October Gardening To-Do List

Monthly Chores for Each Region

Harvested vegetables, gardening gloves and hand cultivator garden
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It is a close call as to whether Northerners 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 is one of the best times of the year for you to be working in the garden: Humidity is virtually non-existent, and those pesky mosquitoes have been killed off on cold nights.

While Northern gardeners are mainly performing maintenance tasks in the October garden, their counterparts in warm areas are still growing lots of things. Either way, there are plenty of garden tasks to keep you busy in October; here are some of them.

All Regions

  • Send a sample of your soil into your local cooperative extension to be tested, and add amendments as recommended.
  • Clean up garden beds by removing dead plant material. Use any disease-free garden debris to start a new compost pile. If you do not already own one (and do not feel like constructing one), invest in a compost bin.
  • Compost the leaves that you rake off the lawn, but shred them first for easier decomposition.
  • As soon as the weather becomes cool, plant new trees and shrubs. Keep them well-watered until the ground freezes (at which point water will not be able to seep down to the roots).
  • Plant cool-season annuals.
  • Cover your mums, asters, and other fall flowers on nights when the forecast calls for a frost. This will extend their blooming season.
  • Save seed from some of your favorites. Dry it, place it in a paper envelope (writing the plant name and year on it), put the envelope in an airtight container, and store it in a cool, dark, dry location.
  • Harvest and preserve herbs. 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 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 can see both moderate temperatures and some hot weather. Take full advantage of the moderate days. Your garden will appreciate the attention.

  • In portions of Pennsylvania that fall in zone 5, plant spring bulbs.
  • Take cuttings from plants that you want more of.

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. This will help them prepare for winter. Resume watering late in October, after the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves.
  • In zones 4 and 5, plant spring bulbs.
  • Continue to divide perennials as needed.
  • Winterize 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 4 and 5, plant spring bulbs.
  • Continue to divide perennials as needed.
  • Begin raking leaves off the lawn.

Pacific Northwest

October brings an average high of 61 and an average low of 47 to Seattle. Pacific Northwest weather assumes 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. The average high in San Francisco, for example, is 69 degrees F, the average low 54; you will get 4 days of rain. Southern California gets a little cooler and a little wetter, with an average high of 79 degrees F, an average low of 59 degrees F, and 3 days of rainfall in Los Angeles, for example.

In Northern California:

  • Plant cool-season annuals such as African daisy, Iceland poppy, larkspur, lobelia, pansy, petunia, phlox, snapdragon, stock, sweet alyssum, sweet pea, and viola, as well as the biennial, foxglove. Water them well, especially during hot spells.
  • Fertilize and water roses, but do not prune them now.
  • Sow cool-season vegetables like beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsnips, radishes, spinach, and turnips.
  • Fertilize azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, and rhododendrons with a fertilizer for acid-loving plants.
  • This is your last chance to prune Oleander bushes. If you prune them any later, you are only generating new growth that can be damaged by winter's cold. Later pruning also means a reduction in flowers for next year (since you will be removing flower buds).

In Southern California:

  • Pre-chill cool-climate bulbs (daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, and tulips) before planting.
  • Plant warm-climate bulbs such as the popular South African natives (Ixia, orange Ornithogalum, Sparaxis, Tritonia).

Hawaii

The average high in Honolulu in October is 87 degrees F, the average low 73. You will get 8 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 F and an average low of 36 degrees F; you will get about 5 days of rain. Even Phoenix, Arizona, moderates a bit in October: You will have an average high of 89 degrees F, an average low of 64 degrees F, and hardly any rain.

  • Plant herbs such as cilantro, dill, fennel, and parsley.
  • Seed quick-growing cool-season vegetables such as carrots, lettuce, radishes, and spinach.
  • Transplant seedlings of broccoli and cabbage.
  • Dig up summer-blooming bulbs.
  • The bulbs of tender plants such as dahlia are damaged by cold weather.
  • Plant strawberries.

Southeast

The weather can start to become a bit more moderate in October in parts of the Southeast. Atlanta will see an average high of 73 degrees F and an average low of 54; this city will get 7 rainy days in October.