Gardening Tips for October 2017

Dear Gardening Friends,

How did it get to be October!? September seems like a blur of cold and wet followed by unseasonably hot and dry. It was hard on the plants and hard on those of us who were trying to get some garden work done. If you’re anything like me there is still a lot to do. Here are some tips:

  • After 3 weeks of no rain, watering will be an issue. We did get some rain a few days ago but unless we get more it won’t be enough to sustain our plants, trees and shrubs over the winter. Don’t neglect watering just because the season is winding down. The plants will have a better chance of withstanding winter damage if they are kept well hydrated. This is most important for any newly planted or moved plants, trees and shrubs as they haven’t had time to establish a good root system.
  • Weeding is another good chore to tackle. I didn’t do much weeding during those hot dry weeks as the dry soil makes the job much more difficult and less effective. Now, after the rain, that will be my first chore. Keep in mind, every weed you remove now won’t be there next spring.
  • Unfortunately what I didn’t get to move or divide because of the hot, dry weather will have to wait until spring. It’s just too close to potential cold weather (it was 34 here this AM) to take the risk.
  • 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 leaves 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.
  • 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, or spread on 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 and other 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.
  • 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. You can also use burlap or shrub coats.
  • 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.

Contact me if you have any questions or would like a garden consultation. Now is a good time to plan improvements for next year.

Happy Gardening!

Lyn Chimera