October, an Samhán,is the month when we start getting frosts and the days begin to shorten. With this comes the end of the growing season with plants going into dormancy. It is usually a good time to plant new material or for moving existing plants.
Older gardeners will remember back 20 years ago or so when it was a rarity to buy trees or shrubs in pots, only unusual or difficult plants were grown in pots. Everything else was sold bare rooted or rootballed and of course many plants still are sold in this way in Autumn. Bare rooted plants have the soil shaken from the roots when they are lifted, this is done for convenience and ease of transport. Rootballed plants have a ball of soil retained around the roots to reduce stress caused to the plant and to increase its chance of success when replanted. New gardeners may not be aware of the ease with which many trees and shrubs grow from barerooted or rootballed material. The biggest advantage of buying these plants is that they are cheaper than pot grown plants. Bare rooted plants are best planted in Autumn. Because the damp months that follow, most bare rooted plants planted at this time will be nicely established before the weather warms up next Spring. Bare rooted plants can also be planted in Spring of course but Autumn planting is better. While pot grown plants can be planted at any time, even in Summer, if you are prepared to water them. It is also true that even pot grown material establishes best in Autumn. The exception to this would be exposed areas where winter gales could cause damage.
Not all plants can be grown rootballed or bare rooted, it is mostly made up of trees, conifers and hedging type plants. Large trees and conifers generally come rootballed and trees of smaller sizes and hedging generaly come barerooted.
Conifers of all varieties eg. Thujas, Chamecyparis species all come rootballed. They are larger than potted specimens and always cheaper. Approximately 60–70% of all trees can be got barerooted or rootballed in larger sizes. Hedging of all types can be got barerooted, for example, fuschia, laurels, escallonia, griselinia, beech, hawthorn, etc. The time for all these to be lifted is generally from the end of October onwards until March. Don’t miss out!
The lawns at this time of year generally look a little anaemic so apply an autumn lawn feed to help it recover. If we continue to get this very wet weather, stay off the lawn to avoid any compaction. Reduce the number of cuts and raise the height of cut.
The vegetable garden has little to do now. You could plant spring cabbage and autumn onion sets. Maincrop onions that are beginning to go yellow at the tips can be lifted now. Insert a digging fork under the bulbs and lift them slightly to loosen the roots without breaking them. This will hasten ripening, but don’t bend the tops over as this only invites disease.
Apple trees and other fruit trees are showing their harvest now. People ask how to keep the fruit. You can use trays with open layers and stack them in that or roll up undamaged fruit in a roll or newspaper and keep in a dark cool place. Another way is to put apples in a plastic bag and close the top. This builds up the carbon dioxide in the bag. Put two pinpricks in the bag to prevent excess carbon dioxide (Carbon dioxide is used in cold stores). Store the fruit in a cool place and the fruit should last. Apples are the best keepers. Finally, feed all fruit trees with sulphate of potash now.
Many people ask what colour can they put into their containers at this time of the year. The first thing to bear in mind is there isn’t the same choice as there is in summer and winter bedding generally does not give as much colour or show as summer bedding. However in my opinion winter bedding stands out more so, particularly as everything is so dull and bare in the winter months. The following is a list of plants suitable for winter colour—winter pansies, polyanthus, winter flowering heathers, chrysanthemums, skimmias, carex evergold, variegated ivies, cyclamens, violas, wallflowers, winter and spring flowering bulbs.
Bulbs bring me to my next piece. Every spring I get asked “is it too late to plant daffodils and tulips?”. In general, it is. You may still buy some pots of them but it is too late to plant the bulbs themselves. So get planting and there is a huge range of varieties available now. Daffodils are the perennial favourites, the earliest starting in February going right into May with later varieties. There are dwarf narcissi types for very windy locations or for tubs, some examples are Jetfire, Rip Van Winkle, etc. Snowdrops need no introduction, but plant in a rich free draining soil. Tulips are best left for planting until last, to help prevent slug damage. When the foliage comes out, protect from slugs with slug pellets or in an organic way by scattering ashes from the fire on the soil around them. Hyacinths come in two forms, one for planting out into the garden and one especially prepared so as to flower indoors for Christmas, both having great scents. Hyacinths for Christmas can be planted early, singly or in a group of the same colour. Place them in a dark, cool place in moist garden compost and the buds will begin to appear after a couple of weeks. Bring them into the light to green them up and enjoy the flowers after that.
Many people plant bulbs in lawns or fields, described as naturalizing bulbs. Place the bulbs (usually daffodils) in natural drifts in the grass and plant them 5–7 inches apart. Either lift a turf with a spade and plant several bulbs underneath or use a bulb planter to excavate a plug of soil, plant the bulbs and replace the plug.
Planting depths for bulbs is roughly three times its own size, down in the soil, more or less, does not really matter. Bulbs are cheap, come up when you least expect them, return every year and multiply in numbers, so they are a bright and cheerful way of brightening up your garden and giving you an indication.
That’s it for now, Happy Gardening.
Bosco McDermott, Jnr,
Glynn’s Garden Centre and Fruit & Veg. Lydican.