October  in the garden is one of our busiest months.  The weather is beginning to cool down, making garden time pleasant again.  Days are still long enough to enjoy some afternoon time outside.  We need to continue on from September’s work to get our gardens cleaned up and planted.

Garden Prep
A thorough garden clean-out is a good way to look things over.  It also helps to reduce insect problems because there won’t be decaying plant debris to nibble on.  After you’ve clean out, turn the soil and continue to be aggressive about weeding.  Add composted material or planting mix and all-purpose plant food and turn the soil again to dig in deep.

This is an optimal time to aerate your lawn now while grass can recover easily.  If you have a thick layer of grass, it is beneficial to thatch your  lawn and follow with a dose of fertilizer.

Rake up leaves and other garden detritus to prevent disease and remove hiding spots for garden pests.   Also, remove old fruit from trees.   Disease and pests can over-winter in rotting vegetation so clean it up!

Geraniums: To encourage growth during the winter cut back your geraniums by half. Make straight cuts 1/4 to 1/2 inch above joints leaving several healthy leaves on all branches.

Look over your trees now and hire a competent tree trimmer to lace and trim heavy branches before winter storms come.

Rose hips may be developing on your rose bushes now.  You get to make a choice – dead head them, or leave them on.   If you decide to leave them on, this allows the roses to complete their growing cycle and you’ll have some beautiful orange and red color during the holidays.

This is the time to plant cool season flowers, annuals and perennials, and vegetables. This is also a great time to plant trees and shrubs so they can grow a good, strong root system for the coming year’s bloom without having to go through the stress of the summer heat.  Look over native plants when you are shopping at your local nursery.   It is NOT the time for subtropicals or bareroot plants.

Plant cool-season grasses like fescue, ryegrass and bluegrass.

If you haven’t planted your early sweet peas for a Christmas bloom yet, it’s time NOW! Look for “early blooming” varieties.  Spring and Summer flowering types won’t bloom until the days are more than 12 hours long.  Soak your seeds overnight before planting.  Also, set your climbing poles now so you don’t damage the plant roots after they have established themselves.

Plant bulbs now for blooms as early as February.  Store your bulbs in a cool, dark area until you are ready to plant.  They suffer when they are exposed to light.  Freesias are always so satisfying because they are beautiful and smell so nice.  Plant them in sunny areas of your garden. They are great in containers, also.  Once they establish themselves in your garden, they will come up year after year.  Watch for Tecolote hybrids which are so colorful and the most fragrant.  The daffodil is another great bulb that is easy to grow and many varieties will naturalize in our local gardens.  Groupings of daffodils are always spectacular and such a treat to have in your garden in the spring.

Paperwhites in water are fun and easy to make.  What a beautiful treat at the holidays, and a perfect hostess gift.  You can start assembling these now by putting the bulbs in bowls, surrounded with pebbles.  Put away in a cool dark place WITHOUT water for the time being.  Starting in November, if you want to have ongoing paperwhites in bloom, add water to a new bowl every two weeks and keep them in the dark cool place until they are pretty well established with growth.  When you bring them out into the light and the warmth of the house they will come into bloom very quickly.  The general rule of thumb is that once you add water to just barely cover the bottoms of the bulbs, it will take about 5-6 weeks for them to bloom, so if you are planning to have blooming paperwhites for the holidays, add water about the second or third week in November.

Flowers From Seed – These can be planted anytime this month: African daisy, Alyssum, Bachelor button, Bells of Ireland, Calendula, California poppy, Candytuft, Canterbury bell, Carnation, Chrysanthemum, Cineraria, Clarkia, Columbine, Delphinium, Forget-me-not, Foxglove, Gerbera daisy, Godetia, Hollyhock, Iceland poppy, Larkspur, Nicotiana, Pansy, Phlox, Pink, Scabiosa, Shasta daisy, Snapdragon, Stock, Sweet pea, Sweet William, Verbena, Viola, Wildflowers

Flowers From Bedding Plants: African daisy, Alyssum, Calendula, English daisy, English primroses, Gerbera daisy, Iceland poppy, Pansy, Penstemon, Primula Snapdragon, Stock, Viola

Vegetables: Arugula, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Oriental greens, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Spinach, Sugar snap peas, sweet peas, Turnips

As the weather cools down, adjust your irrigation so that it is watering less than the previous months.  Water for the same amount of time, but increase the number of days between waterings.

Plants in the ground need deep watering.  Plants in containers need frequent watering.

Roses should be getting about 1 inch of water twice a week unless it rains.

This is the time to use your compost in your garden.  Side dress your plants, drop some in the holes you dig, and blend it into your potting mix.   Even if the compost hasn’t completely broken down, throw it down.  It’s all good!!!

Fertilize your tropical plants for the last time, only if they really need it.

Your houseplants would love a dose of fertilizer now which will hold them until early next year.

This is the time of year to change up the fertilizer on your cymbidiums and raise the phosphorus levels to promote blooming.  Last year I waited until the first of the year and got blooming spikes starting in April.  You have some flexibility and a fair amount of control in when your cymbidium orchids will bloom.

Pest & Disease Control
Watch for aphids and whitefly.  As the weather cools down, these pests can become more problematic in the garden.   Washing your plants down with water will help control them, or use an insecticidal soap.

The fungus that causes petal blight in azaleas and camellias over-winters in fallen flowers, leaves, and old mulch. To decrease the chances of blight remove all the debris under the plants and apply new mulch.

Food for Thought:  When planning your fall garden remember that the angle of the sun changes from spring-summer to fall-winter. Areas of the garden that were in full sunlight during the summer may be in partial or full shade during the fall and winter.

Okay, that’s enough information to keep you busy a while.   Now, go get dirty and have fun!!!


Credit where credit is due: This monthly garden chores compilation comes from a lot of resources, past and present, including: Sunset Magazine, Union-Tribune, San Diego Floral Association, San Diego Horticulture Society, San Diego Home & Garden, Anderson’s La Costa Nursery, miscellaneous tidbits found on the web, in the library, from fellow gardeners, and personal experience in the garden.