October is a busy month for gardeners, with an emphasis on preparing for winter. It's a time to give your indoor plants a bit more TLC and perhaps add to your collection. There are more bulbs and bedding plants to plant and just a few seeds to sow. It's one of my favourite months and the perfect time to enjoy the great outdoors!
Greenhouse and Conservatory
- Lift and pot Pelargonium and tender varieties of Fuchsia before the first frost can get them. Trim them back by about half and pot them into a good quality potting compost. Remove any yellow leaves or old flowers.
Pelargonium on a greenhouse bench
- Pot up ‘Paperwhite’ Narcissi bulbs, ready to bring indoors when in bloom and fill rooms with their sweet scent.
Scented 'Paperwhite daffodils
- Make sure your glass is now as clean as it can be. With shorter days, your plants will need all the light that they can get.
- Check for drafts and broken glass. If you’re heating your greenhouse or conservatory, this is especially important.
The indoor garden
- Have a go at planting up a bottle garden or terrarium. Use small plants sold as ‘tots’ in garden centres. Add a little crushed charcoal to the potting compost mix to keep the soil ‘sweet’.
A terrarium or bottle garden
- Polish shiny leaves to get rid of dust, allowing them to work better and look nicer. Ficus rubber plants, Devil’s ivy and true ivies look so much better with clean, shiny leaves.
- Move plants away from any heat source. If they are too close, the air will be too dry for most.
- Group plants together, as they will not only look but also grow better. If plants have similar warmth and light needs, try to put those with contrasting leaf shapes in a group.
Indoor house plants grouped together
- Move borderline hardy succulent plants inside and put them on your sunniest windowsill. Some will survive outside if they have fast drainage and are tucked under a roof in a sheltered, bright spot.
- Reduce feeding by half, either by reducing the frequency or by increasing the dilution. You should reduce the frequency of watering from now anyway, as plants generally need less in winter.
- If you haven’t got them already, add some air plants to your collection. These are great for bathrooms as they absorb the moisture they need from the air. They are so easy to care for and only need a little misting with rain or bottled water every day or so.
Air plants above a bath in a bathroom
- Insectivorous plants such as Venus flytraps overwinter best if kept really cool and moist. Stand them in a saucer filled with wet moss, and don't be too concerned if some leaves die off in winter as this is normal.
- Cheer your plants up by putting them into an attractive cache pot (pot cover). Or better still, make your own or buy something quirky from a junk shop!
Bits and Pieces
- Sweep up leaves regularly, don’t let them lie on your grass and spoil it. There is no justification for putting these out with the rubbish as you can turn this valuable and free resource into an excellent soil improver. Just add some compost activator such as Garotta to help them rot down.
- If you have no compost bin, you can still compost leaves in a plastic sack. Just fill dustbin liners, prick a few holes and leave alone.
- Use a rotary mower to chop and pick up your leaves.
Leaf picking with a mower
- Protect tender plants by erecting a tent that you can make with a bamboo cane tripod covered with horticultural fleece. Protect lemons, oranges, palm trees, bananas, tree ferns and other tender evergreen plants. If you live in a city, you will not need to protect your plants as thoroughly as those in the countryside.
Protecting banana plants with bracken
- Get your mower serviced now to beat the queues in spring.
- Thinking of buying a new garden power tool? Check out the rechargeable battery-powered ranges that are coming on the market now. They are better for the environment, and you’ll be only buying one power pack rather than lots of different engines.
- Erect a net over your pond to prevent falling leaves getting into the water and increasing the nutrient levels when they breakdown, as this can cause algal blooms. They may also deprive the fish of oxygen as they decompose.
- Clean pump filters frequently.
- Remove dead leaves from pond plants as they die back.
- If your borders look full and there appears to be no room for bulbs, pot them into large pots or pond baskets. This way, they can be easily dropped into the gaps which will inevitably appear as winter approaches. Taller tulips and daffodils can easily be grown this way.
Tulip 'Fire Queen'
- Lift Dahlia roots and store them in a frost-free place for winter. Cut the tops back to about 8-10 cm and stand them upside down for a few days to let the excess water drain out of the stems. Dust them with yellow sulphur to prevent rotting.
- However, if you live in a sheltered area or garden near the sea, you may be able to leave dahlia roots in the ground after covering them with a 15 cm mulch of compost.
- Finish bulb planting now. The sooner they are in the ground, the sooner they will start rooting and the better they will perform next year. The main exception to this are tulips which can be planted late.
Children planting daffodil bulbs
- Layer plant bulbs in containers to provide an extended period of spring flowers. Plant the tallest varieties at the bottom and shortest at the top.
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- If badgers and grey squirrels dig up tulip bulbs and crocus corms, plant them in a buried cage made of chicken wire. The bulbs will find their way through the holes, and the wire will protect them.
- Step-up bird feeding this month. A variety of feeds will bring a variety of birds to your garden.
A blackcap and greenfinch on a bird feeder
- Don’t rush to cut off flower seed heads as these can provide free bird food.
- Put up ladybird, lacewing or mason bee over-wintering lodges to help these insects over-winter. They will help you with pest control next year!
- Install a shelter for toads, hedgehog and bat boxes to encourage these helpful mammals to visit your garden.
- Install a birdbath. Birds need to maintain their feathers as much in winter as summer.
Bird baths are important for garden birds
- Having a bonfire? Check that there’s not a hedgehog hibernating in there first!
Lawns, hedges, paths and drives
- Treat slippery paths with a moss and algae killer such as Patio Magic or Algon.
- Tidy up hedges and renovate those that have got out of shape. Some varieties will tolerate this well, but amongst the conifers, only yew will respond well.
- Treat lawns with an autumn feed and moss killer. For moss control, I recommend M O Bacter, which has a biological mode of action. There’s also a new liquid formulation for smaller lawns.
Fertilizer distributors make even application easy
- Plant or thicken up hedges now. October is the best time for planting hedge plants grown in pots.
Trees, shrubs, roses, conifers, etc.
- Transplant evergreen shrubs. Dig them up with a generous ball of soil to protect the roots and minimise disturbance. Add plenty of organic matter to the planting hole and water them in thoroughly. Continue to water until established. Mulch the roots and shield the tops from drying winds.
Root balling a banana plant to transplant it
- Reduce the height of bush roses by trimming them back by a third to half of their height. Cutting back will reduce the likelihood of the roots being damaged if the tops rock around in winter gales. Clear up and burn any diseased leaves.
- Reduce the height of butterfly bush [Buddleja] and tree mallow [Lavatera] now, but leave the main chop back until late spring.
- Plant new roses this month.
- If you've planted roses where they have grown before, add root friendly mycorrhizal fungi. Rub 'Rootgrow' onto the roots to improve growth, as the mycorrhizae increase nutrient and water uptake.
'Buff Beauty' rose
- Towards the end of the month, wrap the stems of Torbay Palms, bananas and tender palms with fleece. Use their leaves to give added insulation to the growing tip inside.
- Put a generous handful of straw in the tops of tree ferns and wrap their stems if they are in a very cold place.
- Plant any hardy tree, shrub, climber, perennial, conifer, rockery plant or heather. October is the very best month for planting!
A group planting a Ginkgo tree
- Plant evergreen shrubs. Avoid those that are less hardy as they are best planted in spring.
- Consider planting some clipped topiary specimens as they will look great all year round and especially great in winter.
Rosemary clipped into topiary balls
- Don’t rush to cut perennial plants back! Many look great when left for winter. Grasses have a faded straw colour, and seed heads feed birds and can also look great!
Pots and borders
- Sow sweet peas for the best and earliest blooms next year! Use extra deep pots or better still, Haxnicks Rootrainers. Plants established now can be overwintered in a cold greenhouse, frame or glazed porch and will tolerate some frost. For the best plants, pinch out the leader when it gets about 10 cm high and then select the strongest side shoot and remove all the others. Plant outside in March in well-prepared soil.
Autumn sown sweet peas are best
- Plant winter flowering pansies but look for those that are already in flower or have buds showing. Those without buds now may not flower well until spring. Don’t forget to take precautions against slug and snail attack. Watch for greenfly, even in winter.
- Plant wallflowers out to provide a great display and fantastic scent in spring. These traditional bedding plants still provide a superb show and look fantastic when under-planted with tall tulips.
Darwin tulips and wallflower plants