October Gardening Tasks
Soil Testing - Fall is a great time to test the soil in your beds for plant nutrients and lime needs. Although limestone can be put out any time it’s needed, a fall lime application is recommended because the lime can have several months to be activated during the winter months before you do a spring garden. Use dolomitic limestone if you also need magnesium. It is important to till in any needed lime for faster soil pH adjustment.
UGA soil tests usually take 7-10 working days, so test now to have the results when you plant bulbs and beds. You should also incorporate any needed phosphorus at this time. This can be done by tillage as well. Good sources of phosphorus include bone meals or rock phosphate if you use an organic approach. Although not “organic”, superphosphate (0-20-0) and triple superphosphate (0-46-0) are excellent phosphorus sources.
Vegetables - In Hall County, we usually don’t get a frost until late October or into November, but be wary the occasional early frost (occasionally as early as mid-October) and plan to cover your fall-winter garden in that event with floating row cover if a cold snap is anticipated. Harvest mature-green and pink tomatoes and store indoors if a cold snap is predicted. Call the Hall County Extension if you need advice on fall plantings.
It’s a great time to plant cabbage, broccoli, kale, collards and Brussels sprouts but watch for cole crop pests like cabbage loopers and such and “nip them in the bud” with carbaryl or Bacillus thuringiensis-kurastaki strain (Btk).
Rake and clean out garden debris and dead weeds in the garden. Also, cut out and remove weeds near your garden to minimize potential pests and diseases. These materials can serve as overwintering pest and disease reservoirs so it’s critically important that you deny these to potential pest and disease problems in the next gardening season.
You can now plant garlic (Elephant garlic and regular soft-neck garlic), green bunching onions, Egyptian (walking) onions, and seedling bulbing onions.
Try an annual-hill type strawberry bed this year. Plant plugs of ‘Camarosa’ or ‘Sweet Charlie’ by early October and harvest the next spring. Apply about a third to ½ of the needed fertilizer this fall and apply the balance in early spring. This is the way commercial growers do it these days, and they avoid disease and pest issues inherent in perennial strawberry plantings (matted row method).
Harvest herbs (especially basil) before the first frosts, and hang to dry in a cool and dark place.
Fall potatoes can stand light frosts and may even die back from a heavier frost, but usually recover nicely. Harvest fall potatoes when the tops die down (late October and into November) and store your harvest in a cool dark place.
If you’re not growing a fall-winter garden, consider a winter cover crop in the vegetable garden. Winter cover crops provide excellent “temporary” organic matter (“green manure”) when tilled in the early spring. Another important benefit of winter cover crops is to keep winter weeds from thriving in garden spaces. Things you might consider are mustard, turnips, radish, ryegrass, winter wheat or winter rye. Legume cover crops are great if you want both organic matter and extra nitrogen!
It’s not too early to start thinking about what you might want to plant in the garden for the coming spring. Consider what crops you can rotate to minimize disease problems. Vegetable crops in the same botanical family are often susceptible to the same diseases and insects. For crop rotation to be effective, gardeners should not plant vegetables belonging to the same plant family in the same location for at least two or three years. Obviously, crop rotation in a small garden may be difficult. However, home gardeners should rotate their vegetable crops as best they can.
You can rake leaves and start a fall-winter compost bed: use a ratio of 3 parts of “brown” materials (leaves, wood chips, sawdust, etc.) and 1 part of “green” materials (a mix of high nitrogen materials like grass clippings, manure, etc.).
Fruit trees - Begin inspecting your fruit trees and shrubs now. Be sure to remove any mummified remaining fruits or berries, and rake up and dispose of old leaves and branches that may harbor diseases over the winter.
Flowers – Don’t forget that you can have a flower garden in the winter too! This is the time to plant cool-season flowering plants such as pansies and violas, digitalis (foxglove), ornamental kale and cabbage, lacinato kale, Swiss chard (especially the ones with colored stalks), snapdragons, lobelia, alyssum (lobularia), and such. You can even put in some sweetpeas now, too, but be prepared to cover them if we have a really cold winter!
Don't plant spring bulbs yet. Wait for cooler weather and cooler soils. Early to mid-November is good. For now, just store them in a cool place where temperatures will be 60 degrees F or lower (the crisper in your refrigerator is ideal). October is still a great time to divide spring and summer blooming perennials. Soon, the tops of some perennials will “melt” and disappear, making it hard to find them.
Dig, divide, or plant peonies. Divide perennials, especially spring bloomers. Remove seedheads from perennials to prevent reseeding in the garden. Continue to plant chrysanthemums for fall color. Dig gladiolus as foliage begins to yellow and air dry before storing for winter. Clean up garden areas to reduce insects and disease as plants dieback for winter. Enrich soil by liming as needed and by adding organic matter such as peat moss or compost.
October is the time to sow a “wildflower” patch! Generally, in North Georgia, mid-October is a good time to sow over a well-prepared bed in full sun. Seeds will come up and overwinter as seedlings and will burst forth in the spring. Perennials can also be sown in early fall provided that there are at least 8-10 weeks of growing time before the plants go dormant for the winter. Fall plantings done prior to periods of rainfall will insure an early display of flowers the following spring.
Proper site preparation for wildflower plots is important for prompt germination of seed and healthy growth of seedlings. Best results will be obtained by planting on cleared ground. Remove existing vegetation to avoid competition from other plants. This may be done by pulling, solarization, tilling under, spraying with a general herbicide, or by a combination of these methods, depending upon the size of the area, type and density of vegetation and other factors. Loosen soil by scraping, tilling very lightly or scarifying. Deep tillage can bring weed seeds to the surface so be careful! Tilling should be used utilized only when soil is very compacted and further weed control measures can be taken. Add no fertilizer or only fertilize very lightly from triple-10 at about 5 and up to 10 ounces per 100 sf (maximum). The soil pH should be around 5.5-6.5 for best results.
Lawns – Warm-season lawns will start to lose color as the weather cools. For a green lawn all winter on bermuda, think about overseeding with annual ryegrass when daytime temps are in the low 70’s – or grow a tall fescue lawn, an evergreen grass.
This time of year is a good time to aerate established cool season tall fescue lawns (aerate warm season lawns in late spring or summer). If you are planning a new fescue lawn, make sure you apply any needed limestone and phosphorus before you plant.
If you plan to plant a new cool-season (tall fescue) lawn, the best time to plant is between September 15 and October 15. Remember that you can’t use pre-emergents if you plan to seed a new winter lawn!
You may choose to add a little nitrogen (use ammonium sulfate or calcium nitrate) and potash (potassium sulfate is a good potassium source) to Bermuda lawns this month that have been overseeded with ryegrass. Also, fertilize any newly planted tall fescue at planting, then again in November and February.
But DO NOT fertilize non-overseeded, warm-season grass lawns (zoysia, centipede, Bermuda, St. Augustine) this late in the fall! “Winterizing” aside from maybe adding some potassium sulfate (about 1-2 lbs K2SO4 per 1000 sf) is about all you’d need.
Trees and shrubs - October is a good time to set new material in your landscape! Plant both deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. Rake up fallen leaves and compost. Prune broken and dead branches from trees. Avoid pruning spring flowering shrubs such as azalea, camellia and forsythia to ensure spring flowers. Avoid pruning things that can be winter-pruned until February. If you prune roses now, they can sprout back in warm spells and get burned back by freezes. You can also fertilize trees now, too, or if you choose, you can wait to start feeding in early spring/late winter.
Houseplants - If you haven’t already done it, early October is a good time to bring those houseplants in that you’ve had outdoors! Especially get them in before the night temperatures get to 50 degrees or below. Some species can take cool nights, but many suffer even chill injury at just 50 degrees or so. Clean, wash and spray before moving indoors to reduce insects. Poinsettias and holiday cacti can be forced into Thanksgiving or Christmas bloom by starting dark treatment of short days.
Place them in the house according to light needs and for many species, start watering less for their winter rest. Be careful next spring when you bring them back out and don’t suddenly put them in full sun as they might suffer sunscald!