© Jack Hollingsworth/Corbis
There’s a snap in the air, the songbirds are looking at their calendars, and trees are exploding in hues of yellow, pink and red. But don’t think that means you can spend the weekends in your jammies. Make haste while the weather is still gardener-tolerant; you’ll be happy for those shorter to-do lists come late fall and winter. (Bing: Why do leaves change color in the fall?)
Keep planting spring-flowering bulbs, all the way up until the ground becomes frozen, and prepare tender perennials for winter.
- Holes for planting crocuses, daffodils, tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs should be about three times deeper than the diameter of the bulbs. Add peat moss, fertilizer and bulb dust to the soil as you plant; then give them a good watering.
- In milder climates, bulbs can still be divided and transplanted.
- Before the first frost, move tender plants such as begonias, geraniums, gerbera daisies and impatiens indoors for the winter.
- Buy hardy garden mums to plant in well-drained soil in a sunny location; fertilize now, and again in the spring. Color spots of winter pansies and flowering kale and cabbage can also be planted early in the month, or until the ground freezes.
- Gladioluses, dahlias, tuberous begonias and fuchsias should be prepared now for winter storage.
- Hold off on mulching perennials until the ground has frozen.
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Trees and shrubs
October is a great month to shop for trees and shrubs, as they’re showing their true colors at the nursery. Planting can take place now and over the next several months, letting strong, healthy roots develop over the winter.
- Make your last selections of trees for planting this month and later, even if you hold off on buying.
- Tie up and prune raspberries.
- Mid-autumn is a perfect time for planting grapevines.
- Take hardwood cuttings.
In most areas, lawn care can continue until about mid-October.
- Aerate lawns now while grass can recover easily; if you core aerate, make cores 3 inches deep, spaced about every 4 to 6 inches. Break up the cores and spread them around.
- If your lawn needs it, thatch and follow with a fall or winter fertilizer.
- Even if thatching isn’t necessary, your lawn will be happy for a dusting of fertilizer now to help roots gain strength before the spring growing season.
- Overseed bald patches or whole lawns as needed.
- Rake and compost leaves as they fall, as well as grass clippings from mowing. If left on the ground now, they’ll just make a wet, slippery mess, inviting to pests.
It’s easy to forget about watering duties in the middle of fall, but proper moisture now is key to your plants’ successful survival over the cold winter months.
- Check the moisture of all plants, especially those in dry, sheltered areas such as under eaves and around tall evergreens.
Autumn leaves must fall — but what to do with them?
- Rake or otherwise gather all the little fallen ones, from leaves to grass clippings to spent plants and vegetables, and either give the compost pile a good feeding or spade them directly into the ground. Exception: If your grass has been treated with herbicides, it might be safer to compost than to blend into the soil.
- As an alternative to raking, if you have drifts of piled leaves, mow over them in the grass to break them up and make a great brown-and-green composting combo.
- Save some whole leaves for piling around roses after the ground has frozen
Slugs don’t slow down as the weather gets cooler; in fact, you’ll likely find them at all life stages in October, from eggs to youngsters and adults.
- Take whatever measures you prefer — salt, slug bait, saucers of beer — to eliminate slugs. It’s best to catch them at early stages, to stop the reproduction cycle.
- Keep the ground raked and tidied to reduce their habitat.
- Keep staying ahead of weeds this month; they serve as homes for pests and bugs, and destroying them before they flower and seed will save you work in the future.
In many areas, October is the month to harvest.
- Do a taste test on vegetables, and harvest them when flavor is at its peak. If you’d like to extend the harvest of carrots, turnips and other root vegetables, leave some in the ground to mulch as the weather gets colder. They can handle cold snaps!
- Early in the month, before temperatures drop too much, seed cover crops such as clover, peas or vetch to enrich the soil. It will serve as a natural fertilizer, stifle weed growth and help loosen up the soil for next year’s crops.
If your September was mild enough that your houseplants and geraniums are still outdoors, be sure to make them cozy inside before the first frost takes a bite out of them.
- Take geranium cuttings of 2 to 4 inches to root indoors.
- If you treat houseplants chemically, after treating be sure to keep them warm and away from direct sunlight.
- Fertilize houseplants now; they shouldn’t need it again until March.
- Get poinsettias and Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti ready for well-timed holiday color. Give them a daily dose of 10 hours of bright daylight or four hours of direct sun, and 14 hours of night darkness. Christmas cacti need a cool environment of 50 to 60 degrees F, while poinsettias prefer a warmer 65 to 72 degrees. Let cacti dry out between waterings.