University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
SOIL TESTING AND OTHER OCTOBER
Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant
Testing your soil, keeping evergreens and shrubs watered, and harvesting
Brussels sprouts are some of the gardening activities for this month.
If you need to raise or lower the pH of your soil, add the required
amendments such as sulfur or lime this fall because they take some time to
work. Sample soil from different parts of your yard and garden, and test
these separately, so you can apply what's needed for each particular
area. Extension test kits are available from local offices and many
Plants that still are developing new root systems need ample water in the
fall before they go dormant. Roots grow until the soil temperature
gets down to the low 40s (degrees F), so moisten the entire root zone once a
week unless you have a soaking rain providing an inch or more of water.
Moisten means to water well. A good soaking less often promotes deeper
roots better able to withstand stress. This is especially important
for evergreen shrubs, such as rhododendrons, to prevent their leaves drying
out this winter.
Brussels sprouts, resembling little "cabbages", will continue to ripen and
sweeten through the cold snaps so harvest whenever you're ready to eat
them. If some of the sprouts get frozen almost solid, cook them right
away or pop them in the freezer.
Once flower stalks of perennials have died and turned brown, you can cut
them down to three to four inches from the ground, or leave the seed heads
for the birds. Echinacea (coneflower), black-eyed Susan, ornamental grasses,
and sedums offer wildlife treats so leave these alone. But daylilies, phlox,
and others that have no dried seedpods can be cut back, as well as any
perennials with diseased foliage. Make sure to dispose of diseased
leaves in the trash, not in the compost.
If you use raked leaves to top your annual veggie and flower beds, or add
them to the compost pile, speed up the decomposition process by mowing over
them first with a lawn mower to shred them. These make great mulch, and save
you hauling them to the landfill.
Plants that you moved inside for the winter might harbor insects, and it can
take a few weeks before they become obvious. Check plants every week and
isolate and treat any that have mealybugs, scale, spider mites, or aphids --
the most common hitchhikers.
Planted spring-flowering bulbs yet? If not, do so soon as the bulbs
need a few weeks before soil temperatures drop too cold in order to form
roots. Keep in mind most tulips are annual, blooming well for only the
first year. Planting deeper (below 6 inches deep) may help them come
back in future years, or you can buy tulips marked as "perennial" varieties.
Now is a good time to pot up some bulbs for "forcing" into bloom next winter
or spring. If you want some in raised beds or large containers, pot
them now in pots about 6 inches across, then sink in the ground and cover
with straw. Mark your calendar to remove them in spring when they
start emerging, then relocate where you can enjoy them.
Local apple farms make a great weekend outing, often with great food and
cider if you don't have time or ability to make your own. Check online for
orchard listings and links (www.newenglandapples.org).
Don't forget to buy some pumpkins for carving and pies.
(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known
horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach;
Return to Perry's Perennial