October gardening doesn’t have to be limited to clearing out your lawn and buckling down for cool winter temperatures.
There are plenty of tasks to undertake to help prepare your garden for the spring growing season and prevent disease, frost, and fungal issues later down the line.
Plus, soil temperatures stay warmer than air temperatures, meaning the ground is still very workable come autumn, and planting is still very viable.
For an October gardening to-do list based on your climate and location, keep reading!
Northeast and New England October Gardening
1. Plant Shrubs
Fall is an excellent time to plant shrubs because the air temperatures are cooler, but the soil is still warm. The cooler temps encourage shrubs into a dormant state, which helps to facilitate healthy root growth and development.
When planting evergreen shrubs or conifers in the ground, strong, fast root development is exactly what you want. Consistent watering is also vital to establishing a solid root system, so autumnal rainfall is very welcome.
Once planted, cover the roots of your shrubs with mulch to keep the soil comfortable and moist.
Some great shrubs to plant in the fall include:
2. Plant Herbs
Surprisingly, many herbs are cold-hardy and grow well in the cool fall weather.
The still-warm soil is excellent for germinating herb seeds, and the mild temperatures are ideal for heat-sensitive leaves. Herbs also serve as great accents and companion plants in pretty winter flowerbeds.
Cool-weather-loving herbs include:
3. Plant Roses and Geraniums
Roses and geraniums can be anytime from spring to fall as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
So, as long as the roots have time to settle and go dormant before the first freeze of winter, your roses should do just fine!
Roses that go in the ground in the fall will be prepped and primed to bloom beautifully come springtime.Typically, rose bushes are cheaper this time of year, too!
4. Dig and Prepare Tender Bulbs
Not every plant can tolerate the cold quite like the aforementioned perennials.
To prep your tender annuals for the cold, you’ll want to prune them to the ground, clear the bulbs of any soil or plant matter, and then store them in a cool, dry place.
Tender, annual bulbs that need to be dug and stored are:
- Elephant’s Ears
- Calla Lilies
- Ginger Lilies
- Banana Plants
5. Fertilize Lawn
If you haven’t fertilized your lawn yet, October is a good time to do so!
Apply nitrogen-rich fertilizer to help revive grass after a hot summer. This will ensure your lawn has all the nutrients it needs to flourish and grow in the spring.
Midwest October Gardening
1. Create Ornamental Container Gardens
Winter doesn’t have to bring brown leaves, dormant trees, and gray skies! There are plenty of colorful, ornamental plants ideally suited for October gardening.
Grasses, late-blooming perennials, cold-hardy ornamentals, and even colorful winter squashes are excellent choices for creating your own autumnal container garden.
Come wintertime, some plants prefer containers or raised beds to help with frost and rot.
Add some ground cover like clover or mustard to keep the soil healthy, and you’ll have a gorgeous container garden full of fall colors.
For some October gardening inspiration, check out:
- Winter pansies
- Ornamental kale
- Ornamental grasses
2. Plant Greens
Like their herbal counterparts, plenty of leafy greens perform well throughout the colder months.
In fact, some greens do even better in the fall and winter than in the prime growing season. As long as your seeds are planted in warm soil and have germinated before the first frost, you’re good to go!
For a healthy vegetable garden and delicious autumnal soups and stews, try growing:
3. Plant Colorful Perennials
If you’d rather skip the companion-grown containers and add some autumnal hues and textures to your garden, there are still plenty of options for you that can go right in the ground!
Colorful fall-loving perennials that are well suited for October gardening include:
- Blanket Flower
- Cardinal Flower
- Hardy Mum
- Pincushion Flower
- Red Valerian
- Thread Leaf Coreopsis
4. Deadhead Blooming Annuals
Deadheading your blooming plants is one of the most tedious yet necessary gardening tasks, especially come winter when your annuals will start to shed their flowers.
Deadheading will help keep your flowering plants looking pretty and encourage them to produce more come growing season.
Depending on the plant, you could use your fingers to pinch off the blooms or use clean pruning shears to snip off spent or wilting blooms carefully.
This way, your plant isn’t wasting its precious energy, which is usually limited during cooler dormant months anyway, on reviving dying blooms.
This way, it can use the nutrients and resources it has left to preserve its root system during the winter.
5. Clean Out Your Shed
October is also an excellent time to clean out your gardening shed or garage.
First and foremost, you’ll want to double-check that your storage area is well-sealed and waterproof.
This way, you can safely store all your outdoor furniture and garden tools in a dry space without fear of weather damage or mold.
Before storing any garden tools for the winter, be sure to remove any dirt or plant matter and sterilize them to prevent disease from growing and spreading. And be sure to dry them well!
Pacific Northwest October Gardening
1. Spruce Up Your Vegetable Garden
When it comes to planting fall veggies, you’ll want to skip fast-growing, cold-hardy varieties.
Some gardeners and veggie aficionados believe that a run-in with cool temps can even improve the flavor of some of these vegetables!
The main takeaway here is that there’s no need to tear up your veggie garden come fall.
Instead, look into the following vegetable varieties for October gardening:
- Chinese cabbage
- Bibb lettuce
- Yellow squash
- Bush beans
- Cruciferous vegetables
2. Plant Bulbs
As long as the ground is still warm and workable, you can continue to plant your spring bulbs through October.
To plant your bulbs, dig a hole at least twice as deep as the bulb is long in the still-warm soil and cover.
However, fresh bulbs are pretty tempting for deer, moles, and other larger pests. Using some chicken wire a few inches in the ground around the bulbs can help keep them safe.
Get your bulbs in the ground during October gardening, and come spring, you’ll be reaping the bountiful benefits.
Some bulbs need to be pre-chilled before going into the ground, so do your research before planting!
Hardy, well-performing spring bulbs that can be planted successfully in October include:
3. Plant Peonies and Camellias
Peonies and camellias are gorgeous perennial flowers that prefer to be planted in the fall.
In fact, spring-planted peonies and camellias tend to underperform compared to their autumnally-grown counterparts.
Both varieties are fragrant, colorful, and hardy, making them perfect additions to your October gardening to-do list!
4. Divide Perennials
Some perennials, even ones that could stay in the ground through colder months, do well with being lifted, divided, and potted.
Overcrowded and congested roots can prevent perennials from getting the nutrients they need during colder, dormant periods.
Dividing up your perennials will give them more space to grow, as well as more access to resources. Doing so in the fall will give your plants plenty of time to reestablish before the first frost.
5. Prepare Bird Feeders
Just like your plants, some animals fare better in cold weather than others.
Birds are essential to the health of your garden, so by providing the birds with food, water, and shelter for the winter, you’re helping them help you!
Keep your bird feeders clean and, if necessary, have your bird baths heated.
They will love having a stable food source through the fall and winter, which in turn will keep them coming back and pollinating your lawn.
Southeast October Gardening
1. Plant Alliums
Similar to bulbs, alliums need to get in the ground in October time for next year’s summer crop.
If you want ample onions and garlic when warm weather comes around, plant them in full sun with well-drained, nutrient-rich soil.
2. Plant Peas
Seeds or seedlings need to be planted at least eight weeks before the first frost. If the conditions are right, you’ll see stable top growth that will bloom around January and February!
In early spring, you’ll be swimming in pea pods.
3. Plant Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses are a staple of October gardening, and for good reason.
They are so varied in color and texture that no matter your taste or specific climate needs, you can find gorgeous ornamental grass to compliment your lawn and garden.
Both warm and cool-season grasses can be planted in the fall; they’re just on slightly different growing cycles and mature differently.
Some ornamental grasses that will look amazing in any fall display include:
- Fountain Grass
- Feather Reed Grass
- Maiden Grass
- Pampas Grass
- Shenandoah Switch Grass
- Blue Oat Grass
- Pink Muhly Grass
4. Winterize Hoses and Irrigation Systems
Depending on how your lawn and garden are set up, you might need to winterize your hoses and irrigation systems.
Doing so will prevent water from freezing inside pipes or hoses and ruining your setup.
The specifics of this process will depend on the type and brand of equipment you have, but in general, the steps are:
- Shut off the water supply
- Drain any remaining water
- Remove any hardware like sprinkler heads and store them safely
- Blow out the pipes or water lines with air to dry them out
5. Collect Seeds and Cuttings
Before plants go dormant, take advantage of the comfortable weather to collect seeds and cuttings from your garden to use next season.
Collecting and saving seeds and cuttings is an inexpensive way to ensure you get the same gorgeous blooms the following year.
Take seeds from your perennials, culinary cuttings from herbs, and hardwood cuttings from your trees and shrubs.
Some can be sowed immediately, while others can be saved and stored until the right time to get them in soil.
Southwest October Gardening
1. Plant Squash
When you think of autumnal plants, you’re probably thinking of squashes, gourds, and pumpkins.
However, despite that association, many squash varieties are cold-sensitive, so they’re only suited for fall planting in warm climates.
Some of the best squashes and pumpkins to plant in the fall are:
2. Plant Agaves
Agaves are a type of succulent endemic to the southwest and South America. Though they’re drought tolerant like most succulents, they are very temperature sensitive.
Agaves are known for their use in food products, particularly alcohol. Agave syrup is also a great sugar substitute!
As such, the milder fall months are perfect for planting your agave in the ground. These perennials need to be watered weekly once established but generally prefer low humidity and moisture.
They’re prone to rot, so be sure to let them dry out between waterings.
3. Plant Blooming Bushes
For best results, spring-blooming bushes should be planted in the fall to get roots down and established.
Hot, dry summer months can be harsh on new transplants, which is why wetter, cooler weather is more conducive to healthy plating in warmer climates.
Fall-loving blooming bushes include:
- Lotus Moon Pearlbush
- Flowering Quince
- Burning Bush
- Bottlebrush Shrub
- Sweet Olive
4. Rake Up Leaves for Compost
Colorful, deciduous leaves make for a stunning autumn display on your lawn and neighborhood. But even after the leaves fall, they can provide value for your October gardening.
As the leaves begin to cover the ground, be sure to rake them up, shred them if possible, and collect them for mulching or composting.
In the fall, the plant matter will help to regulate the soil temperature and keep nutrients in the ground. The leaves will also protect the roots, conserve water, and prevent weed growth.
But, to prevent rot, leave a space around the base of the plant to aerate.
5. Scatter Wildflowers
Southwestern wildflowers are best planted in the cooler temperatures. Before planting, clear the area of any leftover plant matter.
Dampen the soil and add compost if necessary, then scatter your seeds!
Planting wildflowers is an easy and enjoyable October gardening task because it involves no digging, no lifting, no tools, and no sore knees.
If you’re looking to add some wildflowers to your lawn or garden, look for pollinator-friendly wildflower varieties that will help sustain bees, butterflies, and other essential garden residents!
Wrapping up Your October Gardening To-Do List
Clearly, the gardening fun doesn’t stop when cooler weather comes around!
No matter where you live, there are things you can do to spruce up your garden with autumnal colors and prepare for spring blooms.
For more information on October gardening, here are some great options for Fruit Trees To Plant in the Fall.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Leah is a writer, editor, and content manager with Minneopa Orchards and holds a master’s degree in English.
She grew up in the south and enjoyed long growing seasons spent in her father’s lush vegetable garden. Buying produce from the store was unheard of in her house!
As such, Leah enjoys writing about gardening and sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.
Leah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org