Tips and advice on garden care in October
October has a pattern all of its own, with a rich tapestry of autumn colours and late flowers to look forward to. As the days shorten and the air gets a chill, your garden is beginning to slow down for a well-earned rest.
But that doesn't mean an end to the gardening – there's still plenty of fun to be had tending to your outside space and jobs completed now will help ensure your plants wake up healthy and strong in spring.
Some of these gardening tasks simply carry on the good work from September with the new addition of preparing your garden for the cold weather to come. So if you haven’t already, stop feeding plants entirely and only water if the weather is very dry - it's time to run through the October gardening checklist.
Tools & materials required
Gardening ideas for October
Lift tender bulbs and perennials
Now that there’s a good chance of frost, move tender plants safely back under cover. Although they aren’t actively growing, don't forget about them - they still need looking after.
Tender perennials (plants that keep growing for many years) such as most fuchsias and Pelargoniums, should be cut back to around half their height, around 15centimetres (cm). This timely trim helps them take up less space, as well as removing leafy growth that could go mouldy in winter. Then, dig them up from borders, pot them up and move them indoors.
Some types of bulbs are also too tender to be left in the ground all year round – this includes freesias, hyacinths, tulips (Tulipa), cannas, begonias, dahlias (pictured) and gladioli. Dig them up eight weeks after the flowers have died down and allow the bulbs to dry before knocking the soil or compost off of them. Then store them in shallow trays in a dark, cool, but frost-free shed ready to plant the following season. Check them regularly and discard any that are showing signs of rotting.
Protect plants from winter weather
Where possible, move any plants indoors that won't survive the cold outdoors. This includes any houseplants that were kept outside during the summer months. And, if you have one, move plants back into your greenhouse – though do give it a good clean beforehand with an outdoor disinfectant, removing any shading used during the summer.
Some tender plants can stay outside, but will need protection in order to survive. To do this, pack straw around the crowns of tree ferns - this protects the sensitive growing point. Then wrap them with several layers of protective fleece and tie them up securely with pegs. Why not also wrap a couple of layers of bubble insulation around the containers of any potted plants you’re going to keep outside? This will help keep their roots warm.
Certain alpine plants, like veronica, dianthus, sedum or thyme are vulnerable to too much moisture – albeit they don’t need to be covered up, so explore alternative ways to keep them sheltered from rain. Protect conifers from bending out of shape during high winds, heavy rain or snowfall by tying any loose side branches to the main trunk using garden wire. And stop this garden wire from cutting into any of the branches by threading a piece of hose pipe over the wire to cushion the branch.
Plant container-grown woody plants
Container-grown trees, shrubs, woody climbers and roses can be planted virtually all year round, but we recommend autumn as the very best time to do this. Woody plants take particularly well now as the ground is in the perfect condition - still warm from the summer, but moist right through thanks to seasonal rainfall. If you plant now, they'll be well established by next summer and able to look after themselves.
The only time you should delay planting is if you garden on low-lying ground or heavy clay soil that stays very wet in winter. If this is the case you’re better off waiting until spring.
To plant a tree, dig a large planting hole that is several times the size of the roots of your plant. Work plenty of compost into the bottom of the hole, and also into the soil you removed from the hole. Back-fill around the roots with a mixture of soil and compost and firm thoroughly.
Make a compost heap
Autumn is the best time to start a compost heap, as that’s when the garden is generating rubbish from just about every direction. This includes all the old bedding plants from borders and containers, crop debris from the vegetable patch and greenhouse, raked out moss from the lawn and fallen leaves from trees (though these are best rotted down separately in black polythene bags perforated with a garden fork to allow in a little air).
Avoid any woody material unless you've put it through a shredder first. And don't include the roots of perennial weeds or anything that has been removed because of disease, as it could re-infect plants even as compost. Instead, burn these cuttings.
For more advice on making your own compost, read our how to article.
Prepare and protect the pond
October is a great time to start prepping your pond for the colder months.
Firstly, gradually stop feeding the fish – they are almost dormant during winter and uneaten food will simply rot in the water. October is also the time to scoop out excess sludge from the bottom of the pond - we recommend using a pond vaccum.
Remove floating water plants and, throughout autumn, be sure to keep the surface clear of dead or dying foliage. Do so by covering the pond with some netting or wire mesh to catch falling leaves and debris. Fit it high enough to float plastic balls on the surface of your pond as this will prevent the butyl liner from getting damaged if the pond freezes over.