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Early fall a busy time

The October Gardener

Master Gardener Kay Snipes prepares her garden for winter.

Master Gardener Kay Snipes prepares her garden for winter.

The month of October is a busy time in the garden. There is much work to do before we sit by the fires of winter and look at our seed catalogs. Many shrubs, perennials and trees profit from planting during this month. Fall planting gives them time to grow a well-developed root system before the hard frosts of winter.

One favorite flower for October is the pansy. These happy flower faces will cheer you all winter and into the spring. Pansies make great container-grown plants, as well as border or mass plantings. They need soft soil, so add a layer of organic material to your beds.

Pansies should be planted 8-10 inches apart so they won’t be susceptible to disease due to crowding in the spring. Immediately after planting, fertilize with a water soluble fertilizer and repeat two weeks later if the daytime temps are still in the 70s. Other flowers that can be planted at this time are dianthus, snapdragons, and violas.

October is a profitable time to plant or move perennials. Perennials provide year-after-year performance and multiply, so you’ll have a never-ending number of new plants every few years. Be sure to sketch out your plan on paper; consider pleasing color combinations, variety of heights, shapes and textures. For perennials already growing, cut back, then divide overgrown clumps. Remember to rake up debris and remove any annuals in your garden. Leave no hiding places for overwintering pests.

October is also a good time to do some maintenance in your vegetable garden area. If you planted some cool weather crops earlier, you should be enjoying a forthcoming harvest of beets, kale, collards, parsley, turnips, carrots and even some lettuce and radishes now and into the winter months.

You can improve the soil for any unplanted areas and prevent erosion by planting cover crops. Good cover crops are crimson clover, winter wheat, annual ryegrass and alfalfa. Cover crops will be turned into the ground in the spring and provide rich nutrients for the soil. If you decide not to use a cover crop, at least mulch the garden with wheat straw to prevent erosion.

Evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs are due to be planted this month. Plants are less stressed now than during the hot summer months and respond well to being moved during this time. Remember to dig a large enough hole (two times larger than the root ball) and water well. Mulch new plantings with two to three inches of mulch, and this would be a good time to top-dress your shrubs with compost. It’s like giving them a vitamin drink before putting them to bed for the winter.

Now is a good time to turn the compost pile. Take time to rake any leaves you have so you can make leaf mold, too. Fill large plastic leaf bags with leaves, put water inside the bag. Poke a few holes in the bag, tie it up and hide it behind some shrubbery or out of sight until the spring. You will be rewarded with rich leaf mold to use in the garden.

Whatever you do, enjoy this month to be outside without the heat. Happy gardening!

Kay Snipes is a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer and a member of SOWEGA Master Gardeners. She lives in Schley County. Readers with further questions about October gardening may call 800-AskUGA1 .