As summer starts to edge gently into autumn during September, misty mornings give way to plenty of still-warm days, even if conditions remain overcast rather than sunny for much of the time.
Nights may be drawing in and winter may be around the corner, but there are plenty of timely tasks to keep you busy in the garden through October. In fact, while many concentrate on shutting down the garden until next spring, this is a key month for establishing new planting displays.
Spend time this month planting out new perennials, trees, shrubs and you’ll be rewarded with a stronger performance from next spring onwards. Surprisingly perhaps, a wide range of seeds can be sown both for the flower border and the veg patch, all with the inbuilt hardiness to make it through the winter for earlier results next year.
Jobs In The Flower Garden In OctoberAutumn brings cooler temperatures, so give tender plants winter protection and bring them indoors. Cannas are not made for colder weather, so find a spot in your greenhouse or shed, where it’s light and frost-free. Cut away dead flowers and leaves, as this will help prevent rot. For further protection wrap fleece, or bubble wrap, around the plant and tie-in gently to keep it in place.
- Leave shabby perennial plants unchecked to benefit wildlife - both as a food source and somewhere to shelter. Also, they can offer structural interest in your garden throughout winter.
- Increase your stock of summer flowering perennial - lift, divide and replant. Water in and apply a thick mulch around the plant to protect them the colder months ahead. Don’t cover plants over as this can cause them to rot.
- For large floral displays next year, sow poppies, marigold and aquilegia into seed trays or small pots, cover over lightly with soil, and water. Keep in a greenhouse, cold frame or on a windowsill, check them regularly and don’t let the soil dry out.
- Direct sow larkspur and cornflowers for a welcome addition to any green space.
- Sow wildflowers seeds to give you a head start for next year.
- Plant out perennial and biennial seedlings, such as foxgloves and hollyhocks into their final growing positions. The soil is still warm, so they’ll have enough time to lay roots and become established before the colder weather arrives.
What Should I Do With My Bedding Plants In The Autumn?
Exhausted and gone to seed, summer bedding plants have had their moment in the sun. Remove and clear weeds and freshen the area with a layer of compost. For winter colour, consider planting cyclamen, polyanthus and primrose. Whether it’s flower beds, borders, pots, containers or hanging baskets, these plants can fill your winter months with rich colour, seeing you right through to next spring.
Sowing Sweet Peas In Autumn
We always like to begin October by looking at sweet peas - and we make no apology! To many keen growers of this favourite annual this is the start of the sweet pea season with seed being sown either in pots to over-winter in a cold frame or greenhouse, or direct in the garden in the plants’ flowering position. Many sweet pea enthusiasts make their sowings during the first fortnight of the month, but there is no hard-and-fast rule about this. Late September through to mid November is the ‘window’ in which many people sow their seed.
Sowing sweet pea seeds in October will give you more flowers, larger flowers, more flowers on a stem, slightly earlier flowering, a longer flowering season, better tolerance of summer drought… And it also takes sweet pea seed sowing away from the mad spring seed sowing rush.
We offer one of the finest ranges of sweet peas and have a good relationship with Dr Keith Hammett from New Zealand, who is the world’s best breeder of these beautiful flowers. Browse our range of sweet pea seeds and take a pick of what you fancy in your garden this season.
Sowing Hardy And Half-Hardy Annuals In October
It really is not too soon to start thinking about next year’s display of hardy annuals either, so why not direct-sow seeds such as calendula, nigella, candytuft and cornflower during October?
The soil will still be warm, so seedlings will germinate quickly and make enough growth before any hard frosts arrive later in the year to see themselves through the winter, bursting into flower early next summer considerably earlier than seedlings produced from spring-sown seed. If you have never tried this method before, it really is well worth a go!
As half-hardy annuals, bedding and container plants start to fade, pull these up and add them to the compost heap. They can be replaced either by pansies, violas, primroses and polyanthus, which will all give a welcome splash of colour during milder winter spells, or by spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinths. Dwarf daffodils are particularly versatile because they look great in beds and at the front of borders and are also perfect for planting in containers close to the house. Remember to plant a tub or two of hyacinths near the house too, so you can appreciate their heady perfume every time you come out of the door next March and April.
If dahlias are still flowering into October, keep removing any dead-heads to encourage them to keep on blooming until they are cut down by the first frosts of autumn. No need to lift the tubers until the foliage has been blackened by a hard frost or two. And only store sound specimens, keeping them somewhere dry, cool and frost-free over the winter.
What Should I Do With Hardy Perennials In October?
Hardy perennials can be cut back during October to within a few inches of the ground. Discard the cut stems and any foliage strewn around the plants, as this will discourage pests and diseases which may otherwise lurk there during the winter.
Once dahlia foliage has been blackened by the first one or two frosts, carefully lift the tubers with a fork, as you would potatoes, leave three or four inches of stem and store them somewhere dry, cool, but frost-free until you want them to burst into growth again next spring.
As buddleias finish flowering, it is advisable to cut them back to around half their height so they do not become rocked by autumn and winter gales, causing them to become loose in the soil. Next March they can be cut back much closer to the ground to encourage new growth and plenty of butterfly-attracting blooms.
Divide Your Perennials In October
As summer-flowering herbaceous perennials start to die down and move into their dormant phase it is a perfect time to lift and divide them. Not only will you get more plants to fill other areas of the garden, it will help avoid congestion and maintain health and vigour, for the best performance next year. Here are some simple tips for easy plant division:
- Using a garden fork, aim to lift as much root mass as possible with minimal damage to the roots. Shake off excess soil or wash it away so you can see what you are working with.
- Some plants produce individual plantlets that can be teased apart and re-planted or potted.
- Others with small fibrous roots are best pulled apart gently by hand to create small clumps for replanting.
- Those with thicker fibrous roots can be pulled apart by inserting two forks, back to back, into the centre of the crown. Push the handles together to create a levering action to break the root mass apart. Really congested, dense root masses can be divided using a sharp knife or saw.
- Plants should be replanted or potted immediately and water well
How To Protect Perennials For The Winter
As perennials are cut back ahead of winter or divided for more stocks, it pays to provide the exposed crowns with some winter protection. A mulch of garden compost or similar will help to protect the dormant crowns from winter damage. If the plant in question dies back fully, it can be fully covered with mulch. If it dies back to a basal rosette of leaves, these should be surrounded by mulch but left uncovered on top.
Any borderline hardy perennials such as penstemon, phygelius and salvia should be mulched, but their spent top growth should be kept in place until spring as extra winter protection for the crowns below.
Cutting Back Roses In The Autumn
While roses are generally given their main prune in February or early March, just before the new season’s growth begins, it is a good idea to cut them back by about half during October, as this stops them being rocked and sometimes disturbed by the wind. Shrubs such as buddleia and lavatera would benefit from the same treatment. After giving rose a ‘half-prune’, collect up any remaining foliage from the soil to prevent the development of fungal diseases which can attack the plants.
Planting Spring Flowering Bulbs, Bedding And Pots
October is a perfect month for setting out traditional mixed spring displays of flowering bulbs and bedding. Most summer-flowering bedding and container plants will be ‘going over’ this month, and can be lifted and composted. Once the ground is clear and has been forked over, why not plant some spring-flowering bulbs. This is the month!
For the best spring bulb container displays it pays to get creative with lasagne layering. This simple process involves planting several different types of spring bulb together in one pot. Instead of setting them at the same depth, the bulbs are set in layers within the compost. This creates a tiered effect to the spring colour as the bulbs then bloom at different heights adding real punch to your pot displays.
Which Spring Flowers Should I Plant In October?
Pansies, violas, primroses, bellis daisies, wallflowers, and forget-me-nots all offer effortless colour for the colder months of the year. Hyacinths, daffodils (narcissi) and croci (we still use the old fashioned plural!) can also be planted during October.
We offer a terrific range of tulips – surely the most flamboyant of all spring performers. Plant them in October or November, and you can just about forget about them until they burst into a fiery bloom next April and May. This year we are offering many collections of tulips in complementary or contrasting colours, and plenty of single varieties for those of you who prefer to do your own colour-coordination.
Bulbs are surely the easiest of all flowers to grow – it is virtually a case of planting and forgetting them!
Storing Summer Bulbs And Tubers
Gardeners in cold regions or working with wet soils should lift and clean summer bulbs such as gladioli for storing in a frost-free location over winter. The bulbs should be stored in paper bags or boxes of sawdust to keep them dry and prevent moulds setting in. Dahlias and begonia tubers should also be given the same treatment, but wait for the first hard frost to attack plants before lifting them from the garden.
Planting Out New Container Grown Perennials, Trees And Shrubs
Autumn is the start of a dormant period, which is also an ideal time to plant bare root fruit trees and bushes. If growing space is limited, consider dwarf, cordon and stepover varieties. With so much choice nowadays, there’s something to suit every growing area.
October Jobs In The Vegetable Garden/ Allotment
We particularly enjoy October in the vegetable garden, as this is the month when the traditional winter vegetables are just becoming ready to harvest. Parsnips, leeks, Brussel sprouts, savoy cabbages and kale now take over from summer crops of runner and French beans, courgettes and sweet corn – and are every bit as eagerly anticipated.
We know you can buy so many vegetables all year round from the supermarkets, but we sometimes wonder where the fun is in that? As a certain book tells us ‘To every thing there is a season’, and this is definitely the season for parsnips and Brussels sprouts!
- Your runner beans will just about be over now, so they too can be pulled up and composted.
- Maincrop carrots can continue to be lifted as required.
- There is still time to plant garlic, shallots and over-wintering onion sets in the garden in October to provide an early crop next summer. Once planted, they require very little attention, but do keep any competition from weeds to a minimum. They are much more susceptible to poor drainage than they are to low temperatures and, given good drainage, they are hardy even in very cold winters. Garlic in particular generally produces heavier and better crops from an autumn planting than from a spring one.
- Lift any remaining maincrop potatoes still in the ground as soon as possible to save from slug or frost damage. The tubers can then be lifted as needed over the next month or so. The crop should ideally be lifted and stored ahead of any prolonged frosts and severe winter weather.
- Once the tops of Jerusalem artichokes start to turn yellow, the plants can be cut back virtually to the ground, chopped up and added to the compost heap. This leaves the tubers beneath the soil to be harvested as required in the weeks ahead.
- Basil, parsley and coriander are not frost hardy, therefore, pot them up and bring inside. Place on a warm, well-lit windowsill in the kitchen, where they will continue to grow and be used in various meals.
- If you have lingering tomato plants under glass that are slow to ripen you can speed up the process by stripping all the foliage from the plants
- Sow green manure, if any parts of the garden or allotment are currently fallow after earlier crops have been harvested.Among others, we offer crimson clover and winter grazing rye.
Sowing Pea Meteor In October
Where you have a spare patch or two in the vegetable garden or on the allotment, how about an October sowing of early peas? Meteor is probably still the best early pea for autumn sowing, even if it has been about for donkeys’ years! It only grows to around 2ft tall, does well even in exposed sites and will provide you with that unforgettable first picking of home-grown peas early next summer. It’s what vegetable gardening is all about, surely!
Harvesting Pumpkins, Squashes And Marrows
If you are growing pumpkins, squashes and marrows, cut these and bring them in before the first frosts arrive. It is best if pumpkins and squashes can be left in the greenhouse or cold frame for a week or two to ‘cure’ before being put into storage. Pumpkins will be in demand from youngsters as Hallowe’en approaches at the end of the month.
Harvesting Chilli Peppers In The Autumn
Chilli Peppers If you have not already so, harvest any remaining chilli peppers. Green fruits tend not to be as hot as orange and red ones, but take care when preparing any of them.
It is a good idea to wear disposable, clear plastic gloves when handling and chopping them because it is so easy to touch your eyes with your hand while preparing them - not a pleasant experience! Remember that any glut of chillies can be frozen and used throughout the year until next year’s crop is ready.
Which Vegetables Should I Sow In October?
- Try sowing winter lettuce, such as lamb’s lettuce or winter gem, in a greenhouse or outside under cover.
- For spring brassicas, including cauliflower and spring cabbage, sow now and keep them in cold frames for planting out early next year.
- October means it’s also time to sow broad bean seeds and look forward to that early crop next May. Aguadulce is a splendid choice, as is Bunyards Exhibition. In colder areas, the seed and seedlings will benefit from a little fleece protection. Aguadulce produces small, fine beans of lovely quality and flavour, while Bunyards generally gives larger beans and one or two more per pod.
- Garlic needs an extensive cold period to help develop its cloves. Don’t be tempted to use bulbs from a supermarket, as they may harbour disease. Instead, buy them from a garden centre or online supplier. Read our article on how to plant and look after your alliums.
Jobs In The Fruit Garden In October
October is a perfect month for planting out new container grown top fruit and soft fruit, grapes, nuts. Soils retain some of their summer warmth through the month but moisture levels are on the rise thanks to autumn rain. This creates the perfect conditions for early root establishment and also reduces the level of watering needed during the critical early stages of establishment. Watering may be needed in prolonged dry spells next year, but winter wet will have done a large part of the settling in process for you.
- Harvest the last of your hanging fruit, such as apples and pears. What isn’t going to be used straight away can be stored. Ideally use slatted shelves or boxes and space the fruit carefully on them.
- Check that each fruit is not bruised or damaged, and try not to let them rest on one another.
- Keep in a frost-free, cool, dark, well-ventilated, room, such as a larder or cellar. Check regularly and remove any that have spoiled.
- Rhubarb crowns can be lifted, divided and re-planted. Using a sharp spade, divide the crown, ensuring each section contains at least one growing point. Re-plant in well drained, fertile soil, keeping the crowns well-spaced. This helps avoid congestion, maintain health and vigour and better ongoing stalk production to get more plants!
We know that technically rhubarb is a vegetable, but because it is used mainly in dessert dishes we think of it more as a fruit. We have a real treat for all rhubarb lovers, because now they can enjoy those succulent, sweet sticks from September to November.
Our Livingstone rhubarb plant is the first autumn-cropping variety, it’s British bred and has had its summer dormancy eliminated: this is what causes rhubarb to stop cropping by the middle of summer. So for the first time you can now combine fresh rhubarb with other autumn fruits to create mouth-watering desserts such as rhubarb, apple and blackberry crumble.
Livingstone yields an excellent crop of high quality, deep red skinned stems. It’s very easy to grow – just incorporate some bone meal or organic matter when planting and, once established, it will crop heavily from September onwards. It can be ordered from us now for planting this autumn. It is delicious and we are sure you will enjoy it.
On already established plants in the garden you will now find that rhubarb leaves have died back. The dormant crowns will benefit from a 3in mulch of well-rotted garden compost or farmyard manure. If you feel any clump is now too large, lift and divide it, getting rid of the central section and re-planting the younger sections from round the outside of the crown.
Autumn Currant and Gooseberry Bushes
If you like the idea of a fruit bush or two in the garden or on the allotment, remember we dispatch our bare-root currants and gooseberries from October onwards. We are very keen on the new blackcurrant Ebony, which is the sweetest one we know. The currants are larger fruited than other varieties and contain up to 15 per cent sugar, giving them a lovely full, rounded flavour. Ebony does well in our climate and has some resistance to mildew.
In gooseberries, Xenia is one of the sweetest in our experience. This early season variety can be picked from June and into July, and the berries are sweet enough to be eaten straight from the bush.
Autumn Fruiting Raspberries
Freshly picked raspberries take some beating in our book, and the new autumn-fruiting (primocane) Paris is one of the very best. The large berries can weigh more than 5gm each, and they are wonderfully sweet, aromatic and juicy. You should be picking Paris from August through to October. We begin despatch in 9cm pots from November, so now is the time to order this rather special new variety.
October Jobs In The GreenhouseWhether you are growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers or aubergines in the greenhouse, it is a good idea to pick all you can this month and discard the plants. By the end of the month it should be possible to clean it out with warm water and a proprietary disinfectant to ensure it is not harbouring any diseases through the winter.
- Remove shade paint and netting to maximise light levels
- Have a general sweep down of all surfaces
- Disinfect benches, pots and tools,
- Check heaters are ready for use and fit bubble wrap insulation.
- Open doors and vents still on sunny days, but close up again before late afternoon
How To Reuse Autumn Leaves In The GardenFallen leaves make for a nourishing leaf mould, which is a fantastic mulch for plants. As leaves require up to a year to decompose, gather them up and store in a compost bay or leaf pen. If space is an issue, use bin liners as storage, these can then be tucked away into small spaces. Ensure you pierce bags several times to allow airflow and stop leaves decaying into slush.
Raking leaves from your lawn is an important task, even if you’re not storing them. It stops the build-up of hidden pests, and ensures daylight can reach your lawn thus deterring the ‘browning off’ effect. It’s especially important to keep paths and patios leaf-free as they can be a potential hazard, causing someone to slip and possibly hurt themself.
Other Gardening Jobs In October
- Houseplants that have been enjoying recent warm outside temperatures should now be brought indoors. Let them slowly acclimatise to the indoor heat, otherwise, the shock may damage them.
- For empty veg beds this winter, sow green manures to improve soil structure and fertility for next spring.
- Keep heating costs down by insulating your greenhouse with bubble wrap. As daytime temperature decreases, keep doors and vents closed.
- Fill your bird feeders and hang fat balls. With cold days ahead, your garden birds will need all the help they can get.
- Get the children involved and carve your pumpkins for Halloween. Make sure you don’t waste the flesh; pumpkins make tasty autumn soups and risottos!
Full Transition From Summer To Autumn
October is a month where the seasonal baton is finally handed over to autumn. Gardens look weary, plants retreat into the comfort of the soil and daylight hours finally succumb to the increasing darkness, bringing with it colder temperatures. However, this is also a month of harvests, as we make cosy meals from our precious produce to be shared and enjoyed. And what isn’t immediately eaten is stored, jammed and preserved for the cold months ahead.
So, enjoy the weeks ahead with brisk country walks on newly fallen leaves, and raise a mug of homemade soup to the harvest season.