October is traditionally a month known for its crisp mornings and misty nights, giving us the last chance to get stuck into tidying up and organising the garden before the nights draw in and daylight is at a premium. This month so far, the weather has left a lot to be desired, with mizzle and get skies abound, but as gardeners we know its better to be out in the thick of it doing what we love, then inside looking forlornly at a list of jobs to be done through a rain stained window. Here’s some of the tasks that can be completed this month if you should choose to brave the downpours ( it’ll be worth it)…
Maintain & Protect…
As always, as cold weather approaches there is always a rush to make sure plants are protected from frosts.
You can raise planters off the ground now, or place on feet to prevent them from cracking and shattering once Jack Frost hits, and be sure to cover half hardy plants with fleece if you can see the mercury is set to drop. Move plants such as perlargoniums figs and chillies inside or to a heated greenhouse if possible to ensure they survive the winter unscathed. You can hang any green tomatoes and pepper plants upside down indoors, to help them ripen, also bring citrus plants indoors now.
A great way to warm the soil, and stop the encroachment of weeds and soil erosion during the cooler months is by applying a generous layer of mulch. This can be anything from wood chips, to grass clippings and spent mushroom compost to leaf mould or spent compost from annual displays. Any of these will cover the bare soil meaning protection from the elements, and a healthier soil system ( plus happier worms).
Netting can now be removed from fruit cages, and any diseased fruit removed and added to the bonfire pile.
Lift dahlia and begonia tubers, gladioli corms and cannas for storage now. You can store them in the shed in a box covered in sawdust to keep them warm and dry.
Keep sweeping and clearing leaves, and adding them to a dedicated leaf bin if you can. They will take a couple of years to break down into leaf mould, but the result is a valuable nutritious element to add to home made potting mixes or mulch for borders. Remember that any diseased leaves will need to be added to the burn pile for risk of infecting new growth next year.
Continue to clear overhanging branches, stalks and matter from pathways and borders. You can either add this to the bonfire, or do as they do in Central Europe and create a Hugelmound, which is where all unwanted (undiseased) plant matter is piled up in a long pile, covered with sods of turf and then earth placed on top. The mound is left over the winter to break down, and then in Spring, is ready to be planted into, providing a rich nitrogen source for plants to draw from.
Its always a good idea to check there aren’t any creatures that have made the bonfire pile their home, as they often do, so please check before you light it.
Prune & Cut Back …
Continue to cut back climbing roses that have finished flowering and tying in to prevent damage from Autumn winds. Cut back perennials that have finished flowering and save the seed of those you wish to increase your stock of, or perhaps leave half or more to attract wildlife. The seed heads of the curry plant, lavender and rose hips are incredibly popular with birds, who are looking for all the nutrition they can gather before winter sets in. You can also cut seed heads for drying and use them to make a wonderful seasonal display in your home. Why not collect up a variety of seeds for a ‘wildlife platter’ , place on an outdoor table and see who comes to visit?
Evergreen hedges can now be given a final trim before Winter, and lavateras and Budleja davidii can be given an early pruning by cutting down to almost half their height to neaten them up and prevent wind rock.
In the vegetable garden, continue to prune back summer fruiting raspberries and cut back yellowing asparagus foliage to 5cm from the ground.
Increase your stock…
Do you have. a particular favourite herbaceous perennial that you would love more of? Try lifting and dividing, to allow it to colonise another area of the border. Now is the perfect time to do so, as the wet weather will allow the root system to flourish and become established before the growing season next year. If you’ve grown any biennials or perennials from seed this year, plant them out now, so again the root system can become well developed. Watching them take root in the garden is such a satisfying process, and what’s better- it’s completely free.
Tulips, narcissi, alliums and crocus can all be planted now, and be sure to select an organic bulb to prevent unnecessary exposure to neonics from bees and other pollinators. The RHS and Waitrose Garden have a great selection in stock now. Why not layer a container with an array of bulbs in coordinated colour schemes for a real wow factor early next year?
You can plant bare root ornamental and fruit trees now, and we really recommend doing so in this rainy weather, so they can get a good start before the main growing season begins next year- leading to healthy trees. Bare root trees are often a lot cheaper then their counterparts, and come with less plastic packaging, which is always a bonus. Be sure to plant any of your favourite clematis and climber varieties now too.
You can also plant blueberry bushes and evergreen and semi evergreen bushes this month, and in the vegetable garden, it’s the optimum period to divide rhubarb ( we can never turn down the idea of more rhubarb to infuse gin…). Theres a great guide to doing just that ,here.
We heartily recommend taking hardwood cuttings of deciduous shrubs, and a guide to it can be found here. Taking cuttings from your garden or surrounding area ( with landowners permission) is a great way to reduce ‘plant miles’ – meaning the distance the plant has had to travel to get to you, let alone huge amounts of plastic. Why not give it a go?
Sow & Harvest…
In the greenhouse you can start sowing: crepis, hollyhocks, sweet peas, aquilegia,oriental poppies and hellebores. Winter salad leaves such as ‘Winter Gem’, Mizuna, winter-hardy pea ‘Meteor’ and corn salad.
Direct sow green manures such as ‘Wizard Field Bean’ and clover for a covering of nitrogen rich plant matter to help stop erosion and soil degradation over winter.
Start garlic now, as well as autumn onion sets for early onions next year.
Harvest Winter squash, and store in a dry, cool place to avoid rot and prolong storage life. Shelf beans can be harvested now if dried, or if not, remove the pod now and extract the beans , leaving them in a dry place to harden on their own. This can take around a week, and is best to do this now to avoid damp spoiling them. Apples can be stored in newspaper wrapped individually and stored in a cool dry area, with good ventilation. Harvest potatoes, and store in a well ventilated area, but in the dark. The last of the tomatoes can be hung upside down inside to assist ripening, or made into green tomato chutney. Kale can be cut now before it becomes tough, and stored in the freezer. Herbs can also be cut now and dried, for example sage or rosemary, or tender herbs can be frozen whole or pureed and popped into ice cube trays in the freezer for nutritious additions to soups and sauces in the winter.