University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall Article

Garden Clean-up and other October Gardening Tips

By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont Extension
and Lisa Halvorsen, Garden Writer

Next spring, don't be haunted by thoughts of tasks you should have completed in October to ensure a good start to the growing season.

By fall, most gardeners are tiring of garden chores, especially when there isn't much left to harvest, and thus no really good reason to visit the garden. But garden clean-up is essential both for the health of the soil and an early start on next year's garden. You'll be able to get into the garden sooner if you get the plot ready now.

Clean-up involves removing corn stalks, vines, and plant debris, then adding healthy plant materials to the compost pile and discarding the rest. You also should do a final weeding. Why? Because weeds left in the garden will go to seed, producing hundreds of new weeds next year.

Remove stakes, row markers, and other man-made objects. Black plastic and other inorganic mulch materials also need to be taken up as they will not decompose and, if left in place, will provide overwintering sites for some pests.

If you are leaving carrots and other root crops in the ground for winter harvest, be sure to mark the rows. Cover with a thick layer of straw or hay after the first frost to prevent the soil from freezing up.

October is a good time to prepare the soil for spring by adding lime (according to soil test results) and incorporating organic mulches into the soil. The organic matter will begin to break down before next year's planting and will improve soil texture. You also may want to stockpile well-rotted animal manure in a corner of your garden for use next spring. (Get it now to avoid the spring rush.) Cover the pile with plastic to prevent leaching of nutrients.

Rake and remove leaves from under your rose bushes. This will eliminate a prime "breeding ground" for insect pests and fungal diseases like powdery mildew. Picking up fallen fruit from under fruit trees will keep insects from overwintering and causing problems next spring.

Dig up and store dahlias, cannas, and other summer bulbs, if you have not done so already. Clip off the green growth, then store in a dry, cool location.

Shut down your water garden, moving aquatic plants indoors to ensure their survival. Choose a cool, above freezing, indoor location, placing the pots of aquatic plants in a tub with some water to keep them moist. They don't need to be as deeply covered as outdoors.

Remove pumps or underwater lights and store in the garage or indoors. If it's a small water garden, you may want to empty out the water now, so it doesn’t freeze solid. This also is a good time to clean the water garden if needed and repair any small cracks.

Protect your blueberry bushes from winter winds with burlap windbreaks or enclosures. This will minimize desiccation or drying out of foliage, which is detrimental, especially to new plantings.

Mulch with three to five inches of straw to protect plant roots from severe winter temperatures. If straw is hard to obtain at this time of year, use sawdust, pine needles, or wood chips instead. Wait to prune until late winter before new bud swell but after winter injury can be easily determined so you don't remove new, healthy growth.

Garlic, which requires a cold treatment of 40 degrees F for two months to induce bulbing, should be planted before the end of October. This will give it time to develop roots but not to emerge from the soil.

Garlic needs to be planted in soil with a pH of 6.2 to 7.0. Space cloves four to six inches apart and three to four inches deep. Plant the root side down. Mulch heavily with straw to prevent winter injury.

Other activities for October: wrap trees to protect against winter sunburn or injury from deer and rodents; stock up on birdseed; clean garden tools.

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