October Gardener 2018



By Tony Arnold

RHS Schools Science Resource    www.scienceforthegardener.com

Author  Science for the Gardener Book


I have always regarded October as one of the busiest and hardworking  months  because gardeners need to  prepare  for Spring! Yes the new year and spring

Clear falling leaves into plastic sacks or wire containers its worth saving them for the best soil improver I know ,leaf mould.

Tidy ponds and cover from leaves and dig out silt and yellowing water lily leaves, reduce feeding fish. Leave any water weed cleared  beside the pond to allow any wildlife to return.

Check still dried out hard soil moisture level


Prepare and repair recently very hard  and dried out soil. Add plenty of top soil and plenty of mulch with organic matter to replace the vital nitrogen cycle and the main nutrients of Phosphorus for strengthening cell structure and roots and potassium for  flowering.  It’s a very good time  for either removing and planting new trees and shrubs and hedges, especially hardy climbers ,all to have that valuable over wintering vernalisation.   Remove from now hopefully softer wetter ground  all roots and all unwanted plants that in your view have ‘not benefited your garden’ to leave that valuable space we all keep running out of !!.Many people have told me how huge and widespread many of their plants have grown or even died from the very severe heat wave and drought especially conifers , so now is the best opportunity of the year to remove or  prune. Severe pruning can work well although we get a big shock in winter when with leaf drop the garden looks like its just come out of the barbers with a short back and sides . Caution look first for those special Spring flowering buds of Camellia, Forsythia, Magnolia that are now very evidently growing fast.  If you are cutting in to old wood such as many  conifers ,heathers  and lavenders check first  as it will not regenerate, just decide what size and form you want to leave the plant before you start to prune.  Perennials such as Crocosmias can be lifted and divided now especially if clumps are getting too huge, it’s your garden space as well as the plants so don’t wait till you are overwhelmed in late summer autumn.

Roses and soft fruits should be cut very hard back as winter winds will snap brittle rose stems.  Remove by hand rose black spot leaves, do not compost, burn or dispose as compost  otherwise they will recycle  back.

This is a good time to plant spring bulbs but dig them in deep dry very  gritty soil , three times at least the bulb depth its important otherwise they can topple over on flowering and be eaten by winter hungry creatures.  Talking planting depth if you are planting hardy Clematis you must plant as deep as your soil will allow.  Clematis wilt is on the rise caused probably by a combination of high heat and humidity in summer which  allows  a fungal pathogen to enter small wounds on the very  lengthy woody stems but it especially  attacks the roots if too near the  soil surface! Be warned I lost an Armandii that way.

Plants to look out for on a walk around approaching winter ,superb Ivy colours before frost not forgetting the Autumn colours of  ,Chinese Lantern and Amelanchier and Tupelo trees  and that  creepy shaped witch or wizard shaped Persian iron wood (Parrotia)  tree with its changing brown-red colours and the Cercidyphylum (Japanese  Katzura ) tree with golden colour leaves  and burned sugar smell, Acers with superb indented coloured  leaves  ,Kaffir Lillies (Amaryllis ) an excellent tough autumn plant .Crysanthemums and all the daisy family all have autumn long lasting colours especially the deep blue Aster ‘Frikartii’. Plant hardy wall flower biennials and winter-spring  bedding such as pansies ,violas,  usually on sale at your garden centres in November for winter and yes new year spring flowering. Winter hanging baskets are becoming a popular hardy  source of needed colour with bulbs and dwarf conifers .

Kitchen Garden

Time to prepare ground for Spring so take advantage of winter frost by digging over compacted clay soil ,add manure and leaf mould  which will break the soil  up and add those vital organic (unpaid) hard working microbes to help produce more  nutrients especially nitrogen. Add a scattering of high (13%) phosphorus as bonemeal  at   this time of the year ,the soil will have winter to absorb it as phosphorus  not very soluble so not mobile through soil. .Growmore (7.7.7) is excellent if you suspect your soil is requires generally refreshing with nutrients but do a simple soil nutrient check by looking at plant health such as leaf veins and stem and branch weakness and poor flowering .

Harvest remaining potatoes ,runner beans and not forgetting those wonderful summer fragrant herbs an enjoyable task to dry and chop. .

Onion sets ,garlic and cabbages can be planted while soil is still warm.


Prepare for some refreshing cooler  and busy October gardening , just think of those early Winter -Spring months that come earlier it seems !

Enjoy your October garden