By John Hosford
October is a great month to appreciate nature’s rich tapestry of rich autumn colours. Do try to visit some of the gardens open to the public during the month to appreciate some of the diverse range of trees and shrubs in their autumn finery.
Fota Arboretum is especially recommended at this time of year where there is a great array of stunning trees and shrubs. Ilnacullin (Garnish Island) is open daily until October 29. Monday to Saturday 10am – 4pm, Sundays 1pm – 5pm. Further details on gardens under the care of Heritage Ireland are available on their website www.heritageireland.ie/en/South-West. The website will give you full details of directions, opening hours, transport details, and facilities on site. Check out Autumn opening of some of the gardens on the West Cork Garden Trail. Brochures are available in local Tourist Offices or online.
• Clear up fallen leaves frequently, moving to a compost heap.
• Cut back perennials that have died down. Divide perennials and rhubarb towards the end of the month. While dividing, check for roots of any pernicious perennial weeds, which have become embedded in the clumps of the plants and remove weed roots meticulously. Manure and fertilise the soil well prior to re-planting. Mark new plantings using bamboo canes and label.
• Move tender/frost vulnerable plants indoors now, checking that that they are free of pests prior to bringing indoors. Check for any pests that may be harbouring in the roots or foliage.
• Plant out spring cabbage.
• Harvest apples and pears and store in a dry, cool store. Avoid any store that has any source of taints, which the fruits may pick up, such as sprays, paints or petrol etc. Apples and pears are best handpicked when ripe and stored in wooden slatted boxes.
• Finish trimming of hedges in mild areas early in the month.
Flowering plants to provide colour for next year:
• Plant wallflowers, forget-me-not, Polyanthus, Primula, Violas and winter Pansies now in beds and containers. Dispose of old compost prior to planting. Continue planting spring flowering bulbs.
• Now is a good time to plant new herbaceous perennials, as the soil is still warm from the accumulated heat of the summer and of course moister than it was during the summer. This will facilitate early establishment.
Wait for first frosts before lifting Dahlias. Dahlias generally overwinter successfully in the open ground in West Cork. After the first frosts have arrived, cut down the plants to within 15cm (6”) of the ground. Then cover with a good layer of straw to protect against overwinter frosts.
Alternatively you may bring the Dahlia tubers indoors to a dry, frost-free shed. Dry off the tubers prior to storage by letting them outdoors on a bright, dry, sunny day. Then store in wooden or plastic crates sandwiched between layers of dry peat. They may remain dry until around St.Patrick’s Day when they are gradually encouraged back into growth by commencing watering and increasing the frequency of watering as spring progresses and the days get longer. Use extra sacking or covering in periods of very cold winter weather. Avoid using polythene as the covering material, as it may attract excessive humidity overwinter, which can lead to fungal infection. Cannas and tuberous Begonias may be treated similarly to Dahlias overwinter.
Greenhouses, conservatories and polytunnels and protected cover come into their own during winter. They allow you to protect tender crops and provide an extended season of fruit, vegetables and flowering plants.
• Reduce watering of houseplants and indoor plants now, as days shorten and growth slows.
• Pot up prepared hyacinths for early New Year colour. It is best to keep to one variety/one colour per bowl or pot. Use bulb fibre if using pots or bowls without drainage.
• Early Narcissi may be still planted for Christmas flowering. Choose varieties such as ‘Paperwhite’ or ‘Grand Soleil D,Or’. These will flower in seven to nine weeks from potting. Keep in a cool but frost-free place after potting. Avoid too warm or cosseted a location at the beginning or you will end up with drawn, straggly, spindly specimens. Keeping them relatively cool will result in sturdier displays, which will last longer.
• Sweet Pea may be sown during October for early displays next summer. Keep cool and well ventilated once it has fully germinated.
• Get rid of finished tomato and other crops that may have finished. Clear up debris and wash glass and framework thoroughly.
• Greenhouses can be insulated using plastic bubble wrap, which will cut down the heating bills for the winter. Check that heaters are in good and safe working order and that all glass is securely in place. In the case of polytunnels, check the cladding – if there are tears, repair immediately with a proprietary repair tape. If the polythene has gone beyond its useful life, re-clad as soon as possible. Choose a warm, dry calm day to re-clad the polytunnel and try to complete this task early in the month, as it is not possible to stretch the polythene as much when the weather cools down. The more tension there is on the polythene the longer it will last and the better it will withstand the ravages of winter storms.