What to do in the garden in October

Liquidambar styraciflua from T&M

This month, enjoy the autumnal colours in the garden
Image: Liquidambar styraciflua from Thompson & Morgan

October is a beautiful month of autumnal colours and first frosts. Crisp, blue-sky days are the perfect time to tidy up and cut back in the garden. If you grow fruit and veg, there's still plenty to harvest and store for the cold winter months ahead.

For advice on what to get started this month, check out the ‘what to sow & grow in October' page. In the meantime, here's a list of jobs to keep on top of this month:

Timely tips

strawberry flower under horticultural fleece during winter

Invest in garden fleece for when the temperatures drop
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Here are some of the main jobs for the month of October:

  • If your greenhouse is fairly empty, now's a good time to clean and disinfect it. This lets in more light, and prevents pests and diseases from over-wintering.
  • Protect half-hardy plants with fleece or bring them into a frost-free greenhouse.
  • Sweep up any fallen leaves that harbour fungal spores and provide ideal hiding places for slugs and snails. Use them to make leaf mould for the garden.
  • Lift and divide any overcrowded herbaceous perennials whilst the soil is still warm.

In the flower garden

Rose filipes 'Kiftsgate' (Rambling Rose) from Thompson & Morgan

Give your rambling roses some TLC after flowering
Image: Rose filipes 'Kiftsgate' (Rambling Rose) from Thompson & Morgan

  • Lift dahlia tubers, begonia tubers and gladioli corms to store over the winter months. Remove any dead foliage before storing them.
  • You can take hardwood cuttings from deciduous shrubs now.
  • Prune rambling and climbing roses once they've finished flowering, and tie in the stems before autumn winds cause damage.
  • Clear up fallen rose leaves to prevent diseases such as black spot from over-wintering. To avoid the spread of damaging fungi, don't compost the leaves.
  • Clear overhanging plants from pathways to maintain access around the garden.
  • Cut back perennial plants that have died down. Alternatively leave the dead foliage in place to shelter friendly wildlife.
  • After tidying borders, mulch with bark chips, well rotted manure, leaf mould or spent mushroom compost to insulate plant roots for the winter and keep weed growth in check.
  • This month is the ideal time to plant hedges, edible hedging, and move trees and shrubs.

In the vegetable garden

Organic pumpkin ‘Cinderella’ from Thompson & Morgan

Harvest your pumpkins in time for Halloween
Image: Organic pumpkin 'Cinderella' from Thompson & Morgan

  • Finish harvesting peas and beans. When they've finished cropping simply cut the plant away at ground level, leaving the roots in the soil. These crops fix nitrogen which is slowly released into the soil as the roots break down.
  • If you plan to grow peas and beans next year, start preparing the site by digging trenches and filling with manure or kitchen waste.
  • Harvest pumpkins and squashes before the first frosts. They quickly turn mushy if left outside!
  • When you harvest your cabbages, leave the root in the ground and make a cut across the stem to encourage a flush of smaller leaves.
  • Hang any tomato plants and pepper plants with green fruits upside down indoors to ripen.
  • Protect autumn cauliflower heads, like White Step’ F1 hybrid, from frost by wrapping the outer leaves around them and securing them with string. Alternatively use a cloche or fleece.
  • Cut back yellowing asparagus foliage to within 5cm of the ground.
  • Reuse old grow bags by cutting away the top and sowing late salad crops. Cropping can be extended into winter if grown under glass, cloches or inside polytunnels.

In the fruit garden

Orange 'Bigaradier' from Thompson & Morgan

Move your citrus trees indoors to keep them happy over winter
Image: Orange 'Bigaradier' from Thompson & Morgan

  • If you haven't done so already, cut back the fruited canes of your summer fruiting raspberries, leaving the new green canes for next year's crop. Tie in next year's raspberry canes to plant support wires or fencing.
  • Move citrus trees indoors to a bright, frost free position (4-12°C) away from cold draughts and radiators. Reduce watering in winter but don't let the plant dry out completely.
  • Clear the straw from around the base of strawberry plants to increase ventilation. Shear back old foliage to encourage fresh new growth.
  • Divide congested clumps of rhubarb by digging up and splitting into several pieces with a spade. Re-plant the healthiest looking pieces.
  • To test when apples are ripe, gently lift them in the palm of your hand or give them a gentle pull — they should come away easily.
  • Remove any diseased fruits from branches or the ground so they don't infect next year's crops.
  • Wrap grease bands around the trunks of apple trees to trap winter moth females whose caterpillars shred spring flowers.
  • Remove the netting from fruit cages to allow birds to catch and eat any pests that are lurking there.
  • Apply a winter wash to the trunks and branches of fruit trees to kill off overwintering pests.

In the greenhouse

radiator in a greenhouse next to seedlings

A greenhouse heater keeps your plants frost-free during the colder months
Image: Mainagashev/Shutterstock

  • If you haven't done so already, remove any greenhouse shading to allow as much light in as possible.
  • Move tender plants into the greenhouse to protect them from early frosts. Make sure that there's enough space between to keep them well ventilated and reduce the risk of disease.
  • Check any plants which you're bringing inside for pests like aphids.
  • Continue to remove any fallen or dead plant material to keep the growing area free of fungal diseases.
  • Set up your greenhouse heater in case of early frosts.

Looking after your lawn

foot in wellyboots aerating lawn with garden fork

Prepare for lawn for winter's worst with preventative aerating
Image: Paul Maguire/Shutterstock

  • Clear up fallen leaves regularly to allow light to the grass.
  • A last mowing can be made this month before leaving your lawn for the winter.
  • Recut any lawn edges if needed. Install lawn edging to make future maintenance easier.
  • Aerate your lawn with a garden fork to avoid waterlogging and compaction over winter.
  • Rake any thatch from the surface and repair dead patches. There's still time to lay fresh turf if required.

Other jobs about the garden

Garden Grow Aluminium Cold Frame from Thompson & Morgan

Extend the growing season by investing in a cold frame
Image: Thompson & Morgan

  • Reuse spent compost from annual container displays as a mulch on the garden.
  • Create compost bins for collecting fallen leaves and dead plant material.
  • Make sure your conifers are ready for the winter. Taller varieties may need staking, and more delicate varieties should be moved to sheltered areas away from drying, winter winds.
  • This month, prune any tall hedging plants while they're dormant.
  • Collect leaves up for making leaf mould as a soil conditioner. Oak, alder and hornbeam will rot down in a year, but beech, sycamore, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut take a couple of years to compost.
  • Start preparing a bonfire with twigs and prunings — cover them with plastic so they remain dry for better burning later. (Be sure to check for hedgehogs before lighting your bonfire)
  • Net ponds to prevent leaves falling into them. If you need to clear pond weed, lay it next to the pond for a day to allow wildlife to escape back to the water.
  • Clean out water butts and let the autumn rains refill them. Install a new water butt ready for next year.
  • If the soil is dry, give your garden one last good watering before the ground freezes.
  • Use the last of the dry weather to paint sheds and fences with preservatives before the winter arrives.
  • Build a cold frame to protect young plants from extreme winter weather.
  • Check stored onions and garlic and remove any rotting bulbs immediately. The neck of the bulb is usually the first area to rot. Use onion bags to improve air flow.
  • Check stored potatoes and remove any that are rotting. Use hessian sacks to store your potatoes as this allows the crop to breathe.
  • Make time to give evergreen hedges a final trim before the bad weather sets in, so they look neat and tidy for the winter.
  • Once plants are dormant, it's a good time to lift and relocate any that you want to move.
  • Raise pots off the ground for the winter with bricks or 'pot feet', to prevent waterlogging.
  • Invest in bird baths and bird feeders this autumn. Birds are a gardener's friend and keep pests down.

From your armchair

Delphinium 'Mixed' from Thompson & Morgan

Stock up on perennials like delphinium for spring
Image: Delphinium 'Mixed' from Thompson & Morgan

  • Take stock of this year's garden and make a few notes or sketches for next spring. You'll be surprised how useful these are when you start ordering seeds and plants for next year!
  • Take snapshots with your camera or phone of where herbaceous plants are located before they die back so you don't damage their roots during a winter dig.
  • Capture images of borders you'd like to replicate, or areas of the garden that need improving. Start a photo diary to record your garden's journey.
  • Place online orders for fruit trees, fruit plants and hardy perennial plants — October to spring is the ideal time to plant them. Read our perennials for pots article for more specialised container gardening advice.

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