October Gardening



In October, frosts diminish our gardens until even the last of the asters and chrysanthemums pass. Now we come to appreciate the backbone of the landscape: dried perennial grasses, evergreens, silhouettes and bark of trees and shrubs, large stones, as well as man-made structures like arbors, benches and statuary.

Autumn Grass

Autumn Grass

In dormancy, a well-structured garden can be as rewarding as in full summer. View your garden from inside your home to determine improvements that could enhance your year-round enjoyment.

Garden Arbor

Garden Arbor

Since there are fewer garden chores, now is a good time to place new structures and safely transplant dormant perennials. Mulch well to prevent frost heaving in late winter. Shrubs and trees can be transplanted up to a month before the ground freezes. Continue watering all transplants up until that time.

Plant some eye-catching flowering bulbs for early spring color.

MarApr09 006Try underplanting small trees with swaths of crocus or similar April bloomers. The snow melts earlier here and bulbs break forth to cheer us after the long winter. Children love fairy rings planted in a circle in the lawn (especially nice to view from an upstairs window). Placing a stick at the center,  attach a string 2-3’ long and plant bulbs at the end of the string, spacing them around the circle. (A package of 36 crocus spaced every 4” would create a 4’ circle.)

Forced Bulbs

Forced Bulbs

While you are at it, why not plant a few bulbs for forcing indoors? Most bulbs require 8-12 weeks of cold in order to break dormancy. Choose early bloomers under 16” for best success. Plant in pots with nose tips above soil, water and place in a cool cellar or garage (40-50°) for 2 months for small bulbs and 3 months for larger ones. Check periodically for dryness. A hole dug in the ground and covered with hay would work as well, but you’d have to dig them out in January, which might be a task if there’s lots of snow! Some have success placing the bulbs in paper bags in the fridge then planting them once they start sprouting. When the requisite cold period is up, place pots in a cool window with indirect light and gradually increase light as they grow. Keep cool to resist bolting too fast. Forcing bulbs is an easy way to create the cheerfulness of spring on a cold winter’s day.


About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
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