. As the flowers bloom and die, you will improve the appearance of the plants, and encourage more flowers if you regularly remove the dead or dying blooms.
Any spring-flowering shrubs should be pruned after flowering, but if the garden is new to you, wait one season and observe what Mowers when, and then organize the pruning the following year.