Garden tasks in October

Follow this need-to-know guide, put together by RHS Wisley Plant Centre's horticultural experts, of tasks to keep your garden up to speed
This monthly guide is geared to London gardens and their unique conditions, such as our urban microclimate - and limitations, such as lack of time.

These insider tips will be aimed at your lifestyle - your windowboxes will never look better.

Need to do in your garden this month

* Finish planting your spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils. There are earlier and later flowering varieties so try buying a selection and extend the flowering time in your garden.

* Order your fruit trees and bushes early as the most desirable cultivars often sell out. There’s room for fruit even in a small garden - try a cordon pear or step-over apple.

* If the frost is likely to hit your garden, it’s time to move tender plants like pelargoniums to a conservatory, windowsill or even a frost-free part of a sheltered garden. Pot them up with fresh compost, water occasionally and they’ll be ready to put on new growth come the spring.

* Grasses can be cut back in late autumn, when seasonal flowering has ended. Take down and remove dead or dying stems and restore tidiness to your patch. But don’t forget to leave any attractive dead stems or flower heads until early spring. These give interest and beauty and offer food and shelter for wildlife in winter.

Hemerocallis (daylily)
© Tim Sandall/RHS
Divide summer flowering herbaceous perennials - like Hemerocallis (daylily)
* It’s time to divide your summer flowering herbaceous perennials - like Hemerocallis (daylily; left). Lift the whole plant, then take two forks, back to back, and drive them through the crown. It doesn’t harm the plant and does the job beautifully. Dispose of the central, older part by further division and then replant or give to friends.

* Don’t be tempted to cut back your Penstemons as they finish flowering. Leave the foliage in place to protect the crown over winter.

* Replenish the bird feeder. All feeds, including peanuts, are safe as the breeding season is now over. Garden centres have an infinite array of foodstuffs for all breeds of bird.

* If you haven’t already, start to reduce the frequency of watering your houseplants because the light levels are dropping.

* Try to make room for a leaf pile for hibernating mammals and ground-feeding birds, for even in the city you’d be surprised by the amount of wildlife needing that extra bit of help. See for more tips.

Nice to do in your garden

© Mike Sleigh/RHS
The smaller varieties of Rhododendron make a beautiful container showpiece
* Leave mature ivy uncut if possible because it is an excellent late source of nectar for insects.

* Now is the time to plant your lily bulbs, especially the stunning Asiatic varieties. Try Lily Asiatic Jacqueline for a vibrant red and yellow wonder, or for a vivid pink opt for Lily Asiatic Cote d'Azur.

* Encourage the children to plant up a ‘pet’ pot garden. Get them to choose the pot and plants and fill it with crocks and compost. Try crocus bulbs underneath pansies and an ornamental grass, fern or small evergreen like Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’. Help the children follow their growth through the seasons.

Euonymous europaeus 'Red Cascade'
© Mike Sleigh/RHS
Euonymous europaeus 'Red Cascade'
* The smaller varieties of Rhododendron and evergreen Azalea make a beautiful container showpiece - plant one up now for glossy evergreen leaves over the winter and a fabulous flower display in late spring. It’s a smashing front door accompaniment.

* Plant your autumn onion sets and garlic in the next few weeks.

* Plant viola seeds in trays indoors, ready to plant out in early spring for a flush of colour.

* October is an ideal time to plant many trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants so make a trip to your garden centre and see what’s on offer to keep your garden ever-interesting. Try Pyracantha with its bright berries, or Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ (left) for fabulous autumn colour.

* Collect the last of your tomatoes and then dispose of the old plants on the compost heap. Place green tomatoes on a windowsill to ripen. If any stay green you can use them in a green tomato chutney.

All images provided courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society. Visit the online print shop at

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