October’s Garden

october garden

Gardeners or not, human beings scuttle around during the month of October crossing their ‘t’s and dotting their ‘i’s before winter. Thankfully we’ve got an extraordinary backdrop to reflect upon in between jobs.

Wood must be stacked or fuel tanks filled. The outside spigots must be turned off, and many a home owner starts to think seriously about buying an overpriced, shiny red snow blower this month. We may be preparing for the mother of all winters, or a mild chill; but no matter how much we are told otherwise, no one truly knows what we are in for. How are you preparing your garden?


Outside Tasks:

♦  Cleaning up in the vegetable garden is one way of making a dent in insect populations that overwinter under dead leaves and debris. If you have suffered an serious infestation of a particular insect, such as Harlequin bug on the kale, or squash bug on the squash, they are probably still very present on the dying foliage. Access your inner predator. Use a chicken, use a blow torch or use your hands to gather them and put them into a black plastic bag that should be thrown away. Composting the vegetable debris in a cold compost pile will just allow them places to overwinter.

♦  Dead leaves make excellent soil amendments – but they need to be gathered and composted first. Don’t spend time raking only to give this lovely free amendment away wrapped in bags that you (gasp) bought for the purpose.  Compost!

♦  If you haven’t yet started a compost pile, don’t wait for the day that you will finally build the Taj Mahal of bins – do something now, temporarily, using pallets and long zip ties to fasten them together. Or, start a small pile in an unobtrusive corner. When you have the energy, you can build something more beautiful, but at least you’ll be composting until then.

♦  Time to walk through your pot ghetto and figure out what will probably die over the winter if it is not planted. What’s the use of procuring a plant by hook or by crook if it’s only going to croak in February in a lonely black pot?  It doesn’t have to be planted where you eventually want it – just get it in the ground…fast! If the plant is right on the edge of its growing zone, cover it with a pile of mulch and wait until spring.

♦  Outside water spigots – leave on at your peril.

♦  Evergreens that were recently planted and which might fit under the column header “Zone Pushers” MUST BE PROTECTED from winter winds. Wire and straw are all you need – but if you have access to old metal barrels, these make fine wind blocks too.

♦  Test your soil pH and amend your soil as necessary to give the winter a chance to temper additions of lime or sulfur.  This is job well suited to the autumn as plants can be damaged from soil that’s had its pH recently (and significantly) amended.

♦  Still a good time to amend the organic content of your soil with compost or manure, but avoid putting actual fertilizer (organic or non) on your soil till spring. Nitrogen in particular will only leach out during the winter months.

♦  Just because it’s cooler, doesn’t mean it’s legal to burn outside yet. October is prime forest fire month in some areas of the country. Check your local laws.

♦  Frost is likely by mid to late month in the Mid-Atlantic.  If you’re planning on saving cuttings from tender plants such as coleus or plectranthus, take them now before you lose your chance one cold evening.

♦  October is a prime month for foraging!  Ever thought about trying it?  Here are a few thoughts to encourage you.


Inside Tasks:

♦  Bring ’em in.  You know what I’m talking about.  Those tropical leviathans on the deck that have reveled in summer’s warmth and light.  It’s time to make a jungle in your living room and think about getting a smaller Christmas tree this year.

♦ Take time to inspect all plants coming inside for pests – particularly scale and spidermite.  If present, treat with horticultural oil over the course of two weeks before bringing inside.

♦  Do yourself a favor and keep some water soluble fertilizer in a jar under your sink near the watering can for easy mixing.  Those indoor plants will need food and it’s easy to forget.



“Oh, Marilla,” Anne exclaimed one Saturday morning…dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?”

-from “Anne of Green Gables”
by Lucy Maud Montgomery













About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.