This Month In The Garden – October

Mid-Atlantic Region

October Maintenance

MillsFallManteoYoest (41)


Fall is one of the most beautiful times in the garden and yet, most gardeners garden for spring, maybe summer, reluctantly in fall, and virtually not at all in the winter.

Being the year ‘round gardener that I’m am, I not satisfied with a season or two of beauty, color, form and texture. I choose to have four full seasons.  I may not convince everyone to garden in the winter – yet, but I fully intend to preach the benefits of gardening in the fall. As summer wanes into fall, the humidity lifts, the days grow shorter, giving a feeling of preparedness. But also look around, and smell too, there is a lot going on.  Flowers, color, fragrance.  Osmanthus (tea olives) , sasanqua camellias, asters, roses, ornamental grasses, and  some azaleas are blooming. The leaves are changing colors, trees and shrubs have berries and pods, salvias and sages are alive with blooms.  The birds seem a bit busier than before.  All in all, October is my favorite time in the garden.

Thought you might enjoy  Fine Gardening October inspiration


PhilbrookFallRaleighYoest (6)
It’s also a great time to prepare beds for next year. Mark new beds, or beds you want to extend, with marking paint or a hose.  Cut an edge, turn into the new bed, cover with newspaper, then finally cover with chopped leaves or mulch.  Let nature take her course.  Your bed will be ready for planting in the spring.


Colchicum from Montrose

Colchicum from Montrose

  • ‘Tis the season for planting spring flowering bulbs. Most require an extended period of cold to bloom. Daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips (Dutch and species), as well as, crocus, cyclamen, Dutch iris, and Galanthus (snowdrops) can be planted now.
  • If you have a vole infestation or limited space, growing bulbs in a container is just the ticket.  Container grown bulbs gives you color in the spring just when and where you need it most – you decide!  Containers should be at least 10″ deep and have a drainage hole on the bottom.  Cover the hole with wire mesh (landscape cloth) or gravel.  This will keep the dirt in and the critters out.
  • We are lucky, Cannas are hardy in our area so it is ok to leave in the ground for the winter.  Be sure to cut back the foliage to the ground after the freeze to rid the area of any harboring leaf rollers.  In the spring, you can add Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) as a natural way to rid this pest.


  • Harvest fresh basil to make pesto to extend summer through winter.  Thought you might enjoy

Putting up Fresh Basil Pesto


Fall inspiration

  • Kale, cabbages,  mustards.  Pansies, snapdragons, violas.  They are colorful, plentiful, long lasting, and cheap. I have often wondered why they are so underused.  For Pansies and Violas, I like to plant now. I tend to buy them earlier and nurse them in my holding area. I do this while the selection is good, but the ground is not quite ready for them. A good rule of thumb, the bigger the flower, the less flowering will go on. Violas, though small, tend to have abundant blooms.
  • Sowing seeds of California, Iceland, and Shirley poppies, sweet alyssum, and larkspur this fall for a spring showing.  Best sown  in lean soil.  They don’t re-seed well in Helen’s Haven since we are heavy mulchers.  As such, I sow seeds in the spring.
  • Collect seed of Cleome, cosmos, sunflower, and zinnias for planting next year.  Store in an envelope or brown paper lunch bag during the winter months.


  • This is your best time for planting perennials. The fall is a good time to divide perennials such as Hostas, daylilies, and ferns.  If you have a gracious plenty to share with friends, ask some over to help with the work. Make it a fun day of potting up to share. Friends make the job easier and help the chore go by quicker.
  • Sometimes, I find it hard to get in the garden in the fall after a full and rich spring and summer. But then I realize the rewards of good fall preparation, division, and planting, makes for a much happier spring and summer. Take advantage of some of these good warm sunny days. It is also easier to work in the soil when it is cool and wet.
  • Now is a good time to move aquatic plants deeper into the water garden.
  • Fall is the best time to plant peonies. Some say it’s tough to grow peonies in the south; there is a secret to dispel this myth. The secret to growing peonies successfully, is to keep the “eyes” exposed.
  • Set out peony root divisions now. Select those with 3 – 5 buds and 3 good roots. These long living plants don’t like to be moved, so be sure you like where they are going. Plant in a well-drained location that receives at least 6 – 8 hours of sun each day. The hole should be 2 – 3 feet deep and wide for each division.
  • Mix in organic matter such as compost or composed leaf mulch. Fertilize with a pound of bone meal or super-phosphate. The “eyes” should be 1 inch above below the soil/mulch surface, water in well. Be patient. Peonies may not bloom the first year. But patients pay off since peonies can last 50 years or more.
  • If you are trying to establish a moss lawn, now is a good time to do so. Moss prefers moist, acidic, lean soil.

UrquhartRaleighYoest (11)


  • Any woody shrubs or small trees that you want to relocate later in the winter or early spring can be “root pruned” now.  This is easy to do.  Around the dripline of the plant, sink a shovel into the ground as far as it will go.  Circle the entire plant.  In the meantime, the plant will begin to “repair” the fresh cut by sending out more roots at the cut ends.  This will give the plant a better chance of transplanting.
  • Interiors of yews, Pines, arborvitae, and junipers may shed. This is natural for this time of year.
  • There is always room for conifers. They make a great addition in the mixed border, hedgerows, and specimen plants. Evergreens will drop needles this time of year. This is normal. You may find the arborvitae yellowing up in spots, then turning brown. It can be trimmed back or wait until it dies back and then pinch off.
  • White Sasanquas is blooming now. The fall is a good time to feed your camellias with cottonseed meal. Apply under the drip line of the plant.
  • If you are looking for a nice fall interest shrub, consider the Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana). The magenta fruit is so beautiful in the fall and the birds love it. The white variety (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Alba’) is also fantastic.


  • To help prevent diseases of your roses, rake up the any leaves from the beds. Removing some of the mulch exposed to the leaves is good idea as well. These leaves and exposed mulch can harbor blackspot spores that can over-winter in the leaves. Top-dress the garden with fresh mini-chip mulch.
  • It is not the time to plant bare-root roses or container roses, but it is a good time to transplant them. If you have a rose that has outgrown its spot, needs better light, or want it in an area you can more readily see to enjoy, October is a good month to move roses.


  • Compost – Use the mower to chop up fallen leaves.  Add to the garden bed or compost pile.  Grass clippings welcomed too.
  • If we lack sufficient October rain, plan to water any new plantings, including bulbs.
  • Water everything if nature hasn’t done it for you before the ground freezes. Evergreens in particular continue to lose water by transpiring during the winter. Also winds can desiccate.
  • Don’t forget to water newly planted plants; slowly reducing the amount of watering until watering is only on an as-needed basis.


  • Don’t be so quick to tidy up.  The remains of the summer and fall garden give shelter, food and cover for the wildlife while also adding winter interest to the garden beds.
  • Maintenance guide and photos by Helen Yoest

Helen Yoest is a garden writer and coach through her business Gardening with Confidence™

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenYoest and her facebook friend’s page, Helen Yoest or Gardening With Confidence™ Face Book Fan Page.

Helen also serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum



  1. Helen – you are so right!

    Last year, I was disappointed that my garden was dull in the fall. This year, my garden is so colorful! I added so many salvia greggii and my mystic spires and indigo spires and leucantha are blooming great. Some of the agastaches that were tiny seedlings in spring are in full glory right now. My zinnias, cosmos and marigolds are adding to the bling with the helianthus angustifolius. Even my lavender ‘Munstead’ and the KO roses are blooming right now. The mums that were in pots from fall 2008 until spring planting are glorious in the ground right now.

    With no regard for the falling rain — I divided and moved my daylilies yesterday, although ‘Happy Returns’ is blooming again! Go figure! I’ve been adding my compost and supplementing my seed-sowing areas with fresh, amended soil. My seeds are lined up on the table ready for planting.


  2. liz said

    I’d love to join you in being a year-round gardener but being a beginner yet I just don’t have the knowledge/skills yet, but I do hope over the next 10/20 years or so my garden will mature into a year-round space!

    Great post, very interesting and some great tips and help!

  3. Aucontraire Liz, you can read Cameron’s comment above and find you can incorporate seasonal interest and get results quickly. Glad you stopped by! H.

  4. kk said

    thanks for the opening pic. Hey! I know that garden.
    Your right The red makes it sing.

  5. […] my own list as I work in the garden.  I update these lists on a regular basis.  I hope you find The Month in the Garden – October useful as […]

  6. […] Wondering what maintenance to do now ?  Visit – This Month in the Garden October maintenance […]

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: