University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article


CLEANING TOOLS AND OTHER OCTOBER GARDENING TIPS

 
Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
 
Cleaning garden tools for winter storage, emptying pots, and mulching bulbs are some of the gardening tips for this month.

A Christmas cactus needs either long nights or cool temperatures (or both) to initiate flower buds. You can put it in a closet or room that stays completely dark from sunset to sunrise until new flower buds reach 1/8 inch long (at least three weeks). Or move your plant to a cool location that stays between 55 and 60 degrees. Water just enough to keep the plant from wilting (the stems will feel limp), and hold off on fertilizer until the buds form. Then move the plant into your living space and water whenever the soil is dry to the touch.
           
Once flower stalks of perennials have died and turned brown, you can cut them down to three to four inches from the ground, or leave the seed heads for the birds. Echinacea (coneflower), black-eyed Susan, ornamental grasses, and sedums offer wildlife treats so leave these alone. But daylilies, phlox, and others that have no dried seedpods can be cut back.
           
Once you plant your bulbs, don't be too quick to cover them with mulch. Wait until the ground freezes, so you don't inadvertently provide a home for rodents that are looking for a place to hide for the winter. Once the ground freezes, the rodents will have burrowed elsewhere and it's safe to spread mulch. The same holds true for mulching trees and shrubs.
 
Ceramic and clay pots of dead annual flowers can freeze and crack if they are left outside in winter. Better to empty the soil into the compost pile, then rinse the pots of debris and store them in a frost-free location. Don’t dispose of diseased or weedy plants in your compost.
           
Begin preparing tools for storage. Clean 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. Sharpen now so they’ll be ready for spring.  Drain gas from engines for winter, or use a few drops of winterizing additive. 

If you need to raise or lower the pH of your soil, add the required amendments, such as sulfur or lime, this fall because they take some time to work. Take soil samples from different parts of your yard and garden and test them separately so you can apply what's needed for each particular use. Soil test kits are available from Extension service offices.

Weeds are shedding their seeds far and wide so if you've gotten behind in your weeding, cut those with flowers and seed heads first. Cut them gently to avoid scattering the seed, and drop them into a plastic or paper bag and dispose of them. Don't add them to the compost pile unless your pile gets hot enough to kill the seeds.
           
Other activities for this month include visiting a local farm for produce and pumpkins, picking your own apples and making a pie, mowing until the grass stops growing, keeping leaves raked from lawns and gardens or shredding with a mower for mulch, making notes on this year’s vegetable garden, putting deer repellents around shrubs, and decorating with fall mums. 

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles uvmext logo