Gene’s Tips for October in the Garden

On the first Tuesday of every month, Homestead’s own garden guru Gene Sumi talks to our Golden Spades Club and the number one topic is always: what to do this month in the garden.   This month he started with singing the praises of plants that “flower now, flower later”, like the just-opening cushion chrysanthemums he’s holding.  (Love the color!).

Mums – for Blooms Now and Year after Year

Yes, hardy chrysanthemums WILL bloom again the next year.  They’ll also get bigger and bigger – big enough to yield divisions after the second year.  But no, they won’t still be blooming at Thanksgiving, no matter which type you buy.

To achieve good performance from mums the second year and thereafter, it’s important to pinch them back two or three times, starting in late spring.  Then wait for new growth and pinch again, but don’t pinch after the first week in July.  Rather than literally pinching each little bud individually, you can make quick work of it by using hedge shears.

After the  blooms have died, shear them off but let the leaves and stems age naturally.  Then a topping of mulch will help get them through their first winter in your garden.

Gene recommends the popular “cushion” type, and the new Minnesota types that  have larger flowers.  If you think you may forget to pinch them back or are a strictly low-maintenance gardener, then “Belgian” mums are the ones for you – they’re self-branching, so require no pinching at all to become compact and packed with blooms.

Gene is sometimes asked why Homestead doesn’t sell mums with those HUGE blooms we see in flower shows and the answer is that they’re specialty items requiring LOTS of tending, and very few people will buy them.   People who grow mums at that rarefied, competitive level buy them from a handful of mail order suppliers.

Pansies, “God’s Gift to Gardeners”

That’s how Gene describes pansies – because they bloom now until the freezing temperatures arrive, and then again during warm spells throughout the winter and reliably again in very early spring when the color really lifts our spirits.  They’re even fragrant!  They’re cold-hardy but can’t take the heat, which is what makes them annuals in this region.

Pansies and violas need full sun to half-day sun to perform well, and they look best when they’re deadheaded,  which in this case means removing not just the flower but the entire stem.  And DO feed them – they thrive with regular feedings and can’t be overfertilized, so no worries there.  Pansies often self-seed, producing repeat displays year after year.  Cool!

Gene’s favorite pansies are ‘Beacon’s Field’, a Delta-type purple and white bicolor that grows to a foot wide.

Plant Spring-Blooming Bulbs

The Golden Spades are a savvy bunch, so they wanted to know which tulips come back the next year and hopefully for many more, and Gene had the answers: Fosteriana type (including the popular Emperor series), Darwin Hybrids, Kaufmanniana, Greigii, plus the tiny species tulips that spread by runner and seed and will fill eventually up a whole bed.

All daffodils will come back year after year, and just as importantly to many of us, they’re deer-proof!  Yes, deer-PROOF, as are Alliums – both are poisonous, so squirrels avoid them, too.

Other bulb-related tips:  Lilies can be planted in fall OR next spring.  The best value in bearded irises is the reblooming type that blooms in spring and again in the fall.  Hyacinths are reliably perennial and very fragrant.

Pot up Bulbs for Forcing

Now’s a fine time to begin potting up some bulbs for indoor blooms over the winter.  Great bulbs for forcing include tulips, hyacinths,  paperwhites (which look like our common daffodils but are actually a tropical, summer-blooming species), plus Anemone and Ranunculus.

Time to Feed and Seed Your Lawn

Now’s a good time to feed your lawn – through November – but if it needs seeding, do it this weekend!  The soil must be 45-50 degrees in order for the seeds to germinate, so for our area the window of opportunity for grass seed is early September through October 15.   Some fertilizers can be applied at the same time as seed – the organic ones and the ones labeled as “starter” fertilizers.  Synthetic, nonstarter fertilizers are salt-based, and the salt will burn the tender new grass blades, so follow the instructions on the bag as to how long after seeding before applying the fertilizer.

Time to Feed Trees, Shrubs and Perennials

Trees, shrubs and perennials benefit most from fertilizer applications in the fall, and early fall is best for perennials and deciduous woody plants (again, through mid-October).  Evergreens, like lawn, take up nutrients longer, into the winter, so it’s fine to feed them next month.  If you need to move a deciduous woody plant it’s best to wait until it’s dormant – after its leaves have dropped.

Photo credit for tulips with daffodils.

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