The nights are drawing in, October will see the clocks going back, and possibly the first frosts of winter. Gardening time might feel curtailed by the shorter sunlight, and as the leaves change into their brilliant autumn colours you realise that winter is just around the corner.
If you haven’t already done so, its time to start your compost heap. It’s vital to replace the goodness in soil after a hefty growing season and autumn produces masses of garden waste that will put invaluable organic richness back into the ground for next spring. Composting is free, easy to make and good for the environment as it offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilisers.
Add a variety of different materials; spent vegetable and bedding plants, herbaceous leftovers, thatch, moss and cuttings from the lawn, annual weeds (but not the roots) hedge clippings, kitchen peelings and tea bags are ideal. Different materials will decompose at different rates, but they will all break down eventually. If you want to speed up the composting process, chop the larger material into small pieces, run a lawn mover over leaves.
Avoid putting grass clippings or leaves on the compost heap in thick layers – they will mat together and reduce aeration, which will slow the composting process. A soggy compost pile is usually caused by a combination of factors, poor aeration, too much moisture, and an imbalance between carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials. Adding carbon rich materials will absorb some of the excess moisture in your compost and help restore the balance needed for composting to occur. A simple rule of thumb is to use one-third nitrogen and two-thirds carbon materials. In winter carbon materials are often in short supply, however examples of carbon materials that can be added to the compost heap include hay, straw and sawdust, cardboard and shredded paper, and wood ash. Carbon-rich materials will also neutralise ammonia odors.
Regular turning of the compost heap is essential. Compost activator (Garotta) can be used every time material is added to the heap to speed up the composting process. Adding lime to the compost heap will deter fruit flies and also reduce unpleasant odors.
Never add diseased or pest-ridden material (such as rose black spot) to your compost, as these will reappear with vengeance next year. Instead throw these onto a bonfire. Also,do not compost meat, bones or fish scraps (they will attract pests) or perennial weeds (they will spead with the compost). Do not include pet manures in compost that will be used on vegetable plots. Banana peel, peach peel and orange rinds may contain pesticide residue and should also be kept out of the compost.
Top Tips for October:
• Prune back tall shrubs such as buddleia to prevent wind rock.
• Move conifers and evergreens that are growing in the wrong place.
• Finish planting spring bulbs (apart from Tulips which are best planted in November)
• Be ruthless, and turf out summer bedding plants (even if they are still looking good) Pansies are more likely to flower over winter if they have a chance to become established before the colder weather halts growth.
Whatever October brings I hope you are able to spend some time in your garden.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800 www.p-rgardensupplies.co.uk