Autumn’s cooler days make this season an ideal time to be out in the garden. While the heavier jobs of pruning roses and fruit trees are best left to the depths of winter, there are still plenty of reasons to break out your snips and saw. It’s also a good excuse to go looking for the secateurs you left outside last winter.
Before tackling any cutting jobs, make sure your tools are sharp. Run a sharpening stone over the blades to keen up that edge. Using blunt tools not only makes the job longer, it is also tougher on you and your tools. Placing unnecessary strain on loppers, shears and snips can bend them out of shape and render them near useless.
Another good reason to use sharp tools is to make a clean cut. These heal quickly and neatly, as opposed to ragged tears that allow infection into the wound that can travel through the plant.
Hygiene is important in the garden. Clean snips regularly with bleach, antiseptic or eucalyptus oil to prevent the spread of disease between plants.
Summer-scorched plants are best left for an autumn trim. Cutting in summer only increases the possibility of further damage to any new growth, plus it’s too hot to be mucking around with the snips.
Give any sun-ravaged plants a light trim. Check for sunburn damage on stems and tree limbs. Unlike us, plants don’t heal over sunburnt areas, instead the spots split and crack. Cut away anything badly sun damaged.
Dead-heading your roses in early autumn will extend the flowering period, adding welcome colour and fragrance to the yard. Trim back finished flowers about 2-3 leaflets below the bloom. The upper buds on the flower stem are the most active and will be up and blooming this month, so don’t be tempted cut too far back down – leave that until winter.
As autumn nights cool, climbing roses produce masses of long canes that can overrun the garden and overhang paths, creating potential snag and scratch hazards. Though winter is rose pruning time, there’s nothing wrong with a little trimming now to keep climbing roses in check. Be mindful that the long new canes will produce the brilliant floral displays in spring, so it’s important to be careful when trimming. Where possible, tie or wind canes back into the plant, otherwise you will have to cut and remove.
Raspberries, blueberries, thornless blackberries, gooseberries and loads more have had a revival in home gardens. Potted or planted, with new varieties offering extended fruiting seasons, we are all finding spots to grow and harvest their tasty and healthy fruit.
As those that grow berries know, they (especially raspberries and blackberries) can get a little rampant. Autumn is the best time to prune most berry plants to keep them productive and manageable. Just remember to wear gloves!
With summer-fruiting raspberries and blackberries, fruiting has finished and the plants are a tangle. To maintain productive plants, remove the old fruiting canes (called floricanes). Next year’s fruit will come from laterals produced off vigorous one-year canes (called primocanes) grown over last spring and this summer. Prune these older canes to the ground, allowing the plant’s energy to be redirected into the fresh healthy growth. You can shorten the remaining canes a little or weave them together. Leave about 8-10 canes per metre for space to grow, to allow more sunlight in and make picking much easier. Tidy up any ratty growth too.
Fruit on autumn-fruiting raspberries is produced on the ends of the canes grown from last spring, so pruning these is simple; cut the lot to the ground.
Australian native plants
While many Australian native plants are spring-flowering and the best time to cut back is after flowering, an autumn tip prune will help shape up any unruly plants. Cut kangaroo paws that have finished flowering down to just above ground level.
Cut back and tidy any perennial plants such as daisies and lavender. Avoid cutting back into the hard unproductive wood. Leave old flowers of Echinacea and Rudbeckia; their seeds will feed and attract birds into the yard. Ratty geraniums also need a tidy.
After a bumper autumn harvest your vegetable garden certainly needs some attention. While there are still great performers, as autumn drags on your once robust tomato plants and super spreading zucchinis will be looking a little worse for wear. Pick off the last remaining fruit (don’t let that go to waste), roll up your sleeves and get working.
Pull out any non-performers and chop them up. This light-weight material will compost beautifully, especially if you can shred it or spread it out and run the mower over – very effective.
While trimming hedges seems a year-round job, some plants really appreciate an autumn shaping. Give your Buxus (English, Japanese and Korean box), Westringia (coastal rosemary), Photinia and Murraya a shear.
Some people like pruning their hydrangeas late autumn, some prefer winter – your choice. Hydrangea macrophylla is the most widely grown and includes lacecap and mophead types. Pruning is simple – follow the stem below the old flower and pick out the biggest pair of fat buds. Cut just above these and remove the old bloom. Avoid cutting too low, as the buds on the stem will be immature and likely to produce plenty of growth but few flowers later in the year. It is always best to prune; left unpruned your hydrangea will have less flowers and a shorter flowering period.
About the Author – Kim Syrus
Kim is the Executive Producer and Presenter on South Australia’s very own garden show In the Garden and has presented on Channel 9’s The Garden Gurus and The Gurus Explore.
A qualified horticulturist, Kim is one of the country’s most respected rose experts and Master Agent for the world-famous rose breeder Meilland International.