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October Gardening Tips

Japanese Maple fall leaves

General Gardening Tips

Fall is for planting!  Now is a great time to evaluate the bones of your garden and get a jump start on spring.  The combination of fall rains and still-warm soil is ideal for helping newly-planted trees, shrubs, and perennials get established in their new home. 

You may or may not need to water.  This fall is predicted to be a little drier than normal, but go by the actual weather and soil conditions.  Remember that newly-planted or transplanted plants, or plants in containers, can dry out relatively quickly if we have either a warm or a windy spell.

October is clean-up month in your garden!  Rake up dead leaves, and cut back spent flower stalks.  (You can leave seed heads for birds to enjoy.) Put down a fresh layer of mulch to protect your soil from erosion and your plants’ roots from frost, and to inhibit the germination of cool-season weeds such as shotgrass.  Your dried leaves can make a great mulch if you shred them; if you don’t have a shredder attachment on your lawnmower, just run the mower over your leaf pile several times.

Note:  remember that wetter weather will bring out slugs and snails.  Use a pet and wildlife safe slug bait such as Sluggo® to reduce their populations. 

Vegetable Gardening

Harvest!  Dig root crops or mulch them deeply with straw to protect them in their spot.

Herbs:  most of your herbs won’t need any special attention to prepare for fall.  Stop fertilizing and reduce watering, and most will overwinter just fine.  Fall is a good time for planting hardy herbs in the ground, giving them the winter to get established.  Do a final harvest on tender annual herbs such as basil.  Tender perennials such as stevia and lemon grass may be treated as annuals, or you can try growing them as houseplants through the winter.  (Our low light levels, however, will be stressful for them.)   

Unused beds:  mulch generously with straw, compost, or dry leaves—a foot is not too much.  Or plant cover crop seeds.  Either strategy will help to keep the winter rains from leaching nutrients and eroding your soil, and will discourage weeds.  Click for cover crop information.

Plant garlic, onions, shallots, peas, and fava beans to harvest next year.  You can still transplant greens and root vegetables as well. 

Fruits and Berries


Remove fallen fruit and leaves. Many insect larvae and disease spores will overwinter in the debris if left under the trees. Do not add this debris to your home compost pile; your composting temperature may not get high enough to kill the pathogens.

Spread lime around fruit trees, strawberries, and raspberries.

After the crop is harvested, but while the leaves are still on the tree, spray thoroughly with a copper fungicide.

Prune raspberries after they are done fruiting.  With summer crop varieties such as Tulameen, prune out the second year canes that are done fruiting.  Do not prune out the new shoots.  With everbearing varieties such as Fall Gold, prune off only the top portion of the cane that has fruited.  The lower portion will produce your early crop next year.  (For both types, you should come back in January and remove the weakest canes to leave 7-10 canes per hill.

Ornamental Gardening

Once you’ve cleaned away spent flowers and foliage, see if your garden needs to be spruced up with fresh fall and winter color.  Evergreens, Japanese maples, and fall color spots ranging from asters to violas can be planted now for instant gratification.

Container gardening can be a great way to bring spots of fabulous fall color closer to your patios and entryways.  You can put together stunning combinations to brighten areas close by your home.  Many plants can overwinter in the pot and then, if you like, be transplanted into your garden in the spring.  Sky has a wonderful selection of hardy and beautiful shrubs and perennials. 

October is also the biggest month of the gardening year for deferred gratification:  it’s time to plant spring bulbs!  Crocus, tulips, daffodils, and more should be planted now for a rainbow of spring color and fragrance.

After the first frost, cut fuchsias back to the edge of the basket and store in a protected area for the winter.  Check monthly for water.

Dig up and store geraniums and tuberous begonias.  Click for information sheet on Overwintering Fuchsias, Geraniums, and Begonias.

Either dig and store your dahlia tubers, or cut the plants back and mulch in place. Digging and storing is best if your soil has poor drainage. 

Divide herbaceous perennials.

Indoor Gardening

As days shorten and the sun gets lower in the sky, the lower light levels mean your indoor plants will slow their growth.  Unless you are using grow lights, cut back on watering and feeding. 

On the other hand, central heating can dry the air.  Sensitive plants such as orchids may benefit from a humidity tray—just a water-filled tray with pebbles (or pot feet) so the plant is not sitting in water, but still benefits from the evaporation.

Lawn Care

Fall is the most important time of the year to ensure a robust, healthy lawn through the following summer.  If you didn’t fertilize and lime your lawn last month, do so now before the soil cools too much.

Water Gardening

fall pond care

As temperatures drop, start feeding your fish a high carbohydrate, low protein food.  Feed several small feedings a day, rather than once or twice.  When water temperature falls below 60°F decrease their feeding until you shut food off entirely somewhere around 50°F.

Keep dead leaves skimmed (or net your pond).

Pull remaining tender plants as needed.  Water lettuce, fairy moss, and other floaters and oxygenators should be composted.  Papyrus, taro, and umbrella plants can be overwintered as houseplants.  Lotus and tropical lilies can be lifted and stored as tubers.  If your pond is at least 30 inches deep, you may also overwinter them on the bottom.