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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


October 2012 To-Do List: Zone 9

Susan Wells
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October 2012 To-Do List, Zone 9

October is one of the most pleasant months of the year, and a very busy time for gardeners. We’ll continue to cut back, clean out, plant and transplant for long term rewards. After this summer, it’s hard to believe that October can be one of our driest months, frequently ending with rain.  Continue to irrigate if rainfall doesn’t occur, and water deeply when you do.

  • Watch for the appearance of migrating monarch butterflies this fall.  They are on their way back to Mexico for the winter but will be stopping by to feed on the nectar of many garden plants.
  • Before moving your houseplants indoors for the winter, they will need to acclimate to the low light conditions of the season.  If your houseplants have been in sunny locations, move them into the shaded areas of your property a few weeks before moving them into the house. Bring them in before the heat of the furnace comes on.
  • 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. A soaking in a mild liquid soap and water solution may be just enough.
  • If you are planting new seasonal annuals in last season’s pots, always use fresh soil and wash the pot. The previous season’s soil may be depleted of nutrients and may harbor diseases/pests. Commercial fertilizers contain salts, which are the crusty white areas on your terra cotta pots.
  • Leave your poinsettias and holiday cacti outside until they set blooms. Poinsettias can be fed with a liquid fertilizer(2-8-4 ratio).
  • Plant mixes of western wildflowers seeds along with poppies this month.  Flowers may show up in late December and delight you through June.
  • Cool season weeds will be germinating. Have a plan in place for your turf and gardens.  Most weed control products for your turf will harm your flowers and vegetables. Carefully read manufacturers instructions before applying products.
  • Build a hot compost pile to kill pathogens lurking in garden debris by using a high-nitrogen “green” material (grass clippings, seafood shells, and/or cotton seed meal). Turn it frequently and add in “brown” material, such as fallen leaves. By spring you’ll have “black gold.”

Vegetables and Berries

  • A thorough cleanup of the vegetable garden once the season is over has a big payoff in fewer problems next spring. Till up unused space and plant a cover crop of cowpeas, clover, beans and/or vetch. Consider an edible cover crop of kale and arugula. They are full-flavored leafy vegetables that will grace any table and then serve as a ‘green manure’ when tilled under in the spring.

  • Make sure you till the cover crop in before it goes to seed, though, or you’ll be fighting those same plants as weeds next spring. Till when the plants have reached their maximum vegetative growth before blooming and producing seed.
  • Pest problems are reduced with the cooler weather. Watch for aphids and caterpillars and spray with a light horticultural oil. Bait snails and slugs with a shallow saucer or pie pan with yeast mixed with a small amount of water, place at ground level (beer works, too).
  • Harvest sweet potatoes after tops wither, but before the first hard frost. Remember to allow them to rest for a couple of weeks before cooking them. This lets the carbohydrates convert to sugars.
  • Clean up fallen fruit in the orchard and put it in the compost.
  • Gently dig up and transplant the runners of your strawberry plants by mid-October. Collect them in bunches and store them in the back of your refrigerator until mid-November. This will fool them into thinking that they have gone through a freeze. Then replant them in November.
  • Plant fast-growing radishes, mustard, spinach, and turnips.
  • Sow 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, flat leaf parsley , parsnips, peas and radishes.
  • Sow or transplant twice the amount you would in spring. These overwintering crops will grow slowly due to the combination of the sun’s angle and somewhat lower temperatures.
  • To accelerate the germination of carrots, celery, parsnip and parsley seeds either soak them in individual shallow saucers with boiled water, or drizzle the hot water over the rows of planted seeds. Their hard shells need to be scarified to bring them to sprouting sooner. This trick will bring them to the table a few weeks earlier. Do not try this with other vegetable seeds.
  • As some herbs reseed themselves, transplant them around the garden for overwintering. Dill and parsley seem to germinate well this way.
  • 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. Keeping the mulch an inch away from the plant stems provides good air circulation and lessens the potential for disease problems.
  • Once your asparagus stems go brown, cut to the ground.


  • Keep an eye out for large, dark caterpillars known as army worms. They feed during the day and can destroy a perennial bed quickly. They are active in September and October. Control with appropriate aids. You can hand pick them and drop them into a bucket with used cooking oil, then dispose of in a closed plastic bottle. But army worms are hard pests to control by hand. The chemical options may be a choice for you depending on the level of infestation.  Check with your County Extension Service on what will work. (Army worms can also invade a vegetable garden and turf.)
  • Purchase, then refrigerate, crocus, hyacinths and tulips. Placing them in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator will trick them into thinking that they have had a cold winter. Unfortunately, they’ll need that space for about six weeks.

  • When your mums begin to open their buds, it is time to stop feeding them.
  • Use an organic fertilizer on your roses early this month. Water deeply following fertilization. Continue to deadhead them for November and December blooms.
  • Pinch back and trim sweet peas to force branching.
  • Lift your tuberoses, shake off soil and store in perilite. They will be replanted in May.
  • Allow the seed heads of your Joe-Pye weed to remain on the plant. Their faded pink/lavender blooms have now turned brown and will continue to provide seasonal interest. Come spring, you’ll cut them back to four inches.
  • You may be able to extend the blooms on your yarrow by deadheading them this month.
  • You will be able to find the chartreuse ground cover called ‘Creeping Jenny,’ in your local Home Depot. Its lime color is most appreciated when planted in partial sun. It is a wonderful accent in an herb bed planted with creeping thyme, or mixed with ‘Black Scallop’ ajuga. (These combinations have shown themselves somewhat chipmunk resistant!)
  • Looking forward to spring blooms, broadcast wildflower seeds over soil that has been lightly cultivated.
  • An important component in the ongoing care of a perennial garden is dividing perennials to prevent overcrowding. This can be done over the next couple of months.
  • An often overlooked native wildflower that you may want to plant now is the Liatris pycnostachya. Grown from corms, their beautiful purple spiked flowers are beautiful in a sunny the garden. In your summer garden, it is a butterfly magnet.
  • Do not move perennials that are in bloom now, or expected to bloom in November.
  • If you want to divide your Matilija Poppy in late October, do so following the first big rain. Once relocated, prune the spent stems to the ground.
  • Continue to divide and transplant bearded irises, daylilies, phlox, cannas, and Shasta daisies. If you want to add these flowers to the garden, this is the time for that as well. Water thoroughly the day before dividing your perennials. Water deeply once they have been relocated.
  • Do not use a slow release fertilizer this month. If needed, use a water soluble fertilizer mixed at half strength.
  • Keep your beds mulched. Cool season weeds will be appearing. Apply pre-emergent weed control aids (Preen) to your flower beds now.  Do not use a turf pre-emergent in the flower or vegetable garden.
  • Following the first good rain, you may see your ornamental grasses begin to grow again. They will need to be cut back again. Red fountain has a brief dormancy period and will have to be cut back if the new green leaves pop out.
  • Brightening up any shade garden is the Japanese anemone. This graceful and gorgeous perennial is a self-seeder.  If you don’t already have it in your shade garden, look for it at Home Depot. When planted in front of the blue Ruellia (Mexican Petunia) or Iron Weed, the impact is awesome.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Looking for a native shrub with great fall color? Look at the viburnums offered by Home Depot.  Also available is the Beauty Berry, another lovely native that bears bright purple berries along its chartreuse-leaved branches.

  • A native tree that is becoming more popular as it adapts to more areas is the bald cypress. A native of the Okeefenokee Swamp in south Georgia, it was long thought to live only in wetlands. But horticulturalists have found that Taxodium distichum will also grow in much dryer areas. Its delicate needles turn a beautiful bronze in autumn before falling off. It will grow 60 feet or more, so give it plenty of space.
  • Cooler weather will shepherd in less watering, but if your tree is less than a year old, water as needed.
  • As for fruit trees, hold back water and fertilizer by the middle of the month, but do not allow them to completely dry out. Depriving them of food and water will help them go into winter dormancy in our mild climate.
  • Do not prune any spring flowering trees and bushes. They have already set their flowerbuds for next year.
  • Keep your tools sharp for pruning. If you prune diseased wood, clean your tools in a bucket with a bleach and water mixture. Always prune well below a canker.
  • Before spraying trees with a lightweight oil spray for scale, be certain that you are correct in identifying the infestation. The scale will appear as small hard bumps on last year’s wood. You should be able to scrap the wart-like scale off with your fingernail.
  • 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 underside of the leaves.
  • You can now untie the fronds of palms planted in August.
  • Do not fertilize in October with any fertilizer containing quick-release nitrogen.


  • If you are considering redoing the turf, think of getting a 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. For warm-season grasses, mow between 1½ and 2 inches, which is just a little shorter than you should cut it during the spring and early autumn.
  • 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.
  • Resist use of a pre-emergent for your turf if you have just seeded. It can stunt or kill the seeds. The pre-emergent would be more useful after the seeds have germinated.
  • Don’t fertilize newly seeded lawns. Fertilizer inhibits germination of seed.


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