Gardening jobs October: Divide plants, plant bulbs and weeding – ‘it’s the perfect time’

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I love this time of year, not only for the fact that is my birthday this month, but also because of the smell of bonfires and cosier evenings around a fire. It’s the perfect time to lift and divide overcrowded herbaceous perennials, collect seed and still cut flowers for the vase, too.

Pot plant and Mark Lane

Express columnist Mark Lane outlined your gardening jobs checklist for this month (Image: GETTY/MARK LANE DESIGNS)

In addition, it’s the perfect time to plant up your winter ornamental pots and start planting bulbs for wonderful colour next spring and early summer.

While enjoying this month, with the clocks going back and shorter days, time well spent now in the garden will reap rewards for the upcoming months and next year. Several herbaceous perennials might be going over, but for those plants with good structure, seedheads can look great over the winter months, provide food for wildlife and remember brown is still a colour. So seedheads, such as Achillea, Echinacea, Agastache or Rudbeckia should be left in place.

If these are grown alongside ornamental grasses then your garden will look good for months over winter. But the odd seedhead can be cut off and turned upside down over a paper bag and hung upside down until all of the seed has collected in the bag, ready to sow later for free new plants for next year.

Overcrowded perennials, which may not have flowered so well this year, or have just outgrown their space can be lifted, divided and replanted throughout the garden. Dividing plants sounds complicated, but it really is easy, and it’s a great way to get to know how your plants grow.

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It’s a good time of year to start planting peonies, according to Mark (Image: GETTY)

Geraniums, for example, have a network of tightly-packed roots which can simply be pulled apart by hand. As-long-as you have a good clump of root and greenery or shoots then when planted in a fresh new hole, ideally improved with homemade compost, they will start to get their roots into the soil, get established and be ready to flower next year.

Woody perennials or those with a woody crown, such as Aster or Agapanthus will need some brute force to divide them. First dig them up, and then either take a spade and with a lot of courage cut downwards through the plant like slicing a cake or use a sharp knife and divide the clump into sections.

Each section can again be replanted at the same depth in a fresh hole. Most herbaceous perennials will need dividing every three to five years but remember you can also take cuttings and collect seed from them too to make more plants for free.

October is also the perfect time to plant peonies. Herbaceous peonies will die back in the autumn, while tree peonies are shrubbier.

Herbaceous peonies need a sunny spot in the garden. Check to see where the highest bud is above the roots. Plant so that the bud is five centimetres below soil level.

Tree peonies can be in sun or dappled shade. Look for a woody bulge at the base of the stems. This is where the graft is. Plant so that the graft is 10 to 15 centimetres below soil level with just the twigs or stems visible.

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It’s a great time of year to plant bulbs now for Spring colour, too (Image: GETTY)

Now is also the perfect time to think about that shady area in your garden. Spring colour will bring such an area to life and with the use of bulbs will bring colour and scent. Bulbs such as pure white snowdrops, blue or white Anemone blanda or white Anemone nemorosa, white or buttery-yellow daffodils and bluebells can be planted now, along with ferns, Skimmia, the biennial foxglove and even sweet-smelling honeysuckle, such as Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’ with white and yellow blooms, will flower as early as April when many of these bulbs will be in flower as well.

And, of course, honeysuckle is great for climbing up into a tree, to cover trelliswork against a wall or simply left to scramble through the border or used to disguise the wheelie bin or oil tank.

For the sunnier part of your garden then now is the time to plant tulips and alliums. My top five of each are: Tulipa ‘Blueberry Ripple’, with white petals streaked with purple, Tulipa ‘Abu Hassan’, with deep mahogany petals edged with golden-yellow, Tulipa ‘Orange Emperor’, a carrot-orange tulip with a pale yellow base, Tulipa ‘Jan Reus’, a rich crimson on the outside and dark Indian lake internally, and Tulipa ‘Grand Perfection’ a creamy-white and crimson Dutch Masterpiece. For the perfect alliums try Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ with perfect globes of purple flowers, Allium stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’ which has spherical umbels of 50 or more white star-shaped flowers.

For a cooler planting scheme try the blue allium Allium caeruleum which has bright blue flowers on stiff stems, and for another later flowering allium you cannot beat Allium sphaerocephalon with drumstick egg-shaped flowerheads on slender stems that sway in the wind, and for a looser umbel of yellow bell-shaped flowers grow Allium flavum. Allium leaves can be rather tatty looking once the bulb is in flower so remember to plant some groundcover plants below to disguise the leaves.

With the colder weather now is the time to dig up scented-leaf Pelargonium and other tender perennials. Pelargoniums can be potted up and brought indoors as winter houseplants, while tender perennials such as Salvia, Canna and Dahlia can either be left in the ground with a thick mulch 10cm of spent mushroom compost or homemade compost, or lifted, dried and stored in dry compost in a box or crate ready for next spring.

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Also, start thinking about your winter ornamental containers. Ordering your plants for delivery in October or visiting nurseries and garden centres will still give you time to plant them up while the compost is still warm, and give them time to grow on a bit and start to flower just when you need some colour in the garden. Perfect plants for pots are Viola, Primrose, Wallflower, Polyanthus, Sweet William and Forget-me-nots.

Winter violas come in many colour combinations and many have a lovely sweet fragrance. My favourite is Viola F1 ‘Honey Bee’ with warm amber, copper and honey blooms which flower in my garden from October to June with a delicious sweet scent.

For a cacophony of colour why not try Viola ‘Sorbet F1 Mixed’ with flowers from white to deep purple, blue to orange, some single coloured others multi coloured. Unlike their larger cousins, pansies, winter violas tend to hold up better to harsher weather. Fill your containers to the brim and position them by your front or back door, or even line a pathway with winter bedding plants or show them off in hanging baskets. Deadhead with a pair of scissors regularly to prolong flowering.

When temperatures drop remember to protect your containers by wrapping them in horticultural fleece or hessian.


Remember to keep weeding, especially perennial weeds (Image: GETTY)

Every year I give my houseplants a summer holiday by displaying them outside on the patio, but most houseplants are from warmer climes and are therefore not frost hardy, so you’ll need to start bringing them indoors.

Do this slowly and acclimatise them to the warmer temperature inside, especially if the central heating has already been put on. Gradually bring them closer to the walls of your house, hold back from watering slightly and when ready bring them indoors to be enjoyed.

October can still be a month full of gorgeous ornamentals, and with overcrowded plants and much to do in the garden, remember to keep weeding, especially perennial weeds, and please check your bonfires regularly for hibernating hedgehogs and toads.

Mark’s gardening jobs for October

  • Lift and divide overcrowded herbaceous perennials
  • Plant up your winter ornamental pots and start planting bulbs
  • Plant peonies
  • Start thinking about your winter ornamental containers
  • Order your plants for delivery in October
  • Protect your containers by wrapping them in horticultural fleece or hessian
  • Start bringing houseplants in
  • Remember to keep weeding, especially perennial weeds

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