By Ruth Hayes
If you've been thinking about what to plant in October, we're here to help with some stunning suggestions for your plot. From bulbs and biennials to seeds and climbers, there's plenty of plants you can sow and grow this month.
It is tempting to think of fall as the 'down days' of gardening, but nothing is further from the truth. Days are still relatively warm, and the soil is damp and still holding on to summer's heat, making it a welcoming new home for many plants and seeds.
Put in the work in October and you will reap the reward in the months ahead as your flowerbed ideas spring into life when the warmer weather returns.
Create a stunning garden with our ideas for what to plant in October
With suggestions for plants to get in the ground and seeds to sow now, these options for what to plant in October will ensure your garden is better than ever next year.
If a bare wall is crying out for color, clematis are an easy and eye-catching way of providing exactly that.
If you want to learn how to grow clematis successfully, then it's best to plant them now when the soil is warm and damp. They will really thrive in a spot where they get a good amount of sun on their top growth, but the soil gets more shade.
Clematis should be planted deep, so make sure the crown of the plant, where it emerges from its pot of compost, is at least 3-4in (7-10cm) below ground level. This encourages them to put on more subterranean growth which leads to stronger plants and a faster coverage of whatever they are growing against.
Clematis thrive in free-draining soil and also need plenty of watering while they get established. They also like their roots kept cool, so covering the planting area with a flag stone or a couple of bricks will help.
Once they are planted, reduce any top growth to 6in (15cm), which will promote the development of more shoots when they start to grow again in spring.
Top tip: Although clematis like sun on their top growth, too many harsh rays can cause their blooms to bleach.
2. Spring bulbs
If your beds and borders are already jam-crammed full of spring bulbs and you still hanker for more, why not consider planting them as part of your lawn ideas instead?
Planting bulbs in this way is called ‘naturalizing’ and it's a simple way of planting that packs a beautiful punch.
It is usually used for smaller and dwarf varieties such as crocuses, mini daffodils and tulips, drifts of snowdrops and snakehead fritillaries, but the taller blue spires of Camassia also look stunning poking through the grass, especially among fruit trees.
Planting bulbs in your lawn is neither complicated nor messy. They need to go in the ground at three times their own depth, as you would in a bed or pot, and this is easily done with a sharp bulb planter.
You are aiming to create as natural a look as possible, so start by gently throwing a handful of bulbs – one variety or a mix – onto the grass and planting them where they fall.
Remove a plug of earth and grass and pop each bulb in its own hole, pointed end up. Then infill with soil, replace the cap of grass and firm in. Water well, even when rain is forecast.
The bulbs will mature and multiply over the years to create a large and colorful spread.
Top tip: Squirrels, badgers and foxes love a freshly planted bulb, so pin wire mesh over the planting site to keep them safe.
3. Biennials (including wallflowers and foxgloves)
Biennials are plants that germinate and develop leaves one year, then flower, set seed and die back the next. Add them to your list for what to plant in October and their seedlings will have time to get established and put on some root growth before the cold weather hits.
Biennials include sweet rocket, honesty and forget-me-nots. They are easy-going plants and most can be potted up and overwintered undercover then planted out when the soil starts to warm next spring.
While the soil still retains some summer warmth, you should also plant out any hardy biennials you sowed and grew earlier in the year.
Bareroot wallflower plants - another biennial - are usually widely and cheaply available now in garden centres, so buy a bunch for early spring colour and scent.
Top tip: Honesty plants develop deep tap-roots and do not transplant well so for the best results, sow them directly where you wish them to grow.
Hellebores, widely known as Lenten or Christmas roses, are one of the first perennials to flower in early spring, and also one of the most beautiful.
Most varieties thrive in light shade that gets some full sun at some point during the day, and they like enriched, free-draining soil.
If you want to learn how to grow hellebores and you have heavy clay soil, make sure you dig in lots of well-rotted manure or compost and a little grit before planting.
If you have areas of deeper shade that need lightening, plant all-green Hellebore foetidus, or stinking hellebore, as they are happy in darker conditions and offer a valuable supply of early nectar for pollinators.
Hellebores are also one of the best plants for winter pots, so they're a great option if you want to add a splash of color to patio containers during the colder months.
Top tip: In autumn, remove old and tatty hellebore leaves to make room for new foliage growth and the buds when they start to emerge.
Hellebores are not the only perennials on the list of what to plant in October. The coldest months are not yet upon us, so any perennial planted in your garden borders now will still have time to stretch out its roots and settle in before it goes into winter hibernation.
For this reason, October is the perfect time to look around your garden, see what gaps you have and decide what to fill them with.
When planting a perennial, such as agapanthus, first of all stand its pot in water so the roots get a good drink and it's easier to slide out the rootball without slender feeder roots snagging on the sides of the container.
While it is soaking, excavate the planting hole to the same depth as the plant’s pot and slightly wider. If soil is heavy or clay, score the sides of the hole with your fork to improve its drainage and prevent it becoming a waterlogged ‘bucket’.
Add some well-rotted compost or manure to the bottom of the hole and sprinkle in some bone meal, which will break down through winter and nourish the roots next spring.
Perennials should be planted at the same depth as the pot you bought them in, so check your excavation is deep enough by standing the plant in it while it's still in its pot.
Then take the plant from its pot and carefully tease out any roots that are circling the others or tangled, and place the plant in its hole.
Infill around the rootball with soil and compost, firming it down as you go, then water well and mulch the root area with a generous layer of well-rotted compost or manure. If you want to make your own compost, we've got plenty of tips on composting in our guide, too.
Top tip: When choosing a plant, always read its label before purchasing to make sure you have the right conditions and space for its optimum growth. It will fail to thrive if it is in the wrong spot or has too little space, and you will have wasted your money.
- Looking for planting suggestions for your veg patch too this month? Our guide on vegetables to plant in October has lots of tasty options to consider
Wildflower lawns, or patches of lawn, are growing in popularity and are increasingly important for our beleaguered insects and wildlife as we continue to build all over their natural habitats.
If you are considering how to plant a wildflower meadow next year, then fall is the time to start preparing the soil.
Wildflowers do best on poor soil so don’t give your lawn its traditional autumn feed, if you usually do this, but do rake out dead grass and moss and don’t leave lawn trimmings lying on the ground as they will enrich the soil.
The next step is to sow the seeds of yellow rattle, a semi-parasitic plant that weakens the grass roots, thus helping wildflower seeds or plug plants get established when they are sown and planted next spring.
The seeds are widely available online and yellow rattle in itself is an attractive plant with pretty serrated leaves and cheerful yellow flowers that insects love.
Top tip: Don’t forget to keep raking up fallen leaves that land on your lawn as they block sunlight and can harbor pests and disease. They don't have to go to waste, however, as you can learn how to make leaf mould and turn them into a rich soil conditioner for use on your beds and borders.
Hollyhocks make a beautiful addition to classic cottage garden ideas, introducing statuesque height and color to any planting scheme.
For the first time this year I successfully grew hollyhocks from seed and I am still completely thrilled by the success. The cold, dry spring that afflicted the UK this year meant they flowered late, but because of this they brought late color to the garden, flowering from August well into October, when I had to stake them up against the first storms of the fall.
Flushed with my success, I am sowing more seeds now, so the seedlings have time to germinate and grow large enough to be planted out earlier than this year’s plants, hopefully flowering earlier as a result.
Once the seedlings have germinated and grown large enough to handle carefully – usually when their small, round germination leaves have been replaced by two sets of 'proper' foliage – you can transplant seedlings from their seed tray to individual pots of compost.
Fill a 3in (7cm) pot with multipurpose compost , dampen it and make a deep hole in the centre. Carefully lift the seedling's roots from its tray of compost using an old teaspoon or the end of a plant label and keep the plantlet steady by delicately holding a leaf between fingertip and thumb. Never hold the stem as it is very fragile so you may damage it.
Then pop the roots into the hole in the compost and carefully firm the compost around the stem. Keep the compost damp and the plant pest-free as it grows, and plant it out next spring when the soil has started to warm up and the frosts have finished.
Top tip: Hollyhock rust is a prevalent fungal disease, so if you grow hollyhocks, plant them away from where they have grown previously.
One of the best ways to make a colorful statement in your garden is to add some poppies to your list of what to plant in October.
Whether they are scarlet field poppies, blowsy Oriental poppies or the slightly smaller opium poppies, which produce seeds that can be used as a delicious topping for cakes and bread, they are easy to sow and well worth growing.
Poppies are hardy, which means they can be sown now, or in spring, though seeds that go in the ground in the fall will germinate and flower earlier than spring-sown ones. A handy trick when learning how to grow poppies is to sow some in both seasons so you get a longer succession of color.
Simply create a seedbed by clearing soil of weeds, stones and debris and then raking the soil until all the lumps are broken up and you are left with a light, crumbly texture.
Water the area and scatter the seeds. If seedlings emerge too close together you can thin them out as they grow to give remaining plants enough light and air to grow well.
Cover your seeds with a little more soil, tamp it down with the back of a rake and label the spot so you don’t accidentally disturb the soil when gardening.
Keep pests, cats and birds away by laying a trellis of spiky twigs or using a deterrent spray or pepper powder.
Top tip: Poppies look gorgeous sown with other wildflower varieties such as cornflowers and corncockles. Annual grasses also set off their dramatic shapes and colors to good effect.
Calendula, also known as Scotch or pot marigolds, are fabulous hardy annuals that bring a burst of brightness to borders and containers.
We have one growing in a sheltered area of the garden that has been flowering for the past 18 months – right through the cold of winter and well into this summer! They come in an array of shades, from eye-popping orange to soft cream and deep red.
An added benefit of learning how to grow marigolds is that their flowers are edible, and their petals have been used to decorate dishes for centuries and as a colourant for butter and cheese.
For a long flowering season, sow them now and again in spring in well-prepared soil in a sunny spot. Thin the seedlings if they are growing too thickly.
If you want to grow Tagetes, the frilly French marigolds, they are only half-hardy and are best sown in pots undercover in spring and planted out once the weather has warmed up and frosts are a thing of the past.
Top tip: Plant a few Tagetes around your vegetable patch as their smell has been scientifically proved to deter whitefly, therefore protecting your crops from this pest. There's plenty more suggestions for beneficial planting combinations in our guide to companion planting, too.
Aquilegia are one of the most varied and diverse of summer flowers, appearing in a wide range of colors and shapes. Also known as columbines and granny’s bonnet, they cross-breed easily and the end results are plants in a dazzling array of shapes, stem length and colors, from cool cream and green to vibrant reds and purples.
Best of all, they are ever so easy to grow, happy in all soil types as long as they have some sun and get enough water. They also self-seed remarkably easily, so once you start growing them, they will be with you for the foreseeable future!
For the best results, sow them in trays of seed compost and germinate them on a light, warm windowsill. If they fail to sprout, pop the seed tray in the fridge for two to three weeks, as this ‘tricks’ the seeds into thinking they have been through winter, so they germinate when they are brought back into room temperature.
Grow on the seedlings and plant them to where you want them to flower next spring when it starts to warm up.
Now you've been inspired to add these to your planting lists this month, it means you will have plenty of October gardening jobs to keep you occupied outdoors over the coming weeks.
Ruth is the gardening editor of Amateur Gardening magazine and spends her working days carrying out, writing about and photographing the tasks the readers should be carrying out each week, as well as testing many of the new products that arrive on the gardening market.
She is horticulturally trained, with a qualification from the Royal Horticultural Society, and her work varies with the seasons and includes everything from sowing and planting, to pruning, taking cuttings, dealing with pests and diseases and keeping houseplants healthy. She covers ornamental plants and edible crops and everything she writes about and photographs is in her own garden, a mature plot that has been a work in progress since her family moved to their current house in 2012.
Her main interests are gardening for wildlife and organic gardening, as she firmly believes you don’t need to ‘nuke’ pests and problems with toxic chemicals, nor use peat composts to produce the garden of your dreams.
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