I LOVE OCTOBER. This is when my ancient maples, oaks, and a 200-year-old beech tree (above) morph into giant fireballs of vermilion and gold. I’ll take photographs at mid-month, the height of our Northeastern “leaf-peeping” season. Meanwhile, the “To Do” list for October starts with falling leaves — and why it’s important to save them:
Leaves & Compost. Rake leaves from grass to avoid soggy matting. Mature trees do not make light work, but think of the compost you can make with all this leafy nitrogen ready to decay. A simple out-of-sight leaf pile with a hollow in the center to catch rain will suffice, or you can place the leaves in wire-mesh bins.
To hasten decomposition, shred the leaves with a lawnmower. Or, do what I do, and shred them with a nifty, light-weight gadget called the “Flowtron Ultimate Leaf Shredder” (you can find a link to this machine on the right-hand column of this site).
I can assure you that leaf mold (decomposed leaves) is ambrosia for garden beds. It turned the horridly compacted soil in my Rose Garden — a former asphalt parking lot — into fertile, worm-filled, easy-to-dig loam.
Chrysanthemums and Asters. If you don’t already have these in your garden, by all means obtain and plant them now. They are the brightest and best of all flowering perennials for the autumn show. Cut back tops when flowering ceases.
Bulbs. Plant as many daffodil, tulip, hyacinth, grape-hyacinth (above) and crocus as you can. There’s no such thing as too many of these in spring. Not sure which varieties to order? I’ll bet this will help.
Heuchera (Coralbells). You might want to edge a whole bed by dividing several of your large established clumps. Proceed this way.
Hostas. Remove withered foliage. Wait until spring growth has started to divide and relocate plants.
Iris. Remove only the foliage which has yellowed. Green leaves are still providing nourishment to the rhizomes.
Peonies. Cut off foliage as it fades. Then dig in a trowelful of bonemeal around each plant.
Shrubs. You can buy these at steeply-discounted prices now. I can heartily recommend flowering quince ‘Cameo,’ pictured above, which starts the season with a big floral show, and ends it with a bounty of edible fruit.
Watering. Should there be little rainfall this month, which has not been the case here, soak your perennials finally and deeply about the third week. Plants which have suffered drought are prone to winterkill. Let yours go dormant in good condition.
Vegetable Garden. Remove and compost all finished plants. Store wooden trellising and wire tomato cages. If raised beds appear low on soil, heap them high with shredded leaves. By spring the leaves will have decayed sufficiently, which means you won’t have top off beds with purchased soil.
Brussels sprouts. Harvest the big green marbles from the bottom of stalks; let the smaller ones above mature. Don’t worry about frost — the sprouts are always sweeter after they have endured frigid weather.
I become sweeter when the weather turns cool, too.
Garlic. Plant the bulbs now. They need to start making roots before the ground freezes solidly. For details, see My Garlic Growing & Sowing Guide.
Potatoes. It’s harvest time! On a sunny day, dig up the tubers, brush off dirt, and lay them in the sun for a few hours to cure. Then arrange for dark, cool storage; 40-50 degrees is ideal. I store potatoes this way.
Salad Greens. If a killing frost is predicted, be prepared to cover plants with a frost blanket. Or, turn one of your raised beds into a hoop-house, as I plan to do, by inserting flexible PVC pipes into brackets attached to each side of the bed. Pin a frost blanket (available at garden centers) to the pipes, and you can enjoy fresh spinach and other greens well into November and possibly even December.
Set up a window garden! Outfit a window with glass shelves, and you can have all kinds of fun creating seasonal plant-pictures. The directions are here.
African violets. Place them in full sun as days grow shorter toward the end of the month. My easy, always-in-bloom program for these Saintpaulias.
Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncate – often misnamed the “Christmas Cactus”). For best flowering, set the plant in a cold, dim place, and do not water it for the entire month. Bring to full sun on November 1. Tips for growing and displaying this Brazilian tourist.
Scented Geraniums (Pelargoniums). Root cuttings of your favorites now. They will make wonderful Christmas and birthday presents for your plant-minded friends.
Wax begonias. Place these in your light or sunny windows for steady, unfailing bloom.
Paperwhite Narcissus. For Thanksgiving bloom, pot bulbs now. Autumn plantings take about 10 weeks to flower. I grow these tender bulbs in water and gin. Yes, gin.
Dutch Hyacinths. Early this month, set the bulbs in little vases, or “hyacinth jars.” Then place the vases in a dark, cold (but not freezing) place for 12 weeks of rooting. (French-Roman varieties require only 5-6 weeks in cool darkness.) More details in my handy hyacinth-forcing guide.
Daffodils, Tulips. Pot these in soil, and permit 10-12 weeks of cold, dark storage before bringing to warmth and light. My easy tulip-forcing tutorial.
Freesia. Plant the corms this month, and by February, your house will be filled with THE most delicious fragrance in the world. The plant is really easy to grow, for it does not require a cold, dark chilling period. My freesia-forcing guide.
Pachysandra. Pull up some rooted sections or take cuttings from outdoor groundcover areas. Insert stems in a floral “pin cushion” set in a shallow bowl. Plants will grow; cuttings will root. Pachysandra makes a pretty picture for a windowsill, especially when placed between matching bowls of paperwhite narcissus.
Poinsettia. To achieve Christmas bloom, provide these short-day plants with at least twelve hours of definite darkness for seventy days. A light-proof closet from 7 P.M. to 7 A.M. will do the trick. More details here.
What’s happening in your garden this month? Are your deciduous trees dropping their leaves yet?
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