By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
October is a critical month in landscape maintenance and should not be ignored. As we transition into Autumn and the first frosts in November these key steps keep our landscapes healthy, weed-free, and ready for their long slumber through winter. These strategic steps also will provide a rich harvest from the vegetable garden through the holidays. Broccoli at Christmas is possible with task #6, weed prevention with # 8, and vibrant green evergreens right through the coldest winter days with #1. So here are the essential October gardening tasks that should be completed by the end of the month.
#1 – The most critical job of fall is also the easiest gardening task: feeding everything in our landscapes. The entire yard should be fed within the next few weeks. Stay away from synthetic winterizer plant food. Much safer results are delivered with my 7-4-4 “All Purpose Plant Food.” This locally blended natural plant food is safer for pets and people and is less threatening to our drinking water than synthetic foods. Evergreens will keep their vibrant green color through winter with this October feeding, and it’s a must for spring bloomers like lilacs and forsythias. Native pinion and ponderosa pines should receive this meal to fend off bark beetles, scale, and aphids. Even houseplants should be given a small taste.
#2 – This is the time to treat pinion pines for scale. Each tree gets treated with Watters “Plant Protector”, and it doesn’t take an arborist to apply this liquid bug killer. Diluted with water in a 2-gallon watering can and applied at the base of each evergreen, the roots will absorb it and do the rest. I think of it as an antibiotic for trees. Reapply in March, and you will have great-looking pest-free trees in your landscape.
#3 – When nighttime temperatures drop below 55 degrees, it is time for a cool weather weed killer. Glyphosate based weed killers will not work in October. Ragweed, dandelions, and all the other nasty autumn weeds are controlled easily by using liquid “Weed Beater Ultra”. Spray it on and watch them “melt away” in a day.
#4 – Watch for large aphids. If the leaves and rocks at the bases of trees are glistening like a morning’s dew, aphids have begun their assault. Get on them right away by hosing down these pests with specially formulated “Multi-Purpose Insect Spray”. Not only will it eliminate aphids from any landscape, it will do away with any other bugs. Spray at the house foundation to keep away ants and spiders.
#5 – This move can save you from a plumber’s bill to repair frozen water systems. Every fall I buy next spring’s mulch, manure, and shredded bark products and use them as insulating bags. They are perfect to use as cold protection over my valve box lids, around the well house, and around backflow preventers. The garden will need them anyway next spring, so why not get double duty out of those bags of soil amendments?
#6 – By the end of October trees will be bare and the summer flowers dead. Strategically place some blooming autumn plants in your landscape, containers, and vegetable garden, and you’ll have flowers in bloom through the end of the year. By the end of the month plant pansies, kale, mums, violas, broccoli, cabbages, lettuces, and cauliflowers to avoid having your landscape left looking bare.
#7 – If your lawn looks heat-stressed or doggie-damaged, it’s best to de-thatch before adding that one last feeding of 7-4-4 ‘All Purpose Plant Food’.
Two weeks after applying food to your lawn add a granular supplement called “Soil Activator”. This food-activator combination should keep the lawn green long after your neighbors wish they had done the same. This extra step encourages growth in the damaged spots of the lawn as well.
#8 – If you have a rock lawn apply “Weed & Grass Stopper”. Winter weeds like fox tails and dandelions will emerge and become a serious problem just after the holidays. This granular weed stopper prevents weeds from coming back by seed. This is especially important if you missed applying it during this summer’s monsoon season.
With these minimal maintenance tasks, you’ll find your winter-blooming flowers brighter, your evergreens greener, and your spring growth more vibrant. If you have questions about any of these eight tasks, please stop by the garden center where my staff and I will be glad to sort out your concerns.
Plants of October – It’s the start of autumn; that means that Prescott’s Pansies are celebrating their existence! Blooming through autumn right into spring, this clown-faced variety blooms more months of the year than any other mountain flower. This local favorite will bloom like crazy through the end of the year, but for success the right time of planting is paramount. They need planting before the first frost so they have time to root fully.
Free Gardening Classes are hosted here at Watters Garden Center every Saturday at 9:30 in the morning. Each is fun, filled with truly local advice, and with lots of local gardeners asking the right local gardening questions. Take a look at the October class schedule.
Until next issue, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping local gardeners with their October gardening list.