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The October To-Do List for gardeners


October 4, 2017 | View PDF

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October is the consummate month for planting bulbs that can bloom from January to June.

As predicted, the beginning of fall this year has been dry and warm. It's still a wonderful time to be outside in the yard. Here are my suggestions of what to do around the garden this month, while the weather is still nice.

WATERING: The ground is still very dry. Get out the hose and soak the beds and lawn at least twice this month. (Always check to see how far the water penetrated into the ground.) Plants are waking up from their summer dormancy and they will benefit from some liquid refreshment as well.

LAWNS: This is the month to overhaul or plant a new lawn. With it being as hot and dry as it was this summer, you will need to do something to get the lawn going again. At the bare minimum, apply an organic fertilizer and some lime. If that doesn't do the trick, you may be looking at a larger, more involved project.

ROSES: Stop fertilizing and leave a few finished blooms on to form hips. Don't do any hard pruning now, just a little sniping to tidy them up. Once the nights get into the 30's, you can do some serious pruning and mulching.

PERENNIALS: There are still some late bloomers that look great: asters, mums, Japanese anemones, cone flowers, Russian sage, sedum, and toad lilies, to name just a few. Ornamental grasses are just spectacular right now. Enjoy the last blooms of the season and don't rush to tidy things up. There are lots of seeds in those old flower heads that the birds will enjoy. Wait until the first frost to really start cleaning up the perennial beds. In fact, you can even wait until mid to late February to do it.

CONTAINERS: It's time to clean out your containers of summer color and replant them with hardy perennials, ground covers and even shrubs for the winter. For color, of course nothing beats pansies and violas.

BULBS: This is the consummate month for planting bulbs. With some careful planning you can have blooming bulbs from January until June, sometimes all in the same pot. Don't forget to add some bone meal when you plant.

VEGETABLES: Plant fall crops now and control winter weeds by either laying-on a one inch layer of compost or planting a cover crop. Building a cloche (a temporary greenhouse-type structure) will also help to produce a successful winter crop. Root and leaf crops can both be planted this month. Garlic is a must to plant in the fall.

PLANTING: I am always promoting the fact that you can plant year around, as long as the soil isn't saturated or frozen. Plants that are put into the ground in the fall will take off like a bullet in the spring. Most garden centers will continue to have a good selection of hardy shrubs and trees.

FALL CLASSES: Garden centers continue to offer classes well into the fall on such topics as gardening with bulbs, fall and winter interest and putting the garden to bed. Check out their websites and sign up for their email list to stay in the loop. You can go to our website at for more details and be sure to register so you have a seat.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA and can be reached at


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