University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article
line

SOIL TESTING AND OTHER OCTOBER GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Testing your soil, keeping evergreens and shrubs watered, and harvesting Brussels sprouts are some of the gardening activities for this month.
   
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. Sample soil from different parts of your yard and garden, and test these separately, so you can apply what's needed for each particular area.  Extension test kits are available from local offices and many garden stores.
   
Plants that still are developing new root systems need ample water in the fall before they go dormant.  Roots grow until the soil temperature gets down to the low 40s (degrees F), so moisten the entire root zone once a week unless you have a soaking rain providing an inch or more of water. Moisten means to water well.  A good soaking less often promotes deeper roots better able to withstand stress.  This is especially important for evergreen shrubs, such as rhododendrons, to prevent their leaves drying out this winter.
   
Brussels sprouts, resembling little "cabbages", will continue to ripen and sweeten through the cold snaps so harvest whenever you're ready to eat them.  If some of the sprouts get frozen almost solid, cook them right away or pop them in the freezer.
   
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, as well as any perennials with diseased foliage.  Make sure to dispose of diseased leaves in the trash, not in the compost.
   
If you use raked leaves to top your annual veggie and flower beds, or add them to the compost pile, speed up the decomposition process by mowing over them first with a lawn mower to shred them. These make great mulch, and save you hauling them to the landfill.
   
Plants that you moved inside for the winter might harbor insects, and it can take a few weeks before they become obvious. Check plants every week and isolate and treat any that have mealybugs, scale, spider mites, or aphids -- the most common hitchhikers.
   
Planted spring-flowering bulbs yet?  If not, do so soon as the bulbs need a few weeks before soil temperatures drop too cold in order to form roots.  Keep in mind most tulips are annual, blooming well for only the first year.  Planting deeper (below 6 inches deep) may help them come back in future years, or you can buy tulips marked as "perennial" varieties.
   
Now is a good time to pot up some bulbs for "forcing" into bloom next winter or spring.  If you want some in raised beds or large containers, pot them now in pots about 6 inches across, then sink in the ground and cover with straw.  Mark your calendar to remove them in spring when they start emerging, then relocate where you can enjoy them.
   
Local apple farms make a great weekend outing, often with great food and cider if you don't have time or ability to make your own. Check online for orchard listings and links (www.newenglandapples.org).  Don't forget to buy some pumpkins for carving and pies.


(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com).

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