It’s October! A time of harvest, gathering and hunkering down for the coming winter ahead. It is a time of corn mazes, pumpkin patches and fresh apple cider. While most of our beloved summertime plants are starting to look worse for the wear, the garden is still a place full of potential and growth even as frost begins to settle on the grass.
A majority of gardening in the autumn months is trimming back and preparing for frost, but it is also the perfect time to plant bulbs, trees and shrubs. Bulbs like daffodils, tulips and crocuses are planted in October to ensure a colorful pop of cover in spring when we are all desperate for color.
You can plant them in a pattern in hopes of a beautiful arrangement, or be a bit more avant garde and toss them to see what appears. Costa Farms’ website suggests that you plant larger bulbs at least 8 inches into the ground, while smaller ones can be planted 4 inches deep. The site also suggests that if deer might be an issue, planting daffodils, scilla, and allium among others may deter them from digging up the bulbs. Rabbits also find these and other bulbs unappetizing. It might be worth a search or two to see if your new bulbs are critter proof before planting them and weighing the risk if they aren’t.
In addition to planting bulbs, fall is a good time to plant native species as well. They have time to establish strong roots in the dwindling light of autumn before summer heat and lack of moisture set in. Native plants help with erosion, as well as feed native insects and other pollinators that are crucial to our environment. If you are curious about what plants are native to this area, I recommend checking out www.plantvirginianatives.org for more information.
Observing your once thriving, green garden might be a little depressing at this time of the year, however there is still work to be done in order to ensure another year of bountiful harvest for next year.
Trimming down wiley tomato and morning glory vines, as well as pulling away dead corn husks and bean vines will give you views of other weeds that may still be poking through. Catching tricky weeds such as crabgrass and thistle while there are no other surrounding plants to hide them and cutting them down to the ground will help prevent them from springing back up once winter ends.
This is also a perfect time to mulch the garden with hay, grass clippings, and dead leaves. The coverage will protect the soil during the colder months, and serve as instant compost for the thawing soil come spring.
Another important component to gardening in the fall is ensuring that all of your spring and summer equipment are properly cleaned and stored for their winter’s nap in the shed or basement. You can clean, sharpen and oil garden tools so they are ready to go once the snow has melted. Make sure that gas powered machines have empty tanks for safety, and take them for any maintenance or blade sharpening that is needed. Fragile flower pots such as those made of terracotta and plastic should be moved indoors to prevent cracking with the ebb and flow of winter’s frosts.
Finally, if you are not entirely ready to call the harvest season over, there are several cold-weather plants that can still be planted and harvested before frost takes its hold. Crops such as spinach, arugula, carrots, lettuce, and beets will still thrive provided they are given frost cover with a grow cloth. Grow cloth can be anchored into the soil with metal pins or pegs and provides protection while still allowing light to get to the plants. While some of winter’s harshest weather may give them a run for their money, most cold loving plants will still thrive if given a little extra attention.
Whether we like it or not, the year is coming to an end and with it the long warm nights of fresh tomatoes and stringing beans on the porch. We can capture these memories in our canning jars and relive them each time they are opened in the dark cold nights of winter. With careful preparation and a little bit of patience the garden will be there and ready for next year before you know it.