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"October in the Garden," by the Whistling Gardener

In my world, September always feels like a continuation of summer, whereas October puts me in the mood for fall. Shrubs and trees are starting to really color up, everywhere you look retailers are displaying mums and pumpkins, lawns are waking up from their summer dormancy, and homeowners are going nuts with their Halloween decorations. 
Mix of fall plants. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

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

In my world, September always feels like a continuation of summer, whereas October puts me in the mood for fall.

Shrubs and trees are starting to really color up, everywhere you look retailers are displaying mums and pumpkins (not to mention Halloween candy), lawns are waking up from their summer dormancy, and homeowners are going nuts with their Halloween decorations. 

The days are decidedly shorter and the nights much cooler. On the one hand, it is a time to take a deep breath and slow down from the frenzied pace of watering, mowing, staking, deadheading, harvesting, and weeding. 

On the other, it is our last golden opportunity to wrap up our landscaping projects and get the garden ready for bed. Here are some things to consider for this wonderful month of the year…

WATERING:  Watch the weather! If we get a week or so of dry days, we will still need to apply some water to the garden. Don’t forget your containers and raised beds! These areas usually have potting-type soils that drain fast and still need water every few days. 

LAWNS:  I am sure that we have all noticed that lawns are starting to green up all on their own, but if you want to speed up the process then there is still time. Practically speaking, this is probably the last month to overhaul or plant a new lawn. 

Applying an organic fertilizer like EB Stone Nature’s Green 10-1-4 now will help keep your lawn green all winter long and into early spring. 

The fungus disease Red Thread can sometimes be a problem in the fall and Bonide Infuse will help control it in one easy application. 

While crane flies have fallen off the radar screen for several years now, I have noticed an unusual number of them on my turf this fall. This might be the year to consider treating for them.

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, we can then do some serious mulching and pruning.  (Remember the saying: “Hip high in the fall, knee high in the spring.”) If you have lots of mildew and aphids, apply Bonide Rose Rx (or something similar). It is a natural product containing neem oil that helps to control diseases, insects, and mites.

PERENNIALS:  There are still some late bloomers that look great, like asters, mums, Japanese anemones, cone flowers, Russian sage, sedums 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, or better yet, wait until mid to late February to do it.

CONTAINERS:  This last good rain pretty much wiped out my geraniums, so it’s time to clean out the summer color and replant with hardy evergreen perennials, ground covers, maybe a few dwarf shrubs, and of course those ever-reliable pansies and violas. If you are looking for a good natural source of fertilizer, try some E.B. Stone Pansy and Fall Flowers fertilizer which contains seabird guano, a more readily soluble form of organic nitrogen.

BULBS:  This is the month to get serious about 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 E.B. Stone Bone Meal or their Bulb Food, both of which contain lots of phosphorus, an ingredient that bulbs love.

VEGETABLES:  I just pulled out the tail end of my tomatoes and zucchini and will be sowing some carrots and lettuce. Last month I stuck in some spinach and broccoli where the beans and cucumbers were growing. Building a cloche (a temporary greenhouse-type structure) will also help to produce a successful winter crop. Garlic is a must to plant in the fall. Whatever you plant, by all means add some organic fertilizer to replenish the soil after harvesting your summer crops.

FALL IS FOR PLANTING:  Now is a great time to visit the garden center and see what new crops they have brought in and which plants are sporting their fall colors. Japanese maples can just knock your socks off this month and there are lots of other shrubs and trees that will leave you blown away with their incredible fall coats. Anything you plant in the fall will get established that much faster come springtime.

October is really the last good month to accomplish some very important tasks in the garden. Don’t let it pass you by. Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Sunnyside’s next free classes will be "Fall Color & Winter Bloomers" on Saturday, October 9, 2021, at 10:00 am; and "Spring Blooming Bulbs" on Sunday, October 10th, at 11:00 am. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at sunnysidenursery@msn.com.

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