October Gardening Guide: What You Need to Do This Month
This month the garden is winding down for most of us. And you may be wondering what to do with your garden at the end of the season…
With the cooler temperatures October promises, it’s the perfect time to get outside and get caught up on garden chores before winter gets here.
You may have already had a light frost or two, and if you live far north, you may have had more than one hard frost.
Which makes it the perfect time to clean up your garden and make room for next season’s plants.
But there’s more to October than just clean-up. It’s also a great month for planning.
Keep reading to discover what you need to do in your garden this October.
Here’s how to make gardening easy this month. Get a FREE gardening checklist for October when you join my newsletter.
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Fall is the perfect time to start getting your yard ready for winter, or if you live in an area where winter never comes, the perfect time to start preparing for the spring.
Either way, the more you do now, the less work you’ll have to do next year!
Here are some tips to keep in mind as you work in your garden this month.
- Keep all plants, especially newly planted perennials, trees, and shrubs (especially evergreens) adequately watered until the ground freezes, if your soil is dry.
- This is the time to fertilize trees if a soil test indicates nutrient deficiencies. Related: The best way to test garden soil.
- Be consistent about disconnecting your hose from the faucet to prevent freeze damage.
- Have your sprinkler system blown out this month, and protect your backflow preventer and any other above-ground parts with a waterproof insulated jacket to keep them from freezing.
Take the guesswork out of what to do in your garden this month. Get my FREE Smart Gardening Checklist for October.
- Clean up dropped fruit and fallen leaves from fruit trees; compost if healthy. Discard any diseased fruit and leaves.
- Cover any bare soil in your garden. Spread an organic mulch like wood chips to build up your soil structure and protect plants from heaving over the winter.
- Continue weeding. Focus first on pulling creeping, hardy perennials like bindweed or horsetail. After that, pull any annual weeds that’ll spread their seeds all over your garden. Fewer seeds now = fewer weeds next year!
- Gather all dead plant material that isn’t diseased, and you’re not leaving up for winter interest or wildlife, and compost it.
- Pull and dispose of anything that looks diseased or bug-infested. Look for mildew on leaves, dark blotches on stems, signs of rot, unmanageable insect pests, or damage. Don’t put diseased landscape plants in your compost pile.
Related: Grab a FREE list of yard work chores
- Get a soil test if you haven’t done so in the past three years. When you get the results, amend and fertilize your soil. This will save you time next spring.
- Protect any pots or planters that won’t survive outside during your winter. Either cover them with a tarp or move them indoors.
- Winterize water features (ponds, fountains, etc.)
- Planning to create a new garden bed next year? Now’s the best time to prepare your garden soil.
- Use organic amendments like compost or composted manure to improve your soil structure, and increase nutrient-holding capacity.
- Adding amendments now means you’ll be working the soil while it’s relatively dry. This prevents soil compaction during the wet months of early spring. And come springtime your soil will be ready for planting.
- Prepare new beds for future planting by smothering grass or weeds with a layer of moistened corrugated cardboard or newspaper (2-3 layers thick). Cover this with 2-3 inches of compost or topsoil and water it well. Cover the soil or compost with a layer of mulch: straw or leaves for vegetable beds and wood chips for ornamental beds.
- Take photos of trees, shrubs, and vines as they change colors this month. Make notes in your garden journal about which colors you like. This will help you plan out new fall garden plantings next summer.
BONUS: As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, download a free October gardening checklist. It’s everything you need to do in October!
If you’re a savvy gardener, you’ve already started thinking about next year’s garden. And October is an ideal time to prepare your flower garden for next spring!
Here are some tips to get you started.
- Dig up tender tubers and corms of caladium, cannas, dahlias, gladiolus, and tuberous begonias if you didn’t last month.
- Now is the time to stock up on spring flowering bulbs if you haven’t already. Related: How to plant a lot of bulbs quickly.
- Leave ornamental grasses up over the winter for wildlife and winter interest in the landscape.
- Thin out one-quarter to one-third of the oldest branches of mature forsythia, lilac, spirea, and potentilla for better bloom and shape next year. Cut these branches to the ground.
- It can still be too early to apply a winter mulch to roses in October. Wait until the ground has frozen before mulching.
With November right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about preparing your garden for winter.
Some gardening chores are best done in the fall, while others are best postponed until spring.
Related: Fall yard clean-up tips.
But what can’t wait is harvesting the last of your fall vegetables (including your green tomatoes) and cleaning up your garden beds before the ground freezes.
As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, download a free gardening in October checklist. You’ll be sure to get the right things done this month!
Here are my top tips for your October veggie garden.
- Continue to weed this month. Many “winter annual” weeds will have sprouted already. These germinate in the fall and can survive the winter as small plants. Next spring they’ll continue to grow and become a nuisance, so the sooner you can get rid of them, the better.
- Plant cover crops like annual rye or winter wheat in vacant beds to prevent weeds and grow green manure for next spring.
- If you want to harvest more from your garden by extending your growing season now is the time to learn about season extension structures like grow tunnels, hoop houses, cold frames, or row covers.
- Mulch root crops like carrots to keep them from freezing.
- Cut back dead blackberry and raspberry canes, then fertilize your berries and brambles or top-dress the beds with compost.
- Harvest “mummies” (shriveled fruit) that are still clinging to your fruit trees. This interrupts fruit-tree-pest life cycles.
Get a printable list of what to do in your garden this month: Download my free October checklist.
If you have a lawn, you can do a lot to improve it before winter sets in. Here are some things you can do to get your turf ready for winter before the trick-or-treaters show up!
- Finish overseeding your lawn by mid-month.
- If you apply herbicides to perennial lawn weeds, this is the best time to do it. Herbicides are most effective on perennial weeds in the fall because the roots more fully absorb them as the plants work to store energy in their roots to survive the winter.
- If you didn’t blow out your sprinkler system in September, October is the time to do it.
- Continue to pull broadleaved weeds that pop up in your lawn.
Herbicides are most effective on perennial weeds in the fall because the roots more fully absorb them.
- Collect and shred leaves that have collected on your lawn.
- Don’t let them mat over the winter. They can damage the grass.
- My favorite way to shred them is with a vacuum shredder (a leaf blower turned to the “suck” setting). You can use them as a mulch for tender plants or turn them into leaf mold by composting them.
- If you have acidic soil and a soil test indicates you should apply lime to your lawn, do it this month.
- Continue mowing your lawn until it stops growing.
- Winterize your lawnmower before storing it. A gardening tip we got from our local small engine shop is to use TruFuel 4-Cycle Fuel to winterize it and cut down on repair costs and hassles next spring.
- Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer after the last mowing (late October – early November) for early green-up next spring.
Download my FREE gardening checklist for October as a bonus for joining my newsletter.
October is a time of year when wildlife is out in abundance and migrating birds make their way south to warmer climates.
Here are some ways you can help your neighborhood critters prepare for the cold and help migrating birds complete their journey.
- October is a busy time for backyard birds. You’ll see thrushes, native sparrows, and finches at your feeders and birdbaths this month.
- If you didn’t put any suet out last month, now is the time to do it.
- If you don’t already have a heated birdbath, consider installing one before the weather gets much colder.
- Keep your feeders filled with niger seed to attract sparrows and goldfinches.
This is the time to start bringing your indoor plants indoors or to give special care to your houseplants.
Here are some tips to help you keep your houseplants thriving.
- Now is the time to move any tender houseplants (or potted tropical plants) you’ve been keeping outside indoors.
- Trim back the plants, remove any weeds and dead leaves that have gathered on the soil, and spray them gently with your hose to dislodge insects.
- You can fully submerge smaller plants in water for 15 minutes to drown any insects. With larger potted plants, immerse the base of the pot in water to get rid of any insects hiding in the soil and spray the plants with insecticidal soap.
- Get your Christmas cactus ready to bloom: Reduce watering, place it in a cool area (50-55 degrees Fahrenheit), and increase its time in shade or darkness (12-14 hours). This will force your Christmas cactus to bloom in late December.
Frequently asked questions about gardening in October
Should I add anything to my garden soil in the fall?
Fall is the perfect time to improve your soil health. But before you give it a boost of nutrition or add organic matter, get a soil test, so you know exactly what to add. It’s the best way to get your garden ready for next season!
When should I tidy my garden for winter?
Fall is the perfect time to make sure your garden gets some much-needed TLC. Clean up fallen leaves and take care of other easy maintenance tasks like weeding, amending your soil, and replenishing mulch – and give your garden a fresh new look and feel!
How do I winterize my soil?
You can protect your plants from heaving and winter temperature swings with a layer of organic mulch or leaf mold. This will help moderate soil temperatures and create healthier, happier plants. Find the best organic mulch here.
You’ll always know what to do in October!
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Your Turn: How do you get everything done in your October garden?
Do you follow a checklist or just wing it? Leave a comment and let me know!