October Gardening Tips
Are you one of those people who think that the New England gardening season is over after September? THINK AGAIN!! The month of October is one of the most important (and fun) months of the year for a New England gardener. There’s lots to do so let’s get started…
Cutting dead wood from spent perennials in the garden and mulching beds
I’m sure your plants have been bitten once or twice by frost now(unless you’re in a coastal area in New England), and its time for those fall gardening chores! Cut down any woody stems that have died from all of your perennials and put down a protective layer of mulch over them. Most organic materials such as leaves, grass clippings or even peat moss will do the trick. This layer over your garden should be one to two inches thick, enough to provide a little extra protection from New England winter temperatures and cold winds but not so much that you’ll be digging up wheel barrels of the stuff next spring. The other beneficial thing it does is that it will break down somewhat over the winter, supplying your plants with some fresh nutrients during their spring and summer growth and helping your historically sandy soil retain water better. Roses are especially susceptible to wind damage in the garden- old timers in New England would cut their bushes to about 12-18 inches above the ground, mulch slightly with organic matter around their base, then cover them with wood baskets. The wood would insulate the rose bushes from the biting winds of winter but would still let air in to circulate and prevent rotting. Today, many garden centers sell styrofoam rose covers- we suggest you do not use them because they allow no air in to circulate and can often kill the bushes during the early spring.
Plan your spring bulb garden and get those daffodil and crocus bulbs in the ground!
At no other time of the year can your imagination run so wild with what you want your New England spring bulb garden to look like. What makes it so unique is that you have no second chances with bulbs. You plant them in the fall and they emerge in the spring. Plant too little in your garden and you’ll have to wait until next fall to fill in the empty spots, assuming that is you can remember exactly where the existing bulbs are planted. The point? Do it right the first time and save yourself a lot of aggravation moving forward. If you only have a few bulbs, say 50 or less, plant them quite close together (12-15 inches apart at most) in your garden and you’ll have a dramatic show of color in the spring. Spreading them out one a time all over the yard simply doesn’t work. You are much better off moving from spot to spot each year in the garden as your budget permits, putting down at least 20 bulbs in one area, so that they stand out and are viewed as a group. Before you know it, your bulbs will be multiplying year after year (esp. crocus and daffodils), and your spring flowers will too- with little or no maintenance on your part!
Lastly, that maintenance part we just mentioned…
Summer-blooming bulbs and perennials can be lifted and split.
Summer-blooming bulbs like native and asiatic lilies will reproduce by making extra bulbs under the soil. This is okay for a few years, but there will come a time when flower production is reduced and they must be lifted, separated and replanted about 8 -12 inches apart. This process must be repeated every few years and is best done in the early fall- the benefit for you, free plants!
Just as most of your summer garden bulbs will multiply each year in New England, the same is true for your spring bulbs like crocus and daffodil. The solution- yup, you guessed it, dig up the clumps and separate the bulbs back to a manageable 12-15 inches. This should be done in the late spring or early summer after blooming and the green leaves have died down. Move the extra bulbs to a new location in your spring garden or give them to neighbors or friends – everybody likes a freebee! We feel that there is no easier New England garden than the spring New England garden – just plant it once and tend to it a couple times a decade, how great is that!
September is a wonderful gardening month. The last of the summer vegetables are ripe and ready for eating or preserving, apples are at their peak in many places, and it time to clean up and prepare for next spring. The days are bright and mornings can be crisp. In more moderate climates, summer stretches yet a bit longer but autumn is in the air.
Once plants have started to peter out, it’s time to pull spent annuals and vegetables. If you’ve had no significant plant problems like bugs or fungus, add them to the compost pile. If you have had problems, don’t compost. Burn if you can, otherwise trash them.
Cut out dead shoots on roses. Destroy leaves with evidence of mildew or blackspot to diminish the probability of a recurrence in the spring. And stop feeding your roses. They need to prepare to go dormant.
Plant Spring Bulbs, Peonies, & Iris
September and October are the best months for planting spring bulbs. Decide where your bulb beds will be, then build them up with fresh compost. Beds should be deeply dug and well drained.
- Early planting in September is important for anemones, snowdrops, and winter aconite.
- Make sure tulips and daffodils go in the ground six weeks before freezing weather sets in.
- Plant lilies as soon as you get them.
- Peonies and iris can be planted from August through September. Anticipate a great show in May and June next year.
Also, now is a good time to prepare bulbs for indoor forcing. Fill clean, dry pots with fresh soil. You can leave them outside in a protected area and cover them with straw or leaves. In a month or so, after root development has had a chance to occur, you can store them in a basement or garage and gradually expose them to light and heat. They should begin to show signs of life in December.Begonias will live happily inside throughout the winter. Next spring, you can create many new plants.
Plan for Next Year’s Vegetables
Prepare for next year’s perennial vegetables now.
- Mulch rhubarb.
- Cut off old asparagus tops.
- Set up cold frames to prepare for early spring vegetables.
Annual veggies need attention now too. Where an early frost is typical, pull up tomato vines and hang indoors. The sap will be sufficient to ripen fruits. Half ripe tomatoes will ripen indoors on the counter. Green tomatoes can be turned into jam or chutney. Harvest onions before they resprout. Squash should be picked before frost. Root vegetables like beets and carrots, pulled before the first heavy frost, will do well stored in sand in the garage or basement.
Plant Trees, Shrubs & Early Spring Perennials
September is prime time for transplanting both large and small perennials. Shrubs like pussy willow, forsythia, and lilac as well as many evergreens do well being planted before winter weather arrives. Make sure evergreens are well watered so they don’t suffer from dry cold, which will kill them. Divide and transplant early blooming perennial flowers like poppies and bleeding hearts. Large clumps can be split now too. Find a friend or neighbor to trade with and add a few new varieties.
Prepare clean pots and fill with fresh soil, then transplant tender perennials like lemon verbena, geranium, and bay laurel so they can be overwintered in the house or on a sun porch. If weather isn’t freezing they can go outside on milder days.