In October, gardeners have a color show unequaled in any other season. While many summer annuals are still blooming, trees begin their yearly show of fall color. Berries and nuts add polka-dots to shrub and tree borders, and fall-blooming perennials explode into bloom. The shifting angle of sunrays provides a gorgeous backlight in the late afternoon, and the crisp air wakes up the senses.
In terms of gardening tasks, October is a month of deadlines before freezing weather arrives. Most of the chores from our September Lawn and Garden To-Do List still apply, although with more urgency.
If you haven’t done so already, October is the month to:
- Move non-hardy plants indoors, including tender bulbs.
- Bring houseplants inside – the colder it gets, the greater the shock they will experience.
Shrubs and Trees
- Plant container-grown or balled-and-burlapped trees and shrubs (hold off on bare-root trees and shrubs until late winter).
- Ideally, plant before mid-month to make sure the roots get established before the ground freezes. Since roots grow when the soil temperature is above 40 degrees F, warmer climates can plant later in the season.
Annuals and Perennials
- Plant bulbs. Spring-flowering bulbs—such as hyacinth, daffodils, anemone, crocus, and tulips—should be planted after the ground temperature drops below 60 degrees F.
- Label bulbs and tender perennials before they disappear for the winter.
- Watch the weather for the first killing frost – protect your fall-blooming perennials by building a simple wooden frame and cover it with an old bedsheet. One night of looking tacky can prolong their blooming season by as much as a month.
- Harvest seeds from annuals and perennials.
- Tidy up woody perennials by pruning back and mulching – you may want to leave some for winter interest as long as they last, such as hosta, sedum, and ornamental grasses.
- Take cuttings from perennials to root indoors over the winter.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Harvest bell peppers before frost kill the plants.
- Plant garlic, overwintering onions, and shallots.
- Divide overcrowded rhubarb.
- Apply a deep layer of mulch or straw to your root vegetables – if you keep the ground from freezing, you can harvest them fresh all winter long. If your climate experiences a lot of snow, you can cover the veggie rows with an old, porous carpet or thick blanket – something that you can easily grasp and pull back to access the plants.
- Prune berry vines by removing the vines or canes that fruited, leaving this summer’s new growth to put out berries next season.
- Harvest pumpkins, gourds, multicolored corn, and other fall veggies to use as decorations.
- Fertilize your lawn now if needed.
- Plant grass in order to give it time to become established before winter.
Cleanup and Maintenance
- Apply a nice layer of mulch to your garden and naturalized areas.
- Continue cleanup of dead and finished plants and vegetables.
- Order seed and garden catalogs to study by the fire over the winter.
- Stock up on firewood.
- Store and repair tools.
- Do any digging or underground repairs or construction before the ground freezes.
- Commence leaf clean-up!
- If you are a fan of Halloween, make a plan to incorporate spooky decorations (and increased foot traffic) into your landscape. Make sure your yard is free of dangerous obstacles – you wouldn’t want to trip up any little goblins.
Chores to Reduce or Stop in October
- Reduce irrigation, and stop watering a tree or shrub once it has lost its leaves. If you plant evergreens this fall, make sure they get plenty of water before the ground freezes – they use water all winter.
- Reduce watering of indoor plants as well.
- Stop trimming hedges – the flush of new growth can be killed by freezing weather, which can harm the entire plant.
- Hold off on other pruning jobs until the plants go dormant. Ideally, make more thinning cuts and fewer heading cuts to reduce new growth.