University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Fall News Article
HARVESTING WINTER SQUASH AND OTHER
OCTOBER GARDENING TIPS
Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant
Harvesting winter squash and pumpkins, digging tender summer bulb plants,
and care for peonies are some of the gardening activities for this month.
You can harvest winter squash and pumpkins any time they're mature -- that
is, when the rinds are too tough to puncture with a thumbnail. Some
gardeners wait until a light frost kills back the vines, to allow the squash
as much time as possible to mature. To harvest, use a knife to cut the stem
an inch or two above the squash or pumpkin. If you didn’t grow any
pumpkins this year, visit a local grower or roadside stand. Use them
for decorating, plain or painted, carved, and for cooking pies and roasting
As soon as frost kills back the tops of tender, summer-flowering bulbs, such
as dahlias, gladioli, and tuberous begonias, it's time to dig the bulbs to
store indoors over the winter. Gently brush the soil from the bulbs, allow
them to dry for day or two, then set them in dry peat moss or vermiculite
and store them in a cool (40 to 50 degrees F), non-freezing, dark
place. Don’t hold dahlias too long before storing, or they’ll begin to
dry out and shrivel.
If your peony isn't blooming, or it is too large or misplaced, consider
moving it now. If it didn’t bloom, perhaps it is just planted too
deep, and removing some soil from around the plant is all that is
needed. Planting depth and location are critical. Plant in full sun on
well-drained soil. Place the buds, or "eyes" on the roots just 2 inches
below the soil surface. Any deeper, and the plants may fail to bloom. Even
with proper planting, transplanted peonies may not bloom for a few
Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti need either long nights or cool
temperatures (or both) to initiate flower buds. You can put them in a closet
or room that stays completely dark from sunset to sunrise until new flower
buds reach 1/8-inch long (at least three weeks). Then bring back into
light during the day.
Or, move your cactus to a cool, bright location that stays between 55 and 60
degrees (F). Water just enough to keep the plant from wilting (the stems
will feel limp), and hold off on fertilizer until buds form. Then move the
plant into your living space and water whenever the soil is dry to the
To rebloom poinsettias, give them at least 13 hours of complete darkness
daily, beginning in early October. You can do this by moving plants
into a dark closet (not even dim light) around 6pm and out again each
morning around 7am. Do this for at least 40 days.
Visit an apple orchard for picking your own apples for eating, cooking,
drying, freezing, or making your own cider. 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).
Many of these also have pumpkins you’ll want for carving, painting, roasting
seeds, or merely for decoration. Colorful gourds, multicolor corn, and
corn stalks also are great for decorating. Early in the month you
still should find garden mums at many retail garden outlets.
Other gardening activities for this month include planting spring flower
bulbs including some in pots for “forcing”, keeping lawns mowed while
they’re growing, raking leaves from lawns and shredding them for mulch or
compost, garden clean up and finishing up weeding.
Return to Perry's Perennial