October Gardening Notes

Monarch on butterflyweed

October has brought us relief from the blistering heat. It seemed summer would never end. Now if we could just get some rain! I know the milder weather has given me and many others energy to work on outdoor projects. Here are several gardening items for your to-do list this month.

Flowers: Many colorful annuals for the fall and winter gardening season can be started now. Easy types from seed include sweet peas, larkspur, poppies, cornflower, bluebonnets and phlox.

Pansies, the most popular of the cool season flowers can be transplanted now. While you will enjoy a scattering of bloom this winter as they become established, the real show will be early next spring. Pansies make great companion plantings for spring bulbs, which also should be purchased and planted soon.

Besides pansies, some other bedding plants that can be planted in October include pinks, dianthus, flowering cabbage and kale, giant red mustard, ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, stock, snapdragons, wallflower (Citrona erysimum), calendulas, diascia and nemesia. Visit your local nursery to see what’s in stock.

A tip from Dr. William Welch, Extension Horticulturist at Texas A&M: If you plan to save caladium tubers for another year, dig them in late October, and allow to dry in a well-ventilated but shady area. After 7 to 10 days, remove leaves and dirt, and pack in dry peat moss, vermiculite, or similar material for storage. Pack tubers so they do not touch each other. Dust with all-purpose fungicide as you pack. Place container in an area where temperature won’t drop below 50 degrees F.

Landscaping: Fall is an ideal to plant trees and shrubs. Planting now gives them several months head start to get their roots established over spring plantings. This is also the best time to increase your supply of perennials by dividing and transplanting established clumps of daylily, ajuga, liriope, mondo grass, iris, columbine, penstemon, yarrow, Shasta daisy, coreopsis, purple coneflower, oxalis, and violets.

Vegetables: There are a few vegetables that can still be started this month – the sooner the better. These include beets, carrots, collards, garlic, leaf lettuce, mustard, radish, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.

If you are short on space in your yard for a vegetable patch, grow them in containers on your patio (if you have enough sun). All of these can be successfully grown in large pots or boxes, provided you water and fertilize them regularly. If you have a traditional garden, be sure to mulch to prevent crusting and weeds.

Speaking of mulching, many trees have already begun shedding leaves. You cannot burn them because of the burn ban in all counties. But, why burn them when you can use them as a water-saving mulch for your garden and flower beds? Just run the mower over them to shred them into smaller pieces, and then apply a layer around your plants to reduce evaporation and cut down on weeds. As they break down, they will enrich your soil, providing a better growing environment for your plants.

Lawns: If you have not fertilized your lawn yet for the fall, do so now, provided you are also regularly watering your lawn! Fall fertilization, also known as winterizing, promotes continued lawn growth so the grass can continue producing and storing food reserves for use during spring green up. Due to the Stage 1 voluntary water restrictions announced this week, reduced watering means you should also reduce the amount of fertilizer you put out. If you are not watering your yard, then you should also eliminate the fall application of fertilizer. There is no need to be forcing growth if water is not available to the turfgrass plants.  October is also a good month to lime the lawn and flower beds, if needed, based on soil test results.

Cooler weather brings dormant seeds to life. In the world of weeds, you can broadly classify weeds as warm season and cool season. Cool season weeds need mild temperatures (and soil moisture) to germinate, grow and flower. Typical cool season weeds include henbit, chickweed, cranesbill (Geranium), lawn burweed, and annual bluegrass (Poa annua).

If you have maintained a thick lawn through proper mowing, watering, and fertilizing, then winter or cool season weeds should not be a big problem. But, if your grass is thin, and full of summer weeds, you may want to consider using a preemergence herbicide to prevent cool season weeds from germinating. You need to put it out immediately, since this mild weather is ideal for seed germination. BUT, if your grass has been severely stressed by the drought, then skip applying an herbicide, because turfgrasses under moisture stress are more subject to injury from herbicide applications.

Keep in mind that many preemergence products have no effect if applied after the seeds have germinated. These products must also be watered in immediately or their effectiveness will be reduced or lost. Read and follow label directions.

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