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Gardening Tips. October 2012

As we go into the middle of autumn in October, the weather can be very unpredictable.  We might get a ‘St. Luke’s’ summer around the 18th of the month, equally we may get damaging frosts and gales at any time.  So be prepared and start getting in all the tender plants, put the winter chrysanthemums into their quarters.  One thing is for certain, and that is that the days will be drawing in. British Summer Time ends on the last weekend of October (Sunday 28th October) so the plants are gradually going into their winter hibernation.

Autumn is also harvest time for the gardener, although farmers seem to get their harvest in earlier and earlier nowadays.  In the garden, all fruit crops should be picked and stored regularly.  With apples and pears, if you are lucky enough to have any this year, the test whether they are ready to pick is to lift the fruit gently with slight pressure on the stalk.  If it comes away easily – it’s ready.  It pays to pick over a tree several times as not all fruit mature at the same time.  Shortly after they have finished cropping it is good to get in there and prune the trees to encourage flowering and fruiting next year.  Pruning apple trees could take up a book with all sorts of diagrams.  The most important thing is to thin out overgrowth and any dead branches.  Look out for any sucker growth, I found a huge sucker growing at the bottom of my lovely cooker apple this year.  Basically tidy it up and have a good bush with as open a centre as possible to let in light and air to circulate.

Most houseplants will be slowing down their growth.  Water and feed less frequently.  Cacti, in particular, should be kept dry and frost-free during the winter.

Plant out wallflowers, polyanthus, sweet williams, foxgloves and other similar biennials for a good display in the spring.  I don’t know what it is that make my efforts with wallflowers so useless, but I am never very successful and then I am told that they go on flowering ‘too long’ when the other head gardener wants to plant out her bedding plants, so I now avoid them.

Once the ground has been cleared it is a good idea to break it up.  If you have heavy clay (as most of us do round here on the Surrey/Sussex border) the best way is to use a spade and to leave it with large clods that will break down over the winter with weathering.  If you break the soil down too much at this time of year, it will just become a ‘pudding’ and you will have to start all over again in the spring.  As my friend told me “make it knobbly”.

After the first frosts have browned off the tops of dahlias, cut them down to within 12 cm (9”) of ground level.  Mark the variety with a label, and lift the tubers so that they can be dried under cover and then stored in a frost-free place for the winter.

If you want early sweet peas, now is the time to start them off.  For best result sow one or two seeds in rooting pots as sweet peas have an exceptionally long tap root.  Germinate the seeds in the greenhouse with gentle, consistent warmth.  Once they have emerged sweet peas can be kept outside in a cold frame, only needing protection from the worst frosts by having a cover over them.


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