October: colourfest

There is plenty to look forward to this month: crisp mornings and dramatic colours set off by blue skies on sunny days. At the end of the month there is the first chance of the year to get bare-root trees and shrubs planted.

I often get requests to plant up gardens with small, dazzling Acers, whose colour would bring drama to any garden. Unfortunately, it is only on acidic soil that these and other acid-loving plants, thrive. These soils are mostly sandy or clayey, where oaks, rhododendrons and heathers thrive.

Not to worry if you are unable to enjoy Acers, Liquidambars, Pieris and more exotic plants like the Pagoda bush (Enkianthus) where you are: there are plenty of alternatives if you are on chalky and alkaline soil. (I should add that some Acers are fine on chalky and alkaline soil, but they never produce the rich colours that they would do otherwise).

Try the humble Viburnum opulus shrub, native to chalk Downlands. There are many cherry trees (Prunus species) and Euonymus shrub varieties that catch the eye, such as alatus and europeus. Where chalky and alkaline soils really score is in the autumnal and winter berries: just go and have a wander around your neighbourhood or local countryside park and you will see what I mean!

So, if you want to roll up your sleeves this month, these are some of the autumn jobs:

· Cut back your straggly perennials, being discerning as to which plants might or might not provide useful winter seed for hungry birdlife.

· With the frosts coming, move into shelter or protect tender plants such as Dahlia tubers and Hibiscus.

· Prune climbing roses to tidy them up for the winter.

· The life of hanging baskets can be extended by pinching out dead or fading vegetation, adding some liquid feed and by regular watering.

· Raise patio containers onto “feet” of some sort in order that they don’t get waterlogged.

· Order your bare-root trees and shrubs: from the end of the month these can be bought at considerably less expense than the pampered, pot-grown ones.

· Tidy up your Buddlejas, Cornus alba and Lavatera by reducing them by half in order that they do not “rock” in the winter winds (unless, of course, you want to tell folk that your shrubs “rock”!).

· Ivy is a source of nectar and many birds will feast on the berries; keep it untrimmed if you can live with it like that.

· Piles of logs and tool sheds can make great places for overwintering hedgehogs and invertebrates, though keep seeds and any other potential foodstuffs well sealed.

Nothing like that warm feeling after a spell of gardening on a cold day.

Go on: light that fire.