Gardener’s To-Do List for October

Our zone-by-zone list will keep you busy this month.

October 5, 2011

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  • After a light frost, begin harvesting sweetened turnips, parsnips, and other late veggies left in the ground.
  • Collect and store flower bulbs—such as gladiolus, freesia, calla, and canna bulbs—after their tops have frozen.
  • Water trees, shrubs, perennials, roses, and lawns before the ground freezes hard.
  • Cut back tender roses to 10 to 12 inches, and remove all foliage so insects and diseases can't winter over.
  • Cover tender, hybrid roses with leaves or straw to protect against winter temperature changes.
  • Harvest late apples before the end of the month.
  • Clean up garden debris before the first snowfall.

Zone 4

  • Harvest or heavily mulch the last carrots, beets, and other root crops; store them in a cool place that won't freeze.
  • Plant garlic and shallots.
  • Sow a cover crop of winter rye in vacant beds.
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs.
  • Remember that it's still time to plant potted trees and shrubs.
  • Dig up and store gladiolus and other tender corms and tubers.
  • Cover tender roses and grapes.

Zone 5

  • Thin out one-third of the oldest branches of forsythia, lilac, spirea, and potentilla for better bloom and shape next spring.
  • Dig up tender tubers and corms of dahlias, cannas, caladium, and gladiolius.
  • Don't cut back ornamental grasses, sunflowers, and wildflowers—leave them for winter interest and for wildlife.
  • Collect leaves to shred (with a shredder or mower) and compost.
  • Clean up all fallen fruits to reduce disease and pest problems.
  • Work well-rotted manure or compost into asparagus beds.
  • Dig up geraniums and bring them indoors for the winter.
  • Pot up some paperwhite bulbs for holiday forcing.

Zone 6

  • Squeeze in a few last sowings of spinach and other cold-hardy greens, beneath row covers or coldframes.
  • Have frost protectors handy to extend the harvest of tender veggies.
  • Begin cleaning up the garden.
  • Compost all spent plants, shredded leaves, and the last grass clippings.
  • Continue planting spring-blooming bulbs, trees, and shrubs.

Zone 7

  • Bring zonal geraniums and vacationing houseplants indoors before the first frost.
  • Thin the radishes, carrots, and turnips you sowed last month; then sprinkle the bed with 1 inch of compost.
  • Dig up sweet potatoes before winter rains cause them to split and rot.
  • Set out garlic cloves and continue to plant onions.
  • Sow late spinach to overwinter; it will resume growing in spring.
  • Clean up the blueberry patch: Prune broken or diseased limbs, and thicken the mulch with a layer of pine needles or shredded oak leaves.

Zone 8

  • Plant more lettuce, Chinese cabbage, spinach, carrots, beets, peas, radishes, onions, turnips, garlic, shallots, and cress.
  • Set out strawberry plants.
  • Sow a cover crop of winter rye (Secale cereale), purple vetch (Vicia benghalensis), Austrian winter peas (Pisum arvense), or ‘Elbon' rye (Secale cereale ‘Elbon') in vacant beds.
  • Use rye clippings to add nitrogen to compost, speeding the breakdown of fall leaves.
  • In flowerbeds, plant anemones, oxalis, and ranunculus for spring bloom.
  • Also, seed annual candytuft (Iberis umbellata) in bare spots of flowerbeds for spring bloom.
  • Broadcast wildflower seeds to establish a meadow.
  • Plant trees and shrubs: Warm fall temps will help them get established before winter.

Zone 9

  • For spring bloom, broadcast wildflower seeds over soil that has been lightly cultivated.
  • Plant fast-growing, frost-resistant veggies: radishes, mustard, spinach, ‘Tokyo Market' turnips, and corn salad.
  • Divide and transplant bearded irises, daylilies, phlox, cannas, and Shasta daisies.
  • Harvest sweet potatoes after tops wither, but before the first hard frost.
  • Harvest winter squash, pumpkins, and peanuts before frost.
  • Clean up fallen fruit in the orchard.
  • Build a hot compost pile to kill pathogens lurking in garden debris: Use a high-nitrogen material, such as grass clippings or seafood shells.

Zone 10

  • Set out transplants of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
  • Mulch and water well—dry spells this month can last a week or longer.
  • Finish pruning fruit trees so new sprouts can harden before cold arrives.
  • Plant colorful bloomers, such as sweet alyssum, begonias, petunias, and pansies.
  • Prepare beds for planting roses; plant them late this month.
  • Fertilize plants that flower in winter.
  • Plant strawberries and brassicas (except brussels sprouts—it's too warm) early in the month.
  • In midmonth, direct-seed root crops and beans.
  • Near the end of the month, sow lettuce, spinach, and other greens.