Monthly Advice - October Jobs in the Garden
Jobs for October
- Bare-root hedging can be planted all through the winter. Unless it is already wet, younger existing and newly planted deciduous hedges could do with some watering and a quick weed at the base if you have not used a mulch mat.
- Now and next month is the time to plant all evergreen hedges to give them a chance to establish in warm, damp autumnal soil. If this is not possible, leave your planting until spring.
- Anyone with a fast growing conifer hedge, and we are talking Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), Lawson’s Cypress (Chamaecyparis Lawsoniana) or Leylandii (Cupressocyparis Leylandii), needs to give their hedge a final haircut for the year – especially if you forgot in September! These hedges only need a yearly winter trim when young, but after that need to be trimmed more often because if you cut into the old wood the conifer will not re-grow so you will end up with bald patches….not a good look.
Fruit and Nut Trees
- Anyone with an orchard, or even just one precious apple tree, should definitely invest in some grease bands. Not some disco merchandise spin-off from a seventies film, but an essential part of ensuring perfect fruit next autumn. Female winter moths are wingless and so have to climb your fruit trees to lay their eggs somewhere where they know that their caterpillars will have guaranteed board and lodging. A grease band will stick them in their tracks protecting your future crop. For older trees with rough bark, you will be better off applying Fruit Tree Grease to the tree trunk with an old knife (or by hand if you are a child at heart).
- Peach and nectarine trees are prone to peach leaf curl. Apply some copper mixture to act as a fungicide this month just as the leaves begin to fall. If you are able to, protect your peach and nectarine trees further with a polythene cover because the spores of peach leaf curl need water to infect your trees. Rake up all the leaves when they have fallen and burn them or take them to the dump. Do not put them on the compost heap.
- October is the best time to prune your walnut trees because they bleed less if they are pruned now or in November. If the squirrels have not got there first, this is a good time to pick any remaining nuts left on the tree. A hot tip is to wear Marigolds while doing so. The juice that comes from bruised walnut husks (which cover the nut) is right up there with henna in terms of permanence. Brown fingers for weeks otherwise. Stilts are optional.
Harvesting Pears and Quinces
- Unlike most apples, pears need to be picked before they are ripe to improve their flavour. Varieties like Beurre Hardy, Glou Mouceau and the last of any unpicked Conference or Concorde pears should be harvested and left in a cool, dry, dark place to ripen slowly. If you want to eat any soon, accelerate their ripening by bringing them into a warm, light kitchen. They should take about two days to reach peak perfection, communicated by a little give in the flesh. Some pears like Doyenne de Comice should be left on the tree until November, so check the harvesting times of your pear variety.
- Quinces such as Vranja and the fabulous Meeches' Prolific come into their own in late October and need harvesting too. They need as long and hot a summer as possible in which to ripen. Pick them when they are still yellow, downy and hard, but do not be deceived by their unyielding flesh. It bruises terribly easily. Containing masses of pectin, quince makes great jam, jelly and the best quince vodka. In Tudor times quinces would be used to perfume a room and they do store for up to four months. Also great eaten with lamb or chicken in Persian recipes.
- Rake up any leaves from your borders or lawn because, if they are left on a lawn, they can kill the grass and if they clog up your borders they make a perfect hiding place for snails and slugs. Your delphiniums will not thank you next year if you leave them lying around!
- Rake up leaves around all rose bushes, climbers and ramblers but do not compost the leaves. They often contain disease like black spot and putting them into the compost just infects that too. So, burn them or bin them.
- Rose stems become stiff in autumn so they need pruning and tying in before any autumn gales arise and come to snap them off. The same applies to taller bush roses in windy areas because a high wind can destabilise their roots, causing wind rock and a dip in the soil around their roots which will fill with water that can waterlog the plant and may even freeze during the winter months. You do not need to be precise. Just reduce the overall height of the bush by about third now and do your careful pruning in early spring.
- Summer-fruiting raspberry canes can be cut down now. Go for the old, brown, stick-like canes and remove them entirely at ground level. Any green, young new growth can be thinned because raspberry canes do have a tendency to pop up randomly all over the place. Instead of burning the canes, bundle them up and put them in a hedge or tucked away somewhere discreet for insects and bugs to use for hibernation. Ladybird heaven.
- This is a great time to plant container-grown climbers that are hardy enough to survive the winter (all ours are). It gives them a chance to really settle their roots while the soil is still warm so that in spring the roots are strong enough to stabilise the plant and ensure maximum nutrient and water absorption.
- Make sure you thoroughly water any climbers you plant because it has been such a parched September.
- Remember to plant clematis a little deeper in the soil to allow the plant to recover if it should contract clematis wilt. The top of the root ball should be about 15 cm below the ground.
- If you haven’t yet trimmed off the spent flower heads or harvested the flowers for the potpourri you promised to make...then it is never too late. You can clip the shrubs to tidy them up into shape but try not to cut into old wood.
- This is the time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, whether in the garden or in pots. The sooner they are planted, the sooner they will establish.
- For pots and planters, try planting different layers of bulbs so that your pot provides an ongoing display. The largest and latest bulbs should go near the bottom of the pot – think Parrot or Fringed Tulips. Next up might be some Single Early tulips or Dwarf Narcissus such as Minnow and Thalia. And if you are going to go for a triple-decker then plant some grape hyacinths or crocus bulbs as a final layer! There are masses of bulbs to choose from, but just remember that the bulbs should be a bit further apart in a layering system than if you were planting a single layer and should not touch the edge of the pot.
- Tulips can be planted out in the garden slightly later as they come into flower a little later than the smaller bulbs. For heavy, clay or wet soils, pop some grit in a layer at the bottom of the planting hole and put the tulip bulb on to that to prevent it rotting.
Olive and Bay
- Don’t forget to feed your olive tree with some phostrogen...even if it hasn’t given you any fruit this year! And clip your bay trees towards the end of this month.
Soils, lawns, ponds, terraces
- Weeds. This is the last month where weeds set seed. When they do and the seed drops, it will lie dormant over the winter to spring up and over-run your borders before the "proper" flowers have had a chance to get going. So work over your borders. At the very least hoe the weeds down, but it is better to hand weed and then burn the little varmints or take them to the dump. Do not put them on your compost heap whatever else you do.
- The most summery and English of flowers (roses aside!) are sweet peas. Start yours off now in a frost-free greenhouse or cool room in your house so that your sweet peas are kicking off in May and June.
- Invariably one thinks of filling pots and planters with bulbs for next spring, but don’t forget to try to make some interesting ones for winter too. Dwarf box, variegated or not, or heathers will give you winter colour and structure even in the smallest window box.
- Build a leaf-mould container. You need four stakes and some chicken wire. Dump all of your fallen leaves into the container (leaving out any diseased or rose leaves) and, after a year or two, this will have turned into crumbly leaf mould which makes an admirable soil conditioner, mulch and generally good thing in your garden. Bear in mind that the smaller the leaf, the quicker it will rot down so if you have a large garden, concentrate on recycling the smaller, deciduous leaves for best results. Shredded leaves rot down much faster than whole ones.
- Pond owners should be on red alert at this time of year because the worst thing for ponds is for them to fill up with dead leaves and decaying marginals. Scoop out any leaves that have fallen into the ponds and remove dead leaves from marginal plants. Even better, is to put a fine mesh plastic net over the pond to collect the detritus from any nearby deciduous trees too.
- Autumn is a busy time for lawn owners. October should see you scarifying and aerating your lawn. It is a good time to do a last ‘weed and feed’ to get rid of pernicious weeds like plantain and thistle. It also gives the grass a sporting chance to grow over the gap they leave behind. Another way to get rid of lawn weeds is simply to pour the rest of the boiling water left in the kettle after you make a cup of tea over the offending specimen. It may take two scaldings to entirely rid you of it but it is free, environmentally friendly and the grass will soon grow over the burnt patch at this time of year.
- If it is warm and the grass is still growing, keep mowing, but make sure the blades on your mower are set quite high. 2" or 5cms is about right.