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You're not done yet
October is an excellent time to be working in the garden. There are lots of chores to be completed before winter and just keeping up with the annual leaf drop later in the month can keep you quite busy. It is still peak planting season, so don't give up yet—go out in search of that tree or shrub on your garden wish list.
In the vegetable garden
The vegetable gardening season is coming to a close for the year. Most activity now is harvesting and enjoying great kale, greens, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. In areas of your garden where crops are complete, continue with garden cleanup and add organic matter to the soil. Plant cover crops where necessary in preparation for the coming garden season.
In the landscape
Fall planting season is still in full swing. Planting trees and shrubs is most successful in our area in October and November. By the end of October it is time to stop planting perennial flowers and ornamental grasses until early spring. Because of their smaller size at planting, they need time to get rooted before the soil freezes, which potentially heaves them out of the ground. You can keep planting trees, shrubs, and vines until mid-December and throughout the winter if Mother Nature cooperates with a mild winter.
Bulb time in the landscape
October is peak spring flowering bulb-planting season. Tulips, narcissus, hyacinths, crocus, allium, snow drops, and so many more bulbs need to be planted now to bloom next spring. Adding a few new bulbs each year may seem like a chore, but you will be rewarded in the spring and be happy you took the time to plant them.
Preparing the soil is important, especially if you have heavy clay soil or need to encourage better drainage. Good drainage is essential to keep bulbs from rotting over the winter. Cultivate the soil and add organic matter where necessary, and then plant your bulbs at the proper depth depending on their size. The general rule is to plant bulbs 2 to 3 times the diameter or height (whichever is greater) of the bulb. Adding a blended fertilizer that is high in phosphorus at the time of planting is helpful for root development and an amazing spring flowering display a few months later.
Mulch your bulb plantings following planting and water well. Remember that some bulbs may be planted 6 to 8 inches down, so water thoroughly to get water down to the bulb and its new root system. Water occasionally throughout fall if the weather remains warm. In late winter before the new foliage emerges, fertilize again.
Squirrels are hard to outsmart and can be big pests for some newly planted bulbs. Your best defense is in the numbers: Plant more bulbs than necessary and/or plant lots of different bulbs in different locations. Planting larger bulbs instead of smaller ones when possible also can be helpful. Smaller bulbs are more at risk because they are easier for the critters to dig up. Right after mulching and watering your plantings, use a fertilizer with blood meal, which is a natural repellant.
There is still time for one more application of fall fertilizer on your lawn if you choose. Fall fertilization of cool-season grasses like fescue is better for the overall health of your lawn than any spring applications. Most of your fall lawn care should surround mowing and leaf removal. Mow as long as the grass is still growing. In our area that can be as late as early November, depending on the type of grass and condition of the lawn. Be diligent in removing leaves from the lawn to prevent thinning, which can encourage weed growth. It also reduces the potential for diseases.