University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article
line
   
     
PREPARING NEW BEDS AND OTHER OCTOBER GARDENING TIPS
 
Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
        
Preparing new garden beds for next spring, enriching the soil for next year’s garden, and storing tender summer bulbs, are some of the gardening tips for this month.
        
You'll make lots less work for yourself next spring if you begin any new garden beds now. If the area is in lawn, cut the grass low, then cover the ground with several layers of dampened newspaper topped with several inches of mulch, compost or manure. By spring the sod will have decomposed and you can dig in the organic matter, add any needed amendments, and plant.
        
As you empty annual beds this fall, there are two main ways to enrich the soil for next year: spreading compost or planting cover crops. Before you spread compost, dig or lightly till in any plants that aren't diseased to return nutrients to the soil. Spread compost, even if it's not well decomposed yet. It will protect the soil over the winter and break down by spring planting time. Or you can plant cover crops, such as buckwheat or annual rye that will grow this fall and early spring until you till it under several weeks before planting.
        
Ok, ok, so maybe the weeds have already taken over. Don't give up. Get them out of your garden or else they will make it doubly hard for you next spring. Since bare soil invites weeds, cover bare soil with mulch, such as layers of wet newspaper covered with straw, compost, or manure. This will control late fall and early spring weed growth and provide organic matter.
        
Begin preparing tools for storage by cleaning them once you're finished with them. Wipe the soil off shovels, spades, and trowels using a rag or wire brush, then wipe blades with an oiled cloth. Make sure pruners are free from dirt and plant debris, and wipe down the blades with the oiled cloth. Empty any pots of dead plants and soil, adding the debris to the compost pile unless the plants were diseased. In that case, dispose of the plants in the garbage or a location far away from your garden. Rinse pots, or better yet, soak them in a bucket of water to which some bleach has been added. Rinse well.
        
Plant garlic now for harvesting next summer. Purchase garlic sold specifically for planting, or buy organic garlic. Commercial, non-organic, supermarket garlic may have been treated to inhibit sprouting. Break the garlic head into individual cloves, keeping the largest ones for planting. (Use the small cloves for cooking.) Plant cloves about three inches apart with the pointy side up. Try some different varieties to see which you prefer. Mulch the bed well with straw.
        
If you test your soil and add any needed amendments now, the soil will be ready for planting when you are in the spring. Some amendments take time to break down and become available to plants. If you have a nearby Extension Service office, you can take advantage of their low-priced soil testing service. If not, you can send a soil sample away to a soil lab, or get a do-it-yourself kit. Most plants prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8 (a pH of 7 is neutral). New England soils tend to be acidic and frequently require the addition of lime. But your soil can vary from location to location in your yard, so if you notice different characteristics of the soil in different beds, test them separately.
        
When finished flowering or when frost kills the foliage, carefully dig the corms of gladiolus, crocosmias, and acidanthera and spread them out in a dry, well-ventilated area at room temperature for two to three weeks. Then remove and discard the old corms. Store the new corms in paper bags in a 35- to 40-degree location.
        
After the foliage has been damaged by frost, allow cannas to dry in the ground for a few days, then cut back the stems to three to four inches and carefully dig the rhizomes and let them dry at room temperature for a few days. Store in cardboard boxes or mesh bags filled with vermiculite or peat moss at 40 to 50 degrees for the winter. In spring, plant the entire clump or separate the rhizomes, leaving a portion of the old stem attached to each one.  (Corms and rhizomes are merely the official names of the “roots” or underground stems and storage organs of these plants.)
  

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