October garden chores are here! Pumpkin spice, sweatshirts on cool mornings, and fall color hinting in the hills. We couldn’t be more excited. August’s humid days are blissfully behind us, and we’re finding new energy in fall temperatures. What better time to be outside putting the garden to bed when the air is crisp and invigorating. Yes, you can have a winter garden, but the summer one needs a rest.
1. Buy Bulbs, Plant Bulbs
You can plant bulbs now through November, as long as the soil is workable, but buy them now. Bulbs sell out fast and store in a cool, dry, and somewhat dark place until planting. The chilling times for different bulbs are below.
Chilling and Blooming Times For Bulbs
Note: Amaryllis and Paperwhites do not require a chilling period, pot them up and look for blooms 4+ weeks later. Put them on your calendar now, as the holidays are coming up soon.
Daffodils: 12-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Tulips: 10-16 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Crocus: 8-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Grape hyacinth: 8-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Iris reticulata: 13-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Snowdrop (Galanthus): 15 weeks of chilling; 2 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Hyacinth: 12-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
2. Weed, Weed, Weed
This chore always makes the list. Consider it a given. Many weeds are going to seed now, and ousting them before that happens is crucial. If time is an issue, try to remove the seed heads with a sharp pair of dead headers, eliminating seed for next year’s weeds. Check out the Weed Science Society of America’s online site and Rutger’s Weed Gallery. Both are great resources for learning about weeds, especially weed identification. For more information on weeds you should keep, read here. (Yes, I said to keep.)
3. Clean up Perennials and Sickly Plants
Clean up sickly plants and perennials that are beginning to die back. Perennial flowers and foilage plants are rarely evergreen (there are exceptions). It is the root that is perennial, not the shoots. Cut perennials completely back as they begin to yellow. You’ll see shoots emerge next spring. If you’re thinking, I don’t know what a perennial is, in this case, think hosta, Shasta daisies, echinacea, peonies, salvia, and so forth.
Rake up sickly plant material and dispose of it. Harmful plant material is harboring ground for next season’s diseases and pests. We’re cleaning up now for healthier plants next year. Don’t leave debris around the plants, but rake it away and dispose of it rather than compost it.
September is typically the best month for dividing perennials (they’re going dormant, but you can still see them), but this is a chore that can be done into October. Here’s the blog on how to divide perennials.
4. Gather the Leaves
Depending on the temperatures, this can be more of a November garden chore than an October garden chore, but some trees drop leaves early so stay ahead of the raking. When the leaves start falling, please don’t give them to your municipality. Instead, gather them up and work them into the garden beds. Leaves contain 2x the mineral content of manure, are organic roughage–adding them to the soil improves drainage and aeration–and they serve as food for beneficial microbes. They’re also good food for compost. All winter, leaving them on the grass kills the grass, and it leaches the good stuff out of leaves. Instead, rake, and put your natural resources to work for you in your garden.
You have a couple of options.
Rake into a pile and run the lawnmower over them a few times–the inexpensive way–or purchase a leaf shredder. After shredding, mulch the garden beds with the leaves. Raking the leaves directly onto the beds without shredding takes much longer for leaves to break down and some leaves mat together, not allowing air circulation and water to get through.
Make a leaf mold by putting leaves into a leaf bag, dousing the leaves with water, and punching a few holes in the bag. The leaves break down into excellent, crumbly, organic food for your soil. For more information on how to use your leaves and make leaf mold, click here.
For great reading on practicing a more ecological approach to your leaves and landscape, Doug Tallamy’s book, Nature’s Best Hope is a definite winter read.
5. Clean Up the Vegetable Garden
Remove all spent and diseased plant material from the garden. Tomatoes that suffered tomato blight should be pulled up, bagged up, and thrown away. Consider planting a cover crop for winter. Use your leaves in the vegetable beds, too. Improving the soil is always the goal for any gardener. Harvest all your herbs and late summer crops before a freeze gets them, and remember that now is an excellent time to plant garlic.
6. Skip the Pruning
Forget the pruning, except lightly. Fall is not the time to prune, except for light pruning if needed. Pruning pushes out new growth, which doesn’t have time to harden off and can lead to winter dieback. But, prune out the dead/diseased/dying/damaged wood (a perfect harboring place for pests and diseases) or anything that needs stabilizing (i.e., long branches that could get whipped around in the winter wind). For pruning information and when to prune, click here.
7. Get the houseplants Inside
If you haven’t already, get the tropicals inside. Tropicals won’t show immediate damage unless exposed to frost or freeze. However, extended exposure to temperatures in the ’40s can lower their resistance to pests and disease. Have them acclimated to indoors by the time we’re experiencing consistent nighttime temperatures in the upper 40’s. Here’s the blog on the migrating houseplants back indoors.
8. A Final Review
Gardener Review: How did you do? What worked in the garden and what didn’t? Were some things fabulous but impractical? What about those shade trees you planted years ago that are finally shading the house, and maybe the full sun perennial beds? Gardens are not static. They’re organic, evolving spaces, which is what keeps us gardeners intrigued. So make plans for next year.
Fall is a great time to plant. Check out this video by Jon Merrill for planting.
Clean and store outdoor containers. Here’s the how-to to store your outdoor pots for the winter. If you’re still feeling creative and want to do some winter container gardening, here are some tips for that.
Clean out bird feeders and birdhouses. Use a little soap and warm water and rinse well, allowing feeders to completely dry. It will help reduce potential diseases passed between birds. And FYI: most birdfeeders are designed to take apart, clean, and reassemble easily.
Clean, sharpen and store tools.
Cinthia Milner is a Landscape Consultant and blog writer for B.B. Barns Garden Center.
BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.