I have always been in awe of the colors of the fall. While most people can’t wait for those spring flowers, I am always longing for that first crisp late summer night that signals the coming colors of fall. Luckily the amount of work in the garden has begun to ease up giving us just a little bit of extra time to enjoy the beauty of autumn. Knocking out some October garden chores isn’t anything to complain about especially when the weather is perfect.
October is really the last month I feel like the garden is still truly active. You can still get a pretty consistent harvest from the garden and everything is still green and lush. Our October garden chores are aimed at keeping that harvest going as long as possible.
The last cleanup
Clean up fallen fruit.
Many perennial fruits are still giving and giving. Continue to clean any fallen fruit from under pears, apples, raspberries, strawberries, and anything else that is fruiting. Keep the area under the plants clear of fallen leaves and other debris. This helps reduce the amounts of pests and disease that may overwinter in organic matter.
Prune out dead wood.
Keep an eye out for any dead, damaged, or diseased wood in trees and shrubs. Prune them out as they are discovered. The falling leaves always reveal all kinds of pruning opportunities. Kristyn secretly (not so secretly) loves this chore.
Knock back any poison ivy.
Poison ivy is one of the earlier plants to start to lose its leaves, but is still easy to spot in the fall with its vibrant colors. The best way to naturally combat it and remove it for good is to dig it out manually. With the cool weather upon us, I like to suit up covering as much skin as possible and dig the vines out anywhere I can find them. If I miss any or a few sprigs grow back in the spring, I knock them back with my homemade weed killer.
Cut back and deadhead perennials.
This is a totally optional chore. Many perennials have seed heads that continue to feed birds through the winter or leaf debris that provides habitat. It is a double edged sword in that it can harbor disease and pests. I usually cut back spent blooms on anything that was diseases or dealt with pests. In addition, I’ll also cut back anything I don’t want to reseed or don’t provide wildlife benefits.
Rake until your arms fall off.
This really goes without saying. The surge of leaves is here and it’s time to rake rake rake. If there is no room in the compost, start a leaves only pile. We usually have a leaf pile that I always use to start a new compost pile.
Work that veggie garden
Plant cool season cover crops.
It’s not too late to sow many cool season cover crops in your garden. As you clear out your summer vegetables, plant areas that are vacant with crops like oats and barley. Adding cover crops to your garden feeds soil life while adding nutrients and eventually organic matter back into the soil. You will see a significant improvement in the health of your soil by spring time.
Fall is the time to plant garlic. It overwinters in the ground, and come springtime, garlic is one of the early signs of life in the garden. It continues to grow into the summer and harvested when the leaves begin to yellow. Plant garlic cloves in fertile well-drained soil. Mulch garlic with 3-4” of straw or leaf mulch to help protect it through the winter temperatures.
Reap the fall harvest.
It’s time to dig sweet potatoes. The last of the winter squash and pumpkins can be harvested as they ripen only harvesting immature fruits before the first frost. Carrots, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, lettuce, and other greens will all be pouring in during October. Let any tomatoes linger if they appear to be ripening on the vine. As the threat of frost begins to loom, pick any that begin to show any tinges of red, pink, or orange and bring them inside to ripen.
Move and mulch.
A single rhubarb plant can turn into a nice patch over a few years. If your rhubarb has exceeded its garden limits or is an older plant that needs rejuvenation, fall is the time to divide the rhubarb crown. Carefully dig the rhubarb out of the ground by loosening the soil around the roots. Use a sharp spade to slice the crown into a number of plants. Replant these crowns into prepared garden beds immediately.
Bring your house plants inside.
Pay close attention to the nighttime temperatures if you still have house plants or tropical plantss outside. Start transitioning those guys back inside if you have not already. By the end of the month, any house plants or tropical plants that can’t take freezing temperatures should be brought inside for the winter. We like to give a few plants some time outside on warm sunny winter days to soak up what sunshine they can. Then, they go right back inside and wait for the winter to be over. If any house plants need to be repotted, do it now before they come inside for good.
Load up on mulch.
It’s best to order in bulk to get the best price and avoid the waste of the plastic mulch bags. Many nurseries will even deliver a truck load to your property. As you clean up gardens in the fall, spread compost across your gardens.
The other great option is to contact local tree companies to get on their lists for free wood chips. We went overboard and signed up for a handful online and loaded up.