Storm Callum has swept through and caused havoc in gardens, which previously had been looking gorgeous after weeks of autumn sunshine. But with temperatures unseasonably high and the weather looking to be settling down again, you can still get your garden looking lovely again for the last few weeks of autumn.
First – unless you have urgent things like fallen trees to tackle, that is – ignore the plants to begin with and prioritise structural repairs like damaged fence posts or panels, sagging trellis, broken panes of glass in the greenhouse and suchlike. Check closely, as plant growth may be disguising initial damage. Autumn is the season of gales, and what could only need a small repair now may well turn into a much larger, more expensive and time-consuming job later on if left untouched.
Next, check round larger plants – trees, shrubs, roses, hedges and so on. The storm hit at a bad time, when most woody plants are still in full leaf, creating a lot of resistance to the wind. So you’re likely to find a fair few branches and stems torn off, either partly or fully. , cutting back beyond the damage to the main stem or to an obvious junction of branches. Use a sharp saw, loppers or secateurs, depending on the thickness of the stem or branch. For the largest branches, I use a small battery-powered chainsaw which can cut up to about 10 cm thickness with ease.
Wounds on woody plants give easy entry points to diseases, so remove without delay
Rescue toppled shrubs
Don’t despair where entire shrubs or even small trees have been toppled over, even if a good part of the roots are out of the ground. You lose nothing by trying to re-plant, and where at least some of the roots are still in the ground, there’s a good chance of success. First, hammer several short, stout stakes firmly into the ground on what would have been the windward side (opposite to where the plant is lying), then use strong rope (with padding where it contacts with the stems) to pull the plant back upright and tie the rope onto the stakes. To help boost new root growth, add compost or soil improver around the roots, plus slow-release fertilizer. If possible, mix in a mycorrhizal fungi product too which ‘supercharges’ the root system. Shovel soil back around the roots, use the heel of your boot to firm it in well, then water thoroughly.
Prop up perennials
Herbaceous perennials still in flower may be rescue-able by staking: the simple technique of short canes around the clump with string threaded through works well. My preference is for string made of natural materials that can be cleared and composted later along with the stems, rather than nylon string that doesn’t rot and can pose a hazard to wildlife. And note to self, looking at my sadly-sprawling dahlias – be more thorough about early staking next year, putting grow-through type supports in place at about the middle of the plants’ eventual height. You can buy a number of different designs, but, if you have a source, hazel stems bent over or woven together work really well – and are free.
Clear up leaves
Fallen leaves are absolutely everywhere – green ones torn from plants by the wind, the big autumn leaf fall is yet to come. A light scattering of leaves on borders and the like can be left till later, but clear up big drifts that could kill grass and plants beneath. Have a good sweep-up round paths and patios, before the leaves start to rot and make the surface dangerously slippery (on that subject, now’s a good time to get the pressure washer out too, in advance of winter). While I’m a great fan of the good old garden broom, recently I trialled a range of ‘budget’ blowers for a feature that will appear soon in Gardener’s World magazine. Results are strictly secret until publication, but I’ve been impressed by how handy some of the models are and would certainly recommend one. As to which………publication will be in December.
And don’t overlook ponds
Another place where leaves tend to gather is on ponds, and here it’s best to skim leaves off the surface without delay, before they become sodden and sink to the bottom. Use a simple child’s fishing net – I keep one handy by my pond, which suffers from an ongoing duckweed problem. There’s a strong chance you’ll also skim out a few creatures (I have lots of baby newts in mine at the moment) so make a pile of gathered leaves and debris close to the pond and leave for a couple of days, so any wildlife can make its way back to the water.
The finishing touch
The final job on the clear-up list may not be essential, but a whizz round with the lawn mower will make the garden look a whole lot tidier and pick up leaves, twigs etc at the same time. Then make yourself a brew or crack open a bottle of your favourite tipple, put your feet up and enjoy the autumn sunshine.