October in the Garden
Leaves of trees and shrubs are turning russet colour and berries are bright orange and scarlet. As we prepare for the first frosts of the winter it’s time to protect tender plants and tidy up beds and borders as we replace summer bedding with spring bulbs, winter pansies and wallflowers.
Beds and Borders
Cone flowers (Echinacea) and rudbeckia now have a recently increased colour range that with fresh breeding includes oranges and yellow shades as well as the more usual pinks. Helenium, sedum and asters (often called michaelmas daisies) will also be giving a last display. Many of these autumn flowering plants are susceptible to powdery mildew attack, especially when the soil is dry, and should be sprayed with a fungicide at the first signs of the white deposit.
Perennial autumn anemones often called Japanese anemones make a great display at this time of the year in white or magenta pink blooms. These can tolerate a fair amount of shade.
It’s time to clear out summer bedding plants as they finish flowering or when the first frosts turn leaves black. Place all annual flower plants onto the compost heap and dig out as many weeds as possible.
Dahlia tubers do not survive harsh winters and if they are to survive from year to year need to be lifted now and stored in a frost free shed or garage. Dig up the tubers and knock off as much soil as possible with a blunt stick. Cut back the stem to leave just 15cm (6”) and turn this upside down so that all moisture drains from the hollow stem. Leave in an airy place for a fortnight to allow the tubers to dry off completely before dusting with sulphur powder and wrapping individually in newspaper. Place in a cardboard box in a frost-free position.
Gladioli corms and begonia corms should be treated in the same way, as these too are subject to frost damage and storage rots.
If you have a sheltered conservatory or a well-lit porch you could pot up tender fuchsias to extend their useful life in a protected frost-free position. Before planting the roots in pots of fresh Miracle-Gro All Purpose Potting Compost check over the roots to ensure they are free of vine weevil grubs. These crescent-shaped white bugs with brown heads can be left on the lawn for the birds to feed on.
When the beds are clear take the opportunity to dig in well-rotted organic matter from your compost heap or similar material bought in bags such as Levington Soil Conditioner or Miracle-Gro Soil Improver.
In the cleared flower borders plant daffodils, narcissi, hyacinths and crocus early in October so they can develop a good, strong root system while your soil is relatively warm. To prevent these glorious spring bulbs from getting weaker and weaker each year feed the soil now so these new roots can absorb balanced nutrients throughout the winter. For maximum growth add a slow release plant food so that the plant can draw nutrients during autumn and again in the spring when growth is strong and the bulb is creating the flower buds that will form the blooms for the subsequent year’s display. If your soil is short of organic matter then digging in Bulb Booster Compost will provide a reservoir of moisture and nutrients.
Autumn is the best time of year for planting trees and shrubs. The cooler temperatures above ground mean that shoots, stems and leaves are only growing slowly – whereas below ground the soil temperature stays warm enough to encourage the growth and spread of roots.
Hyacinths and late-flowering tulips are not best displayed in the flower border, but are perfect for pots. The waxy petals of highly perfumed hyacinths need to be proudly displayed close to the house so that you get full benefit from their beauty and heady scent. Likewise tulips that bloom in May are just a nuisance in flower borders as you may be itching to clear the bed ready for summer flowers just when they are at the peak of their show.
Because different varieties of tulips bloom at different times mixing them up is not the way to achieve the optimum display. Why not plant up one variety per container and then move the pots around so that those showing flowers are moved to the front of your patio display. Variety names of tulips seem to develop year after year so recommending varieties become more and more difficult.
Early flowering starts in March or April with dwarf Greigii and Kaufmanniana tulips such as Red Riding Hood, Cape Cod (red with yellow flushed edges) and Pinocchio (red with white edges). Depending on the number of containers you have to fill you could continue with the May blooming Darwin Hybrids such as Apeldoorn (red) Apeldoorn Delight (yellow flushed with red or Olympic Flame (bright yellow streaked with red). Latest of all are the lily-flowered tulips that have reflexed and pointed petals that form urn-shaped flowers on tall wiry stems. Queen of Sheba is red with white highlights, while Maytime is lilac mauve with the same white edges. Perhaps most attractive of all is the soft pink blooms of China Pink.
After planting your spring bulbs it is well worth topping off the container with spring bedding such as wallflowers, winter pansies or double daisies (bellis). These will not only provide a contrasting flower form but will also give some physical support to the tall stems of some of these tulips.
Keep the lawn and surrounding flower borders free of fallen leaves as much as possible. This will reduce the possibility of bare patches developing on the grass and reduce the hiding places for harmful slugs and snails.
Now that grass growth has slowed down you can improve the drainage on the lawn by spiking the whole area with a garden fork driven into the soil at least 10cm (4”). Autumn rains will penetrate deep down and lawns that have been parched during the hot, dry summer will quickly recover from drought conditions.
If your soil is heavy clay it’s a good idea to fill these holes with sharp sand to keep the new drainage holes open and aerate compacted areas. Not only does this allow more air into the root area but it allows more water to easily penetrate to root level. Improving drainage will also help to reduce the spread of mosses on damp soil surfaces and increase the effectiveness of moss killers.