October is the best month for autumn colour – as trees and shrubs enter their dormant period they reward us with one final display.
Evergreen foliage is the backbone of the garden at any time of year, but especially in autumn. However, Japanese Acers are the undisputed kings of autumn colour although they don’t grow where soil is too dry or highly alkaline. A way round this is to grow one in a container by using ericaceous compost and not letting it, or any Acer, dry out as that is the one thing they all hate.
A great little Japanese Acer, ideal for containers, is Acer japonicum “Acontifolium”. This Acer has deeply lobed, fan-shaped leaves which turn a ruby crimson.
To add structure to colour, shrubs such as Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ with its white-variegated leaves (variegated simply means patterned), or golden-yellow Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’.
Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is the classic choice for a winter garden. Not only do many varieties have gold or silver-variegated leaves, but the bright red berries look festive on the dullest day. To be sure of berries, choose a self-fertile variety such as Ilex aquifolium ‘J C van Tol’, or plant a female cultivar such as ‘Argentea Marginata’ and a male cultivar such as ‘Golden Queen’ together.
There is a beautiful shrub called Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’ which bears clusters of gorgeous shiny purple berries in winter – but take care if you have small children, as the berries do look very tempting.
And don’t forget the handful of plants that flower in the winter amongst which are Hellebores bearing clusters of creamy white or rosy pink flowers early in the year. Another one is spiny-leaved Mahonia XMedia ‘Charity’ bearing spires of yellow flowers from November on, and winter-flowering bulbs, including cyclamens, winter aconites and snowdrops, make carpets of colour under shrubs and trees.
Leaf mould is great for enriching your soil, it’s good for the environment and it costs you nothing. It can be made from autumn leaves which when put in dustbin bags and wetted will rot down. Make holes in the bin bags around the sides and at the bottom. The bags don’t needs to be tied, just fold the tops over and store them out of sight making sure the bottom of the bags are on soil, not concrete. When there’s a dry period during the year, the process can be speeded up by wetting the leaves again a couple of times. About twelve months later the mould can be used to condition soil and/or make compost. Spread generously over the borders is a perfect way to use it.
As ever, Gardeneer is here to help with ideas, planting, tidying up and especially at this time of year, clearing the leaves. All debris is taken away by Gardeneer.
Jobs for October
- Rake the lawn to remove thatch, spike to improve drainage, feed and remove autumn leaves
- Cover your ponds with netting to prevent leaves accumulating
- Make sure grease bands are on your apple trees to prevent Winter moth
- Raise the height of your mower blades for the final cut of your lawns
- Prune any summer flowering shrubs and roses, especially climbing roses
- Tidy up the dying foliage of any herbaceous perennials
- October is the optimum month for planting spring-flowering bulbs
- Tender Herbs Basil, Coriander, Parsley, Dill & Mint cannot withstand frost and it is best to pot them up and bring under cover before any autumn chill.