Essential October Steps to a Healthy Garden

09/29/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Landscaping

This week’s photo is for the outdoorsmen who read this column. Imagine eight men on a houseboat last week, 75 miles up Lake Powell fishing the San Juan arm of the lake, and you’ll have the setting for our experience. The seven- pound twins pictured were only the beginning to a successful catch. By Saturday we landed over 100 pounds of Striped Bass, all of which were filleted and put on ice! To exercise YOUR bragging rights, bring your best fish story when you visit the garden center this week; the tale can never be too big to elicit doubt or appreciation!

You have my permission to forward the photo to the fishermen in your life. If they live anywhere in the mountains of Arizona, forward the article, too, and they also can be in on the essential October tasks needed for a stress free landscape.

Step One – 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 alike and is less threatening to our drinking water than synthetics. Evergreens will keep their rich 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.

Step Two – This is the time to treat pinion pines for scale. Each tree gets treated with liquid “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.

Step Three – 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.

Step Four – 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”. It will eliminate aphids from any landscape, or any other bug for that matter. Spray at the foundation to keep away ants and spiders.

Step Five – This step can save you from a plumber’s bill to repair a frozen water system. 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 your valve box lids, around the well house, and around back flow preventers. The garden will need them anyway next spring, so why not get double duty out of those bags of soil amendments?

Step Six – 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/or cauliflowers to avoid having your landscape left looking bare.

Step Seven – 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 the food 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 also encourages growth in the bare spots of the lawn.
Step Eight – 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 steps, please stop by the garden center where my staff and I will be glad to sort out your concerns.

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Plant of the week – It’s the start of autumn and you will find that Prescott Pansies are celebrating their existence! Blooming from autumn through spring, this clown-faced variety blooms more months of the year than any other mountain flower. These local favorites will bloom like crazy through the end of the year, but for success the right time of planting is everything. They must be planted before the first frost so they have time to root fully.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.