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  • Louise Mills

Autumn Joys

As nights draw in and temperatures drop, rich autumn colours are flooding our gardens, parks and woodlands - October is a time of great beauty but also a sure-fire sign that winter is just around the corner. Perennials, Shrubs and Trees

● There is still time to plant or move evergreen shrubs. Roots still have time to establish themselves before the winter cold sets in. If transplanting, dig around the rootball to remove as much of it as possible and ask for an extra pair of hands if it is a particularly large plant.

● October is a great time for planting trees, shrub and hedges. Deciduous varieties can be planted throughout the winter, but evergreen plants should be put in as soon as possible this month; if not, wait until next spring. At the time of planting, dig in organic matter and plant firmly to the same depth as they were previously planted. Keep them well-watered if the soil is dry.

● Continue to plant new perennials. Remember to choose plants carefully to ensure they are right for your garden. Incorporate plenty of organic matter at the time of planting. Overgrown clumps of perennials can also be lifted and divided.

● Tall shrubs, including lavatera and buddleia, will be pruned hard in the spring but can be cut back now to about half their height to reduce wind rock over winter.

● Take hardwood cuttings from deciduous shrubs, including buddleia, cornus, forsythia, philadelphus, roses and weigela. Remove 30cm shoots of the current season’s growth. Trim off the soft growing tip and trim the base to just below a node. Place the cuttings in a trench to about two-thirds of their length and firm in. The cuttings will root and be ready to transplant next autumn.

● Prune climbing roses and get them tied in before autumn winds pick up. Clear up any leaves that have fallen to reduce the chance of spreading diseases such as black spot.

Lift and store dahlia tubers for the winter. Cut plants from their supports and cut the stems back to about 10cm from ground level. Don’t forget to label each plant before you lift it. Lift with a fork and shake off as much of the old soil as you can; use a hose to rinse off the rest before turning them upside down and leaving them to dry out completely. If you opt to leave the dahlia tubers in the ground make sure you cut their stems back below ground and put a good +6inch mound of mulch on top of the tubers to protect them from winter frost.

● Tulip bulbs can be planted towards the end of this month, but they can be planted as late as mid-December. On heavy soils, add grit at the time of planting to increase drainage. You should also finish planting all spring-flowering bulbs such as narcissi, muscari, iris reticula, etc. this month.

Kitchen Garden

● Pick the last of the runner beans. If they are not too big, they can be frozen. If you want to collect your own seed for next year, leave some pods of the plant until they turn brown. Otherwise, cut plants from their supports and place on the compost heap. Remember to leave the roots as they provide an excellent source of nitrogen in the soil.

● Finish lifting maincrop potatoes. They should be left out on the surface to dry out but if the weather is too wet, they can be placed in a cold frame or greenhouse. Only store dry and undamaged potatoes and place in a dark, frost-free location.

Harvest your remaining pumpkin and squash. Find a dry, cool place to let them harden off if weather conditions are too wet to leave them outside. Place them on a metal rack to allow for ventilation. Cold frames are ideal for this purpose.

● Cut down the tops of Jerusalem artichoke and asparagus ferns when yellow.

● Compost bins filled with well-rotted compost can be used for mulching and digging to improve the soil. If you don’t have enough to cover all the beds, it is better to use a sufficient amount on a smaller area, to a depth of approximately 7cm.

● If you sowed green manure crops earlier in the autumn, these can now be dug in to help condition the soil in the absence of other organic matter.

● Finish planting autumn onion and garlic sets. They should be planted approximately 10cm apart in well-prepared soil.

● Finish picking maincrop apples when they are ripe and only store healthy, unblemished fruit. Damaged fruit should be used straight after picking.

● Clean up strawberry beds, removing yellow foliage and old runners. Weeding and tidying up the area will help to lessen the risk of pests and diseases.

● Prune blackberries and hybrid berry fruits after harvesting. Cut out all the old, fruited canes and tie in new ones.

● Lift parsley and mint for winter use, removing yellowing leaves. A few pots of herbs on a bright kitchen windowsill will provide valuable additions for winter meals.

● Clear out old tomato, aubergine and pepper plants from the greenhouse as they finish cropping. Green tomatoes can be brought inside to ripen on the windowsill (bananas can help speed this up).

Other Jobs

● Pests are generally much fewer in number now that temperatures have started to turn cooler, but diseases such as botrytis and mildew can still be prevalent in the damp autumn conditions. Practicing good garden hygiene can go a long way to preventing these diseases from spreading.

● Rake up fallen leaves at regular intervals. Thick layers of fallen leaves can kill off the grass and encourage slugs and snails. Also remove fallen leaves from crowns of plants as the wet mass can damage the plants. Now is a great time to create a container in which fallen leaves can be piled up. If left to decompose for a year or two, they make a great mulch or soil conditioner known as leaf mould.

● Lawn growth has now slowed so mowing can be carried out less frequently with the height of the cut raised; grass cut too short will have less protection against the cold winter weather.

● Consider using leftover bubble wrap to insulate your greenhouse or conservatory. It may reduce the amount of light getting in, but it is worth it for the warmth it retains.

● Remember to protect less hardy plants during expected cold snaps by either fleecing or moving them to a more sheltered position or cold greenhouse if that is an option.

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