Thursday, October 1, 2009

October Garden Chores

Hello again,

I found these helpful garden tips at when I was noodling around BloominKrazy one of the sites we follow at The advice given is based on a zone 5B situation in very northeastern NY state and western MA so the gardening info given is quite appropriate to our conditions in Skillin's Country which probably averages zone 5A. I like a lot of the information they present. So I am listing some of what they have to say (their advice is in quotes) and I comment briefly (in italics) as to how we hardy gardeners in Skillin's Country can follow this gardening advice to our benefit.

"FALL IS HEATING UP, at least visually, even as temperatures trend downward. Cleanup is (hopefully) under way in earnest, with time out to cook up the last bits from the vegetable garden into a batch of ‘Tomato Junk’ or soup, or local apples into applesauce, checking on the kettles between rounds of raking and cutbacks outdoors. With such delicious reminders of summer and fall in the freezer, and the right plants in the garden, there’s no “end” to fear. Some of us even feel happy about the coming riches: berries and other fruits, bark, new birds.

Peak planting time for bulbs and for many woody things continues through month’s end or so; make that work include some focus on the addition of fall and winter plants to the landscape.
Garden cleanup, though, is the primary order of the day—and don’t forget: quickly stash your tender things as frost threatens or just after, depending on the plant, to carry them through the winter. Here we go:


"CLEAR TURF OR WEEDS from the area right around the trunks of fruit trees and ornamentals to reduce winter damage by rodents. Hardware cloth collars should be in place year-round as well." Great advice here. We hear quite a few heart breaking stories in early Spring about rodent damage to tasty trunks of fruit trees--especially young fruit trees. It doesn't take much eating to girdle the young trunks and that can be fatal. IF we get a plentiful amount of early Snow get a coffee can with some rodent bait down around the trunk to quickly ward off those pests. Let us know if you have any questions--this is important if you have young fruit trees on your property.

"BE EXTRA-VIGILANT cleaning up under fruit trees, as fallen fruit and foliage allowed to overwinter invites added troubles next season. So will mummies (shriveled fruit hanging on the trees). Best to pick and remove (though I confess to leaving mine hanging for the birds, who adore it)." Yes, I would leave the hanging fruit for the birds; this fruit along with some well placed feeders can make your yard a Leader Among Feeders! Speaking of that we have an awesome Bird Feeding class coming up on Saturday, October 17 @ 10 AM. Email us at if interested. Back to the fallen fruit and foliage; these fallen items make a great harbor for diseases and also a great place for insects to overwinter. Clean it up and keep it clean!

"SCOUTING FOR VIBURNUM BEETLE begins later this month, when leaves fall and their egg cases are easier to see. Remove egg cases by pruning off affected wood, between then and April-ish, to reduce larvae and beetle issues in the coming year. The bump-like cases are usually on the underside of youngest twigs. I also watch in May for larvae hatch and rub the twigs then to squash the emerging pests." We talk about this in our nurseries BUT we don't write about this much and I am glad this is here for you to read.

"BE SURE TO WATER trees now through hard frost if conditions are dry, so that they enter dormancy in a well-hydrated state. Evergreens (needled ones and broadleaf types like rhododendron, too) are particularly vulnerable to desiccation and winterburn otherwise." Conditions ARE dry so this watering plan is needed. As Tim, our nursery manager, reminded me a week ago we have not forgotten the 20" of rain of the summer BUT our plants forgot that rain a long time ago. It appears that watering 2009 planted trees and shrubs will be very important this fall. The same goes for any plant material you consider vulnerable. I have some long established Pee Gee hydrangeas that are doing great BUT they are in a well draining area so they get pretty limp in dry conditions. I make sure they get good slow soakings during dry stretches. Check out Time to Water! or more watering tips.

"DON’T PANIC IF EVERGREENS continue to show some browning or yellowing of needles this month and next. The oldest, innermost ones typically shed after a few years on the tree." Again with the relatively dry conditions we have seen earlier browning or yellowing of needles than usual.

"ALWAYS BE on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them out as discovered. This is especially important before winter arrives with its harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary extra damage. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too." Again insects and even diseases LOVE to overwinter in or on dead wood. Prune out those suckers, etc--keep the plant focused on healthy productive growth. Show that tree or shrub who the boss is!


"DID YOU SOW COVER CROPS? Green manures help build soil tilth and fertility. There are varieties for each season and region; I use winter rye and medium red clover through mid-fall here." We recommend winter rye and have it available in plentiful supply. Good gardening friend David K of A Garden in Maine uses unused legume seeds if he has them. I have some pea seeds I did not use so I think I will sow some later on this fall and let the cold kill it off. If you don't get to the green manure then plentifully lay some compost (we have great compost for the job if you need some) on your open vegetable spaces.

"PREPARE A SEEDBED NOW for peas and spinach for next spring, to get a headstart on such early crops. Spinach can even be sown now through Thanksgiving, for super-early spring harvest; not the peas, of course." Yes spinach sown or seeded this fall can quite often survive the winter as seed or even young plants for a very early harvest. I have not done this but I am wondering if row covers might be needed to shelter any young plants through the real cold parts of winter? If you have done this project drop us a quick comment at this post or send us a quick email at if you have any practical info to share!

"AS VEGETABLE PLANTS (and annual flowers) fade, pull them to get a start on garden cleanup. Before composting the remains, cut them up a bit with a pruning shears or shred, to speed decomposition." Great advice. September has been a glorious month for so many of my annuals but the cold of October will inevitably take "the starch" out of these valiant plants. Yes, the worm is turning my friends.

"PARSLEY AND CHIVES can be potted up and brought indoors for offseason use. A few garlic cloves in a pot will yield a supply of chive-like (but spicier) garlic greens all winter for garnish. Determined types with really sunny windowsills can sow seeds of bush basil in a pot, too. I rely on frozen pesto cubes instead. I also freeze a lot of green herbs, from sage to parsley, this way. " Frozen pesto cubes? Okay....We make a point of keeping a healthy amount of good edible herbs available (at a low price of $3.99 a pot!) through the winter. Two aims achieved here: one to give you some fresh herb options; two to give you a "taste" of a garden plant during the winter!

"IF NEXT YEAR’S GARDEN plans include a patch of strawberries or asparagus or cane fruits like raspberries, do the tilling and soil preparation now so the bare-root plants ordered over the winter can be planted extra early come spring." First of all we have all these plants available for you in the Spring so save the shipping costs and support your fellow Mainers by purchasing these great plants from Skillin's or several of the fine garden centers in southern Maine. The soil prep referred to would be much the same as the green manure or compost layering that we talked about above.

"REPLANT YOUR BIGGEST CLOVES from your best heads of harvested garlic for best yield, or hurry and order a supply and plant now (about a month before frost is in the ground). Prepare a sunny spot, and plant each clove 1-2 inches deep and 6 inches apart in the row, with about 12 inches between rows. Green growth will happen this fall, which is great; don’t panic. It’s a hardy thing." You will have a great harvest in the Spring!


"PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION to areas to cleanup around peonies, roses and other flowers that are prone to fungal diseases; don’t leave any debris in place." Cleanup! Cleanup! The same truth exists here as to cleaning up around trees and shrubs. Dead leaves can easily mildew and disease and that mildew and disease can literally jump to vulnerable live plants. Include tall phlox, bee balm and lilacs as very vulnerable plants as well.

"CANNAS, DAHLIAS AND OTHER tender bulb-like things including elephant ears need to be dug carefully for indoor storage. There are many methods, but the basics: Once frost blackens the foliage, cut back the tops to 6 inches and dig carefully, then brush or wash off soil and let dry for two weeks or so to cure. Stash in a dry spot like unheated basement or crawl space around 40-50 degrees, in boxes or pots filled with bark chips or peat moss." Well said although with begonias I have noticed they wither pretty quickly once left to dry or cure. Two weeks seems to be awhile; I would go shorter and keep an eye on these bulbs to make sure they don't begin to wither too much from the open air.

"DON’T COMPLETELY DEADHEAD FADED perennials, biennials and annuals if you want to collect seed (non-hybrids only) or wish to let them self-sow for next year’s show. Nicotiana, poppies, larkspur, clary sage and many others fall into this leave-alone group; some plants must be left in place or seeds shaken around during cleanup to insure the next generation. Plants with showy or bird-friendly seedheads, like coneflowers, also get a stay of execution." I pruned some of my coneflower this year to try and get more flowers; I am not sure I will do that again. I like the seedheads they have a certain glow to them! The birds like them too. Cleome should fall into this leave-alone group if you want some free plants for next year!

"LAST CALL FOR BULB ORDERS (see Sources), and plant as they arrive (lilies most urgently). Remember our “early, middle, late” mantra when ordering. And think drifts, not onesies and threesies." Why order and pay shipping when Skillin's has an awesome selection? But I do agree: if you can think "early, middle, late" and by "drifts" we mean focus on LESS varieties for MORE color impact!

"PREPARE NEW beds for future planting by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top." The cardboard or newspaper method definitely works--and quickly! Check out More Discussion on Newspaper as Garden Mulch!


"START A FIRST POT of paperwhites, and stagger forcing more every couple of weeks for a continuing winterlong indoor display." Great advice and what a fast enjoyable way to enjoy fresh flowers through the winter! We have paperwhites available as well as their close cousins, Soleil D'Or and Chinese Sacred Lily narcissus.

"REST AMARYLLIS BULBS by putting them in a dry, dark place where they will have no water at all for a couple of months. In September, I put mine in a little-used closet; do it now if you haven’t." Amaryllis--one of the best winter companions you can have! Amaryllis also make a great gift and we will soon have a beautiful supply here at Skillin's!

"IF HOUSEPLANTS NEED repotting, do it before they come inside (less messy than in the house!). Ideally, I do this in spring just as they go outside, but if someone’s in need, do now. Don’t step up more than an inch (on small pots) or a couple (on large ones). Most plants don’t like to swim in their containers." Also check your plants carefully for any pests. IF you suspect the presence of little creatures then come see us for some very effective and safe to use Systemic Houseplant Granules by Bonide.


"KEEP MOWING TILL THE GRASS stops growing, and make the last cut a short one. Let clippings lie on the lawn to return Nitrogen to the soil, unless they are long and wet, in which case, rake and compost." Also later on this month, don't hesitate to grind those fallen leaves with your mower into the lawn. If you feed your lawn organically the healthy microbes in the soil will grab those ground up leaves and break them down fairly quickly over time so that the leaves will just become nice organic matter for your lawn. Lawn soil fed chemically do not have those plentiful microbe levels and so then too many ground up leaves turn to thatch and then layer or shut off the soil from air and sun. SO feed your lawn organically and grind those leaves and grass blades. For good organic feeding we recommend Espoma Lawn Food or the Organica lawn products (all sold right here at Skillin's).


"START A LEAVES-ONLY PILE alongside your other heap as a future source of soil-improving leaf mold, or when partly rotted for use as mulch. Running over dry leaves (and other dry non-woody material) with the mower to shred will reduce the area needed for such piles." See I told you so about grinding the leaves! Good advice about the separate pile as partly rotted leaves make great mulch. Oak and maple leaves take a long time to break down so we don't really recommend them for your own compost pile. I send most of my raked leaves to the town landfill where the leaves are then sold to various agricultural farms and returned to the soil that way.

"ORDER A SUPPLY of bulk mulch, which is cheaper than the packaged kind and also eliminates the waste of all those heavyweight plastic bags. Many local nurseries deliver. Top up mulch in all garden beds as they get cleaned up gradually in fall." I actually prefer using composts for most of my garden beds and we do sell bulk compost that can be easily delivered. We also deliver bulk mulch as well! If you don't need a tremendous amount of mulch it makes more sense to buy by the bag (Skillin's offers great locally bagged mulch by Jolly Gardener at competitive prices) and the bags can be recycled.

"I’ll recut the messiest of my bed edges, too, if there is time." Show me an active yard with gardens and there will always be eding needed. Another gift idea? We sell ergonomically excellent edgers by Radius tools. Your favorite diligent gardener will adore it!

Drop us a comment below with any questions or email us at! We look forward to seeing you soon at Skillin's!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 1, 2009

1 comment:

Jacob said...

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