This is why fall is a better time to garden than spring, when plants must hurry to get established before weather turns hot and they get stressed, and then they must produce their flowers and fruit which stresses them even the more – and we have to fertilize and water them just to keep them going!
So, what to do in the garden now during this blissfully mild weather? Let me count the ways. For more extensive details, see October’s Monthly Tips.
Edibles – Veggies and Fruits
Plant garlic now so it’ll develop a strong root system over the winter, and leaf production can begin early in the spring, resulting in a large head next summer. Planting in the spring, even with rich soil, will produce only medium- or small-sized cloves.
Renovate strawberry beds away from where potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers have grown within the last three years. Incorporate rock fertilizers, compost, and cottonseed meal. Water well. Wait two to four weeks so the microorganisms can meld everything together, which will heat up the soil and then cool down again, then transplant strawberries one foot apart so the crown is just above the soil level.
Plant asparagus crowns at least six inches deep, and mulch them heavily with manure so winter rains (hope, hope!) can slowly wash the nutrients down into the root zone.
Harvest white potatoes now, being careful not to cut or bruise them. You can also leave them in the soil for harvest through the winter, but don’t water them or they’ll sprout again in spring.
Harvest winter squash, pumpkins, and decorative gourds when the vines are dry and the rinds are hard and resist easy puncture by a fingernail. Cut the stems rather than breaking or tearing them, and leave two inches of stem attached to the squash to lessen the chance of spoilage.
Clear the soil under trees by pulling back the mulch, discarding fruit mummies, and moving leaves to the compost pile as soon as they fall. This will open up the soil surface for rain (hope, hope!) to easily penetrate.
Give one last deep watering to grapevines and deciduous trees to make them more cold-hardy.
Feed all overwintering plants with a no-nitrogen, high-phosphorus, high-potassium fertilizer to help them become cold-hardy.
When you carve your Jack O’Lantern, be sure to toast -- don't toss -- the pumpkin seeds. Separate the seeds from the stringy pulp by washing the seeds well. Spread them on a cookie sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt if desired. Toast them for three or four minutes at 375 degrees, stir to turn them, and toast another two or three minutes until they're evenly golden. Cool them to room temperature, and enjoy!
Ornamentals – Flowering Plants and Trees
Use a spade or sharp knife to separate large clumps of perennials, or gently pull apart individual plants after loosening the clump from its surrounding soil. Discard the old, unproductive sections. Trim the foliage of young growth to four or six inches. Dig in compost, replant, and water in well.
Trim roses after their last flush of blooms, but hold off on severe pruning until they're fully dormant, in January. Feed them with a no-nitrogen, high-phosphorus, high-potassium fertilizer to help them harden off.
Fertilize cool-season grass lawns. Lower the blade height on your lawn mower to encourage short, bushy growth.
Knock down water basins around trees and shrubs, and turn the soil to loosen it so water can penetrate more easily, and not puddle.
General Garden Care
Help overwintering plants harden off by changing your irrigation schedule. Cooler weather slows evaporation from the soil and transpiration from plant foliage, so irrigation is needed less often. Decrease the number of times -- but not the length of time -- you water. For example, water once every three weeks instead of once a week, but still water for half an hour each time. This change will still provide water down to the full root zone while allowing for longer periods for the soil to dry in between waterings, and it doesn't encourage new, frost-tender growth.