THE stormy season has begun with the arrival of Storm Aiden last week, and now is a good time to consider what can be done in the garden to ensure the minimum amount of damage occurs over the coming months.
Securing garden furniture and storing it away for the next few months is one of the obvious ones.
Any taller temporary garden features such as obelisks or willow or hazel structures may need to be brought indoors for winter, as the plants they supported like sweet pea and runner beans die back with the colder weather.
It is a good idea to wind prune roses now, taking off the taller straggly growth so that less wind rock of the plants is likely ˝1 a final prune can be done later in the winter/early spring.
Brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli will be grateful of some staking and some earthing up around the roots now, before they become top heavy and prone to falling over with the weight of the crop.
It is also a good time to check younger trees in the garden as stakes or ties may need to be removed, adjusted or replaced before the winter months.
Young trees may need the support of a stake for a few years before becoming independent, and ties need to be checked regularly to ensure that they are not becoming too tight around the expanding main trunk of the young tree, as this can be fatal to the life span of the tree.
Any tears on polytunnel plastic need to be repaired now and likewise if any panes of glass need replacing on glasshouses. Closing doors and vents at night-time and on stormy days will also help to keep wind damage to a minimum.
There is still quite a lot of autumn colour remaining and getting out and about to admire the trees is a great occupation at this time of the year.
It is always worth making a note of particular trees of shrubs of interest that have striking autumn foliage. Japanese maples, or Acer palmatum, are one of the most reliable performers in the season and indeed many have brightly coloured stems to brighten the winter months and interesting early spring foliage also.
They could be grown in a large pot for a few years and then moved out into a space in the garden. They do require shelter as their most important factor for successful establishment, so if you live on an exposed site, getting a shelter belt in place will be the first step towards growing these beauties.
There are many different cultivars with weeping forms and more upright varieties available, many of them are ideal for smaller gardens, particularly the dwarf Japanese maples, which generally grow to about 1m-4m tall at maturity.
Some are so compact that they could be considered a shrub, like Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’, which grows to about 2m in height, with a similar spread, and produces hues of red, yellow and orange in autumn. It contributes a weeping mound shape to the garden.
Now is a good time to plant any type of tree as they go dormant. Planting during the winter months allows the roots to settle in and gives the plant a head start in springtime when growth begins once more.
Beech is producing some spectacular autumn colour now also, and can be seen as mature trees in parkland settings and as hedging in smaller spaces, where it’s dense branching network allows it to retain the dead leaves, creating an orange/brown screen for the winter months.
Beech leaves are one of the best to collect to create leaf mould, and all leaves will benefit from being chopped up by the lawnmower or shredder before creating a pile or putting them into bags to rot down.
Chopping them up first hastens the breakdown into a crumbly, friable substrate which can then be used in the garden sooner.
There is still time to collect materials from the garden for use in winter arrangements.
Hydrangea flower heads are beginning to dry naturally on the plant, keep an eye on them over the next few weeks and harvest some for inclusion in festive wreaths and arrangements.
They may dry a brown colour but they can be sprayed to enhance the colour as you please.
Some ornamental grasses and herbaceous seed heads make attractive additions to displays also, so keep an eye out when working in the garden as to what may make a useful addition to displays in the coming months.
Agapanthus, nigella, poppies, alliums and honesty seed heads all make attractive additions to arrangements. Enjoy collecting this autumn as you put the garden to bed!
Plant of the week
As many trees and shrubs begin to shed their leaves, the herbaceous layer starts to melt back down into the ground for the colder months of the year.
Some plants in the herbaceous layer have some terrific leaf colour also. Take the royal fern, or Osmunda regalis (pictured above) for example.
It is starting to turn warm shades of yellow as it prepares to hibernate for the winter.
A native fern to Ireland, it likes to have its roots moist and will tolerate full sun or shade.
It grows to about 2m in height during the summer months with light, fresh green foliage, and then once the days get shorter and temperatures drop, the leaves produce shades of yellow and rust before they die down into the ground for winter.
A large clump-forming fern, so plenty of room is needed for this plant to establish.
Olive Ryan's In The Garden column runs every Saturday in The Echo.