What to do in your garden in October

Sunset  – September 12, 2005


Add herbs. Sunset climate zones 10-13: Set out transplants ofchamomile, chives, lavender, Mexican tarragon, oregano, rosemary,salad burnet, and thyme. Sow seeds of cilantro, dill, andparsley.

Plant a living screen. Create privacy or hide an unsightlyview by planting a row of tall-growing shrubs. Zones 1a-3b: TryCanada hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), or Leyland cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii). Zones 10 and 11: PlantArizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica), Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum), or pyracantha. Zones 12 and 13:Choose desert mahonia (M. fremontii), hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa), myrtle (Myrtus communis), or Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora). Water plants regularly to get themestablished, then slowly taper off to less frequent deepsoakings.

Set out permanent plants. Perennials planted in the falldevelop strong roots that support vigorous new growth in spring andsummer. Some good choices are Baja fairy duster, blackfoot daisy,Chihuahuan sage, deer grass, desert Christmas cactus, desert spoon,globe mallow, jojoba, Mexican grass tree, Mount Lemmon marigold,and Santa Rita prickly pear. Zones 12-13: October is the singlebest planting month for most trees. For beauty and shade, considerArizona mesquite ( Prosopis velutina), which has an umbrella-like structure.The multibranched tree looks equally at home on a rustic ranch oroutside a contemporary desert house. Or choose desert ironwood forits silvery evergreen canopy. For a distinctive Sonoran desertlook, plant ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde; its multiple green trunksand yellow spring flowers can brighten any landscape. Look fortrees at nurseries that sell native plants.

Sow a field of poppies. Most poppies grow easily from seedsown now, although some may lie dormant through cool winter months,then germinate when temperatures reach the mid-50s. For bestresults, mix the tiny seeds with sand before scattering onwell-tilled soil, then rake them in or cover with a lightsprinkling of soil. Keep moist until the seeds germinate. Goodperformers to look for are California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule), and Shirley poppy (P. rhoeas).

Sow wildflowers. Zones 10-13: Plants wildflowers in fullsun. Cultivate soil lightly, broadcast seeds, then cover them witha thin layer of sand or soil. Keep the area moist until seedsgerminate. Choose reliable performers such as Arizona lupine (Lupinus arizonicus), prairie mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), showy Penstemon spectabilis, or white wild snapdragon (Penstemon cobaea), available from Plants of theSouthwest (800/788-7333). Other wildflower choices include arroyolupine, California desert bluebells, desert marigold, Mexican goldpoppies, owl’s-clover, and Parry’s penstemon.

Bulb to try: spider lilies. Zones 12-13: In fall, theseunusual bulbs produce 11/2- to 2-foot-tall leafless stems topped bystunning clusters of spiderlike blooms. Strappy green leaves appearafter flowers die down. Lycoris radiata has coral red flowers withprominent spiderlike stamens; golden spider lily (L. aurea) hasbright yellow flowers with shorter stamens. Plant in the ground orin pots early in the month. Choose a site that receives winter sunand summer shade (such as under the canopy of a deciduous tree).Zones 1a-3b, 10-11: Grow in pots, outdoors in summer and indoors inwinter. Look for spider lilies at Plants for the Southwest inTucson (520/628-8773). Start cool-season crops. Zones 10-13: Sow seeds of arugula,beets, bok choy, carrots, fennel, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas,radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips. Set out transplants ofbroccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. Plantgarlic cloves and onion and shallot sets.

Transplant cool-season bloomers. Set out transplants ofbachelor’s button, calendula, chrysanthemum, dianthus, floweringcabbage, foxglove, larkspur, pansy, sweet alyssum, and viola. Zones10-13: For fragrant color in February and March, plant sweet peasearly in the month. Start from seed while the weather is mild forthe best germination and strongest plants. Two very fragrantheirloom varieties are ‘America’ (crimson with ivory stripes;introduced in 1896) and ‘Cupani’ (maroon and purple; from1699).


Spread mulch. Apply a 4-inch-thick layer of mulch aroundplants to conserve moisture, insulate roots from cold, anddiscourage weeds. To estimate how much you’ll need, first determinehow many square feet you want to cover by multiplying the area’slength by its width. To cover a 100-square-foot area 4 inches deep,for example, it takes about 1 1/3 cubic yards of mulch. For largeareas, buy in bulk to economize.

Install a directional sprinkler. Garden beds that areirregularly shaped or long and narrow are difficult to irrigatewithout wasting water, especially when working with hose-endsprinklers. But the Noodlehead sprinklerwas designed for just such a purpose. Composed of 12 minisprinklers on short lengths of flexible tubing, the head allows youto put water exactly where you want it when attached to a hose orsprinkler riser. You can even point each mini sprinkler directly atthe root zone of a particular plant, to help it get established.($17; 541/549-8909).