Gardening Tips for October 2016

Dear Gardening Friends,

I always think of fall as a time to garden, reflect on successes and failures and enjoy the beauty of the season. It’s cooler and we got some much needed rain so it’s easier to weed and dig.  The following are some tips for October:

  • If you haven’t brought in houseplants, tender perennials or annuals to overwinter, you’d better do it soon. The nights are getting cold and the longer you leave them outside the more difficult their transition will be.
  • Give each plant a spray with a hose making sure to get the undersides of the leavers where critters are hiding out. If it’s a plant that tends to get spider mites or other insects wash the leaves with a mild soapy water solution (I use a squirt of Dawn).
  • You can also submerge the pot in warm water for 5 minutes to dislodge critters hiding in the soil and/or douche the soil with some of the soapy water.
  • After preparing the plant to bring it in, let it acclimate on a porch or protected area for a few days and bring it in during the warmth of the day.
  • For plants you have already brought in, it would be a good idea to check them for any insects that may have been missed. A certain amount of leaf drop is expected in plants brought in so don’t be concerned about that.
  • Also, if you have little flying fungus gnats all of a sudden, they likely came in in the soil of some plants. Keep the soil on the dry side and that will solve the problem. The larva of the gnats live in the top 2 inches of moist soil. If the soil is dry, that will break the cycle.
  • It’s very tempting to keep moving and dividing with this mild weather but it is getting late in the season for that. Most plants need 4 to 5 weeks for their roots to settle in. Moving them late causes an increased chance for heaving and/or plant loss over the winter. At this time in the fall it would be best to leave them where they are for the winter and divide and move in the spring.
  • That being said, hardy plants like day lilies and hosta can probably be moved without a problem, but do it soon.
  • It’s still a great time to get out and remove weeds before they drop seed for next year. Both annual and perennial weeds are best removed in the fall. Just think of the time it will save next spring!
  • Most pruning chores should wait until late winter or early spring. The exception would be any dead branches or ones posing a hazard.
  • Once the leaves start falling, shred them with your lawn mower or a shredder if you’re lucky enough to have one. They can be stored for use as mulch next spring, spread on the garden beds now as a protection for winter or added to compost.
  • As your annuals fade, pull them out roots and all. It’s easier to remove them before the frost makes them mushy.
  • It’s still a good time to plant spring bulbs. You can do so until the ground freezes but will have better results the sooner you get them in the ground.
  • If you save Dahlia tubers, the best time to dig them up is after the plant has been blackened by frost. Let the tubers air dry for a few days and gently brush off the excess soil. Store them in a cool dark place in peat moss or wrapped individually in newspaper. The tubers should not touch each other. Check them once a month or so and remove any with signs of rot.
  • Any perennials that get mushy after a frost, like hosta, should be cut back before a frost, if possible. If you leave a few hosta blossom stems showing (I usually cut them to 6 or 8 in.) it’s easy to tell where the hosta are next spring.
  • Most perennials with seed heads like daisy, rudbeckia, echinacea and astilbe can be left up. The seed heads provide food for winter birds and look great poking through the snow. The exception would be any plants that you want to prevent setting seed all over your garden. I always cut back native snakeroot and ageratum for that reason.
  • Other perennials like day lilies and huchera can be left to cut back in spring. The plant crowns offer winter protection. Don’t prune back roses until spring.
  • In general the amount of fall clean up you do is up to you. Some feel total clean-up is best including raking fallen leaves off beds. I tend to leave a lot in place including fallen leaves. It provides winter protection and a home for beneficial insects and larva, especially during winters when we haven’t had a solid snow cover.  You do, however, have to rake off the leaves in spring before perennials start growing.
  • All diseased plant material should be removed and discarded including leavers on the ground.  After cutting back any diseased plants be sure to disinfect your pruner with a spray of Lysol to prevent spreading.
  • Since we’re not sure what type of winter we’ll be having I’m giving extra protection, in the form of leaf mulch (chopped up leaves), to newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials. Without a blanket of snow to protect them the chance of the roots heaving or becoming dry is much higher. If you don’t have any mulched leaves “borrow” some from neighbors. There will be piles of them at curbsides. This should be done after we have a few hard frosts.
  • If you have problems getting your hydrangeas to bloom cover them completely with leaves after the ground freezes. If the shrub is large you can make a “cage” around it with chicken wire and fill that.
  • Even though we’ve had some rain, don’t put your hoses away just yet. If it gets dry again you will need to hydrate anything planted this season including trees and shrubs If you have any specific questions you can always send an e-mail or give a call.
  • Before the frost comes it’s advisable to go around your garden with a notebook and make notes on what you want to do next season. What to move, divide, discard or give away because it’s not doing well. I always do this and it’s crucial (for me anyways) to remember what I want to do next spring.

It’s not too late for a Garden Consultation. If you’re planning on making changes or improvements for next season planning now will give you a head start.

Happy Gardening!

Lyn Chimera