University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

 Fall News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Dr. Vern Grubinger, Extension Associate Professor
University of Vermont

October is the month to think about Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. That's because there are certain activities you need to do now in preparation for upcoming holidays.

First, think about pumpkins. If you didn't grow them in your garden, then stop by a roadside stand or farmer's market to pick up a few for Halloween jack-o-lanterns. Buy field pumpkins, not pie pumpkins, as the latter, while suitable for baking and pie making, have a dense, tough skin difficult for carving. Field pumpkins also tend to be larger, usually 12 inches or more in diameter.

If storing pumpkins and winter squash for your Thanksgiving meal, keep them in a cool area that is below room temperature. Be careful to keep them from getting a chill as that makes them more susceptible to rot. Store them in a location that does not go below 50 degrees F. Pumpkins and squash must be handled carefully because cuts and bruises in the rind allow decay organisms to get in.

At Thanksgiving, winter squash, potatoes, carrots, turnips, and other garden vegetables often turn up on the menu along with the traditional roasted turkey. To keep these vegetables as fresh as the day they were picked, you need to store them properly.

Potatoes store best in the dark under moderately moist conditions. This prevents them from turning green and drying out. Temperatures in the 40 to 45 F degree range are optimal. Store onions in attics or cooler rooms instead of the basement, which is often too moist and leads to decay. Hang from the rafters in mesh bags to allow good air circulation to prevent soft rot problems.

Be sure to check all stored vegetables often for spoilage and remove any rotting items to keep diseases from spreading.

Carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips may be left in the ground and harvested as needed throughout the winter. For protection against freezing, mulch with a layer of hay or straw at least eight inches thick.

This is also a good time to harvest wild plants like purple asters, milkweed pods, cattails, and others with interesting foliage such as the silver dollar plant to dry for use for arrangements at Thanksgiving.

Gourds also are a nice addition to centerpieces for this holiday. Harvest gourds when the stem dries but before the first frost. Wash in a dilute bleach solution, gently dry with a cloth then place gourds in a warm, well-ventilated area, but not in direct sunlight, which fades their colors.

Curing takes one to six months, depending on the type of gourd. The outer skin hardens in a week or two, but it takes at least a month for the inside to dry. Poking a small nail-hole in the blossom-end of the gourd speeds the process. When you can shake the gourd and hear the seeds rattling, it is cured and ready for a coat of furniture wax, paint, or varnish if desired.

October is the time to start thinking about Christmas. If you want last year's poinsettia plant to flower in time for the holiday season, you need to take certain steps now. To force it into bloom, give it 14 hours of complete, uninterrupted darkness every night for six weeks, beginning in early October. A closet is ideal. Temperatures should be about 60 to 65 degrees F. Just remember to bring it back into the light every morning.

If you plan to have a live Christmas tree this year, begin preparations now. By mid-October decide where you want to transplant the tree after the holidays, keeping in mind your overall landscape scheme and the fact that the tree will need room to grow.

Then, before the ground freezes, dig the transplant hole, making it at least twice the spread of the roots and the same depth as the root ball. Fill with straw or loose leaves. Cover with a board to prevent accidents. Work compost and fertilizer into the backfill soil. Cover with a tarp or store it in a warm place such as a garage or basement to keep it from freezing.

Other activities for October: fertilize shade trees; plant garlic; rake, chop, and stockpile leaves to add to the compost pile as needed with "sloppy" ingredients such as food waste; add lime to the garden according to soil test recommendations.

You also need to keep lawns mowed until the grass stops growing, usually early October. Set the blade a bit lower than what you used throughout the season. Cutting the grass shorter means there won't be as much foliage to get diseased through winter, such as with snow mold.

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