Essential tasks for October
Keep your garden looking its best with our guide to essential tasks that need doing in October.
In the Flower garden
Plant spring bulbs: Continue planting bulbs for spring-flowering displays. Give priority to daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, fritillarias, erythroniums, irises and small bulbs in rock gardens. Tulips can be kept back for planting later in October and even into early November.
Plant shrubs: Autumn is an ideal time to plant new shrubs and perennials. Prune back old flowering stems on rambler roses and tie in any new shoots to the support.
Enjoy seed-heads: The last orange-peel blooms of Clematis orientalis open their fluffy seed-heads as the autumn sun catches their silky, silvery strands. Enjoy the display until late February, when all stems can be untangled and pruned hard back to about 60cm (2ft) above soil level.
Create a crocus carpet: Brighten up an expanse of lawn, especially around trees or in less formal areas, by planting a crocus carpet. The best way to make it look natural is to pick up large handfuls of crocus corms and freely scatter them around. Use a bulb planter to take out cores of soil where they fall, popping a corm into each hole before replacing the turf and watering in. After flowering in spring, allow their grassy foliage to develop and refrain from mowing off until the end of May or early June.
Dahlias: Lift and store dahlia tubers as soon as their foliage has been blackened by the first frost. Cut the hollow stems back down to about 10cm (4in) above the tuber. The tuber should then be stood upside down to allow any water to drain out.
Sweet peas: Sow seeds in pots now, then keep in a cold frame or a sheltered position for the winter. Autumn-raised plants will produce blooms earlier than those sown during spring.
In the Glasshouse
Protect tender perennials: Temperatures in colder areas can drop considerably in October, especially at night. Bring large containers of tender perennials, such as fuchsias, argyranthemums, pelargoniums and abutilons, into the shelter of the greenhouse for winter. Plants growing outside in borders can be carefully lifted, potted up and brought under cover. If their top growth is tall and leggy, trim it back to avoid possible damage.
Check for leaf pests: Thoroughly check plants brought inside for winter for any signs of pests. Treat tehm if necessary and pick off any dead leaves.
Hyacinths: Continue planting bowls of hyacinths for indoor displays. Prepared bulbs are more expensive, but will flower earlier. Look out for multiflora bulbs which produce large clumps of small flower spikes.
Begonias: Reduce the amount of water given to pot-grown tuberous begonias, letting the compost dry out and the tops die off. Later in winter, remove the leaves and compost, dust the tuber with sulphur powder and store in paper bags in a cool, dry place.
Chrysanthemums: Pot-grown, late-flowering chrysanthemums should now have been brought in from outside, to bloom under cover. Check regularly for signs of pests. Maintain good air circulation around plants to prevent diseases.
In the Kitchen Garden
Harvesting crops: Continue harvesting carrots and potatoes for storage, ensuring crops are dry and clean. Never store any produce showing signs of damage or infection.
Crops to sow: Hardy varieties of peas and broad beans can be sown now. Most benefit from cloche protection in winter, especially in very cold areas.
Fruit orders: Plan now for autumn and winter fruit planting, by ordering new varieties of fruit trees, bushes and cane fruits.
Tomatoes: Finish picking outdoor tomatoes soon or they may succumb to disease. Green tomatoes can be picked to ripen separately or hang the entire plant in the greenhouse so the fruit can ripen on the vine. See our top tips on growing tomatoes.
Herbs: Pot up herbs so that they can be grown in a porch or on a windowsill for use during winter.
Apples: Check if early-ripening apples are ready for harvesting by cupping them in your hand and gently lifting them upwards to see if the fruit comes away easily. If not, leave it to ripen further on the tree. Most early-ripening apples need eating straight away, as they do not store well.
Marrows: Once the skins of ripe marrows have hardened in the sun, they can be cut and stored for winter. Place on a shelf in a cool shed, so the air circulates around them.
Raspberries: Finish harvesting autumn-ripening varieties. All canes that have carried fruit this year can be cut down to soil level. New canes that form in the spring will produce a crop next autumn.
Blackberries: Pick berries from late-fruiting varieties as they ripen, covering them with netting to keep birds at bay. Once they are finished, cut the fruited canes away at soil level and tie in this year's new canes.
Onions and garlic: Lay onions on greenhouse staging so that their tops and roots completely dry out before storing. Plant out selected varieties of garlic and Japanese onion sets, suitable for autumn planting.
Sow hardy annuals: If you're gardening on a tight budget, sow hardy annuals. These will quickly germinate and the thinned seedlings will flower earlier than spring-sown annuals. If you grew hardy annuals this year, why not save some seeds to sow now or in the spring.
Garden waste: During autumn the garden often produces more waste than you can cope with, so now is the time to consider investing in a shredder and additional compost bins. Recycling organic material by composting it is always preferable to having bonfires, as any neighbour will tell you!
Pond care: Stretch a large piece of small-mesh netting over ponds and water features to prevent autumn leaves from falling in. Peg down the edges. Pick off leaves regularly and remove any that blow in with a small net, taking great care not to damage butyl liners. Also clear away remains of dying aquatic and marginal plants.
Evergreen pots: Empty pots and baskets of summer bedding and plant up with a new selection to provide colour and interest right through autumn and into spring. Use one or two small evergreen shrubs, such as euonymus or dwarf conifers, as structural elements within the pot, filling in around them with seasonal bedding to provide flowers during mild spells.
Irrigation systems: Disconnect seeping hoses and drip irrigation that is no longer needed, give them a clean and store them away for the winter.
Conifers: Autumn is a good time to move established conifers and evergreen shrubs. Dig them up with the largest rootball you can manage. Prepare the new planting site well and keep them well watered until they have established. Protect sensitive varieties from drying winds by surrounding with a netting wind-break.
Sow lawn seed: Finish sowing new lawns while the soil conditions are still warm enough for grass seed to germinate. Turf can still be laid in autumn, if the soil is not too wet.