This Month in the Garden – October 2017

I love those still, warm, sunny September days which conjure up thoughts of mist and mellow fruitfulness, with a feeling of summer but also a hint of nostalgia from the knowledge that time has moved on and autumn and then winter and the dark nights will soon be with us. So far though, as I write this in mid –September, we haven’t had any of those treasured days. The weather has been cold and wet and it feels as if we have already moved into Autumn if not quite winter. As you read this, though, at the beginning of October we have to accept that we really are in Autumn …
One of the great compensations of autumn is a display of colour in the trees but that will inevitably be followed by leaf fall which brings us both some work and some benefit. Fallen leaves need to be swept up. Leaving them, particularly on lawns, becomes unsightly and, more importantly, they will damage the grass if not cleared away. Don’t be tempted to put them in the green bin for waste clearance. Use them in moderate quantities mixed with green material (lawn cuttings etc) in compost bins or, better, pack them into black sacks, tie tightly and pierce generously with a garden fork and tuck them away somewhere hidden for a couple of years. The reward will be rich leaf mould splendid for mulch or mixing with sowing compost. If you have a pond it should be netted to keep dead leaves from falling in the water and building up sludge on the bottom. Dead material adds nutrients to the water and this can encourage the growth of blanket weed

Lawns, themselves may need some attention. Lawns become compacted with frequent mowing and need aerating (stabbing lots of little holes in the soil) and scarifying (raking out dead or over-thick grass ). You can do this yourself on a small area with a fork and a wire rake but it is best either to hire specialist equipment or use the services of one of the lawn-care companies. You may also have some areas of dead grass round the edges where plants have spread from the border. The way to deal with this is to cut out a square or rectangle of turf which covers the dead area plus some good grass on the side away from the dead area at the edge of the lawn. Turn the turf round so that the dead grass is now away from the edge and the good grass makes a new sharp edge. If the dead area is not too big it will soon be covered with grass spreading from the adjacent areas or you can sow it with grass seed.  In either case,  loosen the surface soil to help regrowth. If you keep the grass cut fairly short during the summer raise the mower blades for the last cuts of this year and the first of next year. If the winter is mild, the grass may need an occasional cut even then.

As vegetable crops come to an end clear the ground. Use any remaining green growth, as with runner beans, for compost and then, if the soil is not too wet, dig it over, incorporating compost or well-rotted manure, if available.  If you want to move shrubs or perennial plants, October is a good time for doing this while the soil is still warm. Make sure you get plenty of root ball with a shrub. Perennials can be divided and any top growth cut down to six inches or so (15cm). Add compost and bonemeal to the planting hole.

There won’t be much sowing to do at the moment but one thing you can get started is sweet peas. They can be sown now or in January or March but an October sowing is the best way to get early flowers next year. They can be sown in an unheated green house and, because they develop long roots, they are best sown in a fairly thin high pot. There are special sweet pea pots but, last year, I bought some root trainers and they were very successful. They are packs of thin plastic containers which can be made up to sit in sets in  a plastic framework and then filled with sowing or multi-purpose compost. When ready for planting out (March or early April) the containers can be opened so roots are not damaged in planting and the containers re-used. They are also good for other plants such as runner beans.

Jeremy Arthern

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