By Susan Stone
October is one of my favorite months of the year. Gardeners, joggers and dog walkers can once again be out in the middle of the day without fainting from the heat. We can finally open the windows and get some fresh air in the house!
Our garden tasks for the month are all about clean up and preparation. Here are a few chores you can do now to reduce your labor in the spring and to keep your gardens healthy.
Roses: If you haven’t already, stop fertilizing and pruning your roses this month. They need to finish their natural cycle by developing their rose hips. These are the hard round bulbish growths at the base of the flower. Once they have ripened (by February), you can harvest them for rose hip tea or other recipes. They are very high in vitamin C and worth saving or sharing.
The most important thing you can do for your roses now is to clean out the leaf material under them. Discard all diseased leaves. DO NOT THROW THEM IN YOUR COMPOST! This will reduce the chance of black spot and other fungal diseases later. One more thing, for all of our northern gardeners, in the South, we do not prune our roses back until Valentine’s Day. I know they can look a little raggedy, but please do yourself and roses a favor and get over it. If you cut them back, they will push out new growth and won’t have time to harden off before the frosts come.
Fruit crops: There are still citrus fruits ripening on the trees, but most of our fruit trees and grapevines are finished for the year. Collect and discard all of your fallen fruit. This is also not a compost item. Decaying fruit attracts insects. Many of our banana plants got zapped last winter, but recovered nicely. If you were lucky enough to get bananas this year, wait to harvest until just before our first frost. Our growing season isn’t quite long enough to harvest them ripe, so they will still be very green. To speed up the process, place them in a brown paper bag with an apple.
Bulbs: First, do yourself a favor and buy high quality bulbs. The cheap bulk bags are generally poor performers. You can plant bulbs now through November. If you have your heart set on tulips and hyacinths, you’ll need to refrigerate them for about six weeks before planting them in December or January. If you have room in the fridge, plant a small pot of paper whites to enjoy indoors. They will need a little more time in the cold (about three months). Flowers will appear in about 2-3 weeks at room temperature. Daffodils are still the hardiest bulbs we can enjoy year after year. Just remember that the squirrels really love them too. Plant your bulbs under chicken wire or other barrier that they can penetrate but the squirrels can’t. You can also try planting bulbs amid your thick groundcover. Squirrels usually don’t dig in groundcover.
There is still time to plant your winter food crops. If you missed the opportunity to plant by seed, the garden centers are full of potted plants. Lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collards are just a sample of what is available this time of year.
Keep collecting your flower seeds and place them in paper envelopes to keep them dry. Label everything! If you want to sow some flower seeds now for spring, four-o-clocks, poppies, cornflowers and larkspur are a perfect choice.
You may send Susan your questions and garden wisdom to firstname.lastname@example.org.
RECIPE OF THE MONTH: The No-See-Ums are really waking up with the cooler temperatures so I am republishing last month’s recipe. Your sanity may depend on it!
• 1 oz. Cinnamon Leaf Oil, about $5 online
• 8-10 oz. Witch Hazel, about $1.50
That’s it! Put it in a spray bottle and shake! Adjust the recipe for strength. Test for sensitivity to the cinnamon, don’t use it straight. Too much of a good thing is still too much!