The American Organic Gardener's October To-Do List

September 29, 2017
Rodale Images

Here's your October gardening guide for North America's USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 3-10. (Did you know that the USDA Hardiness Zones have changed?)

If you don’t know what USDA Plant Hardiness Zone you live in, check the map here to find out.

We've left off zones 1–2 (far-north Alaska) and zones 11–13 (small section of the Florida Keys, the Pacific coast between L.A. and Mexico, and Hawaii) since zones 3–10 cover 99 percent or more of the gardeners in the U.S.

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

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Zone 3

  • 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.

Related: 5 Shrubs That Add Color To Your Winter Landscape

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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.

Related: Your Ultimate Guide To Planting Beautiful Spring Bulbs This Fall

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

Related: Annual Flower Seeds That You Should Be Planting In Autumn

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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.

Related: 8 Gardening Mistakes You Make Every Fall

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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.
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