The turning leaves of gold, copper and deep red on trees and shrubs make October one of the most dramatic and colourful months of the year. The sun's rays at this time of the year are growing weaker and the days shortening, both clear signs that winter is not far away.
Less work in the garden means more time to plan your garden and order seeds, plants and shrubs to brighten up the garden next year. Garden tasks are mainly tidying-up and clearing fallen leaves from lawns, paths, patios and ponds. Take particular care of plants in the rock garden and beds with young biennials or seedlings, where fallen leaves can easily smother and rot the plants. On herbaceous and mixed borders, leaves can be left to rot down and release nutrients and act as a form of frost protection. On the minus side, dead leaves offer perfect winter accommodation for over-wintering snails, slugs and woodlice.
While spring and early summer called for frequent applications of quick-acting fertilizer, October is the time to apply slow acting fertilizers. Fruit trees and bushes, beds that have perennial plants, shrubs or bulbs in them, plus any part of the garden lying fallow, will benefit from a dose of bonemeal, which supplies valuable phosphates for next spring's growing season. Mulching with well-rotted organic matter also releases nutrients slowly into the soil and acts as winter protection at the same time.
October is also an ideal time to increasing your garden stock by either purchasing new plants from specialist nurseries or garden centres or creating more of your own from hardwood cuttings. If you plan to add more plants in the autumn then devoted some time at the beginning of the month to preparing new ground for planting, so the newly arrived plants can be quickly planted before winter sets in.
The arrival of frosts will come all too quickly now, so lift any remaining tender plants and bring them in under cover or protect them with cloches. If you are over-wintering plants in a greenhouse, take the opportunity to clean it out first. Sweep up all the dead flowers, fallen leaves and other vegetable matter, from the floors and staging, then wash everything down with diluted mild disinfectant. To reduce heating costs, tack up some temporary insulation, as a form of 'double glazing'. Rolls of special insulation material, which lets in the light but not the cold, are available at most DIY stores and garden centres. Even with insulation, you may need to heat the greenhouse on the nights when frost is predicted.
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