October 2011 Garden Tips
Rain is on the way as we write this, and it sounds like a real storm with measurable precipitation. Your plants are thirsty after the dry summer, and it will wash the dust away as well. It is still too early to turn off irrigation, however, as this storm may well be followed by at least one more heat wave.
It’s time to begin fall chores! Early October is still mild in most of the County but by the end of the month the last vestiges of summer will have disappeared.
If you have deciduous trees, stay ahead of the leaves. If you compost, shred the leaves before composting, or run a lawn mower over them. If not shredded they will mat and take forever to decompose, making a slippery, gooey mass in your compost pile or beds.
Don’t cut your lawn too short for the winter – about 2” is best – and put down some organic fertilizer now to give it a boost in early spring. You can sow bare patches but make sure to get the seed down, watered and germinated before the winter rains begin in earnest and wash all of the seeds away.
If you have particularly weed-prone areas or troublesome varieties such as Annual Bluegrass (Poa annua) this is a good time to use pre-emergent weed killers in moderation.
If you haven’t been raking up those rose leaves as they fall be sure to do it now. A single rose leaf can carry millions of tiny spores that can overwinter and plague the roses next year. Don’t compost them!
Fall sales are still on at many of the Nurseries – look for bargains but make sure to be mindful of the fact that many of the plants are root bound and will need to be watered regularly before the winter rains begin in earnest. Do not buy anything that you can’t get into the ground and keep watered. Some pot-bound perennials can be divided into two or more before planting, using a pruning saw or large serrated kitchen knife.
Bulbs are on display in nurseries and garden centers – and good selections are available from specialty catalogues. It is generally easier to wait until after the first rains to plant them, but buy them now so that you are prepared (see accompanying article).
As the days get cooler – and shorter – you can begin to divide grasses and clump-forming perennials. Keep the divisions well-watered until it rains.
If, after next week, this turns out to be a dry fall, make sure you continue to water your plants and not wait each day for rain to come. Pay special attention to those recently planted and those in containers.
If you have soil that is too high in clay content or too sandy, you should apply serious amounts of compost this fall. Spread it out about 3 to 4 inches deep. This compost will slowly breakdown and will improve the structure of your soil over time. Apply more again in the spring!
Perennials should be completely dormant before you begin to remove the foliage to just above ground level. This may range from November to January. It’s too early to start now, but not too early to take note and make lists! The reason you need to leave the foliage alone is that as a general rule, the leaves will continue to feed the root system throughout the fall. You can cut back the flowering stems and trim some of the most unsightly leaves, but leave well enough alone until the leaves are killed by the frost. Those dead or dying leaves also provide habitat for wildlife and often seeds for birds throughout the winter.
October is a great time to take hardwood cuttings of woody plants such as Lavender, Rosemary, Manzanita, etc. Take small cuttings, dip in rooting hormone, stick in damp vermiculite and keep misted (using plastic wrap over a plastic box works well). Keep out of direct sunlight and wait for roots to form – several weeks to a couple of months depending on the plant variety.