October always seems to feel a little bit like being in Las Vegas. The further along we get into the month the greater the odds are that we will get a frost. Of course in the garden we can improve our odds by protecting sensitive crops from the early light frost or extending the season of cold tolerant crops like lettuce, chives parsley celery, spinach, corn salad, endive, and water cress . Light frosts (29 degrees F to 32 degrees F) could come as early as the end of the month or as late as the end of next month. Much of this depends on your garden’s microclimate. Low lying areas where cool air pools will have earlier frosts. Floating row covers (spun polyester) are great odd improvers, like an ace up your sleeve, that you can use over your tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil and other frost sensitive crops. A double layer will provide additional protection for moderate frosts (25 degrees F to 28 degrees F). But at some point the house (Jack Frost) always wins.
- After frost pull out and compost annuals and clean up perennial beds foliage and compost. If plants have been infected by disease during the season do not compost them.
- After frost dig up tender tuberous and bulbous plants like dahlias, gladiolus and begonias and store them in a frost free area like a garage. Be careful not to nick or cut the storage structures as disease can enter wounds. Bulb powder is available that contain fungicides and/or pesticides for additional protection.
- Plant colorful cold tolerant plants like pansy, flowering cabbage, or Ed Hume’s favorite for winter color Bright Light’s Swiss Chard.
- Begin planting Spring Flowering bulbs. The general rule is to plant bulbs three to four times their height. So a 1-inch tall bulb would be planted 3-4 inches deep.
- Continue taking advantage of fall plant sales since there is still time to add perennials and ground covers to your garden. This is also the preferred time to plant evergreen trees and shrubs, both broadleaf and coniferous.
- Don’t let those leaves “leave” your yard! Either use a mulching mower to send them back into the lawn or compost them. Oak leaves are great soil acidifiers and are especially good around rhododendrons and camellias.
- Monitor rainfall (now that we have some) and adjust your irrigation.
- First week of October still provides sufficient time to start a new lawn either from seed or from sod.
- Keep that compost pile turned as you add debris from fall cleanup. You could have usable compost by spring.
- Start forcing spring bulbs of Hyacinths tulips and daffodils, which are most commonly forced. But other spring bulbs like crocus can be forced as well. Pot up the bulbs in good potting soil and keep them cool for 14-15 weeks to break dormancy. This can be done in a ziplock bag in a refrigerator or in a trench dug outdoors and covered with leaves or other clean mulch and dug up and brought inside for forcing in a greenhouse or sunny windowsill.
- Plant paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis in intervals for the holidays. These bulbs do not require a chilling to break dormancy although Amaryllis should be allowed to rest by withholding water (drought induced dormancy) for at least a month between flowering periods.
- Start Poinsettia regimen of 15 hours uninterrupted darkness (and 9 hours bright indirect light) for at least five weeks to induce blooming by December. Bring non-hardy Fuchsia into protected areas now. You can also root cuttings now.
- Get those indoor plants back inside before the frost. Hopefully you have been disinfesting them as recommended in last months calendar so they won’t bring problems indoors.
- Slow down fertilization of indoor plants as sunlight levels drop.
- Monitor soil moisture as heat comes on in the house. Also mist plants that enjoy humidity as humidity will drop when the heat comes on.
- Insect Alert
As the plants in the garden wind down so do most insects and other pests. Slugs may remain active when weather is warmer but there is will be less and less plant material left to damage. Stay alert to signs of overwintering pests like caterpillar egg masses. But make sure that plants being brought indoors are pest free since indoor temperatures can keep insects active all winter.
- Diseases alert
Late Blight on tomatoes and potatoes can still be a problem. But the as with the insects, disease problems are starting to abate. Removal of all infected material, like leaves and other plant debris, will prevent re-infection next season.
Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit
- Plant Garlic, rhubarb, shallots, Egyptian multiplier onions and Fava Beans for harvest next season.
- Transplant strawberries that have rooted from runners. Plants should be 9-12 inches apart. Relocate newly rooted “plantlets” now and they will bear fruit next year.
- Harvest cauliflower, broccoli, leeks, onions, Brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, parsnips, winter storage potatoes (now that the foliage has dried and whithered), radishes, pumpkins (leave a few inches of stem. If stem breaks off rot usually results) and rutabagas.
- Harvest frost sensitive fruits like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants cucumbers, squash, and melons before the frost. If fruit of tomato is full size but green they will ripen well. Place in dark spot that is about 50 degrees. James Underwood Crockett used to put them in a picnic cooler that he placed in a garage. The addition of an apple will speed up the process. For fruit, which are not fully-grown, it is best to find some good green tomato recipes. Remember green tomatoes are just like green peppers, not fully ripe. We eat green peppers all the time so why not tomatoes? They are related after all.
- Harvest Apples when a twist of the wrist will release them from the tree.
- After frost harvest persimmons as they will be much sweeter and less astringent.