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October in the Garden: What You Need to Do This Month
This month the garden is winding down for most of us. It’s the last chance for a major clean up effort before the weather turns wintery.
And depending on how far into October it is when you’re reading this, you may have had a light frost or two, and if you live far north you may have had more than one hard frost.
If you want to get more from your garden next year by extending your growing season now is the time to learn about season extension structures like grow tunnels, hoop houses or row covers. You can extend your growing season by weeks or months, depending on the microclimates in your garden.
Read my full disclosure.
What to Plant in October
- Plant garlic and shallots this month. Space the cloves 6 inches apart, and plant them pointy-end up!
- Pot up some paperwhite bulbs or other spring bulbs for holiday-time forcing. Store them in a cool, frost-free place until it’s time for them to flower. This typically takes 12-15 weeks.
- You still have time to plant container-grown and balled & burlapped trees and shrubs this month. Mulch them well after watering.
- Transplant deciduous trees once they’ve dropped all their leaves.
- There’s still time to plant spring bulbs this month, especially tulips in the second half of the month.
October in the Garden: Top 5 Vegetable Gardening Tasks
- 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 annual rye or winter wheat in vacant vegetable beds to prevent weeds and grow green manure for next spring.
- Mulch carrots to keep them from freezing.
- Cover salad greens with frost protection fabric.
- Work compost or composted manure into asparagus beds and around rhubarb. Be careful not to disturb the roots.
- Bonus tips: There’s a lot more to do in the vegetable (and fruit) garden this month! Get the rest of the tips in my free downloadable Checklist for October, or read the post here.
October Garden Maintenance Chores
- 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 insulation jacket to keep them from freezing.
- Collect and shred leaves. Don’t leave them on your lawn to mat over the winter. The best way to shred them is with a vacuum shredder (a leaf blower set on the “suck” setting). You can use them as a mulch over tender perennials or compost them.
- Clean up fallen fruit from ornamental plants like crabapples to reduce disease and pest problems.
- Cover any bare soil in your garden. Use mulch, straw or leaves to build up your soil structure.
- Continue weeding. Focus first on pulling creeping 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!
- Pull and dispose of anything that looks diseased or unwell. Look for mildew on leaves, dark blotches on stems, signs of rot, unmanageable insect pressure or damage. Don’t compost this stuff!
- Keep all plants, especially newly planted perennials, trees, and shrubs adequately watered until the ground freezes.
- 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. Follow the instructions in the test results. This will save you time next spring.
- Protect and store any pots or planters that won’t survive outside during your winter.
- Mulch newly planted perennials, shrubs, and trees to prevent heaving over the winter.
- Winterize water features (ponds, fountains, etc.).
Flower Garden Tips for October
- Dig up tender tubers and corms of caladium, cannas, dahlias, and gladiolus, if you didn’t last month.
- Leave ornamental grasses up over the winter for wildlife and winter interest in the landscape.
- Gather all garden plants that aren’t diseased, and you’re not leaving up for winter interest or wildlife. Compost them.
- Discard any diseased plant parts. Most home compost piles don’t get hot enough long enough to destroy pathogens.
- Continue watering, especially your evergreens, if your soil is dry.
- This is the time to fertilize trees if a soil test indicated nutrient deficiencies.
- Thin out one-quarter to one-third of the oldest branches of mature forsythia, lilac, spirea, and potentilla for better bloom and shape next spring. 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.
Garden Planning in October
- Planning to create a new vegetable or flower garden next spring? Now’s the best time to prepare the soil. If you have bare 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. Come springtime the soil will be ready to plant.
- Mix the amendments into your existing soil — spade or rototill 6 to 8 inches deep.
- Prepare new beds for future planting by smothering grass or weeds with a layer of 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 flower 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 new plantings next spring.
Lawn Care Schedule for October
- Finish overseeding by mid-month.
- If you didn’t blow out your sprinkler system in September, October is the time to do it.
- Continue to hand weed broadleaved weeds.
- 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 now because the roots more fully absorb them.
- Continue mowing your lawn until it stops growing.
- Rake all leaves off your lawn to prevent them from smothering the grass.
- If you have acidic soil and your soil test indicates you should apply lime to your lawn, do it this month.
- Winterize your lawnmower before storing it. A 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 nitrogen fertilizer after the last mowing (late October – early November) for early green-up next spring.
Wildlife in Your October Garden
- 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.
- Store apples in a cool place with good air circulation.
- Persimmons start to ripen this month, especially after a frost.
- Fertilize berries and brambles or top-dress the beds with compost.
- Remove “mummies” (shriveled fruit) that are still clinging to your fruit trees. This interrupts fruit tree pest life cycles.
- Clean up dropped fruit and leaves from fruit trees; compost if healthy. Discard any diseased fruit and leaves.
- Cut back dead raspberry and blackberry canes.