October is a busy time in the garden. There are vegetables to harvest, seed to collect, spring bulbs to plant and soil to amend. Follow these tips to prepare the garden for old man winter.
Remove dead or spent plants and fallen foliage from the landscape. This debris may harbor fungal spores, insects and slugs. Use the debris to start a compost pile.
Beans and peas can be cut back at ground level, leaving the roots in the soil. Legumes fix nitrogen, which is slowly released into the soil as the roots break down. Harvest squash and pumpkins before the first frost or cover with fabric to keep the fruit from getting mushy. Harvest those green tomatoes and allow to ripen indoors. Look for green tomato recipes like fried green tomatoes to green tomato pie.
Lengthen the harvest season for cool season vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts by covering plants with row cloth. Give carrots a heavy mulch to keep the ground from freezing and harvest carrots into the winter months.
Cut back perennial crops like asparagus and rhubarb. Fall is a good time to divide these plants, especially overgrown rhubarb clumps.
Fall is the best time to plant garlic. The best bulb formation occurs with a cold treatment. Plant the cloves about one to two weeks after the first killing frost. Roots will emerge from the clove before the ground freezes and shoots will emerge from the soil the following spring.
Prepare garden soil for next season by adding a layer of compost, composted manure or shredded leaves. There is no such thing as too much organic matter.
Give the entire landscape a good irrigation before the ground freezes.
Weeding is just as important now as it was this summer. Many weeds, like lamb’s quarters, thistle and crabgrass, develop seed into the fall. Keeping the garden weed-free now means less weeding next spring and summer.
Dig and store tender bulbs, corms and tubers such as gladiolus, dahlia, begonias and canna. After the tops die back, but before the ground freezes, dig the plants, clean the soil off and allow to dry for a couple days. Store these plants in a cool, dry location for winter storage.
Mulch all newly planted or newly divided herbaceous perennials with a 4- to 6-inch layer of bark, shredded leaves or compost. The mulch will protect plants heaving during the freeze-thaw cycle.
Add spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocus to the landscape before the ground freezes. Use large drifts and masses of the same color for the best display. Allium, Fritillaria, Galanthus, Leucojum, Narcissus, and Scilla are deer- and rabbit-resistant.
Fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. The soil is still warm for good root growth, but the air is cool, preventing transplant shock. Keep plants watered until the ground freezes.
Get out and enjoy the fall colors -- old man winter will arrive soon, putting an end to the 2019 gardening season.