There is no mistaking the fact that by October Autumn is truly underway in the garden. The weather can be unpredictable and variances extreme - Indian summer by day and frost by night making it easy to get caught out.
Protect Tender Plants
Before frosts take precautions to protect half-hardy plants, tender herbs, Chilli plants, Pelargoniums, citrus fruits, olive trees, and any tender exotics. If you have a greenhouse or cool conservatory you can bring them inside - otherwise cloches and cold frames will give a reasonable level of protection, especially if you add extra layers of fleece or bubble wrap as the temperature really starts to drop.
Move & Divide
Often it is only in the summer that you realise a shrub or herbaceous perennial is not in the right place or is not thriving in its current spot but moving things when the border is in full flower risks other plants getting broken and trodden on.
October is a great time to make planting changes in the garden - evergreen shrubs will lift and transplant well at this time of year and dividing perennials not only gives you masses of extra plants to use (or share) it also renews the growth in a congested and overgrown clump.
Dig up an established clump of root and either prize it apart using two garden forks back to back or simply cut it with a garden knife - the roots should soon recover and you can replant the best bits and discard the weaker parts on the compost heap.
It’s a good idea to divide every 3-5 years but some plants such as Crocosmia, Hemerocallis and Achillea, prefer more often whilst others like Peony don't like to be disturbed at all. If the plant is not performing well it’s worth digging up and dividing to give it a new lease of life.
By October the garden can start to look a bit sorry for itself and collapsing perennials, dying leaves and debris make everything a bit of a mess. Autumn is the time to clear up the garden - A Tip Sheet or Landscaper Bag will keep everything under control - and cut much of it back so that you can get to the soil and identify where there is space to plant some more!
Cut back perennials with unsightly faded leaves, such as Delphinium, geraniums and hosta, but others with ornamental seed heads such as poppies, Allium, grasses give lovely structure late in the season.
Cut Peony, Hardy Geranium, Phlox and Nepeta right back to ground level. Anything that is slightly less hardy such as Penstemons are best left with the top growth in place. It provides some winter protection and should not cut back until the spring to give some cover for the plant from the winter weather.
After clearing and cutting back the borders you can spread a mulch over the dormant plants to help them through the winter and to improve the organic structure of the soil. Mark where there are particularly vulnerable plants so that you can a cloche or fleece for extra protection is the weather becomes very cold.
If your garden has deciduous trees, it is worth saving the leaves to make leaf mould, which is an excellent mulch for the garden and when sieved, makes good compost. It is easy to make in a Jute Composting Sack - Rake up and pile the leaves in and they will rot down to a dry crumbly texture ready to spread on borders as mulch in the following winter/spring.
Sow Sweet Peas
If you have a frost-free greenhouse or cold frame then sowing Sweet Peas in the Autumn can produce sturdier plants for the spring and a head start when planting out with earlier flowers as a result. Germinate seeds in a warm place using root trainers which will give plenty of room for the seedlings to develop a sturdy root system. Sow one or two seeds to each cell and when they have germinated and started growing, harden off on milder days outside, gradually getting the plants acclimated to the colder weather and bring in under glass before it gets really cold.
Sweet Peas are a hardy annual, which means they will tolerate cold, and frost even down to around -4. They will be fine in a greenhouse all winter - pinch out the growing tips a couple of times to make the plants produce more stems and more flowers. See our blog about growing Sweet Peas.
Plant Spring Bulbs
Autumn is the traditional time for planting spring bulbs. Daffodils need to go in first in September and October while Tulips need to be planted later in November. The correct planting depth is important to ensure flowering - plant the bulb at least 3 times its own depth.
Colchicum Autumnale, common name Autumn Crocus, is a bulb similar to the familiar Spring variety, but it flowers in the Autumn. Unusually the flowers appear first followed by the leaves and they provide an eye catching splash of colour under trees or along side Garden Structures where they can be enjoyed - a little protection from Border Hoops or a Bell Cloche will help prevent the emerging shoots being damaged.
October is ideal for seed collection for use next year. Collect the seed from your favourite plants and dry them out completely in a dark warm place away from mice and birds. Once dry place in packets or envelopes and store securely - a sealed tin is ideal.
Label them even if the seed looks distinctive because by spring you may find they all look the same!
Autumn and early winter is the time to prune roses, especially climbing roses. Reduce size by about a third and take the opportunity to re train and tie any loose branches back onto the arch or structure.
The long stems of the roses risk being caught by the wind causing wind rock, which makes the plant move around in the wind, which in turn loosens its footing and roots.
Autumn Lawn Care
Autumn is a good time to work on the lawn. In September/October, depending on the weather it can be warm enough to repair a patch by raking up the soil, covering with compost and grass seed. The lawn can be raked to remove thatch, spiked to ease compacting and improve drainage, and given an Autumn feed.
If you only use one of our October gardening tips make sure to rake up and remove Autumn leaves! If left untouched, the leaves will kill the lawn underneath them leaving unsightly patches and it will immediately lift the look of the garden - adding decorative edging to paths or borders is a great finishing touch.
October in the Kitchen Garden
Tomatoes are slowing down in the greenhouse and depending on the weather, it may be time to cut them on the vines to ripen indoors. If it stays warm, there may be a late crop of beans which will continue cropping at a slow rate until frost.
Main crop Carrots can be lifted now if needed, or left where they can remain all winter. The only exception is if your veg plot is wet and heavy, over winter the carrots may rot, in which case it's best to lift them and store.
Both Lettuce and Rocket are quite hardy but if you are sowing late it may need protection, such as a cloche or tunnel to help it germinate - will do really well in a Vigoroot Container or Easy Table Garden.
Plant Onions and Garlic
In early to mid-autumn, Garlic and Onions can be planted to overwinter in the plot and get a head start on spring next year. In particular, Garlic benefits from a chilly spell of at least a month for the bulbs to mature.
Plant in Autumn if your soil is not too heavy or waterlogged, alternatively plant into containers or Rootrainers and overwinter outside if your soil is prone to water logging.
Plant in the usual way in Autumn as in the spring and take care not to damage the base - It is better to use a trowel or dibber and you may want to cover with a Mesh Tunnel to stop the birds digging up the young sets.
Pot Up Strawberry Runners
If you have taken runners from the strawberry plants earlier in the year, now is a good time to plant them out. Before doing so just check they are well rooted and then plant out well spaced in the strawberry bed ready for next year. Plant them in an area of the plot which will be easy to cover with a net, which is essential if you want to enjoy the strawberries rather than the birds.
A Strawberry Table Top will help ensure a bumper crop which is easy to protect and care for as well as simple to harvest.