October is the month of harvest festival. A time to gather in and celebrate your successes in all parts of the garden: and start to plan for next year! The end of the growing season also means a busy time composting crop remains, saving seeds and preparing your soil for winter.
See below for advice on soil, vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers as well as the greenhouse and conservatory, lawns and ponds. Plus What to sow and plant in October.
Soil and composting 🔗
- Large areas of bare soil start to appear in all parts of the garden. If left over winter, the soil will lose nutrients. Use organic mulches to protect it and give good structure for next year's growing season. Best mulches are:
- a thick layer of autumn leaves, wetted so that they don’t blow away;
- straw, grass clippings and autumn leaves mixed together;
- cutback plants such as sweet peas, peas or runner beans, chopped up;
- several sheets of newspaper, covered with damp grass clippings to weigh it all down.
- Don't put compost down now, many of its nutrients could be washed away over winter. Use it in Spring before the growing season.
- If you have too much material for the compost bin, pile excess into sacks temporarily. As the bin’s contents subside, top up with your stored material. Keep the bin covered to retain as much warmth as possible. See Compost Making.
- Insulate your worm bin with bubble wrap, or move it into a warmer spot, such as a porch or greenhouse. This will help to keep the worms working well over winter. See the members' factsheet on Worm composting.
- Collect deciduous autumn leaves and store, to create leafmould. Make sure leaves are damp, and use plastic sacks with holes for air circulation. Trials at Ryton Organic Gardens over many years have shown the value of adding leafmould to the soil. Plants are healthier, crop yields are higher, and pest/disease problems fewer. See members' factsheet Make your own Leafmould.
- To attract beneficial insects, and to help them overwinter in the garden, leave some leaf piles in secluded corners; make a small log stack; allow some tussocky plants to stand all winter. See members' factsheet Attracting beneficial insects.
- Save your own, organically grown, seeds, it is easier than you might think. Just leave a few pods on bean plants to dry in the wind, and collect before winter frosts. See Seed Saving.
- Autumn is the best time to lime your soil. Organic gardeners use dolomite limestone, which is slowly broken down in the soil. Apply it where you plan to grow brassica crops next year. Never lime soil before growing potatoes.
- Start a winter compost trench: this will be next season’s planting area for moisture-loving crops such as runner beans or pumpkins. Dig a trench – or a hole – a spade deep. Fill with kitchen scraps as they come available, covering each addition with some soil. When the trench is full, cover with soil.
- Runner beans, carrots, beetroot, pumpkins and winter squashes are all ready to be harvested, stored or preserved. Do this before any frost. See Harvesting and Storage.
- Remove dead and yellowing leaves from winter brassicas and put in compost bin. If left on the plant, they can encourage fungal diseases and harbour pests.
- Check that bird netting is still in place. Pigeons are likely to damage your Brussels and broccoli for winter food.
- Plant new fruit trees and bushes. Choose ‘bare root’ plants, they usually cost less than pot grown ones. Ideally choose organic stock, certified disease free and from an organic nursery. The soil is still warm now so plants will be able to start developing a good root system before winter. See How to Grow Fruit the Organic Way and members' factsheet Rootstocks for tree fruit.
- Clean up strawberry beds. Remove netting to let birds in, they will pick off pests. Remove dead and yellowing leaves and any plants showing signs of disease. Remove and compost the summer’s straw mulch, and replace with a soil conditioner such as leafmould.
- Put apple and pear windfalls onto the compost heap.
- Prune out canker-infected branches and twigs on apples and pears. Disinfect tools afterwards. But don't prune cherries, plums and peaches and apricots. Wait until Spring when sap is moving and wounds heal rapidly.
- Apply greasebands to apple, pear, plum and cherry trees. You’ll stop wingless female winter moths and March moths from crawling up the tree to hibernate or lay eggs. Remember to grease the supporting stakes too, as they offer an alternative route into the tree.
- Collect up and compost fallen leaves under fruit trees to remove disease spores.
- Inspect apple trees for woolly aphids; look for a whitish fluffy coating on bark. Rub off on sight as they can damage the tree. See members' factsheet on Woolly aphid for control measures.
- Clear away and compost dying foliage and stems
- Dig up and destroy mint plants affected by rust. Replace next year with new, clean plants
- Check rosemary plants regularly for rosemary beetle. Remove and destroy adults and larvae on sight
- Mulch soil as annual and herbaceous plants die back and large areas of bare soil appear. See above in the Vegetables section for what to use as mulch.
- Save seed from plants as the heads appear. See Seed Saving.
- Dig out weeds under sprawling ornamental plants. You can compost their green foliage, but not seedheads or roots.
Keeping the growing area healthy 🔗
- Clean the greenhouse to remove overwintering pests. Citrox disinfectant - available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue – is ideal for the purpose. Remember to wash under the staging as well as the top surfaces. Leave spiders where possible; they are excellent predators.
- Wash out pots and trays. Good hygiene will reduce pest/disease problems.
- Before you bring any plants in, check them for pests. Cut out any rolled/folded leaves and trim back top growth. Scrape off top 2 cm of potting compost and top up with grit over winter. Next spring, as growth starts, remove grit and replace with clean potting compost.
- In a warm conservatory, you can still use biological controls against pests.
- Leave alone now in order not to disturb hibernating creatures. Just continue to remove duck weed when seen. Scoop out falling leaves as they can foul the water as they rot.
- Continue to mow, but raise the height of the blade. In wet weather, keep off the grass.
- Worm casts can be washed away using a strong jet from the hose. Or hold a can of water high and splash it down on the casts.