From the garden: Neil’s maintenance tips for October

Although there’s plenty of debate around whether autumn starts at the beginning of the month or on the 22nd day, in the UK, September signifies the beginning of this rich and colourful season every year. However, now that we’ve reached mid-October, there’s no doubt that autumn’s in full swing!

As we move swiftly towards November, the nights are getting longer, the warmer days are becoming few and far between, and there’s definitely that chill in the air that signals winter is well and truly on its way. With that in mind, it’s vital that you use this month to ensure your grounds or garden is ready for the temperatures to plummet further.

Last month, you should have started preparing for next year by planting spring-flowering bulbs. Once this has been done, you should also take steps to protect any tender half-hardy plants and structures in your garden, as well as trim any hedges to keep them looking neat and tidy throughout the winter.

Additionally, October is a great time to create compost bins for any leaves you rake up!

To help you get your garden winter-ready, Neil Gallagher from our grounds maintenance division gives us his run down on the things you’ll need to stay on top of this month…

Neil's gardening maintenance tips

Neil: Grounds Maintenance Manager


Protect your plants

Neil's gardening maintenance tips for October - greenhouseIf you have any half-hardy plants in your flower beds or borders, these will need to be protected during the colder months, and October is the best time to do this as it gives you enough time before winter arrives in full force.

If possible, carefully lift the plants from the ground, transfer them into large pots and cranes, and store them in a frost-free greenhouse until spring. However, remember to disinfect your greenhouse before moving the plants inside; you don’t want to encourage pests!

As an alternative to moving your plants to the greenhouse, you can wrap them with suitable protective coverings, such as fleece, hessian, bracken, polystyrene, straw or even bubble wrap. This will need to be tied securely in place, though you should be able to easily remove coverings if there’s an extended period of milder weather; this prevents rot.

Prepare your lawn for the winter

Your lawn will require special care over autumn and winter.

In autumn continue to regularly mow the grass as needed, but remember to raise the height of lawnmower blades to the point that you are only cutting the tips of the grass (try to avoid close mowing as that will put the grass under stress and encourage moss and weeds to flourish). To keep your grass healthy, regularly remove leaves with a blower or broom so grass gets access to light, and avoid walking on the lawn if it’s frosty as this can damage the grass sward.

To finish off, perk up tired lawns by giving them a feed. Use an autumn lawn fertiliser, which is high in phosphates and potash. This will help strong roots to develop, which will produce a healthy sward. Neil's gardening maintenance tips for October - Scarifiy the lawn

Don’t be tempted to use a spring fertiliser as these contain high levels of nitrogen, which encourages soft growth which can be vulnerable to disease and could be damaged by frost.

If you want to go the extra mile and make your lawn stand out from the rest, autumn is a good time to apply a weed and feed moss killer. This will prevent weeds and moss from spreading (especially in those shady areas of your garden), and encourages better grass root development. After a week or two after treatment, be sure to remove the moss with a springbok rake for small areas, and dispose of all the moss and thatch arisings. For larger areas and with a small amount of training, you can hire a Scarifier machine from your local hire shop which, would do the job for you without the need of breaking a sweat.

In preparation for winter (and depending on how cold it gets), you should be ready to give the grass its final mow of the year as we enter November and December. It’s possible that both rain and frost could make an appearance this month, remember to avoid grass cutting when the lawn when it’s wet or frosted over. This not only causes damage to the turf, but it compacts the soil underneath.

If you want a reason to get outside in the winter chill you can improve the drainage of the areas of the garden that get compacted. Improve your drainage by simply pushing a garden fork into the ground as far as you can (pick a damp day as this will make it easier for the fork to penetrate) then wiggle it backwards and forwards to make air channels. Repeat this every 10cm (4in) across the lawn, and bush sand dressing into the holes to improve drainage.

Look out for birds

Neil's maintenance tips for October - fieldfaresAs birds deter pests, you should be welcoming their presence in your grounds or garden all year round, though autumn’s colder weather means that you’ll have to do more to attract them, and the types of birds you’ll see in your garden will change.

This is because summer migrants visiting the UK will begin their journey home this month, so keep an eye out for winter migrants, such as redwings, bramblings, thrushes, and fieldfares instead!

Now that you know what to look for, give them a reason to visit your garden by regularly topping up the bird bath; as natural water sources may freeze as the weather drops, this can be a great alternative for them to easily find drinking water. You should also provide a constant source of high-energy food, such as suet balls, and birdseed mixes. These should be kept in hanging bird feeders and on bird tables to attract different types of birds to your garden.