October is often a month of change. The early part can seem like a last bit of summer, but by the end the short days leave no doubt that autumn is here and winter is on the way. Jobs can therefore include prolonging this year’s show as well as preparing for next year.
One of the most rewarding jobs at this time of year is planting spring bulbs. We’ve written elsewhere about the delights of spring flowering bulbs and putting them in is symptomatic of the optimistic, forward looking nature of gardening. Those currently uninspiring brown bulbs and corms will give your garden a burst of colour next year to confirm that winter is on its way out and that longer days are imminent.
Flowers like Dahlias, Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Gaillardia will all keep flowering until the first frosts, so keep dead-heading to prolong the flowering season.
Roses may well still be flowering, but it is a good time to reduce the height of plants. Take them down by about a third so that they won’t rock in the wind and disturb the roots. You are looking to cut above a leaf with a slanting cut so that the rainwater falls off easily. More formative pruning for roses will take place in early spring.
As grass growth slows down, it’s a good time to apply an autumn treatment. Proprietary autumn mixes contain less nitrogen (so less leaf growth) and more phosphorus (for root growth) and potassium (for winter hardiness). Scarifying and aerating will also help to prepare the grass plants for winter by allowing both air and light to reach the base of the plants. Selecting the right time to do this can be tricky. Dry ground with no frost and imminent rain in the forecast gives ideal conditions. Given the capricious nature of weather and forecasts if you’ve put a treatment down and it doesn’t rain for a couple of days, then best to water it in.
In the kitchen garden you can plant broad beans, garlic and onion sets (choose autumn planting varieties). These will develop strong roots in the warm autumn soil and give you a racing start for next year. Garlic needs a cold snap in order to bulk up to form bulbs with many cloves, so the longer they are in the ground over the winter period, the better.