A Gardener’s To-Do List For October
A Gardener’s To-Do List For October: October is harvest season: Apples, carrots, tomatoes and a whole host of other – equally important – fruit & veg ripens around now, so those of us with a vegetable garden will be rushed off our feet for the next few weeks!
Not that people without a vegetable plot have an easy time this month. With winter frosts fast approaching, October is your last real chance to divide up overgrown perennials, harvest seed heads and prepare your garden for the cold months ahead.
As such, you’ll probably spend a considerable amount of time clearing, pruning, planting and potting; regardless of your garden’s size or contents.
October is also a great time to sit back and take stock of your space. With the trees bare and borders empty, it’s much easier to get a real look at your garden’s structure, composition, and layout, which is why we often find ourselves using the last weeks of fall to make note of any changes we’d like to implement next spring.
This could be small things – like a new color scheme – or larger tasks, like repositioning a border or replanting a neglected space down at the end of your plot. Ultimately, the important thing is to take a step back and think about what you’d like to do differently next year.
It’s not all clean-up and reflection though: There’s also plenty to plant in October, and a few miscellaneous tasks – like repainting garden furniture – that are often neglected in the pre-winter rush.
To help you make the most of this busy month, we’ve pulled together a list of essential gardening tasks, as follows:
1. Divide perennials
Perennial plants like hostas, daylilies or yarrow have a habit of taking over borders, particularly if they’ve been allowed to grow unchecked for a couple of years.
You can’t divide these plants in the middle of summer, because they’re spending too much energy on new growth to recover properly. Fall is a different matter entirely though: At this time of year, delicate perennials concentrate spare resource in the frost-proof roots, and focus on building a strong safety net that will support them until spring.
This means that you can safely dig up (and divide) crowded perennials in October. To do this, pick a plant and lift it from the soil with a trowel or garden fork, taking care not to damage too much of the plant’s root network.
Once you’ve lifted your perennial from the soil, you can then tease the roots apart, forming two separate plants. Some perennials (including hostas) tend to develop quite thick root networks so you may need to use a bit of force, but many will just break apart in your hands, which makes it nice and easy to divide them.
Try to aim for equal division (i.e. splitting the plant in half) as this maximizes the chances of survival.
Once you’ve broken your plant in two, you can replant one half, and then find a suitable spot for the rest. Take care to cover newly-planted perennials with a little leaf mulch too, just to make sure they’re well-protected against early frosts.
2. Harvest seed heads
Alliums, poppies and a number of different wildflowers all disperse their seeds in October. If you want to enjoy these flowers again next year, now is the perfect time to get out there, and gather their seed heads.
These seed heads (literally, the part of the plant that’s covered in seeds) can be teased away from the stem and stored in a brown paper bag. If you keep this bag warm and dry until next year, you’ll be able to plant the seeds in spring, and then watch a new generation of flowers spring up from the ground.
Take care when gathering seed heads though: Some have a tendency to explode if their over-handled, and it’s important to be as gentle as you can with any ripe seeds.
3. Harvest vegetables
As mentioned before, October is harvest season, and those of us with a vegetable plot are likely to be inundated with fresh vegetables. Particular highlights include late-fruiting apples, root vegetables like carrots, broccoli, sprouts, and collard greens.
Beans need to be harvested in October too – particularly green, broad or runner varieties – as frost will ruin their flavor.
The same is also true of beets, cabbages, lettuces and that old seasonal favorite: The pumpkin, which will be at its ripest in the middle of October.
4. Dig out the last of the summer annuals
Speaking of removing things before they decline, there’s a good chance that most of your summer annuals are dead by now. There is a slight environmental benefit to leaving some of the wilted stalks sitting in your borders; they provide a habitat for small creatures and a unique biome for insect life, but they are also unsightly, and October’s the perfect time to swing around, and dig most of them up.
This will leave your borders bare for leaf mulch, or provide you with space to plant some late blooming alternatives. The chrysanthemum is a great example, but you could also plant out
5. Bring potted plants indoors
Temperatures start to drop rapidly as we move into fall, particularly here in Michigan. Plants in borders have a bit of added protection against frost and snow, but plants in pots are very vulnerable to sudden cold snaps.
As such, it is highly recommended that you bring citrus plants, olive trees or potted, outdoor plants indoors at this time of year. For best results, leave them by a window or door to make sure that they get enough sunlight, and water them occasionally throughout the winter.
Do take care to ensure that they are well drained though. There’s much less chance of water evaporating when plants are kept indoors, and it is easy to accidentally waterlog plants that normally live outside.
6. Paint outdoor furniture
Last but not least, October is the perfect time to repaint worn garden furniture. Regular weatherproofing extends the lifespan of all wooden furniture, and it’s important to get a fresh coat down every year – particularly if you can’t store tables and chairs indoors over winter.
You need to get this paint on before the cold weather sets in though; frost, damp and rain will stop varnish drying properly, and increase the risk of your furniture warping.
If you’d like to chat about winter-proofing your garden or ask questions about any of the advice given here, please drop us a message using the contact form on our site. We’re passionate about all things garden-related, and we’re always happy to offer friendly advice to people in and around Michigan.