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Gardening for Dummies: top 5 October tips

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Jackie Hunt has worked as gardener and estate manager at the award-winning Turn End gardens in Haddenham, Bucks, since 2010. Previously she was a gardener for the National Trust and ran her own garden design and maintenance business. She also has an Masters in furniture design. Nothing to do with gardening I know but I also find that mightily impressive! Here are her gardening tips for October.

Tidy up and cutting back

Miscanthus in autumn light 2011
As herbaceous perennials die back, you can cut them back to the base of the plant. We like to leave those with interesting seed heads such as grasses through the winter as they look wonderful when dripping with morning dew or crusted in frost.

Final lawn mowing

As the grass stops growing, you can do your final cut of the year, raising the height of the cut. While the weather is still mild you can still apply an autumn lawn feed which will encourage roots to grow and toughen up plants to withstand cold and disease.  You can also create new areas of lawn by sowing seed or laying new turf.

Sweep up leaves and make nutritious leafmould

Beech leaves Autumn 2012
You know autumn is well and truly here when the leaves turn glorious colours and start falling. Clear them up regularly and add to your compost heap.  If you have nice small, soft leaves from trees such as oak, beech or hornbeam you can collect them to make leafmould, which is great for improving soil or as potting compost. Tougher, bigger leaves such as horse chestnut, walnut and sycamore are best shredded first before using to make leafmould. Conifer needles and evergreen leaves such as holly and Aucuba are best shredded and added to the compost heap. You can also collect leaves with your lawn mower, which shreds the leaves and adds nutrient rich grass clippings to your leafmould.

Place your leaves in a bin liner, moisten them if they are dry, and pierce holes in the bag. Then tie them up loosely and stack them up out of sight – they will take up to two years to rot down.

Bring in tender plants and wrap up delicate ones

Before the first frost, bring in your pots of tender plants. If you have large pots that you can’t bring inside, try to move them to a sheltered spot near the house and wrap up well in horticultural fleece or specially made jackets (both of which you can buy at garden centres). You can also give a nice winter coat of fleece to slightly tender shrubs in borders such as Olearia (above) and Myrtle – I make a simple frame of canes then wrap round 2-3 layers of fleece and secure with string. Protect the base of shrubs and the crowns of slightly tender herbaceous plants with a thick, dry mulch.

Order seeds to sow next year

Agapathus seed head Autumn 2012Just as the garden is going to sleep, it’s exciting to plan what you can grow from seed next year. At Turn End, we like to order tender annuals to grow in pots and to fill in gaps in the borders, such as Ipomoea, Cosmos and Nicotiana. Also collect seed from your own garden plants on a dry day and store in a labelled paper envelope to plant next year.

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