October is a truly autumnal month; the clocks go back in the wee small hours of Sunday 30th and we lose nearly two hours of daylight over the month as both sunrise and sunset draw in. But don’t be tempted to hibernate just yet! During those precious daylight hours, there is still plenty to keep you pottering in the garden. Many of the jobs are about tidying up for winter or protecting plants until you can bring them out again when spring returns. There are also some really useful jobs you can do now to help our wildlife friends survive the winter. Here are our garden job suggestions for this month.
October is also a great time to plant evergreen shrubs and conifer hedges. The soil is – just! – still warm enough to enable them to establish before the winter and before any potential growth spurts the spring may bring. Not only is it a good time for the plants but it can be a great time to see the ‘bones’ of your garden, too, now that the froth of summer flowers has subsided, to see where extra shrubs might be needed.
If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, now is a good time to have a thorough clear-out. Chances are that your tomatoes and other summer crops are about finished, and it will be time to bring in plants that need over-wintering in sheltered conditions. That change over makes the perfect time for a thorough clear-out. Move everything out – or as much as you can – and have a thorough sweep to ensure there is no debris left that could harbour pests or diseases. Wash the glazing inside and out (where you can reach) to make sure as much light still gets through as possible. Household products like white vinegar and lemon juice have natural anti-bacterial properties if you want to have a thorough but safe clean.
While your greenhouse is (largely) empty, it’s a good time to think about additional insulation ready for the winter. Without plants to work around, measuring up now for a layer of bubble wrap or fleece on the inside can be useful preparation. If you haven’t got one already, consider attaching some guttering and a water butt to your greenhouse to save as much rain as you can. (At time of writing, the summer’s hosepipe ban is still in place, reminding us all how precious water is).
If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to bring in anything tender that will need protecting over the winter. Tender perennials that you have planted in your beds and borders – like Gazanias and Coleus – will have a better chance of survival if carefully dug up, potted up and stored in a bright but frost-free place. (If you had them in pots, you can just move the pot). Tuberous plants, like Cannas and Dahlias, may survive milder winters in the ground, especially in our area. However, to be sure, it’s worth considering lifting them, drying off the tubers and storing in a cool (but not cold) dark place until the spring. If you have anything tropical looking, from Fuchsias to bananas and citrus plants, consider moving them too. They will appreciate good light and minimal watering. You can bring more exotic specimens inside the house but exercise caution as they won’t like the hot, dry environments that central heating usually brings.
If you have hoses and irrigation systems, think about collecting them up, emptying them well and packing them away over winter. The plants won’t need them, and it eliminates the risk of any residual water freezing and splitting pipes if left outside.
October is a great time to take cuttings, both from hardwood, like ornamental trees and shrubs, as well as from shrubby herbs, like thyme and rosemary. Choose a strong shoot that has grown this year and cut it with a sharp, clean knife. Remove the growing tip and divide the shoot into roughly 15cm/6 inch lengths. Remember which way up the cutting goes and firm it into the soil. Cuttings can be grown in pots or in a sheltered spot outside. For more advice on hardwood cuttings, try this from the RHS.
If you have more tender herbs, like lemon balm or chives, that have filled into large clumps, you can divide these clumps to make more plants. Dig up the entire clump; if it’s smaller, you may be able to separate out mini-clumps just with your hands but bigger clumps will need a sharp spade to divide them. Plant one new mini-clump back into the original hole and pot up the others for sharing or planting elsewhere.
With a new appreciation of gardens and outdoor spaces in recent years, most of us have also gained a new appreciation of the wildlife that we share them with. Even small children understand the essential inter-connectedness of insects pollinating our food while attracting birds, hedgehogs and other wildlife to our gardens. So now is the time that we can pay nature back for its hard work over the summer by creating spaces that wildlife can survive over the winter.
While they are not being used, now is a great time to clean out and disinfect bird boxes. Please use something chemical free, if you can, or ensure it is thoroughly rinsed and dried before you put it back in place. Perhaps think about building a log pile in a hidden spot for wildlife to shelter in. You may get a hibernating hedgehog (don’t disturb the pile to check!) but you may also get frogs and insects too. (More predators to help eat the slugs and snails for us!) If you cover ponds to stop falling leaves getting in, please check to ensure that wildlife can still access the water to drink without getting caught.
As gardeners, there is perhaps a limit to the welcome we give wildlife… now is a good time to wrap a grease band around the trunk of any fruit trees, to prevent crawling winter moths climbing up, ready to lay their eggs in the new fruit next spring!
For other September jobs (when it really starts to feel like September) why not have a look at the Garden Jobs we wrote about for September last year, here (insert link).