University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

gmg logo Fall News Articleline

HARVESTING WINTER SQUASH AND OTHER OCTOBER GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Harvesting winter squash and pumpkins, digging tender summer bulb plants, and care for peonies are some of the gardening activities for this month.

You can harvest winter squash and pumpkins any time they're mature -- that is, when the rinds are too tough to puncture with a thumbnail. Some gardeners wait until a light frost kills back the vines, to allow the squash as much time as possible to mature. To harvest, use a knife to cut the stem an inch or two above the squash or pumpkin.  If you didn’t grow any pumpkins this year, visit a local grower or roadside stand.  Use them for decorating, plain or painted, carved, and for cooking pies and roasting seeds.

As soon as frost kills back the tops of tender, summer-flowering bulbs, such as dahlias, gladioli, and tuberous begonias, it's time to dig the bulbs to store indoors over the winter. Gently brush the soil from the bulbs, allow them to dry for day or two, then set them in dry peat moss or vermiculite and store them in a cool (40 to 50 degrees F), non-freezing, dark place.  Don’t hold dahlias too long before storing, or they’ll begin to dry out and shrivel. 

If your peony isn't blooming, or it is too large or misplaced, consider moving it now.  If it didn’t bloom, perhaps it is just planted too deep, and removing some soil from around the plant is all that is needed.  Planting depth and location are critical. Plant in full sun on well-drained soil. Place the buds, or "eyes" on the roots just 2 inches below the soil surface. Any deeper, and the plants may fail to bloom. Even with proper planting, transplanted peonies may not bloom for a few years. 

Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti need either long nights or cool temperatures (or both) to initiate flower buds. You can put them 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).  Then bring back into light during the day.

Or, move your cactus to a cool, bright location that stays between 55 and 60 degrees (F). Water just enough to keep the plant from wilting (the stems will feel limp), and hold off on fertilizer until buds form. Then move the plant into your living space and water whenever the soil is dry to the touch.

To rebloom poinsettias, give them at least 13 hours of complete darkness daily, beginning in early October.  You can do this by moving plants into a dark closet (not even dim light) around 6pm and out again each morning around 7am.  Do this for at least 40 days. 

Visit an apple orchard for picking your own apples for eating, cooking, drying, freezing, or making your own cider.  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).  Many of these also have pumpkins you’ll want for carving, painting, roasting seeds, or merely for decoration.  Colorful gourds, multicolor corn, and corn stalks also are great for decorating.  Early in the month you still should find garden mums at many retail garden outlets.

Other gardening activities for this month include planting spring flower bulbs including some in pots for “forcing”, keeping lawns mowed while they’re growing, raking leaves from lawns and shredding them for mulch or compost, garden clean up and finishing up weeding.


Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles