Gardening Notes For October

October marks the true start of autumn and much work for the gardener!  We are now racing against time to complete our chores before that first strong frost.  Fortunately, we have finally received some much needed rain, so watering chores are no longer as crucial as they were in September.  Remember to take a moment and make some notes about your garden.  Among other details, take note of what annuals are still looking respectable, which late season vegetables lived up to expectations, and perhaps what woody plants or perennials should be added to enhance the autumn garden for next year!  

Things to do:

  • Finish ordering and start planting spring flowering bulbs. 
  • Prepare tuberous rooted plants for winter.   Those such as Alocasia, Colocasia, Dahlia, Canna, and Musa/Ensete (Banana), which have a storage-type of root system can be dug, wrapped in newspaper, and stored in a cool (50-55°F), dry basement.  
  • Early October is likely to be the last chance to take and root cuttings of tender plants, such as Plectranthus, Coleus, and Geraniums.  Other plants that are not of hybrid origin can be overwintered by collecting the seed and stored in the lettuce draw of the refrigerator.  Various species of Solanum, Asclepias and Amaranthus are ideal for overwintering in this manner
  • Container care.  Bring in, empty and clean any valuable containers to prevent damage from freeze-thaw cycles of winter.  Wash clay containers inside and out to remove salts from fertilizers.  For plastic and other weather resistant containers, add annuals that are more tolerant of frost for autumn color, such as Chrysanthemums, Ornamental Cabbage, Kale or even Red Stemmed Willows (Salix alba ‘Britzensis’)!
  • Keep those lawn mower blades sharp!  If the fallen leaves are not too thick, shred them weekly with the lawnmower and use them as mulch for your flowerbeds.  The finer pieces that remain behind actually help improve your turf.
  • Early October is still ok for over seeding bare spots in the lawn, especially since the soil is now well moistened.
  • Remove annuals that appear tired or are frosted.  They can be replaced with an attractive bed of pansies.  During the winter, lightly mulch the pansies with straw as they will make a great show come spring.
  • Plant deciduous trees and shrubs.  The soil is still warm, and most species will produce roots into December, better preparing them for the stress of next summer.
  • For the vegetable garden, it is time to finish harvesting potatoes and squash. Carrots, radish, chard, sun chokes, parsley and other cool season crops can be harvested as needed.  Garlic should be planted by mid-October and mulched with salt hay.  Areas of the garden that are bare can be mulched with compost, manure (fresh or composted) or seeded with winter rye or other green cover crops.  These cover crops can be turned into the soil early the following spring and provides a great source of organic matter.
  • Remove the foliage of perennials as they collapse with frost, since it eliminates surfaces for slugs and insects such as Iris Borer to lay their eggs.  It also helps to reduce fungal disease for next year and eliminates winter cover for mice, moles and voles!
  • Evaluate Oaks for Bacterial Lear Scorch.  If the leaves have turned brown in August and September under the duress of the drought, have an arborist evaluate the trees for spring treatments.
  • Continue to water new plantings should rainfall once again become scarce.  Although it feels as if the growing season is nearly over, plants are still transpiring and in need of water!