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by Amanda

October Garden Chores - Fall Garden

October is one of our favorite times in the garden: the air is (usually) cool and there is plenty of time to leisurely put the gardens to bed for the winter. It’s also fun because you can add a variety of perennials, bulbs, and wildflowers to the garden for a second season of planting. This helps alleviate some of the stress and madness in spring to get everything done in such a short period of time.

We like to think the more cleanup and planting you do in October, the less you have to do come spring. We’ll go over the most important October garden chores as well as what varieties to add to your garden this fall.

October Garden Chores: Planting

No matter where you live, October is often the magic month for fall planting. Fall is a fantastic time to establish that new perennial garden you’ve been planning, re-seed your wildflower meadow, and create a colorful spring with Fall-Planted Bulbs.

October Garden Chores - Planting
October is an ideal time to add perennials, bulbs, and wildflowers to the garden.

Planting Perennials In October

The cooler air and warm ground temperatures make fall an ideal time to add perennials to your garden. Fall-planted perennials will experience less transplant shock and have plenty of time to acclimate their roots to your garden before the winter. Once the ground warms, the new plants will grow bigger and bloom more profusely than if planted in the spring.

Planting Wildflowers In October

Fall is the perfect time to add wildflowers to your garden if you’re in area where the ground freezes for the winter. Plant after there have been a few hard frosts and the seed will stay dormant until the early spring. Fall-planted wildflowers often bloom weeks earlier than if planted in the spring.

Learn how to plant wildflowers in the fall in our article.

Planting Bulbs In October

Some of the most colorful spring bloomers — including Tulips, Daffodils, Allium, and more — require a wintering over period in order to bloom. So if you’re in an area where the ground freezes, October is the time to get these bulbs in the ground.

Learn more about the life cycle of Fall-Planted Bulbs in our blog.

If you’re in a warmer area where the ground doesn’t freeze, order your bulbs and chill them in the refrigerator for 6-12 weeks (depending on the variety). You can then plant them indoors or directly outdoors in your garden beds or containers.

Learn more about forcing Fall-Planted Bulbs in our blog.

October Garden Chores: Weeding

While weeding is always an important garden tasks, it’s extra important in the October garden because you’re trying to prevent weeds from going to seed and coming back stronger next season. If you can’t get around to weeding until the early spring, you still should cut back your weeds so they won’t seed and discard the seed heads somewhere they can’t make their way back to the garden. For some gardeners, this is a super-hot compost pile; for others, it's the local landfill!

October Garden Chores - Raking
Rake leaves from the garden and lawn. If you have a lawnmower that you can use to chop the leaves up, add them as mulch to your gardens.

October Garden Chores: Raking Leaves/Adding To Garden

As your trees start to become bare for the winter, rake up any debris from the gardens and lawn. If you have access to a mower that you can use to chop up your leaf pile into pieces, use the chopped-up leaves as mulch and protection for your garden beds over the winter. Come spring, most of the leaves should have broken down into your soil and anything remaining can be raked out.

October Garden Chores: Lawn Care

Rake leaves from your lawn now to prevent disease and prepare your grass for easy spring growth. If there are bare areas, seed in the fall and cover with a layer of compost for a jumpstart on early spring growth.

October Garden Chores - Digging up Dahlias
Dig up and store tender bulbs such as Dahlias, Gladiolus, and more.

October Garden Chores: Dig Up And Store Tender Annual Tubers/Bulbs

Tender bulbs like Dahlias, Gladiolus, and Calla Lilies should be cut back, dug up, and stored for the winter. We recommend storing tubers and bulbs in a cool, dark area of the home. Once there is no more chance of frost in your area you can take them out of storage and re-plant them.

Learn how to dig up and store Dahlias in our blog.

October Garden Chores: Soil Prep

Whether you’re planting in fall or simply want to get your soil prepared for spring planting, October is the time to do it:

  • If you’re planting wildflowers in the fall, clear all existing growth from the area (grass, weeds, etc.) and rototill the area. Plant wildflowers on bare dirt.
  • If you’re planting bulbs, make sure you’re planting in a bed with rich soil. Add compost or organic matter if necessary.
  • Consider planting quick-growing cover crops in your vegetable garden to help add nutrients and build the soil before next year’s planting. Learn more about using cover crops in our blog.
  • October is also a great time to get a soil test to learn what amendments your soil may need for next season. Learn more about improving your soil in our blog.
October Garden Chores - White Clover
Cover crops, like White Clover, can be added to the garden in fall to help build the soil and add nutrients.

October Garden Chores: Cleaning Up/Removing Diseased Plants

If your Bee Balm had mildew or other plants were diseased this past season, October is the time to clean up and remove all infected debris. Cut back any diseased plant all the way to the ground and discard the foliage in a wooded area or trash (anywhere it won’t affect your gardens). Make sure to clean any tools you used for this process before using them on healthy plants. Soak tools in a solution of 9:1 water to bleach for 30 minutes and rinse thoroughly afterwards to prevent corrosion.

October Garden Chores: Cutting Back Your Gardens

October is the time to cut back your perennial gardens to help prevent rot and disease, as well as allow your plants to put out new, healthy growth come spring. Wait to cut your perennials back until the foliage has turned yellow.

October Garden Chores - Cutting Back Daylilies
October is the time to cut back many perennials in the garden, including Daylilies, Hostas, Bee Balm, Peonies, and more.

Plants That Should Be Cut Back In The Fall:

  • Hostas (2” from the ground)
  • Yarrow (1” from the ground)
  • Peonies (all the way to the ground)
  • Coreopsis (6” from the ground)
  • Bee Balm (all the way to the ground)
  • Daylilies (4” from the ground)
  • Hydrangea, depending on the variety.
  • Iris (4” from the ground)

Leave Ornamental Grasses, Sedum, Echinacea, and Wildflowers up through the winter. They’ll provide food and shelter for local birds as well as interest and texture in your winter garden. Come early spring, cut them back to get ready for new growth.

Plants That Should Be Cut Back In The Early Spring:

  • Milkweed
  • Sedum
  • Echinacea
  • Hydrangea, depending on the variety.
  • Wildflowers

Learn more about cutting back perennials in our blog.

October Garden Chores - Daylilies in Veggie Garden
If perennials (like Daylilies, Iris, Hostas, and more) become overcrowded or take over your space, October is a great time to dig them up, divide them, and re-plant them.

October Garden Chores: Dividing Overcrowded Perennials

Just like fall is the perfect time to plant perennials, it’s also a great time to dig up and divide perennials in your garden that have gotten overcrowded or taken over.

Plants That Can Be Divided In The Fall:

  • Bearded Iris
  • Hostas
  • Daylilies
  • Siberian Iris
  • Black Eyed Susan
  • Ornamental Grasses

Learn more about how to divide perennials in our blog.

October Garden Chores: Reflecting On The Growing Season

Now that most of the garden has finished for the season, it’s time to take out your garden journal and write notes about what did well and what didn’t. Make yourself several suggestions for next season, like “I felt a lag in the gardens in early June,” or “Keep containers watered every day.” These notes will help you plan for a more successful growing season next year and learn from your past mistakes.

Do you see something you always do in your October garden that isn’t in the blog? Please add it to the comments below for other gardeners to see!