California poppies and pumpkins show off their orange glows.



What to do in October

Plant bulbs in well-prepared beds so the base of the bulb is at a depth that is three times the diameter of the bulb. In sandy soil, set slightly deeper. In clay soils, set less deeply.

In addition to bulbs, check your nursery or garden center for started plants of snapdragons, pinks, sweet william, poppy (photos at left), pansies, and calendulas. Planted now they will provide a riot of spring color.

There’s still time to divide and reset such perennials as phlox, violet, hollyhock, iris, daylily, and shasta daisy.

Holly plants with a heavy set of fruit often suffer a fertilizer deficiency. An application of a complete fertilizer late this month can be helpful and provide a head start next spring.

Be on the lookout
October through November is an excellent time to purchase bulbs, while you still have a good selection in the garden shops. They may be planted at any time with the exception of tulips and hyacinths.

If twig girdlers have worked over your trees so that many twigs and branches are dropping, make sure these are collected and destroyed, as the eggs are deposited in that portion of the branch that drops to the ground.

October is a good time to reduce the insect and disease potential in next year’s garden. Cleanup the garden, pulling up all annuals that have completed their life cycle. Remove the tops of all herbaceous perennials that have finished flowering or as soon as frost has killed the leaves.

Fungal black spot is often a problem with roses in the fall. Weekly application of fungicides such as Benomyl or Funginex can help keep the foliage healthy and provide an outstanding fall bloom season.

Miscellaneous chores
Chill tulip and hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator until mid- or late-December before planting. Nestle them in the lower part of the refrigerator storage.

Start collecting leaves for the compost pile. Be sure to have extra soil available so that each six-inch layer of leaves may be covered with several inches of soil. Always wet the layer of leaves thoroughly before adding the soil. Add about one pound of complete lawn or garden fertilizer to each layer of leaves to provide the necessary nitrogen for decomposition.

Keep Christmas cactus in a sunny spot where night temperatures can be kept below 65 degrees. Buds will drop if you allow night temperature to go above 70 degrees or if you allow the plant to become excessively dry. They should also be kept in total darkness from 5pm until 8pm for about 30 days in October to initiate flower buds.

If you have saved seed from your favorite plants, allow them to become air dry, then place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Be sure to label each packet carefully. Remember, seed from hybrid plants will seldom resemble the parent plant.

Prepare beds for planting pansies when they become available at the garden centers. They need a well-drained soil and exposure to at least a half-day of sun. It is best to use started plants, as seed is difficult to handle.

If you are planning to save caladium tubers for another year, dig them in late October, and allow to dry in a well-drained ventilated but shady area. After seven to ten days, remove leaves and dirt, then pack in dry peat moss, vermiculite, or similar material for storage. Pack tubers to they don’t touch each other. Dust with all-purpose fungicide as you pack. Place containers in an area where the temperature won’t drop below 50 degrees.

The attractiveness of ornamental gourds can be prolonged with proper curing. Remove from vine by cutting so that a short portion of stem remains on the fruit. Wipe fruit with cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol or dip fruit into a bath of one part Clorox and nine parts water. Lay the gourds in open spacing so they don’t touch each other. Dry for three to four weeks, inspecting and discarding any that start to spoil. When well dried, apply several coats of clear shellac to enhance color and preserve beauty for several months.

    (c) 2007 - 2008 Howard County Master Gardeners