Autumn gardening: 12 jobs to do now that summer's over

Autumn gardening is all about maintenance and planning; find out which areas to concentrate on as a priority

autumn gardening: Apples, by Natalie Grainer
(Image credit: Unsplash/Natalie Grainer)

Autumn gardening is all about preparing your garden for winter – but it's also about enjoying the fruits of your summer labour. An exciting time in the garden, autumn is not all about falling leaves, but also about picking vegetables and fruits, pruning and tidying summer plants, and generally giving everything a bit of love and a tidy before the cold months set in. 

Follow these tips to keep your outdoor space looking good throughout the autumn and winter months. Then head to our dedicated garden ideas page to explore more gardening inspiration. 

1. Clear away furniture

If you’ve been entertaining guests in summer, now is the time to cover or store away garden furniture to prevent damage caused by weather. Bring any cooking equipment such as barbecues and utensils inside, and wrap chimineas with waterproof covers. 

Make sure you give the garden furniture a good clean and revive metal furniture before you store it away.

2. Clean patios and decking

Sweep and clean walkways, patios, decking and driveways regularly If your garden is open and surrounded by trees, sweeping regularly is a must. Falling leaves and wet weather conditions can cause dangerous slippery surface and if left can start to rot. 

Use a hard wearing outdoor brush to sweep away leaves and bag up for compost. A pressure washer  and patio cleaner can be used on decking or patios to remove any dirt build up, mildew or algae.

autumnal leaves

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

3. Look after outbuildings

Greenhouses, garden rooms and sheds can all be susceptible to the winter weather. Keep glass on greenhouses clean throughout winter to make cleaning up in spring easier, as dirt can build up over months and become difficult to remove. Treat any wooden outbuildings with a weather protection wood preserver to prevent colour fading or damage to the wood.

Clear out and organise the inside of sheds and greenhouses ready for winter storage, which will also make it easier for you to find everything when your start gardening in earnest again in spring.

Garden chair in autumn garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

4. Cut back hedges and foliage

As part of your autumn gardening routine, use a good pair of secateurs or hedge trimmers to trim thick stems right back and remove any dead branches and leaves. This will make maintenance in spring easier, prevent overgrowing and overcrowding, and reduce dropping leaves.

Autumn is also a great time to prune fruiting cane shrubs, especially currants and raspberries, once they've finished producing; young trees that haven't yet established a good shape, and border perennials such as peonies and delphiniums. 

5. Take care of the lawn

In a dry winter, grass will still need plenty of water. If you spot brown patches on your lawn, ensure it is watered regularly. 

Give your lawn a good cut before the cold and wet weather sets in and trim back the edges to make maintenance in spring easier. Keep weeds down by regularly checking for them, and clear away fallen leaves from the lawn too, to prevent rot.

See our pick of the best lawnmowers if yours needs replacing.

plant pot in an autumn garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

6. Protect pots and plants

Autumn gardening is all about preparing your plants for winter, making sure they're protected from water logging and frosts. Store any empty and planted up pots carefully over the winter months. Raise any planted containers off the ground to prevent them getting waterlogged, and insulate the pots with hay, cardboard or bubble wrap.

If you have any plants you know are susceptible to cold weather, get them in the greenhouse or in your conservatory. For those planted in the garden, protect them with fleece or hessian. The first frost of the year can arrive without any warning and kill your favourite foliage. 

Get more tips on container gardening in our guide.

7. Plant spring bulbs

To enjoy colourful daffodils, tulips and other spring blooms appearing in your garden next spring, remember to plant the bulbs from September to November.

8. Don't forget wildlife

Don’t forget about any wildlife that visits your garden. Make sure you leave out seeds, nuts and water for the birds - this can be life-saving during the winter when food is scarce and the cold can take its toll. 

Create bug homes, and leave out suitable leftovers for other wildlife you want to encourage to share your outdoor space. Shelter is essential for a hedgehog’s survival during the winter, and you can make a hedgehog home from woodpiles - choose a quiet spot that is unlikely to be disturbed from November to March. 

Find out more about creating your own wildlife garden.

autumnal tree colour

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

9. Mulch your borders

As temperatures drop and the weather gets wetter, your plants become more vulnerable to waterlogging, root rot, and, if they're sufficiently weakened, pest larvae. Mulch around the roots of your plants with wood chip, leaves, or pine needles. 

10. What to do with autumn leaves

Autumn leaves are beautiful, but gardens with mature trees will get a lot of them on the ground. Fortunately, leaves can be very useful, and you don't have to chuck them out with your garden waste. Instead, consider the following:

Autumn leaves, by Jeffrey Hamilton

(Image credit: Unsplash/Jeffrey Hamilton)
  • Add leaves to your compost heap: they make for an excellent brown matter addition to your compost
  • Make leaf mould: this will take a good while (usually a couple of years), but allowing your leaves completely break down into leaf mould produces a valuable substance for aerating the soil in your garden. When the leaf mould is ready, simply add it to your top soil to open is up and improve drainage and nutrient absoroption.
  • Mulch leaves into your lawn: you'll need a mulching attachment or a lawn mower that can operate without a grass collection box: the finely chopped up leaves will just gradually be reabsorbed into the earth. It's good for you lawn, too. 

11. Autumn gardening: 5 crops to harvest in September

Autumn is harvest time in the garden, so, whether you have a full-on vegetable garden, or a few bushes and fruit trees, now is the time to pick them. September is an exciting time for harvesting, because it's right between summer and autumn. So, you will be able to pick both potatoes and late-season berries: there's so much to enjoy (and cook and eat). 

Find out everything about vegetable gardening for beginners in our guide.

Potatoes, by Jan Antonin

(Image credit: Unsplash/Jan Antonin)

September is the time to harvest main crop potatoes. Once the leaves have begun to turn yellow, chop them off, then wait for about a week before digging up your potatoes. Before you store them for the winter, use the dry September days as an opportunity to cure them – that is, dry them off for about a week. Pick a dark, sheltered spot and lay them out on old newspaper or canvas. After that, they're ready to go in your cellar or pantry. 

When to plant potatoes: including tips on how and where to plant them

Apples, by Natalie Grainer

(Image credit: Unsplash/Natalie Grainer)

September is also prime time for apple picking – and it couldn't be easier. All you need to do to figure out whether an apple is ready to pick is to hold it in the palm of your hand and give the stalk a bit of a twist. If it's not coming off easily, give it a week longer. 

Raspberries, by Delia Giandeini

(Image credit: Unsplash/Delia Giandeini)

It's not too late for raspberries in September, with many late-season cultivars fruiting all the way up to the first frosts. Of course, good weather is crucial here, but with the lovely, mellow September weather we're having, you're likely to still see some berries. Ripe raspberries should be a deep colour rather than a bright red. Raspberries can be frozen, although they're their best eaten right after picking. 

strings of homegrown onions

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

It's not too late for onions, either: depending on which month you planted them, onions can be harvested from summer all through autumn until the first frosts. A good sign that your onions are ready for pulling (or lifting with a garden fork) is when the leaves begin to flop and turn yellow – this means the onion is no longer growing. Dry September weather is perfect for curing them outside for a couple of days after picking, but if it's wet, then lay them out inside for a couple of days before storing.

How to grow onions: from seed and even from another onion 

Figs, by Heather Barnes

(Image credit: Unsplash/Heather Barns)

Figs can be a hit-and-miss crop in the UK, but with the warm summer we've had, many fig trees will have produced fruit, and September is prime time for picking your figs. Ripe figs are a deep purple in colours and soft to the touch: leave any that aren't quite there for another couple of weeks. 

12. Autumn lawn care tips

Autumn lawn care is all about keeping your lawn looking great as the leaves turn and the weather cools. Hot summer months will have done damage to the grass, as will winter frosts, so properly caring for lawn during the autumn months is essential for helping it repair itself and preparing it for the winter. 

A high-quality lawn mower is still very important, but there are several other important tips to follow if you want healthy grass that will regrow well next spring. Check them out below.

1. Scarify

Scarification is essentially raking your lawn in order to prevent the forming of thatch – which is when the dying grass basically turns into straw. Letting your lawn go to thatch can encourage moss growth and disease, and may make the grass more vulnerable during hot spells the following year, because its roots won't be deep enough. 

2. Aerate

Scarifying can be tough on your lawn, so aerating it afterwards will help to replenish water, air and nutrients. Aeration helps prevent the compacting of the soil, allowing water and nutrients to penetrate properly, which is essential for strong roots. You can aerate the lawn with a garden fork: simply poke through the surface throughout the lawn. 

3. Reseed

Early autumn is the perfect time for reseeding, because you'll be able to see any bald patches that need evening out. After sowing the seeds, sprinkle the lawn with a mixture of soil and sand. Be careful not to bury the existing grass under the mixture: the grass should still be poking through. 

Learn more about how to seed a lawn in our guide.

4. Feed

Next, top up the nutrients. Feed the lawn with an autumn/winter-specific fertiliser, as it will be lower in Nitrogen but higher in Phosphate and Potash than a summer fertiliser. Phosphate and Potash promote root development, helping the turf to go into winter with a head start.

5. Mow

Raising the height of the cut to 30-40mm is essential in autumn, as it will help the grass be more resilient during any warm spells or an Indian Summer. Cutting the grass too short at this time will also encourage moss growth. 

More on how to mow a lawn in our guide. 

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Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.