After weeks of battling against the dry summer heat, gardeners everywhere are surely breathing a sigh of relief as the cooler autumn weather approaches. Here and there there’s a hint of frost on the grass, the leaves are turning burnt orange and gold, and there’s a definate chill in the air. It’s a time of beginnings as well as endings.
Start the ‘tidy-up’…
Some gardeners like to leave seed-heads and faded grasses standing throughout the winter. This serves two purposes – providing food and shelter for wildlife and also giving the garden beautiful silhouettes and structure throughout the winter. However, many of us also like to cut back and clear away the summer debris.
If you’re in the second ‘camp’ then October is a good time to cut back herbaceous perennials, divide overgrown clumps and start to plan how you might want your border to look for next year. You can also plant new perennials now, while the soil is still warm and workable.
Although it’s back-breaking work, keep raking fallen leaves to make leaf mould and to keep the lawn clear. Removing fallen leaves and plant material also makes it easier to spot weeds that have become established.
October is a good time to give your lawn some well-needed attention, especially after the stresses of this year’s drought. You can treat the lawn with multi-pupose lawn weed and moss killer. Once this has been left to work, rake out the dead thatch and aerate the lawn by pricking it with your fork tines. If areas of lawn are prone to waterlogging then you may want to brush sand into the fork holes to improve drainage. You can also top-dress the lawn with topsoil to level it or fill in holes or worn patches. Once that’s all done you can sow grass seed before it gets too cold, making sure to keep it well watered.
Remove any old canes or plant supports once plants have died down. However don’t forget that as winter storms move in, you’ll want to check that elsewhere plants and trees, fences and buildings/ sheds are repaired and sturdy to avoid damage.
Flowers for next year…
It’s one of the great pleasures of gardening that just as everything else is heading into dormancy and people might start to bemoan the weather, gardeners are already imagining the delights of spring and daydreaming about swathes of colour!
From now on until the ground gets ‘iron-hard’ you can plant a whole range of spring bulbs from daffodils and tulips to narcissus and hyacinths. Tulips particularly need re-newing every year or two if you leave them in the ground, as they tend not to last too long in the soil.
Dahlias really suffered from a lack of water this summer, but it’s been a wonderful surprise to see many of them recover as if nothing had happened once the rain returned in August and the temperature dipped. These late summer/ autumn garden stalwarts are worth a bit of time and effort. In well drained, sunny positions with good drainage you can get away with leaving dahlias in the ground, but if you want to lift them, do so after the first frost and store them over-winter in cool, dry, dark conditions, ready to be planted out again next year.
Prunings and cuttings…
There’s somthing very pleasing about growing plants from your own cuttings and it’s relatively easy to do. October is a good time to take hard wood cuttings and also check on any soft wood cuttings taken earlier in the year to see if they need potting on. Hard wood cuttings can be taken from roses, buddleja, cornus and viburnum, to name a few.
You might find that many of your roses are still in bloom, in which case continue to dead-head as long as possible, but once the cold weather sets in, cut back any damaged or leggy growth to prevent wind-rock.
October is also really the last month to trim hedges and to cut the lawn.
As temperatures cool pond pants begin to die-back. Cut back any material that is beginning to rot in the pond. You can also net your pond to prevent leaves falling into it. Where netting isn’t possible sieve leaves out regularly to prevent them clouding the water. Remove tender aquatic plants to the greenhouse or other sheltered spot for the winter. Any plant material you remove leave on the side of the pond for 48 hours to allow pond life to return to the water. Make sure to service and clean pond equipment, too, so it’s ready for next year.
This year’s heat has meant winners and losers in the garden in terms of the harvest. Apples and pears have perhaps struggled with the lack of water, while grapes may already have been harvested as they ripened fast in the scorching temperatures. If you’ve not harvested grapes yet, try to do so soon to avoid them rotting.
Even though it seems like the days are still warm in the afternoons, watch out for morning frosts and move your citrus plants indoors now.
One of the highlights of October is the squash and pumpkin harvest. Make sure pumpkins don’t rot from underneath in any wet weather by placing them on a slab or stone off of the ground.
Autumn is the perfect time to plant trees and especially fruit trees, while the ground is warm and the plants are going into dormancy. There are some fantastic and tasty varieties out there, so shop around for the right cultivars to suit your needs.
Now the days are shortening we’re spending more time indoors so don’t forget to reduce the amount of water you give houseplants. Those that like high humidity will also benefit from being stood on a tray of damp gravel to compensate for the increased use of central heating.
And one last thing…
Get out and enjoy the garden now. The summer heat was pretty overwhelming for us gardeners at times, so it’s a great season to enjoy the light and the comfortable temperatures. You might want to take photos and compile notes of your garden. October is a great month to see the stucture of the garden as foliage dies off, but also to remember how plants looked in their prime. It can be a valuable tool for planning next year’s display and remembering what worked and what didn’t.