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October Gardening Guide: What You Need to Do This Month

Cheryl Spencer from Simply Smart Gardening
Inside: My top tips for your October garden.


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.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll get a small commission if you make a purchase. I only link to products I use and recommend.
A front yard with a red malpe tree in October.
October is the perfect time to get your garden ready for winter before the snow starts to fly!

What’s inside this post:

Make gardening easy this October. Download your FREE monthly gardening checklist now!

October landscaping tips

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 indicated nutrient deficiencies. Related: The best way to test 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 your FREE monthly checklist to get started.
  • 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.
A gardener spreading mulch in a garden in october.
Mulch protects plants from heaving and builds healthier soil.
  • 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.
A home compost pile.
Don’t compost diseased plants. Most home compost piles don’t get hot enough long enough to destroy pathogens.
  • 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 or store any pots or planters that won’t survive outside during your winter.
  • Winterize water features (ponds, fountains, etc.)
Winterizing your Fountains
  • 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.
A beautiful flower garden in October.
Now is the perfect time to make notes about adding more fall color and interest to your garden.
  • 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 monthly gardening checklist.

October gardening tips for your flower garden

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, and 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.
October Garden Checklist - 🍁🍁🍁Fall Transition Time!!

October jobs in your vegetable garden

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.

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.

Quick tip: For the best possible results, download your free monthly gardening checklist so you don’t miss any important gardening to-dos.

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.
CTREAE Plant Covers Freeze Protection 0.9oz 8Ft x 24Ft Floating Row Cover Rectangle Plant Cover for Cold Protection, Sun, Pest Protection, and Plant Growth Season
Frost protection will help you extend your growing season for cool-season crops by weeks or months, depending on the microclimates in your garden.
  • 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.
Make gardening easy on yourself this October. Download your FREE printable gardening checklist now!

Lawn care in October

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. The plants are storing energy to survive the winter. Herbicides are most effective on perennial weeds in the fall because the roots more fully absorb them.
  • 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 fallen from deciduous trees and 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.
Leaves on a lawn in October.
Rake all leaves off your lawn to prevent them from smothering the grass.
  • 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 lawn mower 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.
Take the guesswork out of gardening this month. Get your FREE monthly checklist to get started.

Wildlife in your October garden

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.

A goldfinch on a coneflower eating seeds in October.
Be sure to leave some plants in your garden over the winter for your bird friends to feast on.
  • 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.

Caring for your houseplants in October

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.

A group of houseplants near a window in October.
As the weather cools down outside, your houseplants will start to slow their growth.
  • 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 an 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.

Download your free October gardening checklist

You’ll always know what to do in October!

Join my weekly-ish newsletter, and as a bonus, you’ll get the printable checklist! Click here to download and subscribe.

Here’s a sneak peek of your checklist:

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!

Hi!  I’m  Cheryl. Cheryl Spencer

I believe you can grow your dream garden and still have time to enjoy it.

I’ll show you how easy it can be to have a garden that fits into your lifestyle, wows your neighbors, and makes your family say “more veggies, please!”

Cheryl Spencer, certified gardener Hi, I’m Cheryl.
I’m a certified gardener, bird lover, and spreadsheet enthusiast. I believe you can grow your dream garden and still have time to enjoy it. I teach online gardening courses and write articles that help you save time and money in your garden. Join my mailing list, and as a bonus, you’ll get a helpful checklist that’ll tell you what to do in your garden right now.

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