This Month in the Garden – October 2018

Although much of the country has had useful amounts of rain,the drought continues in Bedford and we are likely to enter October with very dry conditions. Cooler weather and a little rain at the end of August and in September helped a bit and, at last, runner beans have started to produce an edible crop. The hot dry summer and the later date made finding entries to the Biddenham Show a challenge.  The fruit and vegetable sections both suffered with some classes very thinly represented and some not at all.  It was good to see quite a few people taking up the challenge however …
Pears seem to be totally absent this year and, although there is a good crop of apples, many have fallen early which means that they won’t be good for storing.  Fallen apples will be bruised and mine, at least, are suffering quite a bit from rot. Picking and storing apples is generally an October activity but most of that will have been done before you read this. If not, put it on your list for early attention. Pick carefully and treat gently to avoid bruising. Last year I didn’t wrap my apples in newspaper but I don’t think they kept as well.

Lawns have suffered badly this year and the recovery which started in late August and early September has stalled.  Rake out areas of dead grass and mowing will be worthwhile to trim the grass that has grown and to suck up dead grass and leaves, Set the mower at  a moderately high level. Monty Don has recommended sowing the dead areas. If you do this, water the soil first to soften it  and loosen the surface. You can protect newly seeded areas from the birds with wire netting or black cotton strung between small sticks; alternatively, wait until spring to see what happens. Grass will very often grow back.

If you have a pond it will need attention this month.  The dry weather probably means that it will need topping up. Rain water is always better for this but as lack of rain is the problem you will need to use tap water which is better than nothing (which applies to all watering in the garden). Any dead or dying  foliage on the pond plants should be cut off and as much blanket weed, duck weed and fallen leaves  as possible removed. Oxygenating plants may need thinning. If you are feeling really bold you could clear some silt from the bottom of the pond as this builds up surprisingly quickly from decaying matter in the water and reduces the depth of the water. If you do this, leave the silt to drain on the edge to allow any wild life to get back in the pond. This should always be done with plant material taken from the pond. Then, net the pond to catch the autumn leaf fall, and, where there is a shelving ledge, leave  a space for wild life to get in and out.

Leaves won’t be falling just on the pond, of course, and on lawns they should be cleared as soon as possible as a thick layer of leaves can damage the grass. Leaves can be left  on borders as mulch or cleared as you prefer. Store the leaves in large black plastic bags tied at the top. Water the leaves if dry or they won’t decompose. Stab the bags all over with a garden fork and put away and forget about them for two or three years when they will give you lovely leaf mould for mulching or adding to compost.

Summer bedding should be cleared now and replaced with plants which will overwinter. Winter pansies are the most popular and are best bought from a local nursery rather than a super store or garden centre to get the best combination of quality and price. Some of the ‘winter’ pansies I bought last year and grew in containers have kept flowering all year and are still going strong. If you haven’t yet brought inside tender plants like geraniums and fuschias, that needs to be done now to avoid frost damage. Dahlias should be left until they have been blackened by frost and can then be cut down and brought inside, or left in the ground thickly covered in mulch. It is often recommended that dahlias should be cleaned of soil before storing in a frost- free place but I think it is better to leave them in soil or compost in  pot or crate because the tubers can dry out.

Jeremy Arthern

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