October Gardening To-Do List

Harvested vegetables, gardening gloves and hand cultivator garden
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It is a close call as to whether gardeners up North hope more for an Indian Summer in October or a January thaw in January. Both are definite possibilities, which is why these colorful expressions have become so entrenched in the language. If you do in fact get a warm October in the North, it's one of the best times of the year to be working in your garden—humidity is virtually non-existent, the sun is often still warm, and those pesky mosquitoes have been killed off by cold nights.

While gardeners up north are mainly performing maintenance tasks come October, their counterparts in warmer areas are still able to grow lots of fresh goodies. No matter where you live, there are plenty of garden tasks to keep you busy all throughout the month. Here are a few to-dos to add to your list.

All Regions

  • Send a sample of your soil into your local cooperative extension to be tested, and add any amendments they recommend.
  • Clean up your garden beds by removing any dead plant material. Use any disease-free garden debris to start a new compost pile. If you don't already own one (and would rather not construct one yourself), invest in a compost bin.
  • Rake any fallen leaves from your lawn and garden. You can compost these as well—just shred them first for easier decomposition.
  • As soon as the weather becomes cooler, plant any new trees and shrubs you want to grow for the following year. Keep them well-watered until the ground freezes through (at which point water will not be able to seep down to their roots).
  • Plant any cool-season annuals.
  • Cover your mums, asters, and other fall flowers on nights where the forecast calls for frost. This will extend their blooming season and ensure they don't meet an early death.
  • Save seeds from some of your season's most successful varietals. Harvest and dry them out, then place them in a paper envelope, writing the plant name and year on it before putting the envelope in an airtight container. Store in a cool, dark, dry location.
  • Harvest and preserve herbs for cooking. They can be either dried or frozen.
  • Remove any green tomatoes left on your tomato plants.
  • Harvest your winter squash once their vines die back or, at the very latest, before a hard freeze. Winter squash is ready for picking when its rind is hard enough that you can't penetrate it with your fingernail.
  • Continue to pick your cool-season crops (whether they're underground crops like beets or cole crops like cauliflower) whenever they are ready. Failing to stay on top of the harvest can slow your plants down prematurely.

Mid-Atlantic

In October, the Mid-Atlantic region can see both moderate temperatures and some residual hot weather. Take full advantage of the moderate days—your garden will appreciate the extra attention.

  • In portions of Pennsylvania that fall in zone five, plant spring bulbs.
  • Take cuttings from plants that you want to propagate.

Midwest

Although the Midwest still sees some hot weather in October, the trend is clearly to more moderate temperatures, which means good times in the garden.

  • Continue to withhold water from both evergreen and deciduous trees in the first part of October, which will help prepare them for winter. Resume watering late in October, after the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves.
  • In zones four and five, plant spring bulbs.
  • Continue to divide perennials as needed.
  • Winterize your rose bushes, especially hybrid tea roses and other modern hybrids.

Northeast

October in the Northeast can be the best of times, although the weather varies greatly from year to year. Regardless, you will want to spend as much time in the garden as possible, because wintry weather is not that far away.

  • Continue to withhold water from both evergreen and deciduous trees in the first part of October. This will help them prepare for winter. Resume watering late in October, after the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves.
  • In zones four and five, plant spring bulbs.
  • Continue to divide perennials as needed.

Pacific Northwest

October brings an average high of 61 degrees Fahrenheit and an average low of 47 degrees Fahrenheit to Seattle. The Pacific Northwest also resumes its legendary wetness in October after being relatively dry in summer.

  • Continue to plant shrubs and trees.
  • Protect leafy greens from October's heavy rains and gusty winds with row covers.

Pacific Coast

October weather in Northern California is moderate. For example, the average high in San Francisco is 69 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average low is 54 degrees Fahrenheit; additionally, you'll get about four days of rain. Southern California gets a little cooler and a little wetter, with an average high of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, an average low of 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and an average of three days of rainfall.

In Northern California:

In Southern California:

Hawaii

The average high in Honolulu in October is 87 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average low is 73 degrees Fahrenheit. You'll get, on average, eight days of rain.

Southwest

In the high desert, temperatures start to dip in October. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, for example, expect an average high of 67 degrees Fahrenheit and an average low of 36 degrees Fahrenheit; you will get about five days of rain. Even Phoenix, Arizona, evens out a bit in October: You will have an average high of 89 degrees Fahrenheit, an average low of 64 degrees Fahrenheit, and hardly any rain.

Southeast

The weather in the Southeast can become a bit more moderate in October. Atlanta, Georgia will see an average high of 73 degrees Fahrenheit and an average low of 54 degrees Fahrenheit, with seven rainy days.