Although the days are shortening noticeably, the daytime air temperature is still quite high, but this drops rapidly at night, resulting in heavy dews. In all but the very coldest areas it is too early for the first frosts. Under these conditions, plants will still grow, and cuttings – provided they are given protection will still root.
The period September-October is the best time to take hardwood cuttings. A whole range of hardy trees and shrubs can be propagated by taking (depending upon species) 15–30cm/6–12in cuttings, and inserting them to half their depth in the soil of a nursery bed to which extra sand has been added.
Fruit and vegetables should be cropping well, and this is a busy time in the garden as we move from summer to winter conditions. Purchase spring-flowering bulbs this month, but first inspect them carefully to ensure there are no signs of disease, that they are not damaged in any way and are firm to the touch.
Summer flower beds will begin to look tired, with both flowers and foliage spent after the summers efforts. You may continue to deadhead but new buds are unlikely to have the opportunity to open. You must decide the best time for dispensing with the summer display and replacing with spring flowers – wallflowers, button daisies, winter pansies, forget-me-nots – all of which should be planted this month or next.
If you are prepared to sacrifice the last of the summer flowers, plant all spring-flowering bulbs except tulips. They will become well established and get away to a better start before the cold weather and will bloom earlier, allowing you to plant next year’s summer bedding plants earlier. Plant crocus species, dwarf daffodils, kaufmanniana tulips, muscari, scilla, snowdrops and winter aconite in rockeries.
Gather seed for sowing next spring. All species and long-established varieties will tend to breed true; do not save the seeds of F1 or F2 hybrids which will not germinate true to type, producing unpredictable offsprings. Make sure that the seed pods are fully ripe.
Seeds covered in gelatinous material, such as tomatoes, must beplaced on a paper towel and stood in the sunlight until dry. Store seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry dark place. Seeds of mainly hardy annuals can be sown at the end of the month outside.
Take cuttings of geraniums (pelargoniums) and fuchsias for next year’s bedding and container
Most perennials raised from seed in the spring can now be transplanted to their permanent positions. If available, paeonies should be planted this month. Polyanthus and primroses should be lifted from the nursery beds, divided and transplanted to their spring flowering sites. In the north, gladioli, begonias and cannas may be lifted.
This is the main time for gathering apples and pears, although many of the varieties harvested at this time do not keep well. Only gather those fruits which come away readily in the hand after lifting and giving a gentle twist. Where crops are very heavy, place a piece of wood under overloaded branches to act as a support. Place grease bands around trunks of apple trees to prevent winter moth climbing up.
Gather autumn raspberries and late strawberries. Any raspberry, loganberry or tayberry canes that had fruited earlier should be cut out at the base and the new canes tied into position. Strawberry runners that have rooted can be severed from the parent and transferred to a new bed. Remove excess runners from strawberry plants.
Increasing rainfall and lower temperatures causes the grass to grow quickly once again, so cut frequently. Scarify to remove dried cuttings and other debris; aerate the soil by making holes with the fork in rows 30cm/1ft apart. Dress with an autumn lawn food. Repair bare patches. Seed new lawns and lay turf this month.
Remove any tender pond plants such as water hyacinths to an indoor aquarium at the end of the month. Wash aphids and other insects off marginal plants into the water.
Commence taking hardwood cuttings of deciduous trees and shrubs towards the end of the month.
Clear the land as soon as vegetables have ceased cropping and dig the ground. If green manuring, sow this month with mustard, clover or tares. Mint roots can be lifted and planted in 15cm/6in pots and placed in the greenhouse to give a fresh supply during the winter.
Potatoes may be placed in a large drum or container filled with loam and kept in a frost-free greenhouse to provide new potatoes for Christmas. Sow ‘all the year round’ lettuce outside for standing through the winter. Continue to sow radish seeds. Sow spinach, spinach beet or chard, swedes and turnips at the beginning of the month.
Continue to pick runner beans as long as they remain tender, leaving the final pods to run to seed. If you take only the seed from the very best plant you will gradually improve the strain. Keep celery and leeks watered and earthed up. Harvest sweet corn. Onions should be ready for storing.
Either plait the dried stems to make a string or place the onions in a net. In either case take care not to bruise the bulbs, which can cause decay to set in. Suspend from the roof of a cool dry room.