In these parts, the gardener shifts into overdrive in October. Lots to be done and it is often a race against time.
We rush to safeguard tender plants before the first frost. Harvest the remaining warm weather vegetables and fruits. Gather seeds to save for next year. Cut back, clear, clean, cover. Provide protection, put away, plant anew. Divide and redistribute. Finally, dig in all the bulbs that arrive just in time. And all along, squeeze in some time to enjoy the season because all too soon, we will be spending more hours cocooned indoors.
This year, due to changing weather patterns, it feels as though the fall hasn’t quite started. Trees are still quite green and few are showing any other color. Most likely there will be no real autumn color display. The leaves are simply going to turn crisp and brown and drop to the ground. Sad, I know but, all the more reason to take climate change seriously and do our part to mitigate it as much as possible. Instead of complaining lets all collectively respond with positive, proactive efforts.
I invariably feel a bit overwhelmed at this time. There is a long list of chores. I’ve found by prioritizing and breaking down the tasks helps greatly. Starting with getting the greenhouse cleaned and ready and moving in the pots of tender plants, I move on to dividing to replant and severely thinning out overzealous residents. Then I collect seeds, cut back and clear the spent plants. While some are left to serve the birds and give some winter interest, for the most part, I cut down the perennials. This is to facilitate the bulb planting that must happen between all the perennials and, also to give the garden a head-start in the spring as the garden’s Open Day happens early to mid-May when once again the list of tasks is long and time is short.
So, off to the garden I go. No time to waste!
Here is the list of October to-Dos:
1. Yes, weeding continues!
2. Time to plant perennials and trees. Give a good dose of compost to each. Water regularly. Perennials already in place can be divided and planted as well.
3. Cut back all spent plants except what is needed for seasonal interest.
4. Collect seeds. Store in labeled envelopes in a cool, dry space.
5. Last call to root cuttings of geraniums, coleus, rosemary etc.,
6. Get all pots of tender perennials into clean greenhouse or other winter shelters. Wash plants and pots thoroughly first – minimizes pest infestation.
7. Plant bulbs as weather gets consistently cooler. Bulbs can be planted until soil freezes solid.
8. Rake leaves. Add to compost pile or deposit in woods.
9. Give compost heap a good stir.
10 Clean out vegetable garden except for cool weather plants that are still producing. Apply several inches of compost on cleared beds. Plant green manure to enrich the soil – optional.
11. Clean and put away (or cover) outdoor furniture.
12. Check what needs repairing, repainting, replacing and get to it!
13. Lift tender bulbs, corms and tubers. Store in dry, frost-free place.
14. Drain and close all outdoor water faucets. Empty rain barrel and hoses. Store.
15 Clean all equipment and tools. Store neatly.
16. As temperatures plummet, protect tender shrubs and immovable frost sensitive pots and statuary. I cover the former with burlap and for the latter, I first cover with sturdy plastic and then use burlap so it looks halfway decent.
17. Remove suckers from ornamental and fruit trees. Prune roses and wisteria and secure them well. Remove dead and decaying limbs from all plants.
18. Fill up bird feeders. Keep them filled through the winter. Put up nest boxes for the spring.
19. Get into the autumnal spirit – fill window boxes and urns with seasonal plants and produce.
Note: On October 26, I’ll be talking to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society about how to think out of the box in a small garden with focus on espalier and vertical gardening. This is a virtual talk so everyone can attend!
Some scenes of my garden as it looks right now – wild and winsome!
(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar