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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


October 2012 To-Do List: Zone 6

Susan Wells
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October 2012 To Do List, Zone 6

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Fall continues to be a great time for planting, especially trees and shrubs. Before planting new trees, research how rapidly their roots grow. Magnolias, ginkos and beeches are a few that may struggle due to slow root growth in colder temperatures.

Cooler temperatures will keep the compost pile from “cooking.” Build a hot compost pile to kill pathogens lurking in garden debris by using high-nitrogen “green” materials, such as grass clippings, seafood shells, and/or cottonseed meal. Add shredded fall leaves – the “brown” material – and keep turning the pile to speed up decomposition. Come spring, you’ll have “black gold.”

Keep running your mower through fallen leaves and collect the shredded material to use in either the compost or as mulch.

Do not repot houseplants immediately prior to moving them inside. Keep an eye out to avoid bringing in pests. Look for aphids, thrips and whiteflies on the leaves. Watering with a mild liquid soap solution may be just enough. Bring the houseplants in at least two weeks before the furnace is turned on to give them a chance to acclimate.

Cool season weeds will be germinating. Have a plan in place for your turf and gardens. Weed control products for your turf may harm your flowers and vegetables. Carefully read manufacturers’ instructions before applying their products.


Image by Olinchuk via Shutterstock

Sow fast-sprouting seeds of arugula for healthy autumn salads. You can till under any plants that you don’t use.

  • You can still squeeze in a few last sowings of spinach and other cold-hardy greens beneath row covers or cold frames. A cold frame is nothing more than four walls to trap heat and shelter plants, with a transparent lid that allows in light. They are typically made of any sturdy material — plywood, concrete, even bales of hay topped with an old glass window. You’ll want it to be at least 2’ x 4’ but not much larger than 3’ by 6’. This will allow you to reach all the plants inside. Build the back 4” to 6” higher than the front to maximize the amount of light that reaches the plants inside and to allow water to drain off the top easily. A south facing, sunny spot with good drainage and some protection from the wind is ideal. The site should get full sun from midmorning to midafternoon.
  • Sow seeds of beets, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, chervil, chives, cilantro, collards, endive, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, green onions, short-day bulb onions (like Grano, Granex, and Walla Walla), parsley (the flat-leaf type is more winter-hardy than the curly leaf), parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips.
Sow or transplant twice the amount you would in spring. These crops will grow slowly, due to changes in the angle of the sun and cooler temperatures, giving a reduced harvest.
  • It is important to keep seedbeds moist and shaded from hot afternoon sun until the seedlings develop two to four true leaves. After transplanting them, mulch the soil lightly, and add more mulch through November for additional frost protection. Keep the mulch an inch away from the stems for good air circulation. This reduces the potential for disease problems. A frost blanket or floating row cover is a terrific option for protecting tender plants and stretching the season a bit.
Consider an edible cover crop of kale and arugula. They are full-flavored leafy vegetables that will endure freezing, and remain tender. Both will germinate in cool weather. In the spring, what you’ve not eaten can be tilled under as “green manure.”
  • Clean soil and plant residues off cages and stakes used for tomatoes, then disinfect in a solution of one part chlorine bleach to nine parts water for five minutes. Rinse well, then air dry before storing for the winter.
  • Run a soil test before amending your garden in fall for spring planting. Work the garden soil only when it is dry and does not stick to your garden tools. Add lime or gypsum in the fall to give these amendments time to react in the soil before the next growing season. You can also dig compost, manure or shredded fall leaves into the vegetable beds. Soil amendments are available at your neighborhood Home Depot.


Image by V.M. Matthews via Shutterstock

Choose your spring bulbs early to make sure you get the varieties you want. They’re best planted in fall, when the cooler temperatures help establish strong roots.

  • Continue planting spring-blooming bulbs. By staggering the planting depths or spacing out the time of planting, you can extend the bloom period an additional several weeks.  By planting your bulbs in the company of perennials, their dying foliage will be hidden by the rising perennials in the spring.
  • Overcrowded perennials won’t bloom as well as those with adequate space and nutrients. Carefully dig them up. Dispose of any damaged or diseased pieces and transplant the healthy parts. Remember not to transplant a perennial in bloom. Prune tall perennials to the ground.
  • Cut off discard the foliage from peonies and hostas. A serrated bread knife works for this task. The long blade makes it a one stroke activity. Wear heavy gloves for protecting the other hand. Grab the group of stems with one hand and slice through them with the knife in the other hand.
  • For extra spring excitement, sow some poppies and nasturtiums in the flower beds this month.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Consider winter wildlife as you decide which trees and shrubs to plant. Those that provide food in the fall and winter are welcome and will draw birds and other wildlife into your garden. Fall-fruiting plants include dogwoods, mountain ash, winterberries and cotoneasters. They are used by both migratory birds preparing to leave and non-migratory species preparing for winter. Conifers provide cover, winter shelter, sap, buds and seeds for birds. Nuts and acorns from oaks, hickories, chestnuts, buckeyes, walnuts, and butternuts provide food and nesting habitat.
  • Consider planting the Beauty Berry Bush (Callicarpa Americana). A native plant, it is a favorite of many birds, and easy to care for. The berries are either white or fuschia, depending on the cultivar.
  • Cooler weather means less watering, but if your tree is less than a year old keep it moist.
  • Typically, this is not a good month for pruning shrubs. Only clip stray branches that appear out of place.
  • Lacebugs are very active through November, eating the undersides of azalea leaves.  The effect is small white dots on the top side of the leaves and dark brown spots on the back side. Once this damage occurs, the leaves will never turn green again. Treat with a light horticultural oil and spray the under side of the leaves. Do not cut back the azaleas this time of year, as they have set their buds for their 2013 blooming period.
  • Evergreens showing some browning or yellowing of needles, through the end of the year, are merely shedding old growth. No need to panic.


  • If you are considering redoing the turf, think of getting a lawn soil test, then correct nutrient deficiencies and pH problems before spring. A DIY kit is available at your local Home Depot. You can also take soil samples to your County Extension Services and have it done for a small fee.
  • Use a mulching blade on your mower to shred fall leaves and convert them into rich organic material that can be left on the lawn. Otherwise, rake. Fallen leaves will smother a lawn if left in place all winter.
  • Thatch is an accumulation of un-decayed and decaying plant matter at the soil surface. It suffocates grass roots and denies them the air, water, and nutrients needed to thrive. Thatching is caused by excess fertilizing, not by mulching grass clippings. Increasing organic matter will stimulate the soil microbes that consume thatch. If the problem is so bad that water cannot penetrate the thatch, remove the thatch now with a stiff rake or rent a dethatching machine.
  • If possible, hand pull clumps of crabgrass and continue to mow grass until it stops growing.
  • Prevent weedy patches next spring by reseeding now. Grass seed grows well in fall because the temperatures are perfect and because it has less competition from annual weeds. Just be sure to give the lawn enough time to establish itself before weather changes roll in.


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