This Month in the Garden – October 2020

I am writing this much earlier than usual, on the August bank Holiday Monday, as I shall be away when the Loop deadline falls due.  This allows me to round off my comments last month about the extremes of weather during August by noting that, for some parts of the country, this is likely to be the coldest August Bank Holiday on record.  I hope things will have warmed up for my holiday.

Many of the jobs for this month will be done in preparation for next year.  If you grow sweet peas this is a good time for sowing them to get early flowers and a long season.  You do need to be able to grow them under glass but heating is not needed.  Nicking the seed and soaking it overnight before sowing used to be recommended but the latest advice is that this not necessary.  Sweet peas do need a long root run so it is best to sow seeds individually in long containers; root trainers obtainable on line or from garden centres are good and reusable but you can also use empty toilet rolls or tubes made from newspaper.  When three or four pairs of leaves are growing well, nip out the top of the stem to encourage strong growth.

You will probably have harvested most vegetables by now so you can clear empty beds.  If you are a fan of digging it’s good to get the winter digging done before soil gets too wet but this year I have found that my first no-dig regime worked very well.  It’s difficult to know if this was the lack of digging or the generous layer of garden compost and a scattering of chicken pellets, or the weather, but in many cases I have never had such superb vegetables.  Potatoes cropped generously and the savoy cabbages were huge ,although the slugs are obviously enjoying them too.  Even many of the onion sets which started off badly grew to a good size.  The main disappointment was the French bean and runner beans which went tough and developed beans very early; this was probably due to the very hot August weather.

Summer annual bedding will have done its job by now and can be replaced by winter bedding which will be available at nurseries and garden centres; winter pansies are a good choice and begonias are an alternative to disease-prone busy lizzies.  Don’t forget the nurseries which are often better value than garden centres and are often small local businesses which it is good to support.  You can still plant bulbs for spring and you may pick up bargains as the bulb season nears its end.

Early frosts are probably less likely now but are possible at any time in October.  Tender plants which have been outside during the summer should be brought under cover.  Common plants that this applies to are pelargonium (geraniums), fuchsias ( non-hardy ones) and chrysanthemums and many more exotic plants.  We have a calamondin orange and a bougainvillea which have enjoyed a spell outside but which I hope we brought into the conservatory before the end of September.  Incidentally, both of these plants had been in their containers for several years and were beginning to show signs of stress.  We managed to get both out of their containers and repotted them in larger containers with John Innes No 3 compost and they have responded magnificently.  We have high hopes of more home-made marmalade next year.

Apples and pears, probably due to heat and high winds, have been dropping very early this year so there may not be much to be picked at the usual time of October.  My fruit have suffered a lot from rot but clean-looking fruit should still be all right for storage.  Put in a cool dark place either on racks, not touching each other, or in fruit boxes wrapped  in newspaper.  Check frequently for signs of rot and remove affected fruit.

If you have a pond this will need attention.  Clear out as much dead vegetation and fallen leaves as possible, cut back taller plants and put a net over the pond to stop more leaves falling in.  Leave a space somewhere for wildlife to get in and out.  Rake fallen leaves off lawns and store them in black plastic sacks to use as leaf-mould.  If the leaves are dry add some water and stab the stack fairly generously with a garden fork to allow air.  Put the sacks away out of sight for two or three years to break down to a fine crumbly compost.

Jeremy Arthern

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