What to do in your garden in October

Marcia Tatroe,  – September 12, 2005


Bulbs.Get crocuses, tulips, and other bulbs in the ground before itfreezes. Prepare the soil first by loosening it with a shovel, thenplunge a sturdy trowel straight down into the ground to the depthof the tool’s blade. Pull the soil toward you and drop a bulb intothe hole, pointy side up. Remove the trowel, then plunge it intothe soil 2 to 4 inches from the first hole (use the closer distancefor small bulbs); drop in another bulb. When all of the bulbs areplanted, fill in the holes and smooth out the soil. Shade-tolerantbulb choices include autumn-flowering crocus ( Crocus speciosus), camass ( Camassia), dog-tooth violet ( Erythronium dens-canis), fritillary ( Fritillaria pontica), glory-of-the-snow ( Chionodoxa), golden garlic ( Allium moly), Henry’s lily ( Lilium henryi), snowdrop ( Galanthus), Spanish bluebell ( Hyacinthoides hispanica), spring snowflake ( Leucojum vernum), and winter aconite ( Eranthis hyemalis).

Daffodils. Yellow trumpet daffodils are often considered aspring essential, but there are other colors, shapes, and sizes of Narcissus to try. Large daffodils are available in apricot(‘Passionale’), orange-cupped (‘Fortissimo’), pale yellow (‘IceFollies’), and white (‘Stainless’). Double daffodils that resemblesmall dahlias include ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ and ‘White Lion’.Miniature N. cyclamineus daffodils, such as popular’Tête-à-tête’, have reflexed petals that lookwindblown. ‘Actaea’, an N. poeticus variety, has a small orange-rimmed cup. N. bulbocodium has funnel-shaped trumpets and almost nopetals. All these and more are available from John Scheepers (or 860/567-0838).

Perennials. For a more colorful spring display, plantearly-blooming perennials in bulb beds. The bulbs will grow upbetween the perennials and bloom in unison. Good choices includealpine aster (Aster alpinus), basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis), candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), common aubrieta, creepingbasket-of-gold (Alyssum montanum), creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera), English primrose, Lychnis viscaria, pansies, pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), Saponaria ocymoides, stonecress (Aethionema grandiflora), Veronica peduncularis ‘GeorgiaBlue’, violets, and wall rockcress (Arabis caucasica).

Ornamentals. Because roots continue to grow through winter,hardy, fall-planted groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, trees, andvines become well established and cope better with heat thefollowing season than those planted in spring. To plant, removemost of the potting soil, untangle the roots, and position theplant in a hole that is slightly larger than the root spread. Firmthe soil around the roots and water thoroughly. Throughout winter,water again whenever the rootball feels dry.

Planting auger. If the ground is hard or you’re planting alarge number of bulbs, consider using a bulb-planting auger, adevice that attaches to an electric drill. You can purchase anauger at many garden centers or order one from Best Buds Garden SupplyCompany ($33 for a 3-inch auger that’s suitable for planting variousbulbs; 877/777-2837).


Divide rhubarb. For improved production next season, divideand transplant overcrowded rhubarb when the tops die down after thefirst killing frost. Dig up clumps and pull or cut them apart,ensuring that each section includes sturdy roots and stems; discardany old, woody parts. Replant divisions into soil that has beenamended with several inches of good-quality compost. Mulch withstraw, hay, or pine needles and keep the soil evenly moist throughwinter.

Prepare ponds for winter. Drop container-grown, hardy waterlilies into the deepest part of the pond (water should be at least18 inches deep). Remove tender plants, such as water lettuce andhyacinth, to an indoor tank or toss them in the compost. To preventthe pond from freezing over, install an ice guard device such asIce Chaser (from Lilypons Water Gardens,800/999-5459). In ponds less than 18 inches deep, float an electricstock-tank heater (available from feed stores) to keep the pondfrom turning to solid ice. To prevent toxins from forming in thewater, remove organic debris with a net. To exclude garden litter,cover the pond with bird netting.

Protect bulbs. Repel hungry rodents by spraying bulbs withHavahart’s Bulb Guard (from High Country Gardens,800/925-9387) before planting. Another effective remedy is to makea “cage” by lining the planting hole with wire mesh and thenfolding the mesh over the bulbs and soil after planting. Or plantbulbs that critters spurn, including colchicum, daffodils, iris,lily of the valley, ornithogalum, and scilla. Avoid usingfertilizers containing blood or bone meal, since they attract dogsand foxes.

Clean up flower beds. After the first freeze, cut backperennials such as aster, campanula, daylily, phlox, and veronicato 6 inches. Pull out annuals when they stop blooming or areblackened by frost. Maintain annuals, perennials, and ornamentalgrasses with attractive seed heads for winter interest. Applygranular fertilizer, water thoroughly, and top-dress between theplants with a 2- to 3-inch layer of good-quality compost orwell-composted manure. After a hard freeze, spread 4 to 5 inches offallen leaves or pine needles over the bed to protect plantsthrough the winter.

Propagate cuttings. When cleaning up containers, takecuttings of coleus, plectranthus, and tradescantia to grow ashouseplants for the winter. Remove lower leaves from the stem andput the cutting in a dark-colored glass container full of water.Place it on an east-facing windowsill. After roots appear, pot thecuttings in good-quality potting soil.