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Gardening Jobs for October


By Bryony



October can be similar to April in the garden; very much a month of two halves. More and more frequently it is not unusual to have warm, sunny October days then by the time Halloween comes around the vibrancy of late summer colour gives way to the warm, rich tones of autumn. This month is very much a transitional month for the garden - a lot needs to be cleared away and maintenance jobs are at the top of the to do list, all the while planning and preparing for next spring. Even though October looks like a month of withdrawal for the garden it is also very much a period of hope and commitment for seasons pending.


Bulb Planting

The most rewarding job in the garden for October is undoubtedly bulb planting. Most spring bulbs can be planted this month, however, wait until the end of the month for tulips. There is little excuse for not having spring bulbs in any size of outside space as there is something for every situation. Swathes of naturalised daffodils in lawns, or an orchestra of spring planting from tulips, narcissus, crocus and muscari through the borders, look incredible. You could even plant a ‘bulb lasagnes in pots or window boxes and a lack of outside space need not be a barrier when many varieties can be grown hydroponically (in water) hyacinths and some tulips are perfect for this.


Protect Tender Plants

At some point this month the decision will have to be made to protect tender plants such as cannas, citrus or bananas by either moving them inside, into a greenhouse or wrapping them in horticultural fleece for the winter. It is recommended to lift dahlia tubers for winter storage when the flowers have finished. Changes in climate means this may not always be needed, especially if you live in urban or southern areas. If you choose to leave them in situ then mulch heavily to offer some protection and understand that this is an experimental rather than guaranteed means of protection.

October is also the perfect time to transplant any biennials which you may have sown or have self-seeded into the position you want them for next year. Digitalis, forget-me-nots and wallflowers will all benefit from planting into the borders or cut flower beds now.


Garden Maintenance

The lawn will still be needing attention in October - keep mowing until it stops growing and aerate the lawn this month to help it look at its best for next year. You can buy specialist aerators although working the prongs of a fork as deep as possible into the lawn at regular intervals over the surface will do the job just as well. It is also a good idea to rake the lawn of thatch and moss to keep it healthy. The residual grass, thatch and moss are all welcome ingredients to the compost heap.

As the colder winter weather approaches there will be leaves falling to the ground during the month of October. Leaves on the flower beds and borders are not a problem except for maybe encouraging slugs and snails and, perhaps, looking a bit untidy. However, they should be removed from the lawn if at all possible. Gather them up and make leaf mould which is tantamount to gold for the gardener! They will decompose more quickly if they are chopped up so a quick way to make leaf mould is to rake all of the leaves on to the lawn and mow over them, collecting and decanting into an empty compost bin or bin bag. By next October you will have a wonderfully rich leaf mould to add to the garden.

Now is also the time to cut back perennial plants that have finished flowering and remove finished annuals - before you discard them save the seeds from the heads of your favourites and store in paper envelopes to sow again. Remember to label them to avoid any confusion for next year.

Roses will benefit from a bit of care this month as we head into winter. Reduce the height on shrub roses and standard roses, especially young plants in order to reduce wind rock damage. Prune climbing and rambling roses, so no stems are crossing each other and old or damaged stems are removed cut these back to a new leaf bud. Tie them in well to their support to protect them from wind damage.

For the larger plants now is a good time to plant in any shrubs, hedging or trees as the ground is still warm and full of moisture so it allows the roots to get to work over the winter, before top growth in the spring and summer. Similarly, it is also a good time to transplant trees and larger plants that need to be moved. October is also the ideal time to give hedges a light trim, in particular deciduous hedges such as beech, as it will keep them looking smart without their leaves.


Flowering Plants

October is not just a time of clearing and preparation. There are still flowering plants to bring interest to the garden - violets and pansies provide a welcome splash of colour when everything else is fading back. A pot by the door with cyclamen, ornamental brassicas and a small grass such as carex will give a wonderful welcome by way of colour and texture. In addition, chrysanthemums continue to ‘wow’ in borders or pots through autumn and winter if sheltered enough.

By the end of October parts of the garden begin to retire for the winter. With this sense of ‘closing down’ it is always beneficial to have some vibrant winter performers such as Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’, Trachelospermum ‘Star of Tuscana’ or Sarcococca ‘Purple Gem’ to enliven your senses and lift your spirits.

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