This time of year is so evocative and reflective, with morning mist and an array of autumn colour only 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!
If your fences are rather tatty or wobbly, have you considered planting a hedge? Hedges can be a very attractive feature of the garden, they also provide a much needed home for wildlife, and are more able to survive the perils of the winter storms than a fence. Autumn is the perfect time to plant a new hedge. It’s worth seeking out specialist growers and ordering your plants bare root; small whips are more economical, these young plants usually grow well and establish quickly, but if you desire a more finished look, and are prepared to spend more, you can opt for older, larger plants. A wide variety of plants can be used for hedging, see some suggestions for hedging plants by clicking here.
It’s important to make the time to regularly water and check on your new hedging plants to ensure they have the best chance to establish well, especially if you have ordered more mature plants, as these will need regular checks and watering for the next two years or so. Larger plants will also require sturdy supports to prevent them from becoming dislodged in the wind.
If your hedge is to offer the maximum benefit to wildlife, it’s important that you allow the base of your hedge to grow right down to the ground. This small, but vitally important aspect of the manner in which you cultivate your hedge, will provide shelter for hedgehogs and other mammals. Many hedgehogs nest and take refuge under hedges, as do other mammals and birds. The shelter provided at ground level by hedges is vitally important for these creatures. Hedges are a brilliant and beautiful feature, which you can cheaply and easily establish in your garden. Why not create your own edible hedge?
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 lift pumpkins, picking them up by lifting underneath the fruit itself. Keeping the pumpkin’s stem intact adds to the beauty of the pumpkin, 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 if you haven’t done so already, as they won’t store if exposed to frost and autumnal weather. Then gently wipe off any soil or dirt, and store in a dry, 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 pick the smaller ones that have yet to colour or reach maturity.
Cut back Jerusalem artichokes, so you just have short stumps of the stems remaining. You can use the prunings to protect against frost damage, just leave them on top of your plants. Alternatively, tie the stems in a bundle, to provide a home for overwintering insects.
If you are planning a bonfire, thoroughly check before lighting to spare any hedgehogs. The best idea is to cut any material you wish to burn and burn it there and then to avoid accidentally killing any hedgehogs or other creatures that may have set up home or be hibernating inside your bonfire pile. If you’ve already made a bonfire pile, it’s best to move your bonfire pile to a new site to light. It may take 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 bowl of water at ground level, and allowing them to nest safely in your garden, by leaving piles of leaves and logs in quiet areas of the garden, where they won’t be disturbed. Hedgehogs can be fed with meaty dog or cat food, never bread and milk, gravy, or fish, as this is detrimental to their health.
I am a big fan of hedgehogs. I never recommend using any kind of slug pellet, as these kill hedgehogs, giving them a long, drawn out and painful death, which they could never deserve. For more information on how to naturally protect your plants from slugs and snails, please click here.
Sow sweet pea seeds outside in Rootrainers, or pots which allow for their deep roots. Make sure you protect your sweet pea sowings from mice (as mice just love sweet pea seeds and the seedlings too!). You can soak the sweet pea seeds in liquid paraffin before sowing to deter the mice. You could also scatter mint leaves or pop some mint oil around your plants – as mice hate mint, or use a fine grade chicken wire to protect your sweet pea seeds and seedlings.
Mycorrhizal fungi are a UK species of fungi, that occur naturally in our soils. 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; helping 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, to move any plants that have become too big for their current situation, and improve the structure and appearance of the planting in your garden. You may need some help and assistance if you’re moving a big plant or tree. Use a fork, and always lift as large a root ball as is possible when you’re moving plants. 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, adding home-made compost or your own soil improver to enrich the soil. Water your plant in, 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 taking time out for a cup of tea, as you admire the view directly from your window, and in your garden itself, to check whether you’re making the most of your plants and garden.
Cut back rose bushes by about a third to prevent damage from wind. The rose prunings 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 redcurrants, whitecurrants, pinkcurrants, and blackcurrants.
Put grease bands around the trunks of apple (Malus domestica) and cherry (Prunus avium) trees now, to protect against pest damage from the caterpillars of the winter moth. The reason these sticky grease bands work, is because the female winter moth doesn’t have any wings, so she will walk to nearby fruit trees and climb up apple tree trunks to lay her eggs. These barriers prevent the moths from reaching the trees.
Remove yellowing leaves from Brussels sprouts and other brassicas.
Look out for any plants that need protection from the elements, and enjoy the month ahead!
For more gardening advice for October, please click here.
For more gardening advice for November, please click here.
This article was first published in the mid-October 2013 edition of The Surrey and Hants News.
To read the results of my Scented Daffodil Trial, please click here.
To read the results of my Sweet Pea Trial, please click here.
For information on how you can help hedgehogs, please click here.
To read about growing indoor mushrooms, please click here.
To read about growing miniature orchids in terrariums, please click here.
If you’re looking for ways to make gardening easier, please click here.
If you’re gardening on a budget, here are some tips and advice which I hope will help you, please click here.
If you’re looking for beautiful, important and historic gardens to visit in Surrey, Hampshire and Sussex, please click here.
To read about terrariums and bottle gardens, please click here.