Northeast Gardener's October Checklist

Somewhere around early October I begin wearing layers once I head out to work in the garden — thermal cotton, fleece, wool or light down help ward off chilly temperatures. And I know winter’s coming when hats and scarves come out of the cupboard. There’s a feeling of expectation, with shift in the air.

Fall garden maintenance hits its peak this month. Be certain that you have your tools organized, so you are prepared to function if the weather cooperates, and strengthen yourself from a local orchard, homemade pumpkin bread or sour apples.

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Get Ready for the cold. The gorgeous hues of marigolds will blacken with frost, therefore cut flowers to garnish food platters or tuck stalks into a vase along with other late-season annuals, like zinnia and sweet potato vine, as you pull crops up for the mulch pile and clean beds.

Harvest basil, mint and parsely to make a piquant salsa verde or pesto.

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Glazed terra-cotta birdbaths need to be emptied, scrubbed and put away. Clay baskets will freeze and crack in winter, so these will need to be moved. Make room in the garage, storage shed, greenhouse or cellar.

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Photograph container combinations. Go around along with your smart phone or digital camera and then record your plant combinations, so you can recall what worked and what didn’t. Once spring rolls around, you can review the images along with any plant notes you have created, and also be organized if searching for annuals.

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Transplant perennials and split grasses. Select a gentle, cloudy day to minimize jolt once you split and move crops. Rejuvenate decorative grasses through division. It’s a big job — especially if they’re large clumps of grass (Miscanthus spp) — so be sure you have a pruning saw for cutting through the dense root canals. Discard the middle of the plant and cut on the outer parts into sections for replanting.

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Plant garlic to next summer’s harvest. Garlic is planted in October, so the cloves can begin to set in warm soil before winter sets in.

Here’s the pile of hardneck bulbs I dug up back in July — I will search for the greatest ones to break up and replant this month. What isn’t planted will be stored in a dry, cool place (the cellar) and used for cooking.

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Take inventory of noteworthy shrubs with fantastic fall color. Northeast gardeners are blessed with the most spectacular seasonal color — look round garden centers and notice what you enjoy. It’s not too late to plant trees trees or perennials.

There are a number of simple, low-maintenance winners because of their region with yearlong appeal. Witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) is a large shrub or small tree that turns gold and retains its leaves for a long time.

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Another shrub that turns to gold when the frost hits is coastal sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), named because of its own terminal seed heads that persist following the fragrant flowers fade.

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Look carefully at winterberry (Ilex verticillata) this season and you’re going to see stalks covered with vibrant fruits that attract birds. They’ll persist after the leaves fall to make a brilliant show.

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And round the time pumpkins and gourds hit farm stands, showy ‘Mt Airy’ dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii ‘Mt. Airy’) turns shades of carmine, persimmon and butter yellow.

Read more footprints in the plant guides

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Do your autumn cleanup chores. It will take some the time to do what you can before the spring rush, so here’s a short list:
Start a new dump pile to Generate compost.Leave seed heads up for wildlife — coneflower, liatris, sunflower and black-eyed Susan are favored by birds.Cut back hostas and herbaceous perennials.Mulch beds.Collect seeds.String lights on trellises and tuteurs for winter displays.More regional garden guides

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