October Gardening

October is typically the driest month in Tennessee so be sure to keep your garden watered. Here are some tips from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture for fall garden maintenance:

  •  Shrubs and trees
  • You’ll find a good supply of trees and shrubs at local suppliers and October is just the beginning of the ideal season to install such plants in your garden. If you do plant in October, definitely water plants well until rainfall picks up in November and December.  
  • Perennials, annuals, and bulbs
  • One last effort at weeding will help to improve the appearance of your garden throughout the winter. Any weed which you can eliminate from the garden this fall will possibly prevent thousands of weed seeds from sprouting in the garden next spring!
  • Garden centers and nurseries are well stocked with spring flowering bulbs and late October and early November is the ideal time to get them planted.
  • Collect and save seeds of wildflowers to sow either right now allowing the seeds to over- winter in your garden or wait and sow early next spring.
  • Now is an ideal time to plant winter annuals in your garden for a great show of color from now until spring. Great plants to include in your winter garden are pansies, violas, snapdragons, and Dianthus. They can be planted in mass for a major splash of color in your landscape or use them in containers to add color in different strategic spots. Such winter hardy herbs as parsley, thyme, and rosemary make great container companions with winter annuals. Also, consider inter-planting your winter annuals with bulbs of daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths. Planting bulbs between such hardy annuals will bring a surprise burst of color in the spring. And when the fading bulb’s foliage begins to wither, the winter annuals are so colorful that one barely notices the bulbs’ yellowing foliage.
  • It’s a good time to spruce up your garden by cutting-back withering perennial blooms and adding a fresh layer of mulch. If you do add new mulch, be sure to follow-up with a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent an invasion of winter weeds.
  • Mums are here. A variety of sizes and colors await your garden. Some people grow mums as year_round perennials, often enjoying two seasons of blooms–a light display in late spring, and another show in the fall. Others opt for treating them as fall annuals, sinking pots in the ground or among their other garden plants. Either way, mums are a great way to add extra color to the fall garden.
  • Keep your garden and lawn raked clean of a heavy layer of leaves and debris. Fallen leaves, old plant parts and grass clippings should be added to the compost pile.
  • Lawn care
  • Fall is an ideal time to renew tall fescue lawns that have suffered during hot, dry summer months. Fertilizing with nitrogen-containing fertilizers will speed lawngrass growth, thicken the lawn and improve its’ color.
  • Seeding and mulching bare areas will provide erosion control and reduce the potential for weed problems.
  • Core aerifying will help water and nutrients move into hard soils. If your lawn is weak and thin and you intend to seed, a power rake can be used to lift thatch and expose soil before planting. Now may be the time to introduce a new, improved variety or tall fescue blend. It is best to be done with seeding your lawn by mid-October but fertilizer can be applied as late as mid-December.
  • Its not too late to prepare your bermudagrass or Zoysia lawn for winter this fall. By increasing the cutting height now, you can help buffer these lawngrasses from extreme low temperatures in winter. The application of a potassium-containing fertilizer may also improve your lawns’ low-temperature hardiness and drought tolerance. Several fertilizers are specially formulated to help “winterize” bermudagrass and Zoysia. Some may also contain a preemergence herbicide to prevent seeds of annual bluegrass and other winter annual weeds from germinating and competing with lawngrasses for light, nutrients and water.
  • Fruits and veggies
  • Pumpkins, summer squashes, and gourds to be stored should be harvested before the first frost. Pumpkins that have begun showing color will continue to ripen after harvest. Use great care not to nick the rind during harvest since this will lead to more rapid deterioration.
  • Dig and divide congested clumps of rhubarb.
  • Apple varieties are showing up at fresh markets and roadside stands. Seek out some new varieties to eat fresh or create delicious desserts with. Apple trees can be planted now, too. Select disease resistant ones such as Redfree, Prima, Priscilla, Jonafree, Nova Easygro, and Liberty.
  • Keep harvesting second plantings of the cool season vegetables including radishes, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, chard, spinach, broccoli, and the other cole crops. Some such as parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and kale actually have enhanced flavor after a frost.
  • Plant individual cloves of garlic now for a crop of garlic bulbs next summer. Select very large cloves to produce the largest bulbs. Plant them 6" deep and at least 6" apart. Mulch them after the ground freezes for winter protection.
  • Some root crops, such as carrots, onions, and parsnips can be left in the ground and dug up as needed. Apply enough mulch to keep the ground from freezing, and the crop will be kept fresh until it is needed.
  • If diseases or insects wiped out your peach or other fruit crop this year, clean_up is definitely called for. Destroy any fallen fruit from under your trees, and remove any that have mummified on the tree. These fruits will be loaded with problems, and cause an early attack next year. Consider getting a home fruit spray schedule from your local extension office now, so you are prepared next year.
  • After you have finished harvesting your summer vegetables, plant a cover crop of clovers, cow peas, soybeans, or vetches for the purpose of plowing under next spring. These nitrogen producing plants will provide good organic matter and food for your garden crops next year, as well as helping to control weeds over the winter.
  • Odds and ends
  • Now is a great time to do fall decorating in your garden which works well all season long, from the first hint of cool air and autumn color to late November and Thanksgiving. The key is making displays that use the traditional icons of fall - hay bales, scarecrows, corn-stalks - as supporting cast for the lead players - pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, garden or pot mums, fall pansies, asters, ornamental kale and other blooming plants. Hay bales are especially useful “benches” for building versatile displays, while corn-stalks add height and definition. Such displays can add a festive touch to a front porch or the landscape in strategic places like a light post or the entrance to a driveway or walk.
  • Place amaryllis in storage for a 2 month rest before reflowering. Select a cool (40 _ 50 degree) spot and stop all watering. Plan to begin watering again 9 _ 12 weeks before you want it to flower.
  • Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus should be placed in an east or north window, watered and fertilized one last time. Start letting them dry out more between waterings. This plus cooler night temperatures will stimulate blossom production.
  • Compost has been compared to black gold, and will made quite a difference in your soil. Fall is the ideal time to start a compost pile, since there is such a ready supply of materials–from falling leaves, to the gleanings from our vegetable and flower gardens. Your local extension office has loads of material on composting, from building the compost structure, to how to compost.
  • The birds will soon begin their winter migrations so give them a helping hand by providing them with some food for their long journey. You might persuade a few of them to stick around for the winter, if they know they have a reliable food source!







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