The first month of autumn has arrived. Its time to make the most of whatever warm weather remains, and prepare the garden for the months ahead. Ensure that the garden is full of colour for another month or so by filling any gaps with chrysanthemums and other autumn flowering perennials.
The holidays are over and children are back to school. September is the traditional time to start clearing up the garden and allotment. Very quickly a large pile of trimmings and old vegetation piles up. The pile will grow as the autumn leaf fall sets in so now’s the ideal time to build a new compost heap. Home composting is the most environmentally-friendly way of dealing with garden waste, plus it produces compost that can be used as an excellent soil improver and mulch.
You can position your compost bin in sun or shade, but the key is to have an open bottom that has contact with soil. An earth base allows drainage and access to soil organisms as it’s the soil organisms (bacteria and fungi) that convert the waste to compost. It is important that the site is not subjected to extremes of temperature and moisture, as the micro-organisms work best in constant conditions. Bins that retain some warmth and moisture and make better compost more quickly, but even an open heap will compost eventually.
Getting the balance of materials right is key to producing compost quickly. Aim for 25-40% green waste (e.g. grass clippings, annual weeds, vegetable kitchen waste) and the remainder should be woody brown material (e.g. prunings, wood chippings, paper, cardboard, straw or dead leaves). Avoid letting any one material dominate the heap - especially grass clippings, as these can become a slimy, smelly mess on their own.
Failure to turn the heap is one of the main causes of poor results. Turning introduces air and reduces compaction. Many gardeners are unable to fill the heap in one go, as they accumulate waste gradually. Because of this, home-made compost is seldom perfect, but it is still effective.
Wet, slimy or strong-smelling compost is the result of too little air and too much water. Cover the heap to protect against rain and add more brown waste. Dry, fibrous with little rotting is caused by too little moisture and too much brown material, either add more green waste or try a compost activator such as ‘garotta’. Flies can be kept in check by ensuring the compost is turned, and kept dry.
Garden compost can take between six months and two years to reach maturity. Mature compost will be dark brown, with a crumbly soil-like texture and a smell resembling damp woodland. It is unlikely that all the material in the heap will be like this, but any remaining un-rotted material can be added to the next batch of composting materials.
Top Tips for September: • Plant spring flowering bulbs such as Daffodils, Snowdrops & Crocus. • Prepare the lawn for winter by using an autumn lawn treatment. Apply a top dressing of top soil, and gently rake lawn seed into any bare patches. • Plant winter flowering pansies & violas in tubs & baskets. • Continue to feed containers and baskets with a high potash fertiliser to prolong flowering.
Whatever September brings, I hope you are able to enjoy some time outside in your garden.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800 www.p-rgardensupplies.co.uk