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Cool season tomatoes, vegetables, herbs and flowers
What to do in your garden
October brings our first true days of Autumn. The leaves are starting to turn and the nights are cooler. There are spiders everywhere - just in time for Hallowe'en. (see our article on spiders from last year's October newsletter.) To see all our archived newsletters please go to our website www.deep-roots.net and click on the newsletter link.
Our mild Mediterranean climate makes it possible to plant all year round and Fall is one of the best times of the year to garden. The soil is still warm enough for newly planted plants to develop new roots, and the rainy season is approaching to provide water for those roots. While there will be some more hot spells it is relatively easy to get plants established now.
We begin to notice that the garden is growing slower this month. After hot and frantic summer harvests we too can be calmer in our garden activities: keeping summer stragglers producing through this month, starting plants from seed, nurturing seedlings just transplanted, and beginning to harvest cool-season crops. Clean up includes adding plant debris to the compost pile and storing pots and lumber and other leftovers away from the garden. The pleasantly cool weather is refreshing to work in after summer's heat.
Many plants that shut down in the heat of summer are now coming back for one last hurrah and there is still time for many roses to have one more explosion of blooms before winter.
Now that the equinox has passed and the nights are cooler plants have different water requirements and it is time to cut back your irrigation schedule. Cooler weather slows evaporation from the soil and transpiration from plant foliage, so irrigation is needed less often. So, decrease the number of times--but not the length of time--you water. For example water twice a week to once a week, but still water for half an hour each time. This change will still provide water to deep roots while allowing for longer periods for the soil to dry in between waterings.
Remove the remnants of the warm-season plantings, including warm-season annual flowers, herbs, and vegetables that have faded. Add compost or other soil amendments to the soil before planting anything new.
While many plants will hunker down soon for their winter dormancy, there is a whole host of plants that actively grow during the winter season. Winter annuals such as those mentioned below need a continual feed with Gro Power Plus to keep them blooming. Same thing for the winter vegetable garden (see below).
Plant for Permanence:
You often hear that Fall is the best time to plant permanent additions such as perennials, ground covers, woody herbs, shrubs and trees to your landscape. Why? Well, this is the season that the plants put the most energy to root growth.The soil is still warm after the summer and so the roots of newly planted plants and trees will grow for two or three month or so before cold temperatures arrive. The root systems of these plants and trees will be well developed by spring and the top growth will therefore grow correspondingly stronger and healthier. Fall is also an ideal time to plant native plants, trees shrubs and perennials.Tender subtropicals, however do better when planted during the warm summer months.
Garden mums are now bursting forth in brilliant falls hues as other perennials fade fast. Combine them with pansies and ornamental cabbages and kale for a gorgeous fall display that will last well into early winter.
Most chrysanthemums planted in our region will last until the Holidays. Mums are usually priced low enough to be planted as annuals, but if left in the ground, they may sprout new leaves in spring.
Other great fall and winter bloomers: Cyclamen. These are
great plants both for inside and outside. Their natural habitat is under the shade of deciduous trees so they thrive in cool shade to semi shade in summer and half sun in winter. They often go dormant if the summer gets too hot, but the white cyclamen I bought at Deep Roots last November grew all summer long and have recently started blooming again.
For shady spots in the garden, consider delicate-looking fall-flowering Japanese anemones. Growing 2-1/2 to 3 feet tall, these fall flowers grow on slender, branching stalks, and spread to form a large patch. Lobed leaves form attractive mounds of foliage, and the flowers look poppy-like.
Plant Japanese anemones in rich, moist, well-drained soil, where they'll have afternoon shade. Anemones benefit from a winter mulch and regular deep watering in dry weather.
October is an ideal month to plant new perennials, although generally you will not be able to enjoy their color until next year. By planting them now they will develop a strong root structure during the cool fall weather, benefit from the rains and then burst in to glorious color next spring and summer.
Cut back perennials that have stopped blooming or that are flopping over. When the plants grow back, they will be fuller with a less straggly appearance. A number of perennials are now pretty much spent including teucriums, oreganos, salvias, most of the plants in the daisy family, yarrow, calla lillies and coreopsis. Cut these back to near the ground. Wait until you see numerous small shoots growing from the base before cutting. These perennials will have a small flush of new growth before going dormant for the winter. Trim the spent blooms on lavenders and penstemons but don't cut into the woody part of the stem. Cut back geraniums (Pelargonium) to renew them and prevent unsightly, leggy growth.
You can also now divide plants that have outgrown their spaces, such as ornamental grasses, iris, daylilies, agapanthas, gingers, and bamboos. Congested clumps need dividing in order to encourage plenty of flowering next year and of course dividing is one of the best ways to increase your stocks of plants. To divide, dig up the whole clump, and divide into smaller pieces. Either tease the clump apart or cut using a spade. Replant in groups of three or five for good displays the following year.
Annuals: It is a good time to plant cool season color such as Iceland poppies, pansies, sweet peas, ranunculus, calendula, candytuft, foxgloves, snapdragons, stock, and sweet alyssum.
Plant or sow ageratum • bachelor's buttons (cornflower) • campanulas • chrysanthemums • columbines (aquilegia) • coralbells (heuchera) • coreopsis (pot of gold) • forget-me-nots (see photo below) • hollyhocks • kale • and ornamental cabbage • phloxes • primroses • violas • Johnny-jump-ups and violets.
All these will develop stronger plants and bloom earlier and more profusely in the spring if they are sown now since they'll grow extensive root systems over the winter.
Vegetables and Fruits
Sow fava beans • celery • chard • chives • garlic • kale • kohlrabi • leeks • lettuce - especially romaine types and small-heading bibb and buttercrunch types which overwinter well. Also sow green and long-day bulb onions (which will mature during the lengthening days of next spring and early summer) • parsley • peas • radishes • spinaches • and shallots. Also transplant artichokes • beets, • broccoli • Brussels sprouts • cabbage • cauliflower • established herbs (especially comfrey, sage, thyme) • and rhubarb. Just about any broccoli variety will do well in our area. Try "sprouting" kinds for lots of small heads. For brilliant chartreuse, pointed heads that taste milder than regular broccoli.
Plant asparagus crowns at least six inches deep, and mulch them heavily with compost--winter rains will slowly wash the nutrients down to the root zone.
Plant strawberry beds away from where potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers have grown within the last three years. Incorporate organic fertilizers (such as Dr. Earth's Vegetable and Herb food) and compost into the soil. Water well. Plant strawberries one foot apart so the crown is just above the soil level. Strong roots will develop over the winter, and spring warmth will encourage fast growth and large berries.
Remove canes that fruited this year from bramble berry vines such as blackberries and raspberries. They will not fruit again. Or wait until January, when the thorny leaves have dropped, the canes are bare, and new and old growth are easy to tell apart.
Fertilize fruit trees and winter vegetables regularly with Dr. Earth's Vegetable and Herb Food and Dr Earth's Fruit Tree Fertilizer.
Shrubs and Trees:
Transplant azaleas and camellias. Thin bloom buds on camelias to three or four inches apart for fewer but more spectacular blooms in the spring. Lightly feed camellias and azaleas with an acid based fertilizer all winter long to help develop their spring blooms.
Feed subtropicals like citrus and avocados with a fertilizer such as Dr. Earth's Bud and Bloom, or Gro More citrus growers mix which contain high levels of phosphorus and potassium but no nitrogen to help them through the winter. Keep them watered until the rains take over.
Give one last deep watering to grapevines and deciduous trees but discontinue feeding. Clear the soil under trees by pulling back the mulch, discarding fruit mummies, and moving leaves to the compost pile as soon as they fall.
To combat fungal diseases such as peach leaf curl, downey mildew and shothole, fruit trees need to be sprayed while they are dormant with a dormant spray containing copper sulfate such as Bordeaux Mix. Plan your dormant fruit tree spraying schedule to coincide approximately with cool-weather holidays--Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, and Valentine's Day. Specific cues are even more important to follow--the fall of the last leaf (Thanksgiving), the height of dormancy (New Year's Day), and bud swell (Valentine's Day). Spraying at the precise period of bud swell is especially important -- before the buds swell is too early, and after the blossoms open is too late.
Natives and Drought Tolerant
Here in California this is the beginning of the growing season for so many of our California Native plants. Now is the perfect time to plant or transplant this type of plant. We have many varieties still available in our backstock area since they are no longer in bloom and/or going dormant.
Most people fertilize their lawns in the spring, but don't let the cooler temperatures of autumn fool you. Fall actually is the best time to fertilize the grass... even better than springtime. After the summer's heat grass regains its strength before winter with a good fall fertilizing. Fertilizing now also helps grass develop a thick and deep root system, so it can better survive next summer's heat. Lower the blade height on your lawn mower to encourage short, bushy growth. Fall is also a good time to de-thatch and aerate your lawn.
Now is the time to replace lawns, (whether by seed or sod) or reseed thin spots in established ones. Win the fight against crabgrass by removing the affected lawn area and seed or sod with grass that matches your lawn. For best results, wait until a cool spell occurs before planting. Better yet wait until rain is forecast if you can. If you are overseeding with fescue or rye for winter, stop feeding and watering Bermuda lawns and overseed them now. We have red fescue grass seed for sale by the pound.
If we have a warm spell, water newly-seeded lawns two or three times a day for the first two weeks. For another two weeks, water once a day. Then, change to watering only three times a week but for longer periods. You want the moisture to reach two to three inches down so the roots grow deeply into the well-prepared seedbed. When the grass gets bushy and about three inches tall--about a month after sowing--the lawn is ready for its first mowing. Allow the soil to become firm and fairly dry before mowing, however, to avoid compressing the new lawn with mower wheels and your footsteps.