9 Critical Tasks in the October Garden

By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

It’s time to start checking off items from that fall gardening to-do list. These are things I do every fall; my aim is to complete all of them by the end of October. Today’s column lists these very easy, but significant, tasks in order of importance.

 1 ~ The most critical job of fall is also the easiest:  feeding everything in the landscape. The entire yard and garden should be fed within the next few weeks. I get the best results from my specially created organic “All Purpose Plant Food”. It makes a huge difference in my garden because it helps plants survive harsh winter weather and promotes better spring growth. A must for spring-blooming plants from lilacs to forsythias, I also apply it to my native plants for better color through the winter.

 2 ~This is the time to treat pinyon pines for scale. Each tree gets treated with liquid “Plant Protector”, and it doesn’t take an arborist to apply this bug killer.  Mix it in a 2-gallon watering can and apply it to the base of each plant; the roots will do the rest.  I think of it as an antibiotic for trees. Reapply in March and you will have the best-looking pest-free pines in the neighborhood.

 3 ~ Change from Round-Up-type weed killers, which are completely ineffective in cold weather, to a cool season weed killer like “Weed Beater Ultra”. I never waste my time and money using inappropriate products that deliver ineffective results. 

 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 “Sticker Spreader” and “Multi-Purpose Insect Spray”.  It will eliminate aphids from any landscape.

 5 ~ A layer of household insulation should be laid over irrigation valves, under the valve lid.  For those of you that followed last year’s garden column advice this bit possibly saved you from a plumber’s bill.  In addition to this insurance policy against winter damage of my irrigation system, I buy next spring’s mulch, manure, and shredded bark because the full  bags make excellent insulation!  They are perfect to use as hearty protection over the valve box lid, around the well house, around the backflow preventer.  I use several bags to insulate my hot tub, which keeps down our heating bills.  My garden will need these products next spring anyway, so why not get double duty out of those bags of soil amendments?

  6  ~ Replace summer flowers and vegetables with winter varieties: pansies, kales, violas, broccoli, cabbages, lettuces, and cauliflowers.  Bring planted containers close to the house because they benefit from the building’s residual heat absorbed from the sun and a seemingly insignificant bit of shelter from the elements. As perennials turn brown, cut them back.

 7 ~ It’s important to change the irrigation clock because to reduce freeze damage it’s better to water the lawn during the day.  My clock is set to water the lawn once a week at 10:00 a.m. After Halloween I turn off the automatic irrigation and operate it manually on warm winter days. This prevents freeze damage on my plants and to the irrigation system. November through March I water my trees and shrubs twice a month.

  8  ~  If your lawn looks heat-stressed or doggie-damaged, it’s best to de-thatch before adding that one last feeding of ‘All Purpose Plant Food’.

Two weeks after applying plant food add a granular supplement called “Soil Activator” by Natural Guard. It encourages growth in bare patches and keeps the lawn an intense green longer into winter.

 9 ~  If you have a rock lawn apply “Weed & Grass Preventer”. Winter weeds like fox tails and dandelions will emerge after the next few storms and become a serious problem just after the holidays. “Weed & Grass Preventer” prevents any weeds from coming back by seed. This is especially important if you missed this summer’s monsoon application.

Bonus garden tip – Make sure the well house is adequately insulated. Before Thanksgiving seal cracks and doors and make sure the heat lamp is working or reconnect the heat tape.

That’s my list.  Make up your list using any of these steps that will improve your lawn and/or garden. With these minimal maintenance tasks, you’ll find your winter-blooming flowers brighter, the evergreens greener, and your spring growth more exciting than ever. If you have questions about any of the listed items please stop by the garden center where my staff and I will be glad to help you.

Tune In – This week I’ll be covering the fall tasks needed in Arizona’s mountain gardens on my radio show, “The Mountain Gardener“. You are invited to tune in every Saturday at KQNA 1130 AM or 99.9 FM from 11:00 a.m. to noon. It’s an hour of enlightening and entertaining gardening talk.

Plant of the Week is the Regal Petticoat Maple.  This spectacular shade tree is new to Arizona.  The leaves have deep green topsides with even deeper purple velvety undersides.  The autumn colors are the real signature of this new introduction.  Its fall leaves turn aspen yellow on top and bright magenta pink on the underside, accented with shades of red, orange, and salmon. This mineral tolerant specimen matures into a beautiful tree of superior disease resistance. There is no mess because this beauty produces no flowers or seeds on its 35-foot high vase-shaped form. This is the perfect shade tree for urban and commercial settings where our clay soils are an issue. Good size trees are under $99, and we just received some huge specimens.  All are ready for fall