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Download a printable copy of our OCTOBER Gardening “To-Do” Checklist.

 

ANNUALS

Don’t forget for Annuals, there is still time to plant beautiful blooming pansies. Plant now for fall color and then again in the spring. Pansies can show their happy little faces even in January and February if temperatures are not below freezing. It is also a great time to plant Ornamental Cabbage and Kale. Colors are enhanced by the cooler temperatures. Great for borders or mass planting.

LAWN

Thick lawn thanks to yearly feeding and overseeding.

  • October is the perfect time to feed your lawn – lawns really need feeding because turfgrasses are NOT self-sustaining plants.  Without added Nitrogen they get thin and weedy, and erosion follows.  And now’s the best time to feed them – much better than spring (despite what the commercials on TV tell you!)  It’s the best time for your lawn AND for protecting the Bay.  Click here for details.
  • From now until October 15th or so is also the best time to plant grass seed.  Click here for details about starting a new lawn.
  • Is your lawn thin and weedy?  Then overseed it early this month – also, before the 15th is best.  How to overseed your lawn.
  • Got bare spots?  Now’s the time to fill then in.  Click here for details.

EDIBLES

  • Plant lettuce, spinach, radishes and corn salad through the middle of the month. Protect with row covers or a cold frame.

    Row covers work great!

  • Carrots, turnips and parsnips can be over-wintered by covering the bed with a deep straw or leaf mulch.  Harvest, as needed.
  • Continue to dig potatoes and to harvest pumpkins and winter squashes.
  • Gourds should be harvested after a hard frost.
  • Cover crops of oats, winter rye, winter wheat and crimson clover can be sown through the middle of October.  Seeds should be in close contact with soil to promote germination. Cover crops protect the soil, conserve soil nutrients and add organic matter and nutrients when tilled in in the spring.   Cover crops can also be sown in walkways between beds.
  • Small herb plants (like parsley, chives and garlic) can be potted up (in a soil-less mix) and brought indoors for winter use. A sunny window or Cool White fluorescent lights will help keep them productive. To be effective, the lights have to be on 18 hours a day, and the plants can’t be more than about a foot away from the bulbs. Keep them away from excessive heat or drafts, and turn down the thermostat at night.
  • Build new garden beds by sheet mulching to kill the existing grass: cut grass low, cover with sections of newspaper, then with layers of organic matter, such as compost, leaves, garden clippings, kitchen scraps; top with a thick layer of straw or other mulch.

TREES AND SHRUBS

  • It’s peak planting time, right up until the ground freezes.  (Why? They’re beginning to go dormant for the winter, so planting them now causes very little stress to the plants. And since they will have been in the ground over the winter, their roots will grow more vigorously in the spring. Also, you will not have to worry so much about watering them as often, once they have lost their leaves.)
  • It’s also a good month for moving deciduous trees and shrubs; for evergreens it’s best to wait til spring if you can.
  • If October is dry, give your shrubs and trees a good soaking.  Evergreens are particularly vulnerable to drying out over the winter, so don’t forget them.

    Serviceberry in its fall glory.

  • Speaking of evergreens, don’t panic if you see some browning or yellowing of the interior needles or those on lower branches, as that’s normal for this time of year. Evergreen leaves do live a long time, but eventually they too die and drop off. Eastern White Pine, for instance, drops needles older than 2 years old each fall, which can look dramatic to someone not expecting that many yellowing leaves on an evergreen. Broadleaf evergreens can also get brilliant colors on their dropping leaves – some azaleas turn scarlet, for example. Lastly, don’t forget that some evergreens change color for the winter, even though they retain their leaves. Siberian Carpet, for instance, blushes a nice milk chocolate-brown or caramel color; a few rare dwarf pines turn golden yellow; Atlantic Whitecedar and some Junipers turn purplish-gray and various Arborvitae and Japanese Cedar get a slight flush of bronze.
  • DON’T PRUNE this month, except to remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood.  Pruning any more than that will encourage new growth that will not harden off in time for cold weather and will suffer dieback over winter, wasting energy.  Anyway, the plant’s energies need to go to root development, and not new leaves and branches.
  • Feed with a slow-release fertilizer like Holly-tone to boost root growth over the next few weeks – more roots support more shoots, and shoots bring flowers and fruit!
  • Plants that are susceptible to breakage from heavy snow can be protected with burlap; get it in place before any threat of snow.

PERENNIALS AND BORDERS

  • October is a great time for true plant lovers to get great deals. Ignore the yellowing, spotted leaves of what you are getting now and plan with next season in mind. The plant you put in the ground now will have enough time to develop a strong root system and will end up being that much more mature by next year. It’s like getting twice the plant at half the price. Even though the weather is cooler, make sure to use a good root stimulator when planting (we like Espoma Bio-tone) and mulch, and water well. Keep an eye out for watering needs until we get our second, heavy frost.
  • You may also divide or relocate perennials this month, provided that we haven’t had our first frost. When dividing or moving, make sure to amend the soil with an organic compost (we use Leafgro). It’s also a good idea to use a root stimulator (Espoma BioTone), and mulch well. Feeding now is not necessary but watering is. As with new plantings, keep an eye out for watering needs until the second, heavy frost.
  • To trim or not to trim? It’s all about the plant’s well-being right now. Trim off any diseased or broken stems and throw them out – the plant won’t be needing those anymore. However, allowing the plant to go dormant slowly, on its own terms, as plants have done for thousands of years, is the best thing to do. Premature trimming disrupts the plant’s natural cycle of hormones adding stress which compromises its overall health. For well-established plants that are large and tough, this may not be an issue, but for smaller, newer plants this could set them back terribly, or permanently if we have a tough winter. This is the plant’s last chance to use the sun’s rays for energy. In addition, many species of butterflies overwinter as chryalises in, or around, the base of their respective host plants. Tidying up too much disrupts this natural cycle of life. And lastly, leaving the stems with the spent flower heads from Coneflowers (Echinacea sp.) and Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia sp.), and native grasses means food for birds.
  • Speaking of tidying up. We do recommend removing any dead leaves that have accumulated around plants that are highly susceptible to powdery mildew. Fungal spores will overwinter on plant debris that has accumulated. Removing the dead leaves around these plants can potentially reduce the amount of mildew that reoccurs again next year. Plants such as Beebalm (Monarda sp.), Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata), and Peonies (Paeonia) should have any debris removed from around them. Although Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium sp.) is a plant that is susceptible to powdery mildew, avoid cleaning up around it unless you really have to. It is a host plant for a few species of butterflies, a few of which may be overwintering in the debris.

BULBS

  • Time to plant your spring-blooming bulbs – tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, anemone and crocus, to name a few.  If you can’t get them all in the ground this month, tulips CAN be planted in November with good results – as long as the ground hasn’t frozen, of course.  For best results, add bone meal or a bulb fertilizer like Bulb-tone into the planting hole as you prepare the soil.
  • In choosing and planting your bulbs, it’s best to plant in drifts, rather than tiny groups of just one to three.
  • Got deer?  Plant daffodils, hyacinths, fritillaria, scilla, muscari, galanthus and ornamental allium for best results.  Deer love tulips and crocus, so avoid them.
  • Gladiola, dahlias, cannas, elephant ears and other tender bulbs should be dug up before the ground freezes and stored in a cool dark area.  Just wait til frost blackens the foliage, then cut back the tops to 6 inches and dig carefully.  Next, brush or wash off soil and let dry for two weeks to cure. Store in boxes or potted filled with peat moss or bark chips in a dry place like an unheated basement or crawl space around 40-50 degrees.
  • If you need to move your autumn-flowering crocus, do it now – after they flower.

HOUSEPLANTS, TENDER PLANTS

  • Take cuttings from tender plants like coleus if you want to have them again next year.
  • It’s not too early to pot up some paperwhites, then keep doing it every 2-3 weeks for a continuing, winter-long indoor show (and scent).
  • Bring your outdoor houseplants back inside this month, but if they need repotting, do it first.  If they can wait til spring, that’s also a good time to repot.
  • Because houseplants are prone to get whiteflies, spray with Neem insecticide or horticultural oil now, then check periodically.
  • Watch your indoor gardenias closely for spider mites.
  • Whatever tropicals you have inside, reduce the amount of fertilizer to twice a month and even half the normal dose.

POND

  • October is the time to put your pond away for the winter – which our aquatics expert Bill Watts explains – click here for details.

WILDLIFE

  • If you haven’t been already, now is a good time to provide food and water for the birds. It’s not too early to start providing suet in addition to seed. Insect-eating birds will partake in the suet as the insect population decreases for the year.
  • Leave your hummingbird feeders out for the stragglers that may be coming through on their way south. Some of the newly born guys can be a bit slow to get started and many coming through our area from the west are late. They need food more than any of the other birds at this time of year.
  • Clean! Wash out bird baths, feeders, and nest boxes well. A solution of 50% vinegar and 50% warm water will work just fine. Use a scrub brush and scour all surfaces. Rinse and let dry. Seed feeders should be cleaned every 2-4 weeks. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned weekly (more often in the warmer weather). And bird baths should be scrubbed out every few days as needed. The nest boxes will not be used as housing, but they do act as temporary shelters for birds that are trying to get away from bad weather.
  • Create a pile of leaves and trimmings in the corner of your yard. This will offer winter protection for ground-dwelling birds and act as a hibernation site for reptiles.

Photo credits: Row cover from U.Md’s Grow It Eat It.  Cardinal by Natalie Brewer.  Other photos by Susan Harris.