What to Do in the Garden in October

What to Do in the Garden in October
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What to Do in the Garden in October

Put Your Garden to Rest for the Winter

Depending on where you live, this could mean that you’re starting to harvest your first fall crops, or you could still be getting tomatoes, peppers, or cucumbers from your garden. Even if you’re in a warmer climate, you’ve likely started to notice that the fall air has a chill to it. As you transition into fall, there are some key things you need to do in the garden.

Putting Your Garden Beds to Rest

Are you planting a fall garden? If not, you’ll want to put your garden beds to rest properly. A summer garden is filled with heavy feeders, which means that many of the nutrients in your garden soil have been stripped. You’ll want to add nutrients back to the soil and set the garden beds up so that they’re productive and ready to go for you in the spring.

Your garden soil is more than just the nutrients that are in it. Healthy garden soil is filled with beneficial bacteria and microbes. These microorganisms support healthy plant growth and actually form symbiotic (beneficial) relationships with your plants. When you put your garden beds to rest, you should take steps to ensure the microorganisms are taken care of as well.

Putting your garden beds to rest is easy. You’ll want to remove any dead plants and either toss them out or compost them. Remove any debris that is in your garden beds. As you’re pulling up garden plants, make sure that you’re tossing out any garden plants that had issues with pests or diseases. Don’t try to compost these as you could accidentally introduce pests or diseases to your future gardens with contaminated compost.

Add compost and manure to your garden. This will allow the compost and manure to work itself into the soil over the winter. Compost and manure are much better options to add nutrients to your soil than chemical soil amendments. Compost and manure will improve the nutrient content of the soil, the soil texture and will help to support the microorganisms in the soil.

Once you’ve added compost and manure, it’s a good idea to cover your soil with mulch. You can cover the surface with chopped leaves, straw or even a cover crop. In a pinch you can cover the soil with sheets of black plastic. Covering the soil will prevent nutrients and soil from washing out of your garden beds. Cover crops can be tilled directly into the soil in the spring to add some green mulch into the soil.

Reflect on This Year

The most convenient way to record your garden notes is in Park Seed’s app From Seed to Spoon. Your garden “journal” is right in your pocket. Add pictures, find answers, get information all on your phone. It’s easy to know what is what in the garden with a quick photo reference, or to verify planting details. It’s gardening in the 21st century!

Take the time to journal about your garden this year. Make notes about varieties you planted, seeds you saved, fertilizers you used, any soil amendments you made, pest or disease problems or weather that was out of the ordinary. These notes will help you improve your garden year over year.

Take the time to reflect on your garden efforts this year. Is there anything that worked really well? What varieties of plants did you have success with? Were there any plants that didn’t work well for you? If something didn’t work, can you pinpoint why? After you’ve spent some time reflecting on your garden, take the time to make a plan for your next garden. Planning your next garden when your last garden is fresh in your mind will help you to make your next garden the best one yet.

What to Do in the Garden in October Based on Your Zone

Zones 3-4

In these cooler zones you likely already have root crops in the ground. Don’t harvest them too soon. Instead, wait on a frost to hit your root crops before harvesting them. A frost or two will shock the plants, causing the tops to send nutrients and sugars down into the root of the plant, making them tastier and more nutrient-dense.

Even though the temperatures here are dropping fast, don’t forget about watering your plants frequently. It’s on top of your mind to water your plants when they’re growing during the warm months, but water is critical, even in colder weather. In fact, many of the cool season crops love being watered overhead.

Do you have apple trees? October is prime apple season. Take the time to harvest your apples and preserve them so that you can enjoy them until next year’s apples come in. For other fruit trees and plants, take the time this month to prune them back and prepare them for winter by adding a heavy layer of compost or manure, covered by a thick layer of mulch.

Zones 5-6

You’ll start to notice that your nighttime temperatures get pretty cool this month. To combat that, you can cover your summer crops with cold frames or row covers. Even bed sheets can work in a pinch to protect your plants.

Watch your tomato plants. As the temperatures start to dip, your tomatoes will produce less. Once you notice your tomatoes are on the verge of dying back, harvest the remaining green tomatoes. You can allow them to ripen indoors. Green tomatoes can also be fried, turned into green tomato bread, or sweet, end–of-season pickled green tomatoes.

As you clean up your garden beds, add any dead plants, grass clippings or leaves to your compost pile. You’ll be able to use this compost in your next garden in the spring if you add to it now.

Leave ornamentals alone. It’s tempting to prune plants back as they die back, but if you’re interested in saving seeds, you’ll want to let those seeds fully mature on the plant. Leave the seed heads on the plant and collect them after the plant has completely died back.

Want to plant something in your garden but don’t know what to plant? Focus on cold-hardy and fast-growing cool season plants. Sow seeds for spinach, beets, or radishes to get a few harvests before the hard cold sets in.

Zone 7

Did you plant root crops last month? If so, you’ll likely need to thin them out this month. Each crop is different. Thin them out to make sure that each plant has ample space to grow.

Speaking of root crops, this is the perfect time to plant garlic and onions if you haven’t yet. Separate garlic bulbs into individual cloves and plant them in the soil. Onions can be started from sets at this point. Garlic and onions will develop underground this winter and will sprout next spring, providing you with delicious garlic and onions.

Prune back your fruit plants this year. Remove any damaged or diseased stems and toss them out. Fruits trees also have particular growth patterns that make them more productive. Prune your fruit trees to ensure they have the most productive growth patterns possible. For example, for some fruit trees, branches that aim downwards will not produce fruit and should be pruned. You can also take the time to weave fruit vines around a trellis to keep them orderly.

Zone 8

If you’re in Zone 8, you can still plant plenty of crops this month. Focus on cool season crops like greens, lettuce, root crops, beans and peas. You can also plant garlic and onions this month that will be ready to harvest in the spring.

Some fruit plants can also be planted this month in Zone 8. It’s a great time to plant strawberry plants. This gives them time to become established before the spring, when they go into full production mode. Strawberries that are planted in the spring aren’t as productive as strawberries planted in the fall since the spring-planted strawberries are trying to both become established and produce at the same time.

This is also a great time to plant new landscaping plants. You can put new trees and shrubs into the ground this month. The extra precipitation that comes with cooler weather will help them to become established well before they must deal with periods of drought and hot temperatures that come with summer. Spring blooming bulbs can also be planted this month.

Zone 9

Similar to Zone 8, there is plenty of time to plant some fall crops. Plant spinach, greens, kale, lettuce, and root crops like beets, radishes, turnips, or carrots. Check the time to maturity with some of the root crops and make sure they’re fast-maturing varieties. Don’t harvest root crops until they’ve been hit with frost for the best taste.

If you have fruit plants, make sure that you’re cleaning up after them. Fruit that falls to the ground may get overlooked while you’re harvesting the good fruits, but don’t leave fallen fruit behind. This is an open invitation to pests and disease. As you’re cleaning up and pruning your fruit trees and plants, remove any old or fallen fruit and dispose of it.

There’s a little bit of time left to get plants in the ground for next year. You can plant trees and bushes for next year, along with spring-blooming bulbs. If you want to add a pop of color to your landscaping now, plant some violas or mums. Violas won’t come back each year, but they’ll survive even the hardest frost and a coating of snow. Mums on the other hand, if planted into the ground, will come back year after year for brilliant fall color.

Zone 10

Zone 10 has an incredibly long growing season, so if you’re in this zone, lucky you! You can still put summer crops into the ground this month. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants can all be planted now using started plants. You can also direct sow seeds for your fall crops this month.

Zone 10 can be quite dry in October, so be sure to keep watering your garden. A thick layer of mulch can be added to help the soil retain moisture. If you have summer crops planted, consider investing in a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses that will get the soil moist, without spraying water on the leaves of the plants.

You’ll want to do some of your typical fall chores this month, even if it doesn’t quite feel like fall where you are. Take the time to clean up your garden beds, split up overgrown bulb plants and prune back trees, shrubs and fruiting plants.

Zone 11

Focus on succession planting this month with your garden. Plant weekly plantings of leafy greens, beans, peas, and other cool season crops. While you plant your fall crops, continue to maintain and harvest your summer crops. You can plant your fall crops alongside your summer crops to provide them shade from the still-warm sun.

Take the time to add compost and manure, along with a thick layer of mulch, this month to your garden.

You can also add tropical fruit plants to your garden and landscape this month. Planting them now will give them time to become well-established before they start trying to produce next spring and summer.

Garden Reflection

If this is the end of the gardening season for you, be sure to take the time to reflect on your garden this year. One of the most common mistakes that gardeners make is they continue trying the same things year after year, mainly because they skip over reflecting on what they did in their garden each year.

Type your notes into the From Seed to Spoon app and save a few ideas that you can use to improve your garden next year in the ‘plants’ section of the app. You may need to try new plant varieties, amend your soil, or change your growing practices. Don’t be scared to try new things in the garden!