October Garden Planning: 10 Tips for Success
Here in the Northeast, October signifies the true start of fall. The days are shorter, the nights and mornings are colder, the leaves are a-changin’, and the first frost is inevitably upon us. But that doesn’t mean our gardening work is done quite yet. There’s still plenty of time to wrap up the season, prepare for next year, and if you’re feeling extra motivated, tackle all of those pesky to-dos around the homestead. (Yes, we’re talking about finally fixing that fence!) So without further ado, here’s your October gardening cheat sheet.
Pumpkins and winter squash: If you haven’t already, now is the time to harvest your pumpkins and winter squash. You’ll know they’re ready when the stems start to split apart. Use pruning shears to cut the fruits from the vine leaving about two inches of stem on the fruit. This will help prevent premature rotting of your harvest. Once they’re cut, place the winter squash in a sunny spot outside for about two weeks to sweeten the flavor and harden the skin. Pumpkins should cure in the sun for about a week. Wipe both down with a damp cloth and store in a cool, dry space.
Root crops: Potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, and turnips are also ready for a final harvest in October. Gently dig up your root crops, brush them clean of dirt and debris, and put them in storage in a cool, dark place with low humidity.
Herbs: There’s nothing better than having fresh herbs available in the winter months (they are the perfect addition to a steaming pot of stick-to-your-belly stew!) so don’t neglect to harvest the last of your bounty. You can dry or freeze the herbs so they are ready to go when you need them.
Spring bulbs: Get your spring bulbs in the ground now so the roots have time to spread out before the soil freezes. Choose hardy varieties like daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, snowdrop, and crocus corms. While you may be quick to want to cover and protect your bulbs with mulch, we suggest waiting until the ground freezes first or else your hard work may catch the attention of wandering animals.
Fall garlic: Mid-autumn is the perfect time to plant garlic for summer harvesting. Be sure to choose a sunny location with rich soil – garlic thrives best in this setting. Plant cloves in rows, root-side down about 5” apart. If you’re in Zones 4 or 5 like we are, cover your crop with about 6” of mulch for protection.
Trees and shrubs: If you missed out on planting trees and shrubs last spring, don’t worry! Fall is the perfect time as it allows the root systems to form before the frost sets in. Spread mulch around the saplings to help them survive throughout the winter. And don’t forget to water (snow level-pending, of course) to keep them hydrated through the winter months.
Reflect and record: Now that the harvest work is done, it’s time to look back at the year and record how things went. If you don’t already have an outline of your garden layout make one! This will help for planning purposes next year so you can rotate crop and change the layout based on what worked or didn’t work, and it also provides a historic log to review in the future. Now’s also a good time to make notes about any challenges you faced, the changes you want to make next year, and any pressing items you should remember in the spring.
Clean up begins: Everyone’s least favorite part about the end of growing season is, of course, the cleanup. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most important! Be sure to rake out leaves from beds, remove any out-of-place debris, dead or diseased plants, twigs, rocks, etc. A clean garden bed is a healthy garden bed.
Test your soil: As we all know, the health of our soil is integral to the success of our gardens. As the season comes to an end, test your soil to see if you need to make adjustments to the pH. If you do, add the required amendments now as they will take some time to begin working.
Pack up and spruce up: Instead of just packing everything away for the winter, spend some time organizing your tools. See what needs to be mended or replaced, do a deep clean to prevent rust or aging, and organize so you can quickly find what you’re looking for. It’s also a good time to fix any broken fences, doors, cellars, etc.
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