October: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Holy Hemerocallis!!  When did September happen?  I think I missed it!  I remember Labor Day and now it is October and that calendar doesn’t look any better than September’s.  I need to go back to work.  I don’t have time for retirement.

The Accidental Cottage Garden is preparing to go to bed (pun intended) for the winter.  There are several things still blooming, but not prolifically.  Well, the stonecrop (Hylotelephium “Herbstsfreude” ‘Autumn Joy’) (Somebody went way out of their way on that one.) is prolific, but all the rest are winding down.  Ther are Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum) which the bees totally obsess over, the crazy unidentified spreading chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum whoknowsium),  gallardia (Gallardia pulchella), hardy ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum), wand flower (Guarda lindheimeri) and an indominable balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) which has bloomed on and off since May.  Oh, and I almost forgot the three ghosts (Spiritus hauntimaria cv plywood) that have sprouted with the able assistance of 6- and 7-year-old boys.

Calendar?  Oh, you came here for the calendar?  Well, if you insist, I’ll just have to include one.


You can still reseed/overseed/start from scratch tall fescue and bluegrass (not associated with IBMA) this month.  Keep the new seeds well hydrated util they become established.

Keep leaves from building up on newly (and oldly) seeded lawns.


October is essentially a fertilizer-free month unless you are setting out spring flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils, crocus, etc.).  If that be the case then by all means add a little 10-10-10 or equivalent to the planting soil.  Put away any left-over fertilizer in a moisture free container.


Spring flowering bulbs and pansies can be planted this month.  Plant pansies as soon as possible to give them the best opportunity to get well established before it gets cold.  One caveat, however, members of the Odocoileus virginianus species will seek out and devour pansies whenever they can.  (That’s white-tailed deer for all of you non-zoology majors.)  Pansies (Viola tricolor) are favored nearly as much as hostas and azaleas.

Perhaps you have heard or read the Green Industry’s slogan, “Fall is for Planting”.  It is more than just a marketing gimmick.  Fall is the best time to plant nearly all landscape plants.  Planting in the fall gives the plant time to establish a healthy root system before the increasingly hot and dry NC summer arrives.

Peonies can be planted/transplanted now.

If you are not planting a fall vegetable garden (The psychiatrist will see you now.) consider planting a nitrogen-fixing cover crop.  Red clover (Trifolium pratense) or winter rye grass (Lolium perenne) will work nicely.  Just ill them back into the soil come Spring to increase the nutritional and organic matter content of the soil.

Cold frame owners can plant their winter veggie garden in the frame for salad all season long.


Maybe.  If it frosts (Hey, anything is meteorologically possible in October in NC.) then you can finish cutting back your perennials that are done for the season. 

Leave the shrubs and trees alone until after a hard freeze.


This boat should have sailed last month unless you have a lace bug problem.  These persistent critters will be active (read—feeding) all winter long whenever the leaf temperature in sufficient as in when the sun is shining.  A horticultural oil will usually put a stop to their voraciousness as it will kill the adults and the eggs.


Be sure to keep moist any cuttings that you have started in the cold frame.


Take SOIL SAMPLES.  They are still FREE this month.  NCDOA charges for the analysis November through April.

Put all those leaves into the compost pile or till them into the garden.  They will breakdown faster if they are first shredded.

Give the bird feeders a thorough cleaning.  Then put them back out for the birds (and squirrels).

Dig and store (cool, dry) tender summer flowering bulbs (E.g.  gladioli, caladium, dahlia, etc.) before frost.

Do whatever it takes to get outside and enjoy what a great many people consider to be the best month of the year.  (Personally, I prefer July, but that’s just me.)  Play with your kids or grandkids or dog(s).  Go for a bicycle ride, hike a trail, paddle a stream or lake or just sit on the patio/deck and enjoy.  It can also be prime fire pit weather (meaning S’MORES).

Stay safe, y’all.  Get vaccinated.  Wear a mask.  It’s all a part of the “Do unto others” thing.

*Resources and Further Reading

Organic Lawn Care Guide

North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook – Propagation

How to Prune Specific Plants

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (find your perfect plant or figure out what that unknown weed is!)