LEAF MULCH: If composting isn’t your thing spread autumn’s fallen leaves around your winter veges as a mulch.

AS winter draws near now is the time to think about preparing your garden for winter.

Below are a few hints to help you prepare for the colder months of the year.

  • Move potted tropical plants and other warmth loving plants to more protected spots – perhaps onto a verandah or porch.
  • Reduce watering potted plants – they require much less water when the weather is cooler. Take the chill off the tap water by mixing a small amount of hot water. It shouldn’t feel warm – just slightly tepid to the touch. Doing this means the water won’t shock the root system so much.
  • Winter is the wettest season in most climates, so don’t let that precious water go to waste. Install a tank now to store water for the future.
  • Prepare planting holes for new roses and fruit trees by digging compost and well-aged animal manure into the soil.
  • Use a garden fork to push vertical holes into heavy soils. Dig in lime or gypsum (keeping well clear of acid lovers such as azalias and camellias). Create surface drains to carry away excess moisture.
  • Reduce the thickness of mulch layers so that the sun’s warmth can penetrate through to the soil.
  • Construct frames around the plants that are likely to be damaged by the cold or frost – three to four stakes will do the job – it takes only an instant to cover with a protective cloth or plastic cover on cold evenings, but don’t forget to remove the cover again in the morning. The idea is to keep the frost off the plant so even an old sheet will do the job.
    Fortunately in the Eastern Bay winter doesn’t have to be lacking colour. There are plenty of varieties of colourful plants suitable for planting now. Polyanthus for example are some of the prettiest winter-flowering plants.
COLD BUSTERS: Use stakes and covers in preparation to protect frost tender plants now before winter sets in.

English daisy also grows readily and its semi-wild form can sometimes be a bit of a weed in cool climate lawns so best to keep this one under control. Lobelia is the bluest of blues and tiny lobelia seeds can still be sown – keep them in a sheltered spot – for spring. And don’t forget the Forget-me-nots – once you have these in your garden they will never leave you.

Best sown in positions that don’t get too hot – light shade is ideal.

Feed shrubs and fruit trees with high potash fertiliser to build up their strength before winter sets in.

Make the most of autumn leaves

THERE’S an abundance of fallen leaves at this time of year so let’s not let them go to waste.

Gather up the fallen leaves and heap them in piles and spread them on the garden for an instant mulch layer or, best of all, mix them into your compost heap.

To successfully compost, leaves will need moisture, regular turning to aerate the process and the addition of some organic fertiliser such as blood and bone. This will eventually produce a crumbly mixture of rich material that can be used to improve any soil type.

The sweetest smelling compost is made of a good mixture of different components.

The first group is called “greens” and is high in nitrogen and includes grass clippings, weeds (remove any seed heads first), manure and vegetable scraps.

The other group is the “browns”, which is high in carbon. Included in this group you will find sawdust, shredded newspaper, fallen leaves – especially the leaves from deciduous trees – and straw. But don’t stop there, it is amazing what else can go into the compost.

As well as the the materials already mentioned, you can add wood ash, chopped up prunings, coffee grounds, tea leaves and eggshells.

Avoid putting meat scraps in to the compost heap – it will attract unwanted vermin. Other stuff to avoid in compost heaps is plastic or synthetic materials; weeds that carry seed heads or weed pieces that may survive the compost such as wandering Jew, which will shoot from any sized piece and soon take over your garden; diseased plants; and plants that have been treated with herbicide or a pesticide.

Large pieces of material take longer to break down so larger prunings from the garden should be reduced to compostable sizes.

The composting process works best if it’s not too hot and not too cold. This may mean building a compost heap in a sunny spot in winter and having one in a shadier spot in summer.

Like youghurt compost needs to have some natural microbes added to get the process started. A small amount of old compost will do or even a handful of garden soil. Oxygen is not strictly necessary but does make the whole process a lot more pleasant.

Aerating the heap by forking, stirring, turning or tumbling will add sufficient oxygen to the mix.

A small amount of moisture will aid the breakdown process with the idea being to have enough moisture to encourage the breakdown microbes but not so much that oxygen is excluded.

Your garden will love your home-made compost. Use as a mulch, as a soil improver and to mix into planting holes in the soil.