October Stepping Stones

Weeks One and Two

Plan and Design

If your new bed area has Bermuda grass, rethink the timing and wait until next year to kill the Bermuda grass when it’s actively growing. Otherwise, preparing and amending the soil in most other areas can be started from September until February.

Continue to edit the garden. Certain perennials can be divided in the fall for root propagating, such as the veronica groundcovers Veronica pectinata, V. pectinata ‘Rosea’, and V. ‘Blue Reflection’, Achillea ageratifolia and A. siberica will propagate well by root cuttings too, as will Calylophus. Divide other perennials with spreading root systems such as coral bells (heucheras) and cranebills (geraniums species). Transplant and move perennials for a great start on the next growing season. The roots will continue to grow through the winter. I have noticed much growth in my low water-use perennials from October to February.

Amend the Soil

For non-Bermuda grass areas, if using the smothering technique, or lasagna method of preparing a bed, do so now. Place a layer of 4-6 newspapers overlapping over the new bed area. Shovel sand 1 – 3 inches deep or other inorganic amendment (follow amendment instructions) on top for clay soil. Follow this with 3 inches of compost. Let this set until next year, until late January or early February. Then work the soil with a garden fork, mixing in the material. Add another 3 inches or so of compost, depending on the type of plants you intend to landscape with. Mix in again.

When I prepare a new bed using the lasagna method, I start in the fall, and work the soil after the top growth is killed a minimum of two times before planting, three is preferred.

I usually rotor till only once, to avoid over tilling. A stout garden fork is my tool of choice. Buy the stoutest garden fork you can. It will still break in our compacted clay soil, at least it’ll last longer. Preparing the ground properly is a very important factor in gardening success and quick establishment of plants. The benefit of using the lasagna method is in saving your topsoil. This is especially beneficial to you if you’ve been topdressing your turf with organic matter, you don’t want to peel it off and toss it away.

Build the soil by adding 1 – 3 inches of compost (insure that your compost has not been exposed to persistent synthetic chemicals; see Maintenance, Composting, Killer Compost) to flowerbeds, more for the vegetable and rose beds. This may all depend on how many years you’ve amended them organically in the past.

Xeric beds do not need yearly amending. If a decline in vigor is noticed several years after establishing xeric beds, pull back the mulch and add a compost blend, 1 – 3 inches. I have not noticed the need to add organic amendments to xeric beds 3-5 years old. However, if the occasion occurs that I need to replace a plant, I add a handful of Yum-Yum mix to the planting whole for quart size perennials. Add more when planting shrubs and trees. Now,after 10+ years, I broadcast Yum-Yum Mix over the rock mulch on the xeric beds in the spring, and wash it down to the soil with a garden hose. Everything is still going strong. You could do this in the fall instead of spring.


Continue to mow turf as needed. If you feel it’s necessary to aerate the turf, do so. Apply topdressing to turf if you didn’t in September, about a ½” to ¾” layer. More is not better, but may smother the turf.

Appropriate Plants

Finish any fall planting in new beds. October is a good month to add trees to the landscape.

Plant chrysanthemums and asters as soon as possible, the sooner the better for root development prior to winter’s cold. Plant winter hardy annuals.

Monitor nighttime low temperatures. Protect tropicals from lows below 55º, and sub tropicals for temperatures below 40º. Dig up and bring inside any non-cold hardy perennials to winter over (alocasias, caladiums, colocasias, gladiolas, etc.).

Withhold water from amaryllis in the fall; move them under a cover if rain threatens. Dig up amaryllis bulbs that have been planted outside in May. Some people plant amaryllis directly in the ground, others bury the pot and all. Wash and air-dry them out of direct sunlight for a few days. Pot them up or place in a light-tight box or area for about 8 weeks, with temperatures about 50º. After the leaves shrivel and turn yellow, cut them off. After about 8 weeks, pot them, and keep lightly moist in a bright, sunny inside location, above 55º. They will begin to re-bloom during the holiday season. (Garden Design Magazine, Dec. 2000-Jan. 2001).

Efficient use of Water

Adjust sprinkler systems with the change in season. Disconnect any outdoor water fountains, drain, clean out and store the pumps in the shed or garage.


Mulch the beds for winter, up to 3 inches. Add inorganic mulch to the xeric beds, if needed.

Weeks Three and Four

Finish any of the above-mentioned gardening tasks, your stepping stones to gardening success. You will notice through the year, your xeric, or low water-use beds require far less maintenance.

Appropriate Plants

Plant spring blooming bulbs, but you needn’t be in a hurry. November is just as good.

Dig up any tender, not cold hardy bulbs to over-winter. Frost generally will not damage them, nor even the first freeze, but dig them up before the ground cools too low. Cold moist soil will rot the bulbs in the fall, just as readily as it will in early spring.


As leaves begin to fall, harvest this valuable organic amendment. For the large leaves, rake onto the lawn and mow. For a crop of large leaves, put your bag attachment back on the mulch mower, mow and bag them up, and disperse them back on the beds and borders. Or just compost them. Repeat as necessary.

Clean up the garden a bit for the winter, adding the debris to the compost pile but leave seed heads and grasses that provide winter interest. Remove any diseased or pest infested foliage and take it to the dumpster. You don’t want any of that to winter over.

Don’t clean out beds thoroughly, just some cosmetic cleaning. Provide a winter habitat for the beneficial insects, birds and other critters. These are all part of the rhythm and cycle of life, the garden and soil web of life.


Plant pansies, violas, kale, dianthus, snapdragons, ornamental cabbages, mums and asters, the traditional fall plants if desired. These winter annuals of pansies, violas, and ornamental kale and cabbage can be planted in the large insulated foam containers that look like stoneware. The insulation allows them to winter over, most winters. They are high maintenance and need to be watered regularly and fed with “Pansy Food” for continued blooms throughout the winter months.

If you’ve been a gardening angel to someone or someplace, put those gardens, as well as your own, to bed for the winter.

Keep it Up

  • Mulch mow
  • Irrigate if necessary
  • Turn and moisten the compost pile if necessary
  • Weed
  • Record information in your garden journal

Be a Plant Explorer

With such a great and diverse nation with a multitude of ecosystems, choose one and visit. Fall is splendid in many areas, and in the south, temperatures are cooling, making outdoor adventures more attractive. Spring plants are replaced by mature summer and fall blooming plants, giving many botanic gardens an entirely different appearance from spring displays.

If you missed out on the tallgrass prairies in September, early October is still prime time to visit. Or head south, many gardens have recovered from summer’s heat and are enjoying the second season. October through December is a great time to visit the Chihuahuan Desert parks as many flowers are still in bloom.

Angie Hanna

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