October – Preparing for winter and ready for spring

I love autumn and how there is a flurry of activity as things transition and slow down into the colder,darker winter months. October is the best month for admiring the warm colour tones of reds, golden-yellows and browns in the garden and the wider landscape. It’s reassuring to witness nature planning the next generation of plants by scattering the many fruits, nuts and seeds seen everywhere.

Although gardening outside requires additional layers of clothing, October often gets clear sunny days that makes being out in the garden very pleasant. Being such a colourful month, I have focused my first feature on adding colour to your outdoor space. Bulbs are one of the easiest and most recognised garden plants to grow and great for adding joyful colour to pots or borders. They come in all shades of the rainbow, from dark purples to crisp whites, and bloom in spring, a time of year when you need flashes of colour to brighten up the short days. Growing bulbs is ideal for inexperienced gardeners as they do all the hard work !

Now is the time for planting spring flowering bulbs. You want to complete this before winter sets in so the roots can establish, and you’ll get an early show of flowers. When buying bulbs, look for healthy, firm and plump ones with no signs of damage or disease. The planting is an easy process, and many spring bulbs are incredibly resilient, finding their way to the surface even if they get planted sideways – so don’t worry if you haven’t done it before.

The most common mistake people make when planting bulbs is not putting them deep enough causing the bulbs to come up blind (without flowers) in later years. With any type of bulb, you want the depth of planting to be twice or three times their own depth. For example, for a bulb measuring 5cm high, dig a hole 10-15cm deep. On heavy clay soil, which Bramley generally has, you can add a layer of grit into the bottom of the hole for the bulbs to sit on, so they do not become waterlogged overwinter and rot.

Place the bulbs in the hole with their ‘nose’, or shoot, facing upwards. Space them at least twice the bulb’s own width apart. Replace the soil and gently firm with the back of a rake. Avoid treading on the soil as this can damage the bulbs. Watering is not critical if planting in autumn as the ground already has enough moisture.

Bulbs also grow very well in containers giving a dense impact of colour. If you have a large pot, try lasagne layering (planted up with alternate layers of bulbs and compost). The largest and latest flowering bulbs go in deepest, with layers of the smallest and earliest in the top layer. In pots, you can plant your bulbs closer than you do in the garden. Even so, they shouldn’t touch each other or the sides of the pot.

If you choose bulbs that flower at different times it is possible to create a display that will continue all spring long. Pick three types of bulbs that look good and grow to different heights as this will create a more striking spring display. A popular combination I’ve used before include Dwarf Iris, Narcissus ‘Tete and Tete’ and Tulips.

If you’d prefer to plant in a container, use a mix of three parts multi-purpose compost with one part grit and plant as you would for borders. Water in well after planting and then again regularly in spring when they are activity growing.

To get the best from your plants have them in a warm, sunny position as this mimic their natural habitat of dry, sunny climates

TOP TIP: tulips can be left to plant out later than other bulbs in a garden border. I generally leave it to November as tulips are more prone to diseases than other bulbs and for this reason are planted later.

If you are looking to encourage children to get muddy fingers in the garden, planting a hanging basket, pots or even unused wellies of winter pansies is ideal. Children, particularly younger children are drawn to the bright, intense colours and the blousy large flowers and unlike spring bulbs where you’ll have to wait with eager anticipation to see the results, winter pansies give you an instant result which the children can appreciate.

These are hardy plants which are to be kept outside in a sunny or partially shaded position, even during winter they will need watering, especially if they are kept in pots or containers and sheltered by buildings or fences. Do not allow them to dry out. The best way to know is to push a finger into the pot to check for dry compost.

Dead-head faded flowers regularly (I find thumb and forefinger the best) and your pansies will continuously flower and give you a pop of colour in winter and into late spring.

Happy planting!