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Gillian Vine suggests some autumn tasks ahead of the usual Easter clean-up.
As well as cutting back perennials and pulling out annual flowers that have done their dash, there is plenty to keep the gardener busy before the usual burst of activity over Easter.
1. Silverbeet plants can still go in for greens over winter, while cabbages planted now will be ready in spring. Keep young seedlings watered, as autumn winds quickly suck moisture from the ground.
2. Pears should be harvested before they are fully ripe but still come off the tree easily. To store, put paper in the bottom of a box — old dresser drawers lined with ODTs are perfect for this. Set damaged fruit aside to use first and place unblemished fruit on the paper in a single layer. Keep the pears in a cool place to mature.
4. Build a bug resort out of recycled wood to give shelter to beneficial insects over winter. Youngsters will enjoy filling the spaces with hollow bamboo stems, some stuffed with dried grass or hay, as well as cones and twigs.
5. Don’t be too hasty clearing dead flowers from sedum, alliums, Phlomis russeliana, hydrangea mops and bold grasses. They can be left to add interest to the garden in winter.
6. Sunflowers are the perfect winter food for finches, sparrows and other seed-eating birds. The seed heads can be left to stand on the plants, guaranteeing a new crop underneath in spring from bird-scattered seed. Alternatively, cut heads and position them face-up where birds can easily find them and the household cat can’t attack. Mine are fixed in a small weeping crab apple where the cat has admitted defeat.
7. Outdoor tomatoes should be covered at night if frost is likely. Trim back the leaves so the fruit gets maximum sun in the daytime. Ripening figs will need frost protection, too, as unripe fruit will fall in temperatures below 5degC.
8. Prepare the ground now for planting fruit trees in winter. As well as pip fruit (apples, quinces and pears) and stone fruit (apricots, cherries, plums and peaches), gooseberries and currants can be planted from late autumn in rich ground.
9. Spring-flowering bulbs can still be planted and although some varieties will be sold out, it is often possible to buy the last of the season’s bulbs at much reduced prices. If growing in containers, keep the potting mix damp but not wet and ensure bulbs are kept cool until buds are well-developed or they will shrivel and fail to open.