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ArticlesOctober in the Garden

October in the Garden

Vegetables in October Jordan


During the past month, September, there are generally enough warm days that it is still possible to believe that summer is hanging on and, this year, having had so much rain in August, any dryness is worth celebrating. This month autumn tightens its hold and the chances of properly warm, dry, weather recede.

Many garden plants are actively shedding seed at the moment in expectation of winter cold and their own demise. During dry weather it’s worth collecting seed of plants which are offering it up and which you deem worthy of sowing again for next year. If you’re not sure whether to sow it straight away or to store it away, to sow next spring, then do both.

The half that you sow now should be scattered onto the surface of a gritty, free draining, compost, in a seed tray, and finally top-dressed with fine gravel or potting grit. Leave this in a sheltered position, outdoors, where it can be subjected to winter cold. This is required for most seeds of hardy plants in order to break their dormancy and ensure that they sprout in the spring. If there is any danger of them being disturbed, by wildlife / cats etc., then wrap a rectangle of fine mesh ‘chicken wire’ over the seed tray.

The seed that you put aside for sowing in the spring, maybe in the warmth of the greenhouse, needs to be perfectly dry before packing into paper envelopes and labelling with as much information as you can muster (if the seed has been collected from someone else’s garden it’s possible that you don’t actually know for sure what it is!). For long-term storage the envelopes should be placed into a sealable container, old ice-cream tub or such like, and desiccating silica gel sachets added to remove any excess moisture. To extract maximum longevity from your precious seed then this container should in turn be kept in the bottom of the fridge.

Taking cuttings is another ‘back up’ method and useful as the resulting progeny will be identical to their parent. All plants in the garden are able to be increased by some form of vegetative propagation, of which taking cuttings is one example, or by sowing the seed they produce. Many promiscuous individuals lend themselves to both. There is no single month when all plants are able to be propagated, by any of the numerous methods applicable, so investing in a specialist handbook is wise if this fascinating aspect of gardening appeals to you—and lets me nicely ‘off the hook’ for now!

Back to the month in hand; maintain a ‘border control’ and gently remove collapsed foliage, subtly intervening to keep plants looking their best for as long as possible. It’s a good time for digging up and moving plants around so re-organisation is the name of the game. Look for classic autumn performance plants to plug gaps and inject colour; asters, Ceratostigma, chrysanthemums, Schizostylis and nerines all have surprisingly strong colour for this time of year.

Lawns can be repaired with turf or, if the weather is suitably clement, a late sowing of lawn seed. Existing lawns can be cut less often and the grass left a little longer so that they are less likely to be damaged by foot traffic in wet weather. Mowing also has the added bonus of removing the odd fallen leaf (assuming you have a mower that collects the clippings). With luck the mass autumn leaf drop is still at least a month away.

Tender perennials and dubiously hardy border plants, like cannas, should be brought under cover towards the end of the month when the risk of overnight frost becomes too great. Cannas need to be kept in large pots, or boxes, of barely moist compost in a light but frost free place. If it never gets really cold then they may well stay in leaf all winter. Dahlias will probably stay outside until next month as it’s traditional to let them get blackened by the first frost.

Don’t forget to keep on planting bulbs for spring flowering. Hold off planting tulips until next month because, and it’s worth saying again, they are less likely to be affected by ‘tulip fire’ (a nasty fungal disease). The spores are spread by rain splashing on infected leaves so, I assume, the reason for delaying planting is to ensure that the bulb sprouts underground as late as possible so the emerging shoot is less likely to encounter active spores from any previous tulips. I’m happy to go along with it because there are more than enough other species which really do need to be planted now.

In fact, you’ve already missed the boat for winter flowering types and those which have very small, easily desiccated, perennation organs (root, tuber, rhizome, bulb, or corm) but don’t worry—set a reminder for August 2016, on your phone or computer, to alert you in good time next year!

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