"My October to do list," from the Whistling Gardener

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.
The Whistling Gardener shares his tips for gardening in October. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

It is official. As of the 24th of this month the days are now shorter than the nights and will continue to be so for the next six months.

While that might sound depressing the fact is that Mother Nature doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. In fact, there are actually plants that seem to wake up in the winter and bloom and set fruit while the rest of us are hunkered down in our homes.

In future columns I will explore these “march to a different drummer plants” but for now it is time to get with the program before we get too depressed and catatonic.

If anyone can remember the fall season from last year, it was dry and warm and the same is forecast for 2014. This means that we should be able to get everything done before winter sets in for good and have a jump on spring 2015.

Here are the high points to consider:

WATERING: Despite the scattered rains we have received recently, the ground is still very dry. Get out the hose and soak the beds and lawn at least one time this month. Just trust me on this one, it’s worth the effort and expense.

LAWNS: This is the absolute last month to overhaul or plant a new lawn. If you missed our lawn care class then just come in and we will get you going in the right direction. Applying an organic fertilizer like EB Stone Nature’s Green 10-1-4 now will help keep your lawn green all winter and into early spring.

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 then we can do some serious mulching and pruning.

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 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 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.

FALL CLASSES: We have a great lineup of classes for this month including such topics as gardening with bulbs, fall and winter interest and putting the garden to bed. Go to our website at for more details and be sure and register so you have a seat!

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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