Cool and sunny days in October are perfect for settling the garden down for winter and it’s often possible to prepare for spring at the same time.
In the vegetable garden, October is perfect timing for planting garlic and also shallots. Both are supremely hardy and can withstand the worst our winters throw at them.
Winter mulching is useful with parsnips and leeks because it makes digging easier during winter freezes, although mulching isn’t the greatest idea with shallots.
This is because slugs lay eggs under nice, warm winter mulch that then hatch in spring to find a banquet of tasty shallot sprouts all around them. Slugs avoid garlic but they love eating shallot leaves.
This is also the last call to harvest any remaining tomatoes. Green tomatoes ripen nicely on windowsills where they get dealt with quickly because they’re in plain view. It’s also possible to cut tomato plants at ground level and hang them up in a carport, shed or basement where they can be picked as they redden.
If you have ended up with a few inedible green potatoes, you can save them to plant next spring. An alternative is to pop them back in the garden in fall where many survive the winter and produce an extra harvest. It’s best to scatter plantings because voles and other pests love eating their way underneath a straight line of edibles.
Fall cleanup always brings masses of leaves, overage annuals and vegetable leavings. Most are perfect for composting. It’s best to create alternate layers of green material and dried material such as leaves.
Being careful about what you put in the compost saves much grief later. Invasive plants such as couch grass, white morning glory, horsetail and mint should be sent to commercial composting where higher heats neutralize their troublesome aspects but retain their food value. The same is true of seeded weeds.
Once leaves have fallen and stems are bare, it becomes easy to prune black currents, gooseberries and cut out any fruited and weak canes of June-bearing raspberries. Fall-fruiting raspberries such as Tulameen can be cut to the ground.
Once deciduous shrubs drop their leaves, it’s useful to check whether suckers are erupting from the rootstock. Suckering can happen with most grafted trees and shrubs but witch-hazel and contorted hazel need watching more than most because it’s so tempting to remove a few branches for winter decoration indoors.
Unfortunately, this stimulates the rootstock to produce some disappointing-looking suckers. All contorted hazel suckers are straight. Witch-hazel suckers produce very small yellow fall flowers almost hidden by yellow leaves. Suckers should be pulled off (you may need pliers to get a good grip) so that the dormant buds that produce them are removed.
In the flower garden, October is the time to lift and store begonias, dahlias, fuchsias and geraniums. It’s not too late to grow on fuchsia and geranium cuttings.
Once fall rains begin, it’s also the best time to take hardwood cuttings. These can include black currants, red currants, forsythia, buddleia, roses and some viburnums including the lovely winter-flowering Viburnum bodnantense.
Just select a branch a foot or so long, remove any leaves that will be covered and thrust the branch into the soil. Rooting hormone is optional. Nature usually does the watering for you.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to her via firstname.lastname@example.org