Autumn this year has started damp, grey and miserable. For the past few weeks morning mists have given way to drizzle, making gardening just a distant dream.
Sun is forecast from the middle of this week, and after the rain the garden certainly needs a good tidy; leaves from our huge lime tree are starting to fall everywhere and perennials such as Hosta and Daylilies are looking somewhat bedraggled in the borders.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Sedum, Rudbeckia, Nicotiana, Aster, Dahlia and Helenium continue to add a very welcome splash of colour to my garden and will provide late season nectar for the butterflies, bees and other pollinators that will venture out as the sun returns this week.
Although the gardening season is drawing to an end, there’s still plenty to do in the garden. Here are my top 8 gardening jobs for this October;
1. Prune climbing roses. We have a lovely climbing rose trained against our house in the front garden. It has been here much longer than we have; it is gnarly, has little bottom growth and most of its flowers bloom well above head height. It’s time to give the poor thing a complete overhaul. I have already removed dead and woody stems, and my plan is to now cut back 3-4 of the remaining, newer stems to about 30cm from the base. The rest of the stems I will leave taller but will cut back any side shoots on these by two-thirds. By doing this I’m hoping to encourage new shoots come springtime which will fill out the lower area of the rose. If you have any climbing or rambling roses, these can also be pruned now, but not quite so drastically!
2. Start a wildflower patch. Now is a great time to plan a wildflower garden for next year. If the area you wish to convert is currently full of grass and weeds, you will need to remove these as best you can and then cover the area with sheeting to stop them from growing back with a vengeance. On a regular basis, throughout autumn and winter, return to the area to weed and dig it over again. It’s a hard process but by springtime you will have a weed free area ready for sowing. Wildflower seeds can be sown either in early spring or autumn. If your area is already prepared, you can sow wildflower seeds now! Rather than sowing wildflower seeds, why not try instead Le Jardin Perdu nectar rich flower seed bombs, they make a great Christmas gift too!
3. Harvest squashes and pumpkins. Squashes and pumpkins need to be harvested before the first frosts arrive. When harvesting squash, leave about 25mm of stem attached. Once cut from the plant, leave the fruit to either cure outdoors for a week (cover if frost is forecast at night) or in a greenhouse/cold frame. Squash and pumpkins can then be stored in a well-ventilated area, ideally at a temperature of 10-15c. Depending on the variety, squash and pumpkins will store for up to six months.
4. Plant autumn garlic. I prefer to plant autumn garlic rather and spring varieties, simply because it makes use of space in my vegetable patch at a time when I have little else growing. Autumn garlic needs periods of cold weather to aid its development, so I ensure that mine is planted before the end of October, in readiness to make the most of the cold November and December ground. Planted in Autumn, garlic will be ready to harvest in May. Right now the garden centres in France are lined with different varieties of garlic, if you’d like to learn more about French varieties of garlic, or how garlic should be planted, you can read my earlier blog here.
5. Prune Hellebore. I love Hellebore and they are certainly one of the first plants to flower in my garden come the New Year, braving the frost and snow in February to put on their beautiful display. To make room for new growth and to ensure you can fully appreciate their delicate flowers, cut off any large, old leaves now. Always make sure that any leaves showing signs of black spotting are removed immediately
6. Plant spring bedding plants in pots and hanging baskets. My summer displays are almost at an end, and for once I’m determined to create early spring displays in pots and hanging baskets. There are lots of flowers you can use, but I have chosen a mixture of Erysimum, Cyclamen hederifolium, winter flowering pansies and Primula along with two low growing shrubs, Skimmia japonica and Sarcococca confusa. Planting these now will enable them to become established before the harsh weather arrives. Use fresh compost which will provide the plants with all the nutrients they require during the winter months, and take care not to over-water them in cold weather; no one enjoys frozen feet! If particularly cold weather is forecast, wrap the pots in garden fleece or some other form of insulating material to help protect the plant roots.
7. Buy garden fleeces. We have already experienced a few light, morning frosts, and whilst it’s too early to cover any delicate plants just yet, it always pays to be prepared!
8. Harvest borlotti beans. Every year I grow borlotti beans, not only are they great to use in stews, but with their speckled, scarlet pods they add a splash of bold colour to the vegetable garden. Rather than eating them whilst they are young, I always leave mine to dry on the vine and by October they are ready to harvest. Borlotti are ready to harvest when the pods have fully dried and turned a straw colour. Once shelled, scatter the beans on a baking tray and leave them to continue drying for a few days. Once they are completely dry they can be stored in glass jars until you are ready to use them in delicious stews over the winter months.
Remember to keep collecting seeds and start to keep a close eye on the weather forecast; frost won’t be far away! I’d love to know what your plans are for your garden this October, please do leave your comments in the box below