With autumn 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.
- Protect tender plants
- Harvest pumpkins
- Plant garlic
- Rake your lawn, give it one final cut, and/or lay new turf
- Clean out bird boxes and keep bird feeders topped up
- Cut back herbaceous perennials that have died down
- Plant spring cabbages
- Create a leaf mould bin
- Harvest nuts, apples, and pears
- Plant winter pansies
- Prune roses
- Collect seeds and plant spring bulbs
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 can’t withstand plummeting winter temperatures. To protect these during the first signs of frost, you could consider doing the following things…
- Lifting or moving tender perennials to a greenhouse or another sheltered position. Examples of plants that’ll 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 plants are too large and established), 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 the surface of the soil to prevent the ground from becoming frozen.
- Bringing any houseplants indoors.
- Harvesting the last of your tender summer crops – such as courgettes, tomatoes, aubergines, runner beans, and chillies. However, if you live in the south, where temperatures are warmer, you might be able to pick tomatoes right into November – or even early December.
For more tips on protecting plants from frost damage, you might want to 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 from Gardening Action.
2. Harvest pumpkins
Pumpkins should be left attached to their plant for as long as possible but harvested before frost can damage them. You’ll know when they’re ready to harvest because they’ll be firm all over, with a hard, sturdy stalk that’s beginning to crack.
Any pumpkins with blemishes, brown, or soft spots might not 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 plant any of your own pumpkins this year, 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 39 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. This is 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 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 a 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. The RHS have a handy guide on lime and liming where you can find out more.
If you want learn more about the different types of garlic, plus how to plant, care for, 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, as this can make it more prone to disease. You can use fallen leaves to create leaf mould, which is 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 threre inches long come the winter – not tall enough that it’ll invite snow mould (a fungus caused by frost or snow) and not too short that it’ll go hungry over the winter because it can’t optimise photosynthesis.
Cutting your grass too short could mean that it spends the spring recovering from shock and trying to repair the damage caused over the winter rather than bouncing back healthy and strong.
If you’ve been thinking about laying new turf or sowing lawn seed, October is a popular month for this because the soil is usually damp and fairly mild. This means it won’t need to be watered repeatedly 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 read 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 one 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 Love The Garden.
If you want to find out more about bird behaviour, it’s also worth reading 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 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 producing new shoots when the weather warms up next year.
Cutting back and clearing damaged or dead foliage can help 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’re 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 trimming or cutting back perennials, 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 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.
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’ll eventually form a rich leaf mould that you can use to nourish your garden. This leaf pile will also be 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 break down in six to eight 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, you can use it as seed-sowing compost, mulch, or mix it with good-quality garden soil to use as potting compost. To learn more about how to make your own leaf bin and use leaf mould, check out the video below, or read 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, remember that mice, squirrels, and other critters love nuts, too – so it’s important to always forage sustainably.
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 recipes like warming winter crumbles.
10. Plant winter pansies
If you want your garden to have a fresh burst of colour during the winter, consider planting pansies this month. Winter pansies are hardy plants that 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 begun to wither, they should be pinched off to encourage new ones to continue growing.
Gardening Direct has created a useful guide that’ll 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 provide them with 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 has produced a detailed article on how to look after roses during autumn if you’d like 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, there’s still time to do it this month.
Seeds should only be collected from flower heads when they’re 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 then, 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 collecting and storing seeds if you’d like to learn more.
Consider planting spring-flowering seeds and bulbs now so 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, 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 plants, annual poppies, and larkspurs 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.
While the warmth of summer may be fading, there’s still much to enjoy in the garden during autumn. From that refreshing bite of the morning air and the glittering frost on the lawn to the magnificent display of autumn leaves, this season has its own charms. And, as we’ve illustrated, there’s plenty of jobs to be getting on with!
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? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!