Agricultural News: October Gardening Tips

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   You might be tempted to ignore your garden now that fall has arrived, but there’s still plenty to do! Did you know that October is the preferred time to plant ornamental kale (winterbor and Russian kale varieties), Swiss chard, and pansies? Not only are these beautiful fall and winter landscape additions, they are also edible! 

   Some of your home fruit and vegetable tasks for October are:

•Continue to pick any remaining warm or early cool-season crops. 

•Keep an eye on soil moisture levels and manage pests as warm-season fruiting crop harvests end and cool season begins.

•Cool-season crops should be properly watered and fertilized. Remember, as temperatures cool, they will need less water.

•Seed/transplant fall cool-season crops with shorter days to harvest.

•Seed cover crops.

•If you haven’t soil tested in a couple years, now is a great time to do just that. Your soil chemistry is important and should be closely monitored. Soil pH takes some time to correct, and October is a great time to begin making adjustments per your soil test. UT Extension’s Soil, Plant, & Pest center offers soil testing. You can pick up a sample sheet and soil sample box at our office. 

   Jason Reeves, horticulturist and curator at the University of Tennessee Gardens in Jackson, TN, offers the following tips and tasks that should be considered in October for your landscape:

•Collect seed of annuals you would like to grow again next year. Allow to dry completely before storing. A paper bag works great as a container that allows the seeds to dry.

•Plant trees and shrubs, since dormant plants will be under less stress. Newly installed deciduous plants require almost no watering during the winter months, but don’t forget thorough initial watering is paramount. Monitor evergreens such as junipers, hollies, and arborvitae for watering needs as rain is sparse. Winter wind desiccation can hurt an evergreen tree that lacks sufficient moisture.

•Do you have broad-leaf weeds such as white clover or wild garlic in your lawn? October is a good time to control those. Your local Extension agent can give recommendations.

•Be sure to bring in your tropical and house plants before the first frost! (On average, Wayne County’s first frost occurs around Oct 15th. First frost can occur sooner or later. Be sure to monitor the weather.)

•Before the first frost, dig up caladiums and shake off the soil. Allow them to dry completely and store in a warm dry place for the winter.

•After the first frost, you can cut back your deciduous herbaceous perennials. This will help lessen the chance of disease or insects overwintering in your beds. 

•Perennials that are borderline hardy may benefit from retaining their stems through the winter (ex: hardy lantanas and salvias). Any tender plants (IE cannas and elephant ears) will appreciate a layer of mulch for extra winter protection. Other perennials can be mulched with a thin layer of organic material, but keep the mulch away from the crown or it could hold too much moisture and rot the plant. 

•You still have time to order bulbs, but be quick about it. Get them in the ground by early December.

•To make leaf removal less of a chore, rake them before they accumulate deeply. If you have a fescue lawn or moss garden it is even more important to keep the leaves removed. Compost or use them as mulch in your beds. You can also till them into your soil and by spring they will be composted. Leaves on the lawn can be chipped with the lawnmower and left in place if the debris is not too deep.

•Seasonal mums are more valuable as compost than “keep around plants” after they’ve faded and split. Planting them is ineffective as they rarely live up to your expectations the following year.  Chrysanthemum “Clara Curtis,” “Ryan’s Yellow,” and “Sheffield Pink” are good reliable perennial cultivars that perform well in the landscape. 

•Lastly, wash your pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash in a mild bleach solution before displaying or storing to help prevent rot.

   Enjoy this cooler weather and stay safe!

   REMINDER: TN Ag Enhancement Application (TAEP) period is October 1st -7th. Be sure to get those applications in! We have paper copies available at the office, but you can also register online at https://www.tn.gov/agriculture/farms/taep.html.    References: October Gardening Tips, Jason Reeves, UT West Tennessee AgResearch & Education Center; Tennessee Home Vegetable Garden Calendar 2020.