Autumn has arrived in Hilton! Thundershowers, scorchers and some cloudy days may still interrupt until nearer the end of March when we anticipate the balmy days of my favourite season, 'The midsection of autumn'. A time when one comfortably warm, sunny day merges into the next.
In general this is a great time prepare beds for autumn planting. Prune Tibouchinas which enjoy this every four or five years, Bottlebrushes need reshaping and Bouganvilleas need any new shoots cut as they appear. If you have a prolific Bouganvillea 'Natalia' you can cut the mature flower spikes and hang them to dry, they are fun to arrange later when the winter gardens has less to offer.
You can divide overcrowded agapanthus and strelitzias. Cut back faded perennials. Pull out the old flowering stem of newly planted clumps and fill the gaps with compost. Maintain a regular feeding and watering programme for vegetables. Late bearing fruit trees would like a good feed once their last fruit is picked.
The chaos that is trying to keep up with your Hilton garden in summer is over. If you have no compost heap, now is the time to make one.
Compost will improve any soil type. Heavy soils are improved by separating heavy clay particles and lighter soils are prevented from draining too quickly and given structure. Compost helps retain moisture. It is made from organic material which breaks down into a rich source of food for plants. Dig compost lightly into the topsoil to rejuvenate beds or mix it with soil to be placed into planting holes.
Everyone is looking to ease the effects our lifestyle has on the environment and it's so exciting that the list of what can be added to the compost heap includes fallen leaves, prunings, lawn clippings and spent annuals should be collected, turned into compost and returned to the earth. Household refuse, such as peelings, tea leaves and eggshells are welcome additions to the compost heap.
To create your compost heap, choose a well-drained, partly shaded position close to a water source. Place the compost heap directly on the soil so that soil microbes can move up into the vegetable matter to begin the process. Start with a 20cm layer of rough, twiggy material (sticks and stems) to allow for air circulation. On top of this add a 20-30cm layer of finer garden waste material. Add water if the material is dry. A compost accelerator can be watered in to help speed up the composting process. Keep adding material and accelerator until the heap is 1.5m high (shoulder height). When complete cover with an old carpet, sacking or even sheets of corrugated iron to retain moisture but to keep out heavy rain. In 6 to 8 weeks the lower section will be ready to use, the heap can be turned over and more material added. Turn the heap on a regular basis. Move material from the outside, inside and from top to bottom. Compost is ready when it is dark brown, crumbly and sweet smelling. Keep the compost heap damp but not wet.
Compost bins can be used for smaller gardens. These are available in different sizes and the same principle applies for layering the material. A shredder efficiently cuts stems into small lengths which are easy to handle and deteriorate quicker. Encourage earthworms which assist with compost making. Wonderful Wormeries are fantastic for farming your own liquid fertiliser.