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October 2014 newsletter
October is an ‘all change’ time of year; the clocks go back at the end of the month; giving us an extra hour of daylight in the morning… but robbing us of light in the evening.
It’s also a month of contrasts; gales are a feature of October but so too are wonderful clear golden days; and at the end of the month the first snow may be falling on Scottish hills.
It’s harvest festival time too with pumpkins, apple, pears and autumn raspberries ripe for picking and winter crops growing.
Best of all this is a month of opportunity when we can look back on the summer with pride and look forward to next spring with a renewed vision for a spectacular garden in 2015.
Despite October seeing the last of the summer flowers, colour is everywhere and it gets brighter as the month goes by. The sunset shades of late flowering perennials such as dahlias and chrysanthemums vie with burnished autumn leaves, as nature gets ready to reach her autumn crescendo.
There are lots of autumn tidying jobs to do this month such as clearing the borders of spent flowers and clearing leave.
It’s a great time to plan, and plant for next year too; there are bedding plants for winter and spring colour in containers plus bulbs to plant and bare root roses, shrubs and trees to go in to open ground.
In this month of contrasts enjoy everything that your October garden has to offer!
October in the garden
October is a fruitful month with plenty to harvest. Apple days abound this month and a visit to one will inform as well as inspire you to grow your own fruit. Two of the most famous are at RHS Brogdale and Wisley; but if you went to the Harrogate Autumn Show in September you’ll know there are plenty of others that are well worth a visit. Look online or in the gardening press or local paper to find an Apple Day or event near you.
All kinds of fruit bushes and trees can be planted now. Once you have decided on which variety of you want, place your order fast because the most popular ones always sell out quickly.
Many fruit trees are sold as bare rooted specimens. These trees are in their dormant state, so as long as the roots are kept moist and not subjected to frost, the trees will survive without soil around their roots but plant bare root fruit trees as soon as possible once you receive them. October soil is still warm and the promise of abundant autumn rainfall means that once planted your bare root trees will have a chance to establish before harsh winter weather arrives.
Of course many fruit bushes are available ready potted, container grown trees and fruit bushes can be planted at anytime, as long as soil is workable.
Bulb planting should be in full swing this month, so if you want a colourful spring it is time to get out with the trowel or spade and get those bulbs into the soil.
For the best effect, plant bulbs in large groups or irregular drifts. This is sometimes a hard effect to achieve if you are planting the bulbs one by one; our natural tendency seems to be to space the bulbs equally!
One way of achieving a natural effect is to throw the bulbs onto the ground and simply plant them where they fall, ignoring the temptation to ‘tidy’ the resulting random spacing.
Lines of single bulbs never look good,so always plant bulbs in groups; even if you are planting along a path or boundary. Aim for groups of odd numbers; threes, fives or sevens give the best effect.
One of the nicest ways to use spring bulbs such as crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils is to plant them into areas of lawn. Choose an area in a less formal part of the lawn for a charming and natural effect. It’s not just the small bulbs that look good, taller daffodils, camassias, fritillaries, and species tulips also look wonderful planted in rough grass. Camassias and snakes head fritillaries, need moist soil, species tulips do best in hot dry positions without too much competition from grass. Daffodils and crocuses succeed in most positions, while snowdrops, bluebells and many other woodland bulbs thrive under trees and shrubs and in areas that replicate their native woodland habitats.
A quick and easy way to plant bulbs in grass is to cut slits in the grass, no more than 5-10cms (2-4ins) deep, with a sharp spade or half moon edge to make a flap. Either cut an ‘L’ shape, or cut three sides of a square; both will make a flap of turf that can be peeled back.
Gently lift the ‘flaps’ of turf and plant your bulbs underneath. When all the bulbs are in contact with the soil replace the turf flap, firm gently and water to settle them in. The bulbs will push through the grass in spring.
If you think it’s too early to think about Christmas, there is one notable exception! NOW is the right time to order indoor bulbs for forcing for Christmas.
If you love to have flowers indoors at Christmas time plant prepared indoor bulbs such as Hyacinths, Hippeastrum (commonly called Amaryllis), or choose daffodil varieties such dwarf Narcissus Tete-a-tete ,or sweetly scented Narcissus Paper white 'Ziva' or ‘Grand Soleil d’ Or’. They can all be forced into flower indoors between 8-12 weeks after planting!
Amaryllis and narcissus need a cool spell to replicate winter dormancy followed by warm bright conditions to fool the bulbs into thinking its spring; but bulbs such as hyacinths need a period of dark as well as cold, so they’ll need slightly different treatment.
Narcissus and Hippeastrum (Amaryllis)
Plant the bulbs in containers of bulb compost; plant with the tip of the bulbs showing above the compost; Amaryllis can be planted with up to half the bulb exposed.
Water the compost and keep the pots somewhere cool. Around 8-10 weeks before Christmas bring the planted containers into a warm and sunny position, a warm windowsill is ideal. Keep the compost moist and wait for the bulbs to flower.
Plant Indoor Hyacinths in the same way as narcissi, with the tip of the bulbs showing above the compost but keep the containers in a cool, dark place for around 10 weeks, keep them watered and bring into a warm, light position as soon as flower buds emerge.
All Indoor bulbs
Turn the pots regularly to prevent the stems from leaning towards the light and, as the stems emerge, give them some support to prevent them flopping. You can do this with canes and string but the coloured stems of cornus or willow tied with natural raffia or narrow ribbon, look particularly attractive.
After the bulbs have flowered indoor narcissus and hyacinths can be planted outside in a sheltered position.
Hippeastrum (Amaryllis ) bulbs are usually discarded after Christmas but if you want to keep them for another year feed and water the bulbs regularly to keep them growing until September. Stop watering from September and let the foliage die back. Place the bulb in a cool frost-free place for 1 or 2 months and then start them back into life in a warm, well lit room, ready to start their flowering cycle again.
In their first year Amaryllis are reliable Christmas flowers but they’ll often flower at a different time in subsequent years; with blooms appearing at any time from late winter to mid spring.
It’s not just ornamental bulbs that need ordering and planting now. Onions, shallots and garlic are kitchen staples and they make a great ‘no-nonsense’ crop, so even if you only have a tiny space for vegetables try to fit them in.
Autumn planting onions, shallots and garlic are ready for dispatch; and planting them now will give you earlier crops of sweet and tasty bulbs for the kitchen.
Garlic needs a long growing season in the UK so planting now is essential if your home-grown garlic is going to rival Mediterranean imports! Onions and garlic like to be planted into well-firmed, weed free soil. Add some pre-planting fertilizer for the best results.
Choose the warmest part of the vegetable plot for garlic, or if you are short of space, you can grow it in a sunny border. If you plan to plant your garlic cloves in a flower border grow them near to irises. Both plants enjoy the same hot and sunny growing conditions and the garlic leaves blend in without looking out of place; and because the garlic bulbs and iris rhizomes look very different there is no danger of getting the two confused at harvest time!
When you are ready to plant, divide the large garlic bulbs into individual cloves; plant each clove into well prepared, weed-free soil; with the tip of the clove just below or level with the soil surface.
Find a sunny part of the plot for your shallots and onion sets too. Each small bulb (called a set) should be planted with the pointed side up and root side down .Plant each set with just the very end of the bulb poking out.
If you find that birds tend to pull the newly planted sets out of the soil by the stalks, plant the sets just below the soil surface, or cover with net or fleece until the roots have had a chance to anchor the bulbs in the soil. Firm them in gently and keep them watered.
Gardening Tips for October
To ensure your perennial borders get better every year it pays to do a bit of judicious ‘editing’ now.
Late flowering perennial plants such as asters, dahlias and helenium will still be performing but many of the earlier summer -flowering perennials are now in need of a tidy up.
Depending on how harsh the winter weather is where you live, this can be as simple as a shearing off spent flower heads on plants such as penstemon and monarda, to cutting old stems right back to the ground. Bushy growth may look untidy but spent flower heads can help to protect plants from frost damage so don’t be in too much of a hurry to tidy up if you garden in a cold part of the UK, where frosts come early. Wherever you garden it is best to leave hydrangea and sedum heads on the plants until spring. The heads protect the buds and crown of the plant from frost damage as well as being good hiding places for over wintering lady birds and lacewings.
Weed and tidy any bare soil and clear way the debris. Clearing away old stuff is the gardening equivalent of a chore, but the pay off is the excitement of deciding what to plant and where to put your new bulbs, bedding plants, shrubs and roses.
It’s easy to see where the gaps are once spent stems are cut and annuals are cleared away, and October is a really good time to add some new plants.
Planting up containers and adding bedding plants to the borders is one of the best ways to add year round colour to the garden. Autumn bedding plants such as pansies, primroses, polyanthus and wallflowers all make superb plants to brighten up beds, containers and baskets. Plant in autumn into containers and baskets and they will soon make vigorous plants that will flower intermittently through colder weather, but really get into their stride when spring arrives. Pansy Delta mixed, Polyanthus Crescendo and Wallflower Sugar Rush all shrug off cold weather. Viola Twix Lemon Swirl is NEW; with lemon yellow flowers and lavender tips it’s a beauty!
If you want a permanent plant to give masses of colour every year; vibrantly coloured Aubrieta ‘Royal Violet’ is one of the most spectacular of perennial spring flowering plants. Its carpets of rich mauve-violet flowers are brilliant in rockeries especially when combined with early daffodils.
Bare root roses, shrubs and hedges are also ready to plant; they are sold now in a state of dormancy. The plants are lifted from the nursery beds and sold without soil on their roots; ready to be planted between autumn and spring.
If you want to have a brilliant summer display it is also the right time to fill gaps with bare root perennials.
You won’t need to add fertiliser to the planting hole at this time of year; it will just encourage soft growth that could be zapped by frosts, but you do need to hoe out weeds and dig over the bare soil before you plant your new plants. A layer of mulch such as homemade compost or leaf mould is also beneficial; it will hold moisture in the soil and add valuable humus, helping to improve soil structure.
Do you love your autumn leaves? …or hate the mess they make?
It seems gardeners are divided on that one!
As a kid, autumn was a favourite time of the year; one of the compensations for going back to school was the autumn walk, especially if it entailed jumping on a crisp pile of leaves and waiting for that satisfying ‘crunch’ underfoot! I still love the colours on the trees, but when the leaves fall and it rains, I hate the resulting slippery mess.
But of course, it’s exactly this rotting down process that makes leaf collecting such a worthwhile job in the garden.
Choose a calm, still day, and spend a few hours of healthy exercise raking up leaves, ready to turn them into a brilliant supply of homemade leaf mould, perfect for adding moisture retentive humus to potting composts or to use as mulch. Use a spring tined rake to collect the leaves.
Top tips for the autumn tidy up
- Choose a still day to clear leaves or nature will blow them all back where you started!
- Rake leaves into piles, and use a leaf collecting board so they are easier to pick up.
- If you’re using a leaf blower blow the leaves away from you into a central pile.
- Chop up fallen leaves on the lawn by running over them with a lawn mower, this will help rot them down more quickly.
Make leaf mould
Leaf mould is easy to make and there are several methods, which method you choose largely depends on how big your garden is and how many trees overhang it.
- The easiest way to get small quantities of leaf mould is to rake up the leaves and pack them into black plastic bags.
- Puncture a few holes in the bags and damp down the leaves with a hose or watering can before tying the bags loosely and stashing them somewhere out of sight. Behind a shed or garage is ideal.
- Stick to leaves from broadleaved trees and don’t try to rot down holly or pine leaves, they take much longer to decompose and prickle your hands horribly while you collect them.
Most leaves take around 12 months to rot down so by next autumn you’ll have a supply of ready made leaf mould to use for mulching, or to bulk up soil and compost.
Make a leaf bin
If you have a lot of leaves to dispose of consider making a special leaf mould bin. This works on a similar principle to compost bins but it is very simple to make one yourself with wire-netting and posts.
- Hammer four posts into the ground to cover the area where you want the bin to be.
- Cut a piece of chicken wire long enough to go around all four posts and attach the chicken wire firmly to three sides. Don’t cut the wire.
- Use the final quarter to form a closeable door. Keep it rigid by threading a stout bamboo cane through the vertical edge; or attach a batten, this will make it easy to fill (and empty) the bin with a wheelbarrow.
As well as mowing the grass when necessary, the main autumn lawn jobs are to rake out all the dead grass and thatch,(known as scarifying), and aerating the roots to improve drainage and deter moss.
Once you’ve scarified and aerated the lawn you can top dress with lawn sand.
Mowing Grass growth slows down as temperatures begin to dip so October normally marks the end of the mowing season, but if you are still mowing your lawn in October, increase the height of the blades on the mower to avoid scalping it and exposing the roots.
Raking out rubbish such as dead thatch and moss from the lawn helps to get air to the grass roots and definitely improves the look of the lawn, but it’s true to say it makes a mess while you are doing it! Don’t be deterred, the long term benefits far outweigh the short term disruption.
Use a metal tined rake to get the moss and thatch out of the grass, collect it into a bag and add the debris to the compost heap or leaf bin. If there is a lot of moss in the lawn you can use it to line hanging baskets.
On a small lawn, aerating can be done with a garden fork, simply push the tines of the fork into the soil at regular intervals, lifting the roots slightly as you remove the fork. If the soil is compacted or badly drained use a hollow-tiner to take out small plugs of soil. Aerating will encourage good air circulation and reduce moss.
Once your lawn has been scarified and aerated, you can brush in a lawn top dressing. This is a very fine mixture of soil, sand and peat. Topdressing improves soil and helps to even out lumps and bumps and it should be fine enough to penetrate the soil.
Scatter the topdressing on the soil and then use a rake with the flat side downwards to spread it evenly into the lawn.
If you’ve mowed and fed your lawn all summer it should be weed free and growing well.
But if it needs some TLC you can apply a potassium rich, Autumn feed which encourages strong root growth.
If you do decide to feed your lawn don’t be tempted to use a Spring lawn feed, this high nitrogen feed encourages new grass to grow, so if you use it now the soft growth will be damaged by frosts.