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What to do in the garden in October

October seems to have crept up on us by stealth! It hardly seems possible that the clocks go back at the end of the month and we lose more of that precious evening daylight.
I know there are many good reasons for daylight saving - especially in the far north of the UK where days get shorter much more noticeably than in the south,-so no moans, but it’s still a wrench to be contemplating earlier nights.
October may also bring the first snow in the Highlands of Scotland as well as wind.  But it’s not all gloom- autumn often has some of the best weather as well as the worst. Tranquil golden October days can be glorious and they go some way to counteract any cold or blustery days.
It is also a time of plenty
There are apples and pears to harvest, autumn raspberries, pumpkins and squashes to enjoy plus harvest festivals - and Halloween - to look forward to.

Have a great October and happy gardening!

 

What to do in the Garden in October

It’s apples and pears time
With luck there will be a bumper crop of home grown apples and pears ready for picking this month but don’t worry if you haven’t yet got a fruit tree in your garden because October is the month to do something about it.
You don’t need acres of space to grow your own apples and pears. A normal size garden will accommodate at least one tree and some varieties can even be grown successfully in a large container.  Apples and pears need pollinating partners, but the good news is that most crab apples will pollinate your culinary tree, and there are self fertile fruit varieties too. Conference pears are partially self fertile which means they will still give a reliable crop even if it’s the only pear tree in the garden. Gardening Which recently gave it a mention as one of the most reliable croppers and it’s been a favourite with gardeners for more than a century.
‘Twin trees’ are a brilliant idea if you only have space for one tree. They have two apple varieties grafted on to one rootstock for a neat space-saving solution.

Once you’ve decided on your ‘must have’ variety get it ordered fast! Trees can be planted from now until early April but the most popular varieties always sell out fast.
Whether you want to know more about the apple trees you’ve got in your garden or want to grow some new varieties, this is the best month to do your research because October sees a vast array of dedicated ‘Apple days’ throughout the country.

 

 

Get daffodils planted .Daffodils are among the first bulbs to be planted in autumn so get them in the soil as soon as possible this month.
Plant your daffodil bulbs at least twice their depth into well drained, weed free soil. Add grit to the bottom of the planting hole in heavy, wet clay soils.
Good drainage is essential for all bulbs; they’ll rot if they sit in very wet soil so if you’re planting in containers make sure there are adequate drainage holes.
Large daffodils such as golden yellow ‘King Alfred’ and ‘St Keverne’ or creamy white ‘Mount Hood’ look fabulous planted in large drifts but they’ll also make an impact in a large container.
Small multi-headed daffodils such as ‘Tete-a-tete’, ‘Hawera’ or ‘Narcissus canaliculatis are wonderful for more exposed sites including rockeries, and they are excellent for planting in containers and window boxes. Their short stems and nodding flowers are weatherproof and long lasting.
Scent may not be something we immediately associate with daffodils but there are some very fragrant varieties. ‘Thalia’ ticks almost every box; scented, late-flowering and long lasting! It’s the perfect daffodil to bridge the gap between early daffs finishing and tulips taking over.
For something completely different how about a daffodil with a pink trumpet? ‘Bell Song’ is only 20cm/8in tall and impossibly pretty, it also flowers late with long lasting blooms. Pink trumpeted ‘Salome’ is almost twice as tall and has an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Both of these lovely daffodils would look spectacular in a container.
Wherever you’re planting your bulbs don’t be tempted to plant them out in a single line- they just lose their impact and look ‘mean’! Plant them in generous groups of five or seven bulbs, planted like this all bulbs will make far more of a feature. Our super value bulb packs are a great way of getting a fabulous display.
If you do have to wait a while before planting your daffodils Keep the bulbs somewhere cool and airy, away from pests such as mice and squirrels.  Check over stored bulbs regularly and discard any that have gone soft or mouldy.
Tulip bulbs can wait a bit longer before planting if necessary, (they appreciate a cold spell in autumn) but daffs need planting now for the best, most reliable display.

 

Plant lilies in pots
Lilies can be planted from autumn until spring but Autumn planting gives you earlier flowers next summer.
Lilies are spectacular in the border but for a truly versatile display try some mixed lilies in pots. They can be used as patio plants, brought indoors to decorate cool porches or conservatories or moved around the garden to fill seasonal gaps.
However you use them lilies are guaranteed to bring glamour to the garden and they are marvellous as cut flowers too.
If you are planting lily bulbs into containers now choose a deep pot, at least 8in /20cm diameter. And add a layer of drainage crocks in the bottom of the pot. Old broken terracotta pots are ideal.
If the bulbs are large plant then singly, otherwise use 3-4 bulbs per pot, spacing them 2in/5cm apart.  Most lilies need planting around two and a half times the bulb height.
The only exception is for Madonna lilies (Lilium candidium) they should be planted just below the surface of the compost.
Keep the containers somewhere cool but frost free, and water bulbs sparingly over winter. Slugs and snails love the emerging shoots so keep a look out for these pests especially when foliage starts to appear in spring.

Treat your lawn.
As well as being a soft surface to play on, a healthy expanse of green grass makes the perfect foil for brilliantly colourful flower beds. If your lawn is falling a bit short of expectations Autumn is a good time to do some remedial work.
Like most plants grass needs adequate light, food and water to thrive.
Grasses used for lawns are very forgiving plants, able to cope with heavy wear and drought; but they all do best in good light and a soil that is free draining.
If your lawn is shaded by trees the grass gets thin and patchy.
Waterlogged or compacted soil encourages moss to form.
Lawn laid on top of builder’s rubble (sadly common with new houses) soon becomes a riot of dandelions and clover. All of these problems can be overcome if grass is encouraged to grow strongly.
The first job is to rake out the dead grass- known as thatch, this lets light and air into the roots of the plant (and the debris makes a good addition to the compost heap). A spring tined rake is the tool for the job.
Treat compaction by aerating the lawn this involves making holes with a garden fork or hollow tine aerator. On a large lawn this is a fairly labour intensive job so the aerator is a big help.
On a small lawn or grass path it’s easy to use a garden fork, pushing the tines in by standing on the fork. Older children are often keen to help with this- seeing it as fun on a kind of horticultural pogo stick! 
If you really want to improve the lawn brush some sharp sand into the holes, but don’t be tempted to use builders sand- this just makes compaction worse.

Enjoy the shade.
Shady parts of the garden are sometimes regarded as problem areas but there are plenty of woodland flowers and native plants that enjoy the shade. Make a feature of a shady space with these native woodland plants because they originate from wooded areas they can cope with shadier conditions.
Some of them such as moisture-loving primrose Primula vialii enjoy reliably moist soil too; they look spectacular in shaded gardens.
Create your very own patch of woodland with woodland bulbs such as wood anemones and gorgeous Hepatica nobilis. Complete the picture with bulbs such as daffodils and bluebells planted informally under a tree. A drift of snowdrops will add to the magic and ensure the area stays looking good from December to May.

 

 

Tips for the garden...

Get a natural look with bulbs
Swathes of spring bulbs planted in natural drifts are a glorious sight; but you don’t need to own a meadow to create the look, even in a small garden it’s possible to have an ‘effortless’ natural look.
Daffodils are famously beautiful naturalised in grass but smaller bulbs such as crocuses and blue Pushkinnia scilloides (commonly known as squills), or chiondoxa (Glory of the snow), also look spectacular emerging from a grassy bank or along a grassed boundary.
One of the easiest ways to plant bulbs in grass is to lift an L-shaped flap of turf with a sharp spade or edging tool and plant the bulbs underneath it. Space the bulbs out so they are close but not touching each other then replace the flap firmly but gently and the job is done.
If you have a lot of bulbs to plant doing it like this is much less work than digging and planting into individual holes.

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Prepare for windy weather
October is known for its gales so make sure the permanent climbers in the garden such as roses survive any windy weather. Check that plants are tied in gently but firmly to their supports, (allow for a little movement so stems can bend but not break) and tie in or prune back any over-long or wayward branches to stop them whipping about.
Make sure trellises and arches are strong enough to take the weight of the plants.
It’s not just climbers that can suffer wind damage. Rose bushes as well as climbing roses are traditionally pruned in October to help stop their roots from rocking out of the soil. Cut the stems by half; cutting to just above a leaf joint to encourage some late flowers, but don’t feed roses at this time of year, they will make too much soft growth that can die in a frost.
Established trees and shrubs are also vulnerable to strong winds. Inspect them for any damaged, weak or dead branches and prune these out before they tear and do more damage.
Whatever you are pruning use clean, sharp secateurs and pruning tools to avoid spreading disease and fungal infections.

 


Get Mulching.
Plenty of perennial plants die down above ground in the winter but their roots still need to be kept warm and snug below ground. Shrubs and roses won’t die down but they too benefit from an autumn mulch. Mulch acts like a cosy blanket to protect the underground roots of permanent plants.  While the soil is still warm and autumn rain is more likely it’s the perfect time to seal in some of that warmth and moisture. Wait for rain to soak the ground before you mulch because mulching on dry soil just stops any rain from penetrating.
You can mulch with most organic materials, from grass clippings to leaf mould and garden compost. or use the spent compost from grow bags or containers, just check that there are no slugs, snails or pests such as vine weevil grubs lurking in the soil.
Don’t be tempted to feed perennial plants at this time of year though; they’ll respond to feed by sending up a lot of soft leafy growth that can be damaged by frosts.

 



Pumpkins and squash
Carving a Halloween pumpkin is a fun way of celebrating October 31st, but there is a lot more to pumpkins and squashes than one day of fun. They are easy and fun to grow and good to eat and they are ready to harvest this month. Squashes and pumpkins need some autumn sunshine to ripen them and also to toughen up their skins before harvesting. Pick them with their stalks intact- leave at least 3 inches of stem-because this helps them to store for as long as possible.
Frost will damage pumpkins so if you live somewhere that gets early frosts be prepared to act fast and cover any unripe fruits with fleece or hessian.
Butternut squashes and pumpkins in storage can last for months while thinner skinned squashes should be eaten within a month or so.
Squashes and pumpkins are harvested now but they should be sown in spring. Get seeds now to be sure of the variety you want. From tiny ‘Patty Pan’ squashes, and pumpkins such as ‘Baby Bear’ to the gigantic Halloween favourites there is a vast array of taste, colour and texture to discover. Children are fascinated with Spaghetti squash – it’s a great way of getting them excited about eating veg!  And as well as looking very like spaghetti it tastes delicious.
Butternut squash roasts perfectly or use it in autumn soups; and ‘Jumbo Pink Banana’ is definitely one to sow next spring – worth a place in the garden for its colour alone!

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