October is a good month to start looking at the overall health of your soil. If you keep the soil in good heart it will support plant growth right through the season and your garden will be healthier all round. If your garden soil is poor or depleted from overactive plant growth then improve it with a good soil improver. Choose one with a high content of organic matter, vital for healthy soil. Top dress around existing plants dig into bare areas over the autumn and winter. You can also use your own homemade garden compost, which will be rich in beneficial microbes and earthworms, all essential for healthy soil. Make sure it is well rotted and apply as a top dressing or a mulch.
Well-rotted Farmyard Manure is also ideal for conditioning the soil and adds vital nutrients and water holding organic matter to garden areas where heavy feeders deplete soil nutrients quickly such as the vegetable plot or rose beds. Where possible dig over the whole area of soil that needs improving. If the area is planted then take care not to dig close to the plants or disturb their roots. Spread over the surface of the dug area and work it into the soil with a fork. These natural materials will absorb and hold water in the soil and improve its structure, providing essential air pockets for drainage and for the roots to breathe. The high organic content also encourages the activity of beneficial soil dwelling organisms including worms, which will draw it into the soil.
If your garden soil has been depleted by years of vigorous plant growth, or never fed and nurtured it may be deficient in a variety of essential plant minerals. These can be topped up or replaced by using a rich soil additive such as rock dust.
A garden mulch is used to protect the soil surface and the underlying plant roots from damage by extremes of temperature especially intense summer sun and severe winter temperatures. It can be made up of composted or chipped bark or even very well rotted garden manure. It also blocks sunlight from reaching the soil surface, which prevents weed seeds from germinating, and it holds moisture in the soil. Established mixed borders, shrub borders and also tree plantings will all benefit hugely from a mulch. Over time the mulch will be broken down and incorporated into the soil and so it acts as a soil conditioner and soil improver. You can also use permanent materials as a mulch such as gravel, broken seashells and recycled rubber material which may work their way into the surface topsoil but will not significantly improve the soil.
Autumn is a great time to apply a garden mulch, especially after heavy rainfall. Dig out any perennial weeds and then apply your chosen mulch over the area to a depth of 3-4 inches. To make the mulch last longer consider applying it over a permeable membrane or planting fabric, this reduces contact between the soil and the mulch and slows down the degradation of the mulch. Always make sure that the soil is fully saturated with water before applying any mulch or it may prevent vital moisture reaching your plant roots.