University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article

Harvesting and other October Gardening Tips

Charlie Nardozzi, Chairman of the Board of Directors
Vermont Botanical Garden, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

This is the month to finish harvesting the summer vegetable garden, and to collect natural plant decorations.  Keeping leaves off the lawn will help it survive winter.  You may be tired of weeding, but a final weeding now will save you much time next year.

Fall's leaves are both a blessing and a curse. Left on the lawn, they can mat down and suffocate the grass underneath. The alternative is to turn them into garden fertilizer by raking them up, shredding them (with a shredder or by running over them with a lawn mover), and using them to mulch gardens or sprinkle back onto the lawn.

In fall nature provides a kaleidoscope of decorations to adorn your home in winter. Take a walk and collect dried hydrangea flowers, collect grapevines for wreath-making, gather assorted seedpods such as teasel for flower arrangements, and prune berry-laden branches of holly for drying to use in fall decorations. You can even press the last summer flowers and create framed collages.

Any weeding you do now will reduce many times over your weeding chores in the spring. Pull or cut off perennial weeds such as burdock, and remove annual weeds such as pigweed, before they set seed. By not letting them set seed you'll eliminate the
task of pulling all those little seedlings next spring. A single weed plant may set hundreds, or even thousands, of seeds, so don't delay.

Continue harvesting beans, peppers and tomatoes, and be prepared to cover the plants in case frost threatens. If covered, these heat-loving plants may survive a light frost, though a hard freeze will do them in. You can purchase special frost blankets, which are designed to hold the heat in, or take your chances covering plants with old sheets, cardboard boxes, or blankets.

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. If storing the winter squash over winter, harvest before a killing frost.

Peonies usually donít need transplanting, so if possible leave them where they are. However, if you need to move your plants, or they have gotten too large, now is a good time. Planting depth is critical: place the buds, or "eyes," on the roots just 2 inches below the soil surface. Any deeper, and the plants may fail to bloom.

As you plant your spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils outdoors, consider planting a few in pots to force for late winter bloom. Closely space the bulbs in a shallow container filled with potting soil, then add more soil until most of the bulb is buried. The bulbs will need to be chilled, either in the refrigerator, cool basement, or in a protected spot outdoors, for several months before being encouraged to grow and flower.

For fall gardening events, check your local garden centers.  The Friends of the Horticulture Farm (802-864-3073 or have a talk on the Ecology of Fall Colors (October 4), and a Bulb Planting Workshop (October 18).  Visit the Vermont Botanical Garden (802-964-5206 or for their  annual Pumpkin Festival (October 11) and annual April Cornell Fashion Show fund-raiser (November 3).

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