To-Do List - October

by Karen Bodner, MG


For the most part, your overwintering veggies should be in the ground and growing since most need to be a certain size before their growth is checked by temperatures and low light levels. Cauliflower, especially, should be at least nine inches tall to register winter and head up next spring. Weekly foliar feeds of weak compost or manure tea and liquid kelp every other week will keep it growing at its best and build some resistance to harsh weather.

Direct sow both peas and fava beans through early November; if broadcasting, sow twenty-five percent more seed. Radishes grow well this time of year with few pests. Peas, lettuce, spinach, and other greens should be sown by mid-month, given regular foliar feeds to maximize growth, and cloched to provide extra warmth and faster growth. Protect from the elements to ensure quality produce and discourage rot.

October is garlic and shallot planting month here in the PNW. Take time to prepare the beds properly since loose, well-drained soil with plenty of OM is important for these crops. Cover with two to three inches of mulch; e.g., shredded leaves, straw, or composted sawdust. Contrary to common sense, it's not important to plant the biggest cloves; apparently medium-sized cloves are more consistent and will attain a good size if growing environment is optimal.

Try planting a "garlic green" bed for different additions to salads and stir fries. Place smaller cloves one-half to one inch apart for cutting greens early next spring. With correct management these garlic green stands can last up to three years. Winter squash can be picked and cured when skin can't be punctured with thumbnail and/or plants start to dry. Dip in a ten percent bleach/water solution and dry before storage.

When cutting down asparagus, cut close to the ground; the two to three inches of mulch you put on now will cover the holes in the stems which would otherwise give slugs and other bad guys a nice place to overwinter. If your potatoes didn't die down naturally, cut or break the vines when they have reached their desired size to induce curing. Leave them in the ground for two weeks; this will "set their skins" and improve their storage ability.

Be sure to harvest pumpkins and other squash before any frost; it will adversely affect their storage capacity. Remember not to can fresh tomatoes that come from frost-killed vines since their acidity is no longer a known factor. However, they can be used fresh, dried, or made into salsa or jam. If picking green tomatoes to ripen inside, remember Pat's advice to choose those with a white starburst on the bottom.

Flowers, herbs, and bulbs

For reliable overwinter color, put pansies, chrysanthemums, and primroses in empty flower beds or spring bulb areas. Although Dianthus and snapdragons are good fall color choices, they need protection from severe weather. Better plants can be obtained by putting starts in six-inch pots, burying them to about an inch from the rim (sand is a good choice), and placing a plastic cloche over them - you should have nice big plants for next spring.

Bulb planting for winter/spring color is in full force now, and if you're like me, you want one of almost everything you see on the shelves. Now is the time to fertilize established spring blooming bulbs, and of course we all know where they are, right? One helpful hint is to plant grape hyacinths as a marker for spring bulbs.

Pot up and store tulips and daffodils for forced bloom in December and January. Sow sweet peas now for reliable and fairly hardy overwintering flowers; like regular peas, they need to reach a certain height before growth slows. Some fuchsias (e.g., F. magellanica, many sold as upright, and some trailing fuchsias) will actually overwinter outside in our climate. The trick, according to Ann Lovejoy, is don't do anything! Apparently, pruning or cutting back in the fall spells certain death for them, so do those chores in the spring after strong shoots have appeared at the base. If winter turns severe, it would be prudent to put a mulch cover over the crown. Prune your more tender fuchsias to four inches, and store them in a garage or other protected area. Bury them in leaves, sawdust, or bark against the north side of a building and water minimally.

If blooms on your peonies are declining, they probably need dividing. Remove stems, then cut as deeply as you can around the outer edge of the entire clump. After lifting the roots and washing off soil, divide the clump with a sharp knife, making sure that each piece has at least three to five 'eyes' on top with several finger-sized roots. Remove smaller threadlike roots and prune the larger roots to six inches. Plant no more than one to two inches below the surface in a hole amended with a couple shovels of compost and a cup of bone meal. Mound a little soil on top to compensate for settling and be sure to mulch.

Harvest and dry prized sunflower heads when the backs of the heads turn yellow and the bracts begin to dry. Retain about one foot of the stem so you can hang them to dry. I personally enjoy watching birds land on the heads and sometimes hang upside down to feed. They especially enjoy the small black-seeded sunflowers. One way to support the seed heads is to remove the stem, turn the heads face up, and tie wire or other support at three points around the sides. Bring the wire to a center point (tripod) and hang. Better yet, use those three-pointed plant hangers that are so cheap and that we all have lying around. Then birds can sit on the faces and munch to their tweetyheart's desire.

Provide support for large bushy perennials that require protection from strong winds. Harvest, dry, and store seeds from special plants, or mimic nature and broadcast them immediately. If leaving some marginally hardy plants in the ground, be sure to mulch well around stems, or, if herbaceous, cover entire crown with several inches of leaves or straw. Be careful, though, as some (delphiniums, etc.) resent having their crowns covered.

Dig and store geraniums, dahlias, tuberous begonias, and gladiolas and bring in houseplants for the winter after they have hardened off; be sure to check for pests first. Herbaceous perennials with strong upright stems such as chrysanthemums and fuchsias may be left unpruned. The old material will provide protection from harsh weather and can be removed in early spring before growth starts. If you have Christmas cactus, start manipulating the light this month to force late December bloom.

Propagation: Take stem cuttings from tender perennials such as geraniums, fuchsias, and chrysanthemums. Any hardy herb or perennial seed can be sown indoors under lights for probable bloom its first year; bottom heat may be required on some. Some flowers that prefer cool soil for germination are cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), rocket larkspur (Consolida ambigua/ajacis), corn, and Iceland and breadseed poppies (Papaver rhoeas, P. nudicale, and P. somniferum). If you started seeds earlier and they germinated, move them to an unheated greenhouse or other protected place. If no seedlings have appeared yet, put outside in a coldframe; they may germinate next spring.

For something new and different with your bulbs, try chip budding to propagate snowdrops (Galanthus), allium, iris, hyacinth, and daffodils. This is usually done near or at the end of the dormant period. After the foliage dies down, dig and trim off roots but leave the basal plate and growing tip of the bulb. Then cut the piece into wedges, making sure each piece has an intact piece of basal plate. Make four to sixteen wedges depending upon size of bulb. Soak in liquid fungicide for ten to fifteen minutes and shake off. Place in baggie half filled with eleven parts vermiculite to one part water. Seal. Store in warm, dark, airy place. When bulblets have formed, break them off and plant in three-inch pots, or put several in a bigger pot and put in sheltered place to grow.

Lilies can be propagated now using the scale method. Simply peel off a few scales as close to the base as possible, or dig around the bulb and peel off scales while the bulb is still in the ground. After dusting with fungicide, place them in a baggie with moistened 50:50 peat/perlite mix in a warm (70 degrees) dark place. When small bulblets have formed, plant singly or in groups. Remove old scales only if soft and mushy. Top pots with grit and put in warm dry place until hardened off for spring planting.

Lawns and cover crops

October is an excellent month to put in fall-sown annual cover crops for green manure. Make your choice based on your soil type and future crops desired; e.g., for edibles, erosion control, nitrogen fixing, breaking hard clay soil, weed control, and so forth). An easy way to shred leaves for mulch for an instant fertilizer is to run a mulching mower over them, shredding them where they lie (or put the bag on and suck them up for use elsewhere).
Lawns can be sown through mid-month, however, if you don't get around to it, sow crimson clover or another easy cover crop such as winter wheat and finish in the spring. Aerate and dethatch your lawn if necessary, and fertilize it one more time. Good month for planting groundcovers to retain moisture, inhibit weeds, and provide habitat for beneficials like ground and rove beetles.

Trees and shrubs

Plant a shrub, feed a bird. Nurseries are full of wonderful winter-blooming shrubs and trees that provide winter food for our feathered friends. You can also still divide and plant peonies, daylilies, and Siberian irises. Last chance to make sure your tree and shrub roots have plenty of water going into the winter. When placing organic mulches around your trees, leave a six-inch buffer zone to discourage rodents. Hedges can be pruned lightly to tidy up.

Use a copper spray on lilacs, dogwoods, hawthorns, and junipers if disease has been a problem. If planting an overgrown plant in a medium-sized pot, make several vertical slices around the root ball and make an "X" on the bottom to encourage root growth. For a larger potbound plant, butterfly the roots; cut them in half two-thirds of the way up and flare them out.

Propagation: Now through November is the time for taking cuttings of all conifers (excluding juniper). These plants apparently benefit from rooting in crowded spaces and you can put up to twenty-five in a five-inch square plastic pot. Use a cutting compost of 50:50 vermiculite and grit. Use nodal, basal, or heel (preferred) cuttings. Overwinter on a heated bench in the greenhouse or at least in a sheltered coldframe where roots won't freeze. Be aware that with some conifers a tip cutting from a lateral branch will continue to grow sideways, especially Larch, Abies, Taxus and Picea.

Take hardwood cuttings from trees and shrubs as the leaves fall and set in a coldframe using a 3:1 mix of grit and vermiculite; put fifteen to twenty in each five-pint pot. Examples: Lonicera, Hypericum, Abutilon, Buddleia, Choisya, Erica, Cotoneaster, Forsythia, Euonymous, Jasminum, Laburnum, and Salvia. Start seeds such as Abies, Lonicera, (some) Acers, Picea, Quercus, and Skimmia to overwinter in coldframes; no artificial heat required. Others may be started from seed now but require special conditions: Some Acer, Allium, Berberis, Clematis, Euonymous, Magnolia, Rosa, Lewisii, and Osmanthus are examples. Others like Peonia, Osmanthus, Pieris, Viburnum and Stuwartia can be layered at this time.

Fruits and nuts

Make sure your trees have enough water at the roots going into winter. Rake up and compost debris from under your trees; destroy if diseased. Place mulch around trees leaving a six-inch buffer to deter pesky rodents. Mulch berries for winter protection; use a thinner layer of loose mulch if you have heavy soils.

Have a nut-harvest party for your filbert and walnut loving friends. Walnuts will store well for a long time in their shells if placed in asingle layer in a dark, dry, fairly cool place. It would probably be best, however, to dry them at 95o - 100o, freeze, can, or make Swedish nuts. Yum!

Check your spray schedule for preventive applications of copper for fungus and bacteria on stone fruits and blueberries. Be diligent about sanitation in your berry patch. If berries are in fairly heavy soil, use a thin layer of a loose mulch like straw or leaves. Be extra careful when harvesting apples; they bruise very easily and decay rapidly from there on. Store at forty degrees in moderate humidity.

Apples will last four to six weeks in the refrigerator if placed in a plastic bag. Remove all damaged pieces and mist the rest with water once a week; check regularly for decaying fruit, and remove any that you find. Feed diseased or insect ridden items to animals, or destroy; we all know not to compost them, right?

Thicken the mulch on blueberry beds with pine needles or old sawdust, or compost the beds with peat. Remove broken or diseased branches if not done last month. If necessary, divide rhubarb plants (every four years); mulch them with two to three inches of finished compost.

General gardening

Fall is usually when soil pH is at it's lowest, so it's a good time to check it if you plan on fertilizing in the spring. Also check if it hasn't been done for a couple of years. Since lime takes three to four months to break down (and that's in warmer weather), adding it now will put it at the root zone faster and ensure it's effectiveness when it's needed next year. Adding other necessary amendments now will accomplish the same thing.

Clean your tools now even if you'll use them over the winter, and clean up debris from annuals. Mulch beds if you haven't gotten around to it yet. If soil is workable, work in raw manure, compost, or other OM. Better yet, start developing a few vermiculture beds. They're incredibly easy, and you'll have fluffy stuff by next spring.


I've seen a few new faces in my garden this year. My sedum 'Autumn Joy' is literally swarming with very small, unidentified wasps and bumblebees, honey bees, and moths. But as I watch, a bald faced hornet plays bully - he's not here to drink nectar; he just goes around knocking all the bigger customers away from the flowers - and I let him!

Now, although we talk about cleaning up our gardens for winter, you might leave a few spent seed heads for birds: globe thistles, coneflowers, milkweeds, goldenrod, and some ornamental grasses are among their favorites.

Most pest insects are moving into their overwintering residences now as larvae and pupae, so working or even just cultivating your beds may disrupt their cycle. However, remember to watch for chrysalis and egg cases of butterflies and beneficial insects; leave intact if possible. This is where having permanent perennial beds throughout your garden is helpful; they provide sanctuary for good guys and their food. Predatory nematodes will be active as long as the soil is above fifty degrees.

A =Adult
E =Egg
P =Pupa
L =Larva
N =Nymph
Beneficials are italicized
Underlined stage = extended season
OG=overlapping generations

rove beetles-A/N
western damsel bug-A/E/N (OG)
big-eyed bug-A/E/N (OG)
butterfly caterpillars-A/L
minute pirate bug-A/E/N (OG)
green lacewing-E/L/P (OG)
syrphid fly-P/L
tachinid parasite-L/P
wasp parasite-L/P
predator mite-A
cinnabar moth-P
honey bees-A
alfalfa leafcutting bee-L
predatory nematodes-Infective Juveniles/A

aphids-A/E/N (OG)
onion thrips-A
beet leafhopper-A
carrot rust fly-A/E/L
symphyllans-A/N (many OG)
green peach aphid-A/E
wireworm beetle-A/L (2-3 YRS)
cucumber beetle-A
asparagus beetle-A
variegated cutworm-L
western cherry fruit fly-P
apple maggot-P
apple aphids-A/E
codling moth-L
corn earworm-P
imported cabbageworm-P
cabbage looper-P
cabbage maggot-P
cabbage aphid-A/E
cabbage flea beetle-A
pear sawfly-P
pear psylla-A
peachtree borer-L
peach twig borer-L
root weevil-E/L
spider mites-A(females),E/N
pea weevil-A
greenhouse whiteflies-A/N
elm leaf beetle-A
bark beetle-A/P
white grubs-A/L(2 yrs)
bean aphids-A/E
stink bugs-A/E/N (OG)
pea aphid-A/E/N (OG)
western flower thrips-A
onion maggots-P
filbert leafroller-E
raspberry crown borer-A/E/L(2 yrs)
strawberry and currant aphid-A/N (OG)
holly and soft scale-N
rose leafhopper-A/E
strawberry crown moth-L
western raspberry fruitworm-A
walnut husk fly-L/P
sod webworm-L
fall webworm-P
boxelder bug-A
seedcorn maggot-P
western potato flea beetle-A//LP
spinach and fruit leafminer-P

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