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What to Do in the Garden in October

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What to Do in the Garden in October

October 3, 2019

October rolls around and pumpkin-spiced everything enters, from lattes to soups to candles. It’s also the time when visions of hunkering down, cozying up, and preparing for the upcoming holidays happen. Outside, cooler temperatures marry with crisp air, clear blue skies, and warming wood-burning fireplaces. The landscape beautifully floods with autumnal colors and changes like a watercolor painting right before our eyes. The garden, thankfully, is still alive and awake even though it’s slowing down too—and that’s good news because fall is the new spring for planting in your garden.

1. Plant now. (Don’t wait for spring.)

Echinacea pallida, native to North America, is a great flower to plant now for blooms all summer long. Photograph courtesy of Thomas Lynch Design, from Gardening data-src=
Above: Echinacea pallida, native to North America, is a great flower to plant now for blooms all summer long. Photograph courtesy of Thomas Lynch Design, from Gardening 101: Coneflower.

Most plants in the fall start to put their resources toward new root growth before they go dormant and they can do this because they’re not battling drought and heat. And so it makes perfect sense to plant now because your new plants get a head start, and by this I mean they get two seasons of mild temperatures (fall and upcoming spring) before they need to contend with summer’s warm temperatures. Plus, upcoming winter rains will help the new plant develop a robust root system, protect it against diseases and drought stress, and make it more resistant to grueling harsh winter winds and temperatures.

And here’s another upside: If you get your major planting done now, you’ve simplified your future chores and can focus on pruning, weeding, and planting a few annuals to refresh containers and flower beds come spring. So plan to get your trees, hedges, hardy perennials, ground covers, and, especially, natives in the ground now.

2. Stock up on fall offerings.

An autumn palette at Terrain&#8
Above: An autumn palette at Terrain’s new outpost in Devon, PA. Photograph courtesy of Terrain, from Philadelphia Story: Terrain’s New Shop on the Main Line.

Visit any local nursery now and you’ll be offered a large assortment of autumn offerings, from cool season veggies, to annuals, to decorations for a festive holiday. Look out for violas, mums, Icelandic poppies, cyclamen, pansies, snapdragons, ornamental kale and, of course, stock.

3. Dig up and relocate plants.

See Secrets of an English Head Gardener: How to Transplant Shrubs and Perennials. Photograph via Impact Plants.
Above: See Secrets of an English Head Gardener: How to Transplant Shrubs and Perennials. Photograph via Impact Plants.

October is perfect for digging up and relocating any plants that have been visually bugging you all summer, because your moved plants will luckily experience less transplant shock. Also get ready to move your tender plants into your greenhouse to be protected from any damaging early frosts, and move citrus trees indoors to a frost-free and bright spot. Tip: reduce water to your citrus trees but don’t neglect them completely.

4. Fine-tune the color of hydrangeas.

Photograph by Kendra Wilson, from Hydrangeas: How To Change Color from Pink to Blue.
Above: Photograph by Kendra Wilson, from Hydrangeas: How To Change Color from Pink to Blue.

Now is the time to treat your hydrangeas with a soil acidifier to ensure that the blue ones stay blue. And for those pinkies? Feed them with agricultural lime instead to help them stay in the pink.

5. Plan for winter interest.

Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass or Nassella tenuissima) features bursts of feathery panicles, which change from foamy green to blonde. Photograph courtesy of Robert Kennett, from Gardening data-src=
Above: Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass or Nassella tenuissima) features bursts of feathery panicles, which change from foamy green to blonde. Photograph courtesy of Robert Kennett, from Gardening 101: Stipa Grasses.

Plant ornamental grasses now to add hardy fall color to the garden and to create winter interest with the dried flower stalks and blades.

6. Prune berry bushes.

Raspberries grow on woody, rambling canes in dense mounds called brambles. The canes need to be cut back after the last harvest. See All About Raspberries: Edible Garden Cheatsheet. Photograph by Nathan Fried Lipski of Nate Photography, from Rhode Island Roses: A Seaside Summer Garden in New England.
Above: Raspberries grow on woody, rambling canes in dense mounds called brambles. The canes need to be cut back after the last harvest. See All About Raspberries: Edible Garden Cheatsheet. Photograph by Nathan Fried Lipski of Nate Photography, from Rhode Island Roses: A Seaside Summer Garden in New England.

After the (sad) last harvest from your summer fruiting berries such as raspberries and boysenberries, cut back fruited canes to the ground and leave the green new ones for next year’s crop. Remember to tie the new canes to a support wire or trellis system to avoid a future prickly tangled mess.

7. Force some blooms.

Need ideas on which bulbs to force? See  Easy Pieces: Flower Bulbs for Forcing. Photograph by Erin Boyle, from Gardening src=
Above: Need ideas on which bulbs to force? See 10 Easy Pieces: Flower Bulbs for Forcing. Photograph by Erin Boyle, from Gardening 101: Paperwhites.

This year try forcing paper whites or amaryllis for any upcoming holiday festivities. This activity may sound complex but it is quite simple and can be a fun indoor experience to do with kids.

8. Cut back your roses.

Photography by John Merkl for Gardenista, from Gardening src=
Above: Photography by John Merkl for Gardenista, from Gardening 101: How to Prune Roses.

Give thanks to your hardworking roses by pruning the climbing and rambling ones after they’ve finished gifting you with flowers. Also don’t forget to attach stems to structures before winds can damage them. Last, clean up fallen rose leaves to hopefully prevent bacteria and diseases from over wintering.

For more month-by-month chores, see:

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