IS OCTOBER YOUR FAVORITE MONTH, TOO? Where I live (New York’s Hudson Valley), the morning air is crisp now, and you can smell a faint tinge of smoke from fireplaces and woodstoves. Meanwhile, the ancient maples, oaks, and 200-year-old beech (above) in my yard are busy trading their serene green for dazzling shades of red and gold. It’s the kind of colorful, fragrant canvas that invites me to accomplish the following chores:
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.”
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 them. Right away. They are the brightest and best of all flowering perennials for the autumn portrait. Cut back tops when flowering ceases.
Bulbs. Trust me — you can never have too many of these. So go ahead and plant all the daffodil, tulip, hyacinth, grape-hyacinth and crocus you possibly can. This month, I’m adding critter-proof Fritillaria to my bounty of spring-flowering bulbs.
If your newly-planted bulbs have been bothered by squirrels, you can easily protect them. The bulbs I mean. Here’s how.
Hostas. Remove withered foliage. Wait until spring growth has started to divide and/or relocate the plants. I use hostas to edge the paths of my Woodland Garden (above).
Iris. Remove only the foliage which has yellowed. Green leaves are still providing nourishment to the rhizomes. This month, I’m dividing and replanting the patch of blue irises you see pictured above. Love ‘em.
Peonies. Cut off foliage as it fades. Then dig in a trowelful of bonemeal or wood ashes around each plant.
Shrubs. You can buy these at steeply-discounted prices now. I can heartily recommend flowering quince ‘Cameo,’ pictured above, which opens the spring season with lavish, fully-double, peach-colored blooms.
Watering. Should there be little rainfall this month, 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 tomato supports. If raised beds appear low on soil, heap them high with finely-shredded leaves. The leaves, by spring, will have decayed sufficiently, and you won’t have to buy extra soil. How I prepare my raised beds for winter.
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.
Garlic. Plant the bulbs now. They need to start making roots before the ground freezes solidly. For details, see My Garlic Sowing & Growing Guide.
And speaking of garlic! I hope you’ll plant some hard-neck varieties. These produce the “scapes” that are required for the most delicious pesto in the world.
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 my potatoes this way.
Salad Greens. If a killing frost is predicted, be prepared to cover plants with a frost-blanket. A bed-sheet will work.
Set up a window garden! Outfit a window with glass shelves, and you can have all kinds of fun creating seasonal plant-pictures. The easy-peazy directions are here.
African violets. Place them in full sun as days grow shorter toward the end of the month. To insure continuous bloom, I nurture my plants this way.
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 awesome birthday and holiday gifts for your plant-minded friends. The details.
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 now. They need 10-12 weeks of cold, dark storage in order to bloom. The details.
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.
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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