October gardening tips
Bulbs, flowers and containers
Finish planting spring bulbs such as narcissi and crocuses - tulips can wait until November. Choose plump firm bulbs and plant within a week of buying in a location with good drainage. Add grit if the soil is heavy and ensure pots and containers have plenty of crocks at the bottom. Bury bulbs at three times their own depth, tip upwards and ensure there are no air pockets around them. Use them to fill gaps in beds and borders, in formal gardens, in pots and containers, under shrubs and trees or naturalised in grass or woodland.
Make your life easier by investing in a strong good quality dibber and if you have a bad back, a long handled bulb planter.
For a natural look, throw handfuls of bulbs in the air and plant them where they land.
Lift and store tender plants
Frost is in the offing and some of us had a couple of nights below zero at the end of September.....no need to panic, as the odd light frost does little harm to plants that have been out all summer, but it is a timely reminder that winter is on its way...
Begonias - they hate frosts so lift tuberous begonias (the ones with enormous flowers) sooner rather than later. Keep in trays of moist compost somewhere cool and light and keep watered until the leaves turn yellow. Dry gradually by withdrawing watering, cover with a shallow layer of peat and store somewhere frost-free. Water occasionally over the winter to prevent the tubers shrivelling.
Dahlias - wait until a couple of good frosts have blackened them (hopefully not until next month) then cut stems back to approximately 10cm from the ground and label each plant as you lift it - it is amazingly easy to forget which is which! Be careful not to damage the tubers as you dig around them, remove all the soil and store for a couple of weeks in a dry, cool place upside down to allow any residual moisture in the stem to drain out. Once completely dry, bury them in peat free compost so the top of the tuber is above the compost level and keep them somewhere frost free over the winter. Meanwhile, keep deadheading and enjoy them!
Gladioli - if deeply planted in well-drained soil they should be alright in situ, but if you don't want to risk losing them, lift the corms carefully with a fork sometime around the middle of the month, cut the stems down to 2cm, dry in a cool airy place and store somewhere frost-proof.
Tender container plants - oleanders and the like should be tidied up and moved inside to a greenhouse or conservatory. Keep watering to a minimum to keep them on the dry side for repotting next spring.
Others... lift cannas, geraniums and fuchsias before any proper frost. Trim back the soft growth on geraniums and fuchsias, pot into multi-purpose compost and keep them barely moist over the winter in a cool frost-free spot.
Plant new ones - while the soil is still relatively moist and warm, plant hardy perennials so their roots have a chance to become established before winter and do ensure you choose plants that are appropriate for your soil type!
Divide large ones such as daylilies and peonies once they have finished flowering. Cut them back and divide large clumps by lifting carefully and separating down the centre with 2 forks back to back. Replant with plenty of organic matter and water generously. Remember some perennials, such as peonies, do not take kindly to being disturbed so tread carefully! Late flowering perennials such as asters are best left until spring for dividing.
Cut back those that have died down - do not cut back the less hardy perennials such as penstemoms and hardy fuchsias - leave until they begin to shoot from the base in spring.
Lift and bring tender perennials inside before frosts cause any damage.
Support tall flowers - autumn can be windy so make sure any tall flowers are supported.
Collect seed heads - collect seed heads from perennials, alpines, trees and shrubs. Growing plants from seeds you have collected is fantastically rewarding, but be vigilant; seed heads have a nasty habit of ripening and popping whilst your back is turned. Collect when nearly ripe - just as they are turning brown. Snip them off, put them in a paper bag, label and hang somewhere cool, dark and dry.
Protect alpines from the wet and clear leaves from around them - leaves left around alpines will encourage disease, so clear dead leaves regularly. Whilst alpines, not surprisingly, don't mind the cold, they do object to excessive wetness, so you may need to put an open ended cloche or something similar over your plants if you have a particularly wet spell of weather.
Pots, containers and hanging baskets
Be ruthless and turf out summer bedding even if it is still looking good - this will give winter and spring bedding a chance to get roots well down whilst there is still some warmth in the soil. Pansies are more likely to flower through the winter if they are well established before winter temperatures slow them down.
Plant winter bedding and spring bulbs in your pots, containers and hanging baskets now. Winter colour comes in all shapes and sizes; hardy cyclamen and heathers, dwarf conifers, variegated box, winter pansies, violas and trailing ivies all make wonderful displays. Our favourite combinations include dwarf conifers, bedding, evergreens and winter flowering heathers, with ivies to trail over the edge and a few clusters of bulbs for extra colour in the spring. Try heather, cyclamen and variegated ivy for a stunning look!
Stop feeding permanent plants and move any tender plants under cover before the cold sets in (if possible allow them to dry out partially before lifting them).
It's important to lift containers that will be left outside over the winter onto pot feet - both for good drainage and to protect against frost damage.
Winter and spring flowering bedding
Replace summer bedding with winter and spring bedding. Plant out violas, wallflowers and primulas now for cheery colour in the coming months ('mini-cyclamen' too if you are somewhere relatively mild - bear in mind that unlike hardy cyclamen, which are different people altogether, they do not like heavy frost). Clear old summer bedding, incorporate some organic matter into the soil and plant the newcomers in drifts for stunning effect. Remember not to grow wallflowers and ornamental cabbages in the same spot two year running; they are brassicas and need rotation to avoid the root disease 'clubfoot', which is not only infectious, but persists in the soil.