ALTHOUGH IT ARRIVED this year with a trellis-toppling tempest, October is still my favorite month. Why? Because this is when the ancient maples and oaks here become giant fireballs of vermilion and gold. I’ll take photographs at mid-month, the height of our Northeastern “leaf-peeping” season. In the meantime, here is my “To Do” list for October, starting with leaves — and why you should save them:
Leaves & Compost. Rake leaves from grass to avoid soggy matting. Mature trees do not make light work, but think now of compost with all this lovely, leafy nitrogen ready to decay. A simple, out-of-sight leaf pile with a hollow in the center to catch rain will suffice, as will a number of wire-mesh bins. To hasten decomposition, first shred the leaves with either lawnmower or leaf-shredding machine. The resulting leaf mold is marvelous for both houseplants and garden beds.
Peonies. Cut off foliage. Dig in a trowelful of bonemeal around each plant.
Chrysanthemums. If you don’t already have a chrysanthemum collection, by all means start one now. These 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, and crocus as you can. You can’t have 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. Separate by pulling gently apart. Cut from the tap root only sections with some fine roots of their own.
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.
Petunias, Geraniums. If you didn’t take cuttings of these during summer, here is a salvage campaign that has worked for me. Knock the plant from its pot, sever enough roots to permit repotting into a much smaller pot, and then trim the foliage back to 2-3 inches. Place in a bright, humid, and cool (55-65 degree) location. Water once each week or less. In February, bring the plant to your sunniest window garden, and provide food and water regularly.
Wax begonias. Place in your light or sunny windows for steady, unfailing bloom.
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.
Scented Geraniums (Pelargoniums). Root cuttings of your favorites now. These will make wonderful Christmas and birthday presents for your plant-minded friends.
Paperwhite Narcissus. For Thanksgiving bloom, pot bulbs now. Autumn plantings take about 10 weeks to flower.
Dutch Hyacinths. Early this month, plant bulbs in either pebbles and water, soil, or in hyacinth jars. Set in a dark, cold (but not freezing) place for 12 weeks of rooting. (French-Roman varieties require only 5-6 weeks in cool darkness.)
Daffodils. Pot in soil, and permit 10-12 weeks of cold, dark storage.
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 is picturesque on a windowsill, especially when placed between matching bowls of paperwhite narcissus.
Poinsettia. To achieve Christmas bloom, provide these short-day plants 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.
Questions or comments? Drop me a line in the comments field below.
Don’t miss anything at A Garden for the House…sign up for Kevin’s weekly newsletter.