Plant for the future in October
PUBLISHED: 16:43 18 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:10 20 February 2013
There is more to do in the garden at this time of year than you may think as Martin Fish explains
October is a time when many plants naturally start to die back but its also the time to plan and plant ahead for next year. So, rather than look upon this month as the end of the gardening year, I suggest you think of it as a new beginning.
Summer annuals, planted containers and hanging baskets that gave their last flurry of colour in September have now finally got to go. Although it might be tempting to keep bedding plants going for a few more weeks, dont. Its best to move on with the gardening season and plant spring flowering plants such as wallflowers, pansies, forget-me-knots and bellis while the soil is still fairly warm. My aim is to have all these planted by the middle of October at the latest to give them time to establish before winter sets in.
It is also a great time to plant spring flowering bulbs in the garden or into containers. Daffodils, snowdrops, crocus can all be planted now and remember the golden rule: plant two to three times the depth of the bulb. Bulbs can either be planted in the border between perennials and shrubs or naturalised in the lawn. If planting in the lawn, bear in mind that next spring after flowering, the foliage must be allowed to die down naturally, so where possible plant early flowering, dwarf types to avoid clumps of large leaves. As for tulips, ideally wait a few more weeks before planting as they prefer cooler soil conditions, but buy the bulbs now while there is still a good choice.
Many plants can also be pruned now to prepare them for winter. Tall shrubs such as buddleja and the coloured-leaved sambucus can all be pruned down by around one third to a half. This not only makes the bushes look tidy for the winter but more importantly, it helps to protect them from wind rock over the winter months.
The same applies to roses, which in mild weather may still be producing a few flowers. I hate to see roses struggling on into autumn with weak growth and an occasional flower. At the end of the day they are summer flowering plants and thats when they should be enjoyed. I like to prune hybrid tea, multiflora and climbing roses twice a year, by giving a light prune now and the main prune in March. Lightly trimming over the plants now stops flowering and encourages the roses to take a well earned winter rest.
Trees can also be pruned if needed and as soon as the leaves have dropped, lower branches overhanging paths, lawns and drives can be cut back to the main trunk or a side branch. Lifting the crown of the tree like this also allows more light to reach plants growing under the canopy and opens up the views across the garden.
In the vegetable garden the last of the produce needs harvesting before the weather turns. Main crop potatoes still in the ground should be lifted on a sunny day and allowed to dry for an hour or two before storing them in paper or hessian sacks in a cool, dark place. Squashes and pumpkins also need storing in a frost-free shed where they will keep for months until needed. October is also the time to plant garlic directly into the garden. Plant the individual cloves approximately 5cm deep, 15cm apart.
Late varieties of apples such as Bramleys Seedling, Spartan, Gala, Newton Wonder and Ribston Pippin can all be picked now. The tell-tale signs they are ready to harvest are wind falls around the trees. The final test is to give the fruits a gentle twist if they leave the tree easily, they are ready. October-picked apples generally will store for several months in the right conditions. Only keep good quality fruits; any with blemishes or bruises should be eaten straight away. Store in boxes or on trays in a cool shed but check them every couple of weeks and remove any that show signs of starting to rot.
October is also the time when many plants are at their best so it is a good time to get out and enjoy the autumn colour in parks and gardens.
Make a few notes of new plants for your garden to add colour during the autumn in future years. We might be heading towards the end of the year and winter but for me October is still an interesting and pleasurable time in the garden and theres certainly plenty for us to be getting on with.