October is a good time to begin planning for what your garden is going to look like next year. It is now that you look at the plants you already have and think about multiplying them up. It is also the time to start sourcing and buying whatever new plants you want to add to the existing palette. It is also time to grub out the things that just do not work. If they are bad plants you can compost them. If they are good plants that just don’t suit your garden, pass them along to a pal.
On the business of multiplying, if you want to grow things from seed, you will have spent the late summer and autumn collecting seed from this year’s flowers. Among hundreds of possibilities, the seed of plants like cornflower, cerinthe, marigold, nigella, borage, and lychnis can all be collected. Dry them out before putting into marked envelopes for storage over the winter. You can get really creative and save the seed from dahlias. While we generally save and replant dahlia tubers, new young plants can also be grown from seed. The great thing about dahlia seed is that it will throw up flowers in the widest range of colours. Seed gives you variable and surprising results. That surprise element is what makes growing from seed worth the bother. The other thing that makes it worthwhile is that these are all plants for free – a very big plus if you have a large garden to take care of on a small budget.
The other way to increase stock is division. This is the easiest and best way of all. You simply dig up and divide the plants. You might have bought a hosta or delphinium, an echinacea or aster, campanula or hardy geranium. After a few years in the ground, assuming that is grew happily, it will have become quite a big plant and that plant can now be turned into several smaller plants, the same size as the original you bought.
Division is easy. Start by cutting all growth down to a few centimetres. Then dig up the large clump. Depending on how vigorous the growth was, you might need some help doing this. Then, using two garden forks or spades, dig them down into the clump, back to back, and tease it into two smaller clumps. Depending on the size, repeat this action until you have several clumps about the diameter of a standard two litre, black pot. Make sure that there are no perennial weeds like scutch grass, nettle, creeping buttercup or ground elder knotted through the root balls. If there are, these can be firstly shaken and teased out and then washed out . Take the opportunity to dig over the cleared ground and remove the remaining perennial weed roots from that too. Finally, replant the smaller clumps in the renewed, composted border. Generally speaking the spacing between the plants should be about 30 to 40cms or a foot apart, placed in rough diamond formation. Build a drift of plants in odd numbers - threes, fives, sevens, and so on. These look best.
If you have plants left over, swap these with gardening friends or donate them to someone starting out. Another possibility with spare plants is to experiment with them in another less favoured area of your own garden. Given that these are plants for free, the experiment will cost you nothing and you might find that the dark, dry or dark damp corner you thought was good for nothing, is a little bit more useful that you thought.
The reason for doing your dividing now is that the ground is still quite warm, and the newly planted clumps will get their feet under the table before winter sets in. They will then be in pole position to begin growing early in the spring. It is also nice weather for this sort of work. Also, starting early means that you will have time to get most if not all done before the weather gets too cold. It is perfectly possible to do this work any time between now and spring but make life easy for yourself by doing it in mild October rather than chilly February.
Use the cleared ground opportunity to plant some bulbs in between the replanted perennials. Tulips work really well in with hostas. Alliums go well with most perennials. It is late for daffodils, but if you have any daffodils that you started off in pots a few weeks ago, you could gently insinuate these bulbs into the mix. Be careful as the daffodils will already be putting out roots.
It is a good idea to use this dig-up and divide project with changing the look or shape of a border. You might feel that something previously planted at the back could look good in the middle, or even at the front. Make your changes. Be bold. You can always revert back next year if you don’t like the results.