With autumn well underway, and winter just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about how you can protect and make the most of your garden during the colder months. From making your own leaf mould to harvesting pumpkins, here are 12 gardening to-dos for October.

1. Protect tender plants

Wind, rain, and frost can damage tender plants during the autumn and winter months, but there are a few things you can do to help prevent this. Tender plants are those which aren’t native to the UK, and cannot withstand plummeting winter temperatures. To protect these plants during the first signs of frosts, you could consider doing the following things:

  • Lifting or moving tender perennials to a greenhouse or another sheltered position. Examples of plants that will need lifting are dahlias, cannas, pelargoniums, and fuchsias. Make sure your greenhouse or shelter has adequate insulation.
  • If lifting or moving isn’t possible (perhaps because they are too large and established), then you could consider wrapping them up in materials such as hessian, bracken, or straw.
  • Adding mulch to the root area of conifers, evergreens, tender shrubs, perennials, and to the surface of the soil to prevent the ground becoming frozen.
  • Bringing any houseplants indoors.
  • Harvesting the last of your tender summer crops, such as courgettes, tomatoes, aubergines, runner beans, and chillies. Although if you live in the south, where temperatures are warmer, you might be able to pick tomatoes right through into November – or even early December.

For more tips on how to protect plants from frost damage, you might want to have a look at this guide from the RHS. It’s also a good idea to find out when you can expect frost to arrive in your area – keep an eye on the weather forecast, or try using this handy prediction tool. In some areas, the first signs of frost might have arrived already.

2. Harvest pumpkins

Pumpkins should be left attached to their plant for as long as possible, but should be harvested before frost has a chance to damage them. You’ll know when they’re ready to harvest because they’ll be firm all over, with a hard, sturdy stalk that is beginning to crack.

Any pumpkins with blemishes, brown, or soft spots might make for a pumpkin that doesn’t taste great or carve well – so it’s worth keeping this in mind. BBC Gardeners World has a useful guide that explains all things pumpkin, including how to plant, harvest, and store them.

If you didn’t get around to planting any of your own pumpkins this year, then you might want to consider visiting your local pumpkin patch. Many are open to the public for pumpkin picking around Halloween time. Check out this list from Country Living to see where some of the best ones are, and whether any of them are near you.

Once you’ve harvested your pumpkins, why not see how creative you can get in the kitchen? Delicious Magazine has a list of 32 tasty pumpkin recipes that you could try, including ginger and rum pumpkin pie, pumpkin and coconut pilau, and chestnut and pumpkin pie with meringue! You could also make use of the skin, by making a pumpkin bird feeder or creating a halloween carving for the kids or grandkids.

3. Plant garlic

Late October to November is a great time to plant garlic, because it needs a one to two month cool period (temperatures of 0-10 degrees celsius) to encourage good bulb development before the spring.

To plant garlic, all you need to do is break up a bulb of garlic into segments/cloves, and plant them in well-drained soil, 2.5cm below the soil’s surface. The flatter end (that you would normally trim off) should be pointing downwards. Try to choose a spot that’s open and well-lit to allow the garlic to receive maximum sunlight throughout the winter.

In terms of spacing, it’s best to allow 15cm between individual cloves and 30cm between each row of cloves. Garlic doesn’t do too well in an acidic soil environment (below pH of 6.5), but it’s easy to increase the pH of your soil by adding garden lime (a rock powder) to it during the autumn and winter months. RHS have a handy guide on lime and liming where you can find out more.

If you want to see exactly how to learn more about the different types of garlic, plus how to plant, care, and harvest them, have a watch of the video below.

4. Rake your lawn, give it one final cut and/or lay new turf

It’s important to rake your lawn regularly in October if you want to make sure that fallen leaves don’t stop light and air from getting to your grass. Without enough air and sunlight, your lawn will be more prone to disease. You can use fallen leaves to create leaf mould – an invaluable soil conditioner. We’ll explain how to do this below.

October is also a good time to give your lawn one last trim before frost really starts to take. You should avoid mowing your lawn when it’s frosty, or too close to a frost, as it’ll become more susceptible to damage.

Ideally your grass will be about 2.5 to 3 inches long come the winter – not tall enough that it will invite snow mould (a fungus caused by frost or snow), and not too short that it will go hungry over the winter because it can’t optimise photosynthesis.

Cutting your grass too short could mean that it spends the spring time recovering from shock and trying to repair the damage that was caused over the winter, rather than bouncing back healthy and strong.

If you’ve been thinking about laying new turf or sowing lawn seed, then October is a popular month for this because the soil is usually damp and fairly mild – meaning that it won’t need to be repeatedly watered for it to thrive, and will have a good few months to get settled in before the summer.

To find out more about how to choose and lay the right turf for your garden, you can have a read of this guide from Turfonline, or check out the video below.

5. Clean out bird boxes and keep bird feeders topped up

Bird nesting season officially runs from February to August, making autumn a great time to clean out your bird box, before the next nesting season begins.

The most effective way to do this is to empty the box of any old nests (making sure that the box is empty of birds first!) and then use boiling water to kill any remaining parasites. You can then leave it to dry out, before adding in a small amount of hay or wood shavings – which birds and small mammals might use for hibernation or roosting during the winter.

If you find any abandoned, but unhatched eggs in the nest when you’re cleaning it out, these can legally be removed at this time of year (between September and February, or August to January in Scotland), but must be disposed of. It’s quite normal for some eggs to fail to hatch – and many birds lay a surplus to allow for this.

Once your bird box is up and running again, you might want to take a peek every now and then. Try to avoid inspecting it too much however, as this can disrupt the natural flow of things. Instead, you might want to consider installing a bird box camera before nesting/breeding season starts, so you can watch baby birds grow up.

To find out what sort of footage you can expect to get from a nesting box camera, have a watch of the video below.

It’s also worth keeping your bird feeder topped up as the weather gets colder, to help birds stay warm. Sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet balls are examples of high fat foods that birds like to eat during the autumn and winter. You’ll find more feeding tips in this helpful article from lovethegarden.

If you want to find out more about bird behaviour, then it’s also worth having a read of our introduction to birdwatching.

6. Cut back herbaceous perennials that have died down

By now, many herbaceous perennials (plants with non-woody stems that come back year after year) will have died down or will be starting to run out of steam.

Trimming or cutting these back can help to improve their appearance and flowering during the spring. The base (or crown) of the plant will remain dormant throughout the colder months, and will then start to produce new shoots when the weather warms up next year.

Cutting back and clearing damaged or dead foliage can help to reduce disease and fungus, and prevent damage to the base of the plant. However, you might want to leave some perennials – especially those with attractive seed heads – intact, to provide shelter for wildlife through the winter. They can then be cut back in the spring if they are looking messy, or when new growth is appearing at the base of the plant.

Examples of herbaceous perennials that might need cutting back this month include daisies, delphiniums, and geraniums. If you want to learn more about how to trim or cut back perennials, then take a look at this article from Gardeners’ World.

7. Plant spring cabbages

It’s not too late to get your spring cabbage plants in the ground. April, Durham Early, Offenham 2, and Spring Hero are examples of spring cabbage varieties that you could try. Although they won’t grow much over the winter, they should flourish next spring.

You should space young cabbage plants as far as 18 inches apart, to give them plenty of space to grow. They’ll also need a good amount of water when they’re first planted. The video below will show you how to get started.

Cabbage plants are quite hardy, so they should be perfectly fine during the winter, unless it’s exceptionally cold. In this case, you might find it helpful to use a cloche (a cover) to protect them. You can find out about different types of cloches on Crocus’ website here.

One of the main issues that young cabbage plants face is that they risk damage from pigeons. To counteract this problem, you can stick a couple of feathers into a potato and hang it from a string over your cabbage patch, to ward them off. The pigeons will think that your cabbages are being guarded by another bird, and will usually keep away. This video from Gardeners’ World will show you how to do this.

8. Create a leaf mould bin

During October and November, you can rake up falling leaves and place them in a leaf bin – where they will eventually form a rich leaf mould that you can use to nourish your garden. This leaf pile will also act as a cosy nest for hedgehogs and toads during the winter.

A leaf bin is a simple cage (made from wooden crates or chicken wire – just make sure that you smooth all sharp edges first to avoid hurting wildlife) that you can add fallen leaves to.

All leaves will eventually break down into mould, although some will do this quicker than others – for example, oak, alder and hornbeam will break down in 6-8 months. Sycamore, beech, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut will take a little longer, while conifer and evergreen leaves will take about two to three years to break down.

Once your leaf mould is ready, it can be used as seed-sowing compost, mulch, or to mix with good quality garden soil, to use as potting compost, To learn more about how to make your own leaf bin and how to use leaf mould – check out the video below, or have a read of this guide from the RSPB.

9. Harvest nuts, apples, and pears

By now, nuts such as hazelnuts, sweet chestnuts, and walnuts will also be starting to drop from trees. You can wait for these to drop and harvest them from the ground. However, bear in mind that mice, squirrels, and other critters love nuts too – so it’s important to always forage sustainably.

If you’d like to get creative with your harvest, BBC Good Food has an interesting range of chestnut, hazelnut and walnut recipes, which are worth a try if you fancy a tasty treat.

October is the last month to harvest apples and pears before they start to rot or fall to the ground – so it’s worth picking any remaining fruit while you can. Apples and pears that have fallen might still be edible if you get to them in time. Even if they’re bruised or have slight defects, you can cut these bits off and use the rest in a recipe such as a tasty, warming winter crumble.

Check out BBC Good Food for a wide range of apple and pear recipes. Pear, hazelnut, and chocolate cake and flat apple and vanilla tart are a couple of our favourites.

10. Plant winter pansies

If you want your garden to have a fresh burst of colour during the winter, then consider planting pansies this month. Winter pansies are hardy plants that will often continue to flower throughout the coldest months of the year.

Pansies have an amazing ability to adapt to frosty temperatures and still come out strong in the spring. However, they must be planted at the right time to achieve this (when the soil is 7-21 degrees celsius). After flowers have bloomed and began to wither, they should be pinched off to encourage new flowers to continue growing.

Gardening Direct have created a useful guide that will tell you more about how to grow and care for your pansies. Alternatively, you’ll find more information in the video below.

11. Prune roses

Giving your roses some TLC now will give them the best chance of coming back looking healthy and beautiful in the spring.

The most effective way to do this is to remove any dead shrivelled flower heads, pick off any leaves showing signs of black spot, mildew or rust, and prune out dead stems. You could also consider moving rose bushes that aren’t in a good position or planting new ones – so that they have enough time to get established before the spring.

Gardeners’ World have produced a detailed article on how to look after roses during autumn if you want to learn more.

12. Collect seeds and plant spring bulbs

If you haven’t already collected seeds from old flower heads, planted your spring bulbs, or sown your spring seeds, then there’s still time to do it this month.

Seeds should only be collected from flower heads when they are hard and brown, and they should also be completely dry before you store them away. You can always place them on a sheet of newspaper for a few days (in a cool, dry place) to dry out first.

Once completely dry, they can be stored in brown paper bags, and labelled with the name of the plant, the harvest date, and any other important information, ready to sow next spring. To keep seeds dry until they’re ready to be sown, it’s a good idea to keep them in an airtight container.

When stored correctly, most seeds will be viable for about three years after their harvest date. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has created a useful guide on how to collect and store seeds if you’d like to find out more.

Consider planting spring-flowering seeds and bulbs now, so that they have a chance to put down roots before the warmer weather arrives. Allowing them this chance will often mean that they’re likely to be healthier come the spring. You’ll also reap the benefits of knowing that you’ve grown everything in your beautiful garden yourself.

If you’re looking to buy some bulbs or seeds to plant this autumn, then Seed Pantry has a great selection of seeds and bulbs that you can plant in October. They also sell seed kits that include seeds, growing essentials (including labels, compost and pots), and instructions on how to sow and care for them.

Cornflowers, poached egg plant, annual poppies, and larkspur are examples of seeds that can be sown in October, and will flower early next spring. Or if you’re looking to plant bulbs, consider planting tulips, lilies, alliums, and crocosmia.

We’d love to hear from you!

Do you have any additional October gardening tips that you’d like to share? Or perhaps you’d like to share a photo of your own green space? Why not share with others and join the conversation on the gardening section of the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.


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