Autumn Garden Jobs
October is one of the busiest times in the garden as a combination of jobs all need tackling over the coming weeks, including tidying up after summer and preparing the garden for winter along with planting and tweaking so that there’s plenty of colour and interest next spring.
Here are some jobs to be getting on with:
To tidy or not to tidy – It’s a good idea to not be too keen to cut back the summer growth as it fades. Many perennials such as eryngium, rudbeckia, helenium and echinacea have attractive seed heads which look lovely when covered in frost or a dusting of snow, they also add height and structure to a border and they provide food and shelter for birds, insects and mammals. So rather than cutting these back to the ground I like to leave their stems in place for as long as possible. I will, however, get the secateurs out for anything that has flopped over a path or anything that’s turned into a soggy, brown mush.
Under cover – Tender plants such as salvias, pelargoniums and succulents should be brought indoors to somewhere that’s light, frost-free and with good air circulation before the first frost. There’s still time to take cuttings of both salvias and pelargoniums – this is a good idea if you don’t have much space to overwinter lots of plants. Cut back by half the top growth of the salvias and pelargoniums – you can also remove any remaining leaves from the pelargoniums and remove any debris from the surface of the compost to make sure pests have nowhere to overwinter.
Bulb planting – I don’t really like planning bulbs because it’s a lot of effort and I’ll have to wait five months to see the fruits of my labour. However, I can’t imagine spring without a vibrant display of daffodils and tulips and other dainty delights so I just need to get on with it and get planting. I tend to order my bulbs in summer for delivery in October, but if you haven’t got round to buying any bulbs yet, there’s still time whether it’s from a garden centre or online. Most bulbs should be planted three times the depth of the bulb with the pointy end facing upwards. Bulbs have much more impact if planted in drifts or blocks, so plant in groups rather than dotting them about.
Dahlias – Once a frost has blackened the top growth of dahlias they can be lifted and stored somewhere frost-free over winter. This is the best option for cold gardens or if the soil gets waterlogged. Cut back the stems just above the tubers, leaving short stubs, then remove as much soil as possible from around the tubers and allow them to dry out in a shed or garage for a couple of weeks. Make sure you label each dahlia so that you know what’s what. Once dry I tend to wrap the tubers in newspaper and store them in plastic vegetable crates until March before potting them up. However, this can all be a bit of a faff, particularly if you’re tight on storage space. Increasingly, due to the milder winters we’re experiencing, I’m leaving dahlias in the ground. I’ll cut the stems down to just below the surface of the soil so that rainwater doesn’t collect in the hollow stems, then it’s a good idea to cover the plant with a mound of a dry mulch such as straw or chipped bark – this will protect the tubers from the cold and encourage the rain to drain away.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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