October is an action-packed month for the garden

Editor’s Note: This is Larry’s final column for the 2010 season. He will return in April 2011 to help solve your gardening dilemmas.

Now that the dog days of summer are over and there is a nip in the air, it’s the perfect time to get back into the garden and get your hands in the soil. Here are some ideas and tasks you can take up this October.

Fall flowers – Okay, I love mums as much as the next guy, but there are alternatives. I’ve noticed a lot of Sedums in the nursery this fall. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is a long time favorite. It is a succulent with fleshy stems, but the flowers of this hardy perennial turn a nice orange, red or russet in October. You can grow this as a potted plant for the door step, or as a full-time, in-the-ground perennial. Likes sun, but will take a little shade. 

Lawn care – This is the month when you should spread natural organic fertilizer on your lawn. Doing this any earlier is not a good idea because it releases its food immediately forcing the grass to grow. Not a good idea. Organic fertilizer releases its energy slowly, so the grass will take up the nutrients and store them for use next spring. 

Keep your mower blades set to cut at a three-inch height for the rest of October. As a few leaves come down, it is okay to mow them into the turf. You don’t want to mow a full leaf drop because that would be too much carbon which could smother the grass. Always better to use a mulching mower on a lot of leaves. 

For the last of the season in early November, set your mower blades down to two-inches high so the grass won’t flop over at the end of the season and into the winter. 

Finally, before you bury the mower under a bunch of stuff in the garage for the winter, remove the blades and get them sharpened. Sharp blades are, in my opinion, one of the secrets to good grass. Dull blades mutilate the grass and damage it. Sharp blades snip the grass and I find it not only looks better, but grows better, too.

Bulbs – October is the best time to plant tulips, daffodils and the rest of the spring bulbs. I like to plant bulbs in my perennial garden in between the larger perennials. This way they bloom in early spring and fill in their place in the garden for that season. As they die down, the perennials come up and fill in their place. By doing this, you have something in bloom in the perennial garden from early spring until late fall. 

Remember those sedums I mentioned before? Now is a perfect time to plant them in the perennial garden, too. The same can be said of Asters and Chelone, two other very good alternatives to mums. 

October is also the best time to pot up tulips and daffodils for forcing over the winter. Simply grab some daffodils and tulips from the garden center or online catalogue, along with potting soil and a few plastic or terra cotta pots. Fill the pots about halfway with the soil, place the bulbs on top of the soil, tip up, cover with more soil and then water deeply. Next, find a cool spot in the basement or garage (you don’t want them to freeze) and let them rest over the next four months. In February or March, bring them out of hibernation, water them again and force them to grow indoors as a potted plant. 

Watering – The number one reason why perennials, shrubs and trees die over the first winter is a lack of watering in the fall. After this very dry summer, your perennials, shrubs and trees need water. Even if we receive a normal amount of rainfall this month, your newly–planted stock is at risk. Water everything that is new at least once a week. Place a hose nozzle at the base of your shrubs or trees and set the water flow at trickle speed. Let it run for an hour. Do this once a week for the month of October and your shrubs and trees have a much better chance of surviving this winter. 

Larry Sombke is the author of Beautiful Easy Flower Gardens and 10 more books on gardening, cooking and the environment. He also offers landscape consultations to help you have a beautiful organic garden. Contact him at


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