This time of year is so evocative and reflective, with morning mist and an array of autumn colour adding to the beauty of the garden. With shorter days, time is of the essence, there is much to do and enjoy in your garden this month!
It’s the ideal time to plant any beautiful, hardy plants that you’ve had your eye on at your local nursery or garden centre. The soil is moist and still warm now, so make the most of this optimum planting time. When choosing plants, select only healthy specimens.
Don’t forget bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects when selecting new plants for your garden. Look out for plants that will produce a good supply of accessible nectar and pollen at flowering time. When you’re looking at plants to purchase, look out for the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ logo – a sign that the particular plant is beneficial for bees and pollinating insects. If you’re unsure, check out the RHS Perfect for Pollinators campaign, or ask at your local nursery or garden centre for more details.
This is a great time to collect seed from perennials and annuals! Collect your seed around lunchtime on a dry day, to ensure the seed is at its driest for optimum storage. Many hardy annuals such as Nigella damascena (love-in-a-mist), Briza maxima (quaking grass), Limnanthes douglasii (poached egg plant) can be sown now, for early flowering next year.
Collect up fallen leaves, to store in aerated bags somewhere out of the way, or in chicken wire bins to make leaf mould. It’s worth running the lawn mower over the leaves before you store them, not only will they take up less room after being whizzed up, they will also break down much quicker this way, giving you an earlier supply of leaf mould. Don’t expect even chopped up leaves to break down very quickly, it really does take time! Please remember to leave some leaves in a hidden away area for hedgehogs to hibernate and nest in.
If you’re going to lift your Dahlias, wait until the foliage has been blackened by the frosts, then lift your plants on a dry day, storing them in a tray of dry peat-free compost or sand, positioned in a dry, cool, frost-free place.
Plant the following bulbs, corms and tubers outside now now: Crocus, Eremurus, Erythronium, Fritillarias, species Gladiolus, Ixia, Lily, Narcissus and Ornithogalum.
Don’t forget your indoor display: Hippeastrum, often erroneously known as Amarylis, and prepared or heat treated Hyacinth bulbs, can be planted now for beautiful flowers and fragrance to enhance your home during the colder months. Bulbs can be quite an irritant, so take care to wear gloves when handling them.
Divide and replant rhubarb now. It’s important to remember when you have divided a rhubarb crown, to then give the plant a break from being picked the following year. This break is necessary to allow time for the plant to re-establish itself, before harvesting commences as normal in two years’ time.
Harvest any remaining pumpkins and squashes now. Carefully cut the pumpkins from their vines, leaving a little of the vine attached to the stem. Treat pumpkins and squash kindly, never lift them by their stem. Instead carefully support the pumpkin as you lift it underneath the fruit itself, just as you would if the pumpkin didn’t have a stem. Keeping the stem intact adds to the beauty of the pumpkin, but it also allows the pumpkin to store for longer, as a damaged or missing stem is an open invitation to pathogens. Bring your pumpkins inside right away, as they won’t store if exposed to frost and autumnal weather. Then gently wipe off any soil or dirt from your pumpkins, and store them in a frost free place. I have found the best temperature range to store pumpkins long-term, to be from 12⁰C to 17⁰C. You’ll find even unripe pumpkins and squash will slowly ripen indoors, so do harvest the smaller pumpkins that have yet to colour or reach maturity.
Cut back Jerusalem artichokes now, so that you just have short stumps of stems remaining above ground. You can use the prunings to protect against frost damage, just leave them on top of your plants. Alternatively, you could tie some of your stems in a bundle, to provide a home for overwintering insects and spiders.
Sow sweet pea seeds outside now in Rootrainers, or pots which allow for the sweet pea’s deep roots. To protect your sowings from mice, (as mice just love sweet pea seeds and seedlings) you can soak your sweet pea seeds in liquid paraffin before sowing. Scattering mint leaves or dabbing some mint oil on your containers in the area where you’ve sown your seeds will also protect your sweet peas, as mice hate mint. You can also use fine grade chicken wire to protect your sweet peas, or any other plants from mice.
Cut back rose bushes by about a third now, to prevent damage from winter winds. Your rose prunings need not be wasted, they can be used as hardwood cuttings.
It’s also an ideal time to take hardwood cuttings of Cornus (dogwoods), Cytisus scoparius (broom), Hedera helix (ivy), Forsythia, Lonicera periclymenum (honeysuckle), Philadelphus, Salix (willow), Ribes sanguineum (flowering currants), Sambucus nigra (Elder), Weigela and red, white, pink, and blackcurrants.
If you are planning a bonfire, please thoroughly check your bonfire over before lighting, to spare any hedgehogs. A good idea is to move your bonfire pile to a new site to light. This may take a bit of extra time and effort, but it is worth it to know you haven’t killed a dear little hedgehog!
Hedgehogs are lovely, they eat a diet of insects including caterpillars, earwigs, slugs and snails. You can help hedgehogs by providing a shallow bowl of water at ground level to allow them to drink, and importantly by ensuring that your fences have a gap underneath, so that hedgehogs, who have a wide territory, can travel around at night to forage for food.
Take great care to check any areas of long grass or vegetation before you start strimming – strimmers are the enemy of hedgehogs – many hedgehogs are injured or killed each year as they were nesting or sheltering in the area that was strimmed. Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures, who will be sleeping in their nest during the day. Hedgehog nests are super camouflaged – I’ve only ever found them by accident, so it’s worth taking extra care to really thoroughly check over any areas you plan to strim, before you start.
Leave piles of leaves for hedgehogs, to allow hedgehogs to nest safely, undisturbed in your garden. Hedgehogs can be fed with a specialist hedgehog food, or with meaty cat food, avoid cat food with gravy, and never feed hedgehogs bread and milk, as this is very detrimental to their health, as hedgehogs are dairy intolerant.
I am a big fan of hedgehogs, I never recommend using any kind of slug pellet (even the organic ones) as these kill hedgehogs, giving them a long, drawn out and painful death which they don’t deserve. Here are some alternatives to slug pellets.
Mycorrhizal fungi are a UK species of fungi that occur naturally in the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi have a special growing relationship with some plants, they effectively work together to create a stronger, wider reaching root system for the plant, which helps the plant to withstand drought and stress. You can purchase a concentrated amount of these beneficial fungi at nurseries and garden centres. Mycorrhizal fungi are ideal to use when planting bare root roses, trees, shrubs, fruit trees and bushes, and this is the ideal time to plant these plants.
This is a good time to assess and re-evaluate your garden. As long as the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged, you can move plants that have become too big for their current situation; although you may need some help and assistance if you’re moving a big plant or tree. Using a fork, always lift as large a root ball as is possible. It’s worth applying some mycorrhizal fungi to help the plant establish its roots in a new position, and stake if necessary. When re-planting, add home-made compost, or your own soil improver to enrich the soil, then apply a mulch to conserve moisture and help suppress weeds.
It’s often good to have a rearrange, you could improve your garden and the view from your house or flat, so it’s worthwhile to take time out for a cup of tea and to check whether you’re making the most of your plants and garden.
Put grease bands around apple and cherry trees to protect from pest damage.
Plant garlic, elephant garlic, autumn onion sets, and winter lettuce, and earth up leeks.
Remove yellowing leaves from Brussels sprouts and other brassicas.
Remove any unripe figs now from outdoor plants. Unless your fig is in a greenhouse or conservatory, these figs are never going to ripen. It’s the teeny tiny embryonic fruit, that are like little tiny petit pois peas on the fig branches, which will develop into ripe figs for you next year, so leave these alone. Do take care and watch out for the white latex that weeps from fig trees, it is an irritant, so it’s advisable to wear gloves while removing your unripe figs, and then wash your hands afterwards.
Lift parsley and mint roots, and pot up indoors, for a fresh supply of herbs.
Force chicory and seakale.
Leave areas of leaves and logs in out of the way places, for hedgehogs and other creatures to hibernate in.
Clear leaves from around alpine plants, to protect your plants from wet weather damage.
Plant forced, heat treated Hyacinth bulbs for a wonderfully early, fragrant floral display indoors. Plant Lilies outdoors. Bulbs can be a skin irritant, so do remember to where gloves when planting them
Look out for any plants that need protection from the elements this month. Enjoy gardening in your garden, or at your allotment during this magical time of year!
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