Take advantage of sunny October days to get spring bulbs in the ground. Although you can plant bulbs until the ground freezes, it's much nicer to work outside while temps are warmer. Improve your bulb plantings with these tips:
1. Go big with bulbs. Edge an entire planting bed with a ribbon of grape hyacinths. Pepper groupings of daffodils along a property line or fence. Plant a lawn with brilliant blue Siberian squill -- letting it naturalize unfurls a blooming carpet each spring.
2. Consider companions. Team bulbs with early-season perennials that will bloom together. A few choices include forget-me-not, wall rockcress, creeping basket of gold, candytuft, and English primrose.
3. Spotlight the small. Tuck bulbs with diminutive proportions, such as miniature iris, glory of the snow, crocus, and snowdrops, into places where you'll be able to see them from indoors or planting beds near driveways or sidewalks.
4. Save a few bulbs for forcing indoors. Provide bulbs with 14 to 16 weeks of cold (41-48 degrees F). It will take another two to three weeks at room temperature for flower buds to start unfurling. Plant bulbs now for New Year blooms.
Frost will arrive this month, marking the end of the garden season. If you have plants you want to protect or produce you're waiting to pick, keep an ear tuned to weather forecasts.
When frost is predicted, you can protect some plants with a sheet or other nonplastic material. In the morning, don't remove covers until air has warmed.
Invest in frost blankets to extend the growing season by as much as a month for certain vegetables or cutting-garden flowers. Frost blankets are made from spun polyester or plastic. They permit water and light to reach plants, but exclude frost.
Vegetables and Frost: Some veggies taste better after frost nips leaves -- like carrots, Brussels sprouts, and kale. And most greens, including lettuce and spinach, can take hard frosts (below 28 degrees F). Root crops can stay in the ground until you want to use them. Clip the green, growing portions and heap mulch, straw, or soil over them to prolong the harvest up to 30 days. Use this technique with potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and beets.
Don't allow leaves to accumulate on the lawn or other surfaces. An easy way to deal with leaves is to rake or blow them onto the lawn and mow over them with a mulching mower. Leaves that are chopped fine will decompose in place.
Older pine needles drop from branches in fall. In fire-prone areas, gather needles and dispose of them.
Otherwise, allow needles to form a distinctive mulch beneath trees, or rake them up and use as mulch around other plants or to line muddy footpaths. Pine needles make excellent slug-deterring mulch around hostas. If needles are too long, chop them with a chipper shredder.
Fill and hang bird feeders. Birds establish their winter feeding patterns before winter actually arrives.
Clean birdhouses. Wear rubber gloves to remove old nesting material. Rinse houses with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water to kill bird parasites and help limit disease spread.
Feed fish as long as they're active. Be sure to remove frost-tender and tropical aquatic plants before frost.
Prepare heaters for ponds and keep leaves out of water gardens by stretching a net across the surface.
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