GARDENING: Time is ripe for tidying before winter

September 17th, 2023 1:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Semi-dried tomatoes are a delicious treat. (Photo: Ben Russell)

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THE garden is changing fast as beds clear, leaves fall, and the season moves forward. Grass growth has finally slowed enough to allow a longer gap between cuts and weed growth has also slowed down. This is tidying time. Not exactly putting to bed for the winter time, but that is soon approaching. Think about cutting back browning tops in the borders, unless they have their own architectural beauty and you want to leave them standing. Check supports for tall plants that need them and keep harvesting as crops come ready. 

Lovely ripe pumpkins

Many things ripened early this year and pumpkins are no exception. I have often lifted the fruits in October after a first light frost, but some varieties need to be brought inside much sooner than that. Small orange varieties are ripe when they have reached full colour (orange rather than yellow or green) and the stem browns a little. The stem may even soften a bit and you should definitely harvest at that point. Leave a bit of stem attached and store the pumpkins in a cool frost-free place. 

Pumpkins and winter squash can store for months. Some ripening will continue in storage and colour can continue to develop. (Photo: Ben Russell)


Not all pumpkins are orange so check the seed packet picture if you can’t remember which variety you have grown. Some varieties remain green and these are hard to spot in a leafy pumpkin patch. As the foliage dies back, you can see the pumpkins more easily.

Pumpkins and winter squash can store for months. Some ripening will continue in storage and colour can continue to develop. Some varieties keep longer than others, so again check the package and use the short-keepers first. Small orange varieties are often the best flavour, but it’s worth growing some big ones for Halloween carving.


This lovely plant graces our hedgerows in its wild form. Many people grow more exotic varieties in their gardens. Plants do well in sheltered borders and many are grown in containers. They can flower for months with little care, but they do benefit from some autumn attention. 

Remove dead flowering heads to keep plants blooming for longer. They can flower into October in a mild autumn. Stop feeding plants if you have done so up to this point. You can give them a nutritious dressing in spring. Make sure roots aren’t waterlogged – it’s a good idea to move containers to a sheltered position. Don’t prune back the tops until spring and provide protection from hard frosts in a cold winter. Some varieties are more hardy than others but a bit of protection never harms.

If a container grown plant hasn’t done well this year, then tip it out of the pot and look for vine weevil grubs among the roots. These may not kill the plant but it will never thrive while they are present. Remove any grubs and compost that you can and repot into a clean growing medium.

Fuchsia will flower for a few more weeks. (Photo: Ben Russell).


Dried tomatoes

It has been a bumper year for tomatoes in my garden and I have a freezer full of frozen fruits and sauces. I have plenty of chutney made too so the next thing on my list is to get some fruits drying. This isn’t the best part of the world to dry tomatoes in the heat of the sun, so instead we can use a variety of low heat devices. 

If you like to dry lots of fruits like apples, pears, grapes and cherries, as well as tomatoes, then it is probably worth investing in a dehydrator. There are plenty of online options for sale (check out for a local supplier). You can also use a warming oven or any oven that can be set at a very low temperature. The aim is to draw moisture from the fruit and not to cook it.

I have a home-made drying cabinet which is basically a wooden box with some holes in the sides to allow air to circulate. The heat source is an old fashioned incandescent light bulb which gives out some heat – light bulbs used in terrariums are a similar option.

Cherry tomatoes dry faster than large thick fleshed ones. Cut them in half and sprinkle with a little salt before spreading on racks to dry. Semi-dried tomatoes store well in olive oil with some garlic, herbs and peppercorns added to it.

Sowing and growing

The sowing season is much longer in a polytunnel or greenhouse. You can still sow lettuce and salad leaves, winter turnips, spinach and spring cabbage.

Order your autumn planting onion sets and garlic. These don’t go into the ground until early October – if we get a mild autumn they can make too much soft growth before winter.

If you made sowings in August, plants should be ready to go into the ground. They need to get some serious growing done before soil temperatures drop and light levels fall.

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