Jobs for October
Feed your friends
Stock up on good quality birdseed as cooler weather brings hungry birds to feeders. Sunflower, nyjer and safflower seed attract smaller, migrating songbirds and will give them a nutritious snack while they’re visiting. If it isn't done already, it’s really important to take down hummingbird feeders before the weather gets too cool. The birds need to be migrating to warmer places to survive, and the availability of food here may prevent them going until it’s too late.
Flowers for New Year
See our special downloadable advice on forcing bulbs and get yours started so they will be in full bloom around the holidays.
This is a great time of year to kick start a compost heap or to give existing heaps a good top up. Add raked leaves and plant debris pulled out of vegetable and flower beds, being careful to exclude diseased plant material (like blighted potato haulms) and weeds with seed set to avoid storing up trouble for next year - these should be disposed of with household trash or burned. Give the heap a good mix or turn with a fork, and cover it to discourage rodents from making it home. If you’re new to composting, see our handy advice in FAQ #6 here.
Prevent snow mold (a fungal disease that thrives in taller grass) from developing on lawns over the Winter by raking up the leaves and thatch and mowing the lawn to a depth of 2".
Plant and protect trees and perennials
Cooler weather is perfect for planting shrubs and trees. Be sure the width of the hole is three times the size of the plant’s root ball to give the plant enough space to sink new roots. The hole should not be much deeper than the root ball, and avoid raising the level of the soil any higher on the stem of the plant as this can easily kill them. If the soil is poor, adding compost, peat moss or any organic matter will always help plants establish themselves. Water new plantings thoroughly right up until the time the ground freezes. Broadleaf evergreens (like holly, rhododendron and boxwood) should also be watered thoroughly one last time, especially those planted this season.
Many trees, especially apple and flowering crabapple, will grow many root suckers around the base of the trunk. Removing these suckers allows the
tree to channel more energy into the growth of the tree. Gently dig down with a trowel or fingers to the source of the sucker and then tear
the shoot away. The Royal Horticultural Society recommends this method as it removes the majority of dormant basal buds so reduces the chances
of regrowth. Maine-ly Apples offers more advice on pruning, including removing suckers here.*
Evergreens that are marginally hardy or subject to snow, ice or wind damage should be shielded with burlap supported by wooden stakes, plywood teepees or other supports (do not use plastic), which are much easier to construct before the frost is hard. Plants likely to have snow dumped on them from rooflines or snowplows need a strong A-frame wooden structure to prevent damage.
Protect tree trunks from girdling by rodents with spiral, white plastic mouse guards, which should be removed during the Summer and re-fitted in the Autumn to prevent them becoming home to trunk-boring insects. Painting trunks with white interior latex paint and wrapping them with an 18” wide piece of galvanized hardware cloth can also help and does not need to be removed in Summer.
This is also a good time of year to look at what plants thrived, and anything that didn’t, move or remove items that need to go and plan for next year.
Vegetable and annual beds
Start to close down vegetable and annual gardens by pulling out and composting all plant debris. Bear in mind that perennials with seed heads will be providing good food for birds and other creatures, so try to leave them until the seeds are either eaten or fallen.
Harvest as many cold weather root crops as possible. Some, like turnips, sweeten in cooler weather. Push aside any protective mulch and harvest whatever is needed.
Any pumpkins still ripening should be protected from frost with a tarp. Frosts will turn them black and soften their stems, limiting their use, curtailing their storage potential or ruining them altogether.
Harvest sunflower seed now by cutting flower heads (retaining a foot or so of stem) and hanging them in a dry, airy place where they can finish ripening and dry until seeds detach easily. Do not stack or bag flower heads or they will rot. Seeds can be further dried by spreading them out on a dry surface.
Tuberous begonias need to be dug before frost kills them. Clip off the topgrowth, shake off all excess soil and lay the tubers out on a dry surface for a week. After the tubers have dried, store them in a bag with dry vermiculite in a cool spot where they will not freeze (the refrigerator is perfect, or a dry, cool basement or root cellar).
Sow cover crops on empty ground to improve organic matter in the soil. A fast-growing crop like fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is useful both for adding organic matter and for fixing nitrogen. Winter rye, the most hardy cereal, rapidly produces ground cover that holds soil in place, and its deep roots prevent compaction in fields tilled annually. Till in the cover crop come Spring to mix in this organic matter as a soil conditioner.
Mound marginally hardy rose bushes to prevent them being harmed by cold weather. After the first hard frost, shorten the canes (not as far as soil level) and tie them together to prevent them being whipped by the wind and loosening the soil. Mound light, free draining soil, compost or mulch around the base of each plant with 8-10” of soil (avoid clay or other heavy soil). Buying hardier roses on their own rootstock is one way to prevent this work although covering is always a good measure. Durable cardboard rose covers are also effective.
Climbing roses need special care. Most climbing roses bloom on the previous season's growth, so any damage done during the Winter can substantially reduce the number of blooms next year. Remove the canes from their trellis or other supports and lower them onto the ground, then peg them in place with stakes and cover the canes with ample mulch. For roses in a particularly well-protected location, wrapping them with burlap while still on their supports and mulching the crowns may be enough to protect them.
Tools, pottery and furniture
Drain garden hoses, wipe away all mud and moisture, make any repairs needed and coil them naturally (forcing them against their inclination, especially when they are cold, will lead to cracks). Bring cleaned, coiled hoses indoors, where they should be stored flat, not hanging.
Clean and oil hoes, spades, forks and other tools, sharpen where necessary and store in a dry place.
Ceramic, cement, plastic and terracotta pottery, statuary and birdbaths should be brought indoors for the Winter wherever possible to prevent them cracking when soil left in them freezes and expands and/or the containers themselves absorb water that freezes causing chips or cracks. If bringing them indoors is not an option, paint them with a waterproof silicon-based sealant, cover them with a tarp or protective cover or simply turn the pottery upside down.
Grills and outdoor furniture should be brought indoors or covered with a tarp. No matter how durable they are, these items will fade or rust with time if exposed to the weather.
If cushions for outdoor furniture can be laundered, do so while there is still time to hang them out and get them dry before storing them. If they cannot be laundered, clean and store cushions using a stiff brush to remove dirt and then beat out the dust (an old tennis racket works well). Put cushions in a dry, warm place for several days and then store them in an absolutely dry location or they will mildew.
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