Preparing Flower Beds for Autumn Planting

With the change of the season it is time to start with autumn planting in anticipation of all the winter and spring colour.  With most of the summer annuals finishing off and going to seed, an autumn planting is a must to get a head start on your winter and spring gardening.

It does feel like sacrilege having to take out your plants that are big and in bloom.  However, waiting too long will leave you with a very short season for your winter plants.  Before we start on our beds, I feel it is important to understand the difference between Annual and Perennial plants.

What’s the Difference Between Annuals and Perennials?

  • Annuals are plants that go through their entire life cycle from seed to bloom to seed in one growing season e.g. Poppies in winter and Marigolds in summer.
  • The whole plant, roots and stem die off completely.
  • The seed that was grown helps to bridge the gap to the next generation.
  • Perennials are plants that persist for many growing seasons, with some going into dormancy during winter and losing all their top growth, whilst others stay evergreen.
  • Biennials are plants that take two growing seasons to complete the life cycle.
  • Some annuals can behave like a perennial in ideal conditions such as Vinca’s in Kwa-Zulu Natal, whereas on the Highveld the cold will kill them off every year.
Preparing flower beds for autumn plants - Primrose

Nutritional Requirements for Autumn Planting

Now that we have the technical part out of the way, let’s get our flower beds ready for autumn planting.  Have a look at what our plants will need to grow to their full potential:

  • A nice loamy soil with loads of rich organic material.
  • Ensure that there is enough drainage, especially in clay soils – just add river sand.
  • Plenty of nutrients in the soil which will become available as the plants grow and that can be replenished regularly.  I recommend using seedling food when or before planting. Mix this with bone meal (or superphosphate if you have dogs) and feed afterwards with 3:1:5 or a liquid fertiliser such as Seagro.
  • Add a layer of mulch that will keep their roots warm during the cold and aid in saving water.

Bed Preparation for Autumn Planting

The avid gardener whose beds are always in good shape can skip to step 4.  For the rest of us let’s start at the beginning:

  1. If your soil is all hard and crusty you will have to dig in some fresh compost again – preferably homemade.
  2. Put down a thick layer of compost and sprinkle some organic seedling food on top of the soil and fork it in.  The amount you will need depends on your quality of the soil.  For seedlings, you don’t have to go that deep, 15cm would be more than enough.
  3. Rake and level the soil, then proceed to give the area a quick watering to help the soil settle. After roughly ten days you will be able to plant.
  4. Take your seedlings out of their tray and space them before planting to get the perfect spread.
  5. Plant them up to the same level as they were in the seedling tray.
  6. What to plant now for winter colour? Going into the cooler months it is the perfect time to visit Heckers for pansies, primulas,  poppies, and a variety of colourful winter seedlings.
  7. Give your newly planted seedlings a good watering to help them get established, watering more regularly in the beginning until their roots are stronger.
  8. Add mulch afterwards which will act like a blanket keeping your plants warm whilst conserving water.


Now your garden will be guaranteed loads of colour throughout winter and into spring.  What are you waiting for? Time to get dirty and get gardening!