October Gardening Tips for the Mountain West and High Plains

Frost is here and the garden season is quickly winding down. Get started on packing up the garden.


It's Time for Spring Bulbs

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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.

Average frost dates.

Bulb planting tips.

Beautiful bulb combinations.

Frosty Nights

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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.

Dealing with Autumn Leaves and Needles

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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.

Attract Birds

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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.

Quiz: What is your favorite bird's food?

Attract songbirds to your winter garden.

Take Care of Ponds

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.

Garden Cleanup

Time you spend cleaning the garden in fall pays off in spring. You'll have fewer cleanup chores to add to spring's busy to-do list, and you'll also help control pests and diseases, which overwinter in plant debris.

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  • Remove spent annuals from planting beds and containers.
  • Empty containers. Toss soil onto a compost pile or existing planting beds. Wash pots, finishing with a bleach rinse (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) to destroy any disease organisms.
  • Do not compost leaves of plants that were infected with disease this year. Examples include hollyhock with rust, rose or aspens with black spot, and vegetables with fungus or blight problems.
  • Cut down perennials sometime after a killing frost and before snow flies. Leave 3-inch stubs in place to catch leaves for winter insulation. Allow perennials such as 'Autumn Joy' sedum, coneflower, ornamental grass, or yarrow to remain for winter interest.
  • Bring frost-tender houseplants indoors for winter. Check leaves for pests. Spray with water, insecticidal soap, or a simple soap solution using dishwashing liquid.
  • Prune any dead or storm-damaged branches on shrubs or trees.
  • Cut the lawn short -- to about 1 inch tall -- before snow flies. Taller grass is more susceptible to a disease called snow mold. And early in the month, apply herbicides to lawn weeds before they're killed by frost. Use a granular broadleaf weed control product to kill perennial weeds such as dandelions or clover. Try a preemergent herbicide to stop weeds that germinate in fall, such as chickweed or henbit.

Weed identification guide.

Fall lawn-care secrets.

October Planting

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Plant trees up until the ground freezes in your area. Shrubs and perennials should be planted three weeks prior to the ground freezing while trees can be planted up until the first hard frost. Be sure to water new additions to the landscape through winter as weather permits.

If your holiday celebrations include a live Christmas tree, dig planting holes now, before the ground freezes. Fill holes with leaves and cover with a tarp until you're ready to plant. Keep soil removed from the hole in a location where it won't freeze solid.

October Watering

Until the ground freezes, if local water use ordinances permit, continue to irrigate plants that were added to the landscape in the last 12 months. Lack of moisture during the growing season is the most common reason plants die during their first winter.

Tree Care

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Protect thin-barked trees against sun scald by wrapping trunks with paper tree wrap or white cloth roughly 4 inches wide. Secure ends with several wrappings of tape. Sun scald is a problem occurring most frequently on young trees and on the southwest side of the trunk.

White or light-gray tree guards also help to protect the trunks against nibbling or rubbing wildlife. Do not use black-color tree guards.

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