October: The busiest month in the garden!
While my October garden is not very attractive after the long hot days of August and September, it’s my favorite time of year to be out working in the garden. October is a month of garden renewal, of visions of the glorious blooms to come in late winter and spring, and provides the annual feeling of hope and promise that new planting times bring. And that means it’s a VERY busy month in the garden! Get out your spade and get ready to dig, this is a big planting month. Here’s what to do in the garden in October:
If you’ve never planted bulbs, you are missing out on some of the most spectacular flowers on the planet. Daffodils, Dutch iris, freesia, ranunculus, and others provide stunning color in the garden or pots and cut flowers for your home. Best of all, most are super easy to grow and some return year after year (Dutch iris, freesia, and certain types of daffodils). I do not recommend planting tulips or other bulbs that require pre-chilling in the refrigerator. It’s too much work and the bloom is unreliable in my experience. For tips on choosing and planting bulbs see post on Fall Planted Bulbs.
Plant Cool Season Veggies
The tomatoes and peppers may still be going strong in your garden, and if so, by all means leave them. But as space becomes available in your veggie garden, now is the time to plant cool season edibles. Lettuces, arugula, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, peas, carrots, beets, and onions are great choices for the fall, winter and spring veggie garden. I plant all from seed directly in the ground/pot where they are to grow. The exception is broccoli and cauliflower which I plant from six packs, they are a little harder to start from seed. But give it a try if you are game! Buying six packs is also an option, although carrots and beets are best started from seed as root vegetables do not transplant well.
Plant Native Plants
In southern California, our native plants are often dormant in the summer due to the lack of moisture. But as the temperatures cool and the first rains arrive, they break that dormancy and burst forth with new growth and glorious blooms. Fall and winter are the best times to plant native plants. The cool and wet months and their active growth cycle allow them to get settled in and established before the heat of next summer. So if you have been wanting to swap out your water thirsty landscape for a water thrifty one that includes native plants, now is the time to do it.
Divide, Clean Up, and Plant Perennials
Many flowering perennials such as daylilies, clivia, bearded iris, Shasta daisies, echinacea, rudbeckia, catmint and some sages have finished blooming and are looking a little bedraggled. Give them a good clean up this month by removing spent bloom stalks and dead leaves. If they have multiplied, divide the plant or dig up sections to plant elsewhere or share with friends. Clump growing perennials like daylilies, clivia, and bearded iris don’t bloom well when crowded. Divide and replant every few years to encourage good bloom. If there are new perennials you’ve been lusting after, fall is a good time to plant them, even better than spring because they will have the entire winter to get settled in.
Plant Cool Season Annual Flowers
Even though we are in a drought, I still love a little color from cool season annuals. To be sure, I don’t plant large beds of them any longer, but a few pots or small borders near the front door or along pathways really do a lot to brighten up the garden without using a lot of water. Some of my favorite cool season annuals are stock, snapdragons, English daisy, Iceland poppy, foxglove, and larkspur. Amend soil with compost and add fertilizer before planting. If planting in pots, fresh potting soil will help prevent disease and adding fertilizer at planting time will encourage beautiful blooms.