The Garden in October - Jobs and Tips
plants for October

Above - The autumn crocus, Colchicum autumnale or naked lady, above. The flowers emerge "naked" after the leaves have died down.

Right - Dahlias and other summer favourites often keep going until frost, wind and cold weather finally stop them.

Jobs / Tips

    Plant spring flowering bulbs for next year if you haven't yet done so. There's nothing quite like some luxurious bowls of large hyacinths that you've planted yourself flowering in in the depths of winter. buy: crocus, daffodils and narcissi, hyacinths, tulips

    Apply an Autumn fertiliser to lawns - this is different to a spring fertiliser, so make sure you don't get them mixed up. Spring fertilisers have high nitrogen to get the leaves growing strongly, something you don't want now. An autumn fertiliser has high phosphorous and potassium to build up a strong root system that help get the grass plants through the winter and arrive at next spring in good shape for the new growing season.

    The best time of year to make a new lawn or repair an existing one. Lay turf or scatter grass seed to repair damaged areas. Don't just throw the seed down and hope for the best. Get a rake and give the ground it a good stiff going over to break up the surface and get a layer of crumbly soil (this is hard work) scatter the grass seed and then rake again to bury most of the seed under the crumbly stuff you've just made. Water it well and don't walk on it for ages - until the first mowing in fact, which shouldn't be until the grass is about 2 inches tall.

    Last chance to trim deciduous hedges - If you haven't done this by the end of the month, it's best left until the spring when they're growing again.

     Place a net over your garden pond if you have one and if the are trees nearby, or at least check it on a regular basis and don't let fallen leaves sink to the bottom. They build up in surprising quantity, rob the pond of oxygen as they rot and introduce an abundance of nutrients that can encourage excessive algal growth next year.

     Take hardwood cuttings of deciduous shrubs. They won't be rooted until well into next year so put them somewhere that they will not be disturbed.

     Plant any shrubs, perennials, trees etc. that you had planned to. This is an excellent time for planting and the best time of year. It gives the plants a chance to get a decent root system before they become dormant, it also protects the roots from the worst of frost being below the ground rather than in a container. Come next spring, the plants are there from the earliest time to make growth directly into the surrounding soil.

   Continue to dead-head summer bedding plants. They are still producing new flowers, less than in the summer, but they last longer in the cooler temperatures, so they can still look as good as they did in high summer. Dead-head, not so much to keep them flowering, but to stop the faded flowers holding the damp and encouraging grey mould which will take over and kill them all the quicker. Frosts permitting, you should be able to get nearly another month from the summer bedding plants.

   Autumn is the time for a garden tidy-up. It's not just an aesthetic job, sweeping up leaves, cutting back dead flowers, and branches removes places that pests can over-winter and also gives fungal spores less places to hide and food to eat. Don't be too enthusiastic about cutting everything back, tall dried seed heads from plants such as grasses add distinctive elegance to the winter garden, particularly when picked out by the low-lying sun or highlighted by frost.

   Don't compost leaves or branches from diseased plants - these should be removed from the garden or burnt on a bonfire. Larger branches and sections of tree trunks can be stacked up in a quiet corner of the garden to form a slowly decaying log-pile which will provide a home and food for all manner of beneficial insects.

   Saving half hardy bedding plants. Many summer bedding plants are actually perennials and can easily be saved from one year to the next. I have the most success with Geraniums (Pelargoniums) and Fuchsias. Bring them under shelter before the frosts. Cut the stems down by about 2/3rds of their length (don't worry if this means you have virtually no leaf, they should grow again. Strip off dead or dying leaves and flower heads. Anything that can rot over the winter will rot and may spread to the living plant.

They need to be in a sheltered but cool place free of frost. An greenhouse is ideal as long as you can heat it gently during the coldest periods to stop it frosting inside, a small paraffin heater will do this effectively. Leave the plants in their summer containers and lift them off the ground on shelves or on bricks to just raise them above the coldest temperatures (heat rises, cold falls). Water sparingly, they are best kept dry as far as possible as long as the leaves don't wilt. The idea is to keep them dormant rather than actively growing.

Some summer bedding plants that can withstand some cold weather can look their biggest and best into October such as this Ageratum.

A crop of Habanero chillies, the last pickings of the summer.

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