Ready your October garden for a colorful fall, winter and spring


October is a great month to garden. The weather is cooling off, the humidity is lower, and we can enjoy being outside again. Whether you are planting or cleaning up, there is plenty to do.
The signs of fall are everywhere. From pumpkins and gourds to cornstalks and mums, there are plenty of ways to infuse color back into your outdoor décor. A wide variety of pumpkins are readily available at local markets now, from the traditional orange to white and even green varieties. Shapes and sizes vary tremendously as well. Groupings of pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn can add interest and color to the fall garden and last past Halloween. Look for blemish-free fruits that still have a stem attached. If they don’t have a stem, or if they have any soft spots, they can rot fairly quickly.

Accents like mums, cornstalks and scarecrows will help your garden turn over a new leaf this fall.

Planting ahead
October is the perfect time to plant winter annual flowers and spring-flowering bulbs. Layer the bulbs down deep — at least two to three times the size of the bulb — then plant winter annuals on top. This will give you two layers of color in the spring. When you think of winter annuals, pansies are the No. 1 favorite. They come in many colors, and bloom sizes vary by variety. Try to choose one to three complimentary colors, and plant in strong blocks of color. In addition to pansies, try violas, dianthus, dusty miller, flowering kale and cabbage. Consider planting edible ornamentals, such as lettuce, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard and beets. You can intersperse them in with flowers, then harvest as needed. Herbs are also nice to intersperse with flowers. Flat and curly parsley make fine fillers, as does cilantro.
Fall is a good time to plant hardy trees and shrubs. October is also the best month to plant wildflowers. Plant in a well-prepared site; remove all grass and weeds before sowing seeds. Mix together some annual seeds along with perennials to ensure color in the first season. Many perennials are sparse bloomers their first year from seed. Scatter in some bright red Shirley poppy seeds, larkspur, blue bachelor’s buttons or bright yellow and orange California poppies. Planting in the fall allows for early spring color. Annual wildflowers often reseed themselves.

Bring the outside in
When outside conditions are similar to inside conditions, that’s the best time to move houseplants back indoors. Tropical plants will start to harden off as temperatures cool down, so transitioning them back indoors before cool weather hits will make the move easier. Clean up your plants, inspecting them for insects or diseases before making the move. Cut way back on your watering, and try to give them as much indooor light as possible. Don’t be alarmed if they shed some leaves — the humid, warm weather outdoors is favored by tropical plants, but they can adapt. Just don’t kill them with kindness and too much water.

Also this month, divide spring- and summer-blooming perennials. Divide your fall-blooming perennials in the spring. If your perennials are too crowded, dividing them can rejuvenate them and help them bloom better next spring. Dig up the clump, and use a sharp knife or shovel to cut it up. Replant what you need, and share others with your gardening friends.
Trees are beginning to shed leaves, and some are beginning their fall color. When you think fall foliage, you also think raking. Raking chores will continue all fall. Raking leaves a little bit at a time does not seem as daunting as waiting until all the leaves fall. You can also keep up with the leaves with a mulching mower as long as you mow frequently. Shredded leaves make a wonderful addition to compost piles or can be used as mulch.