October is a pleasant time of year to garden in most parts of the US. The weather is cool, but often pleasant, so working up a sweat digging beds, weeding, and spreading compost feels good, especially after a week cooped up in an office. There's a lot to do to prepare for next spring and still wring a little bit more autumn color before the weather turns. If there are tasks that you've postponed from September, you'll need to get them done this month..
If you haven't already, put fertilizer on the lawn early in the month. After a couple rains, the lawn should be looking pretty good. If you're anti-fertilizer, you can easily spread a half inch of dairy manure on the top of your lawn. It has the same effect without the chemical component. Dairy manure is pretty mild and won't burn anything. Until the lawn goes dormant, you'll need to mow of course.
If you haven't been keeping up with your weeding, you're going to find that it's more work letting them go, then trying to catch up. If you allow them to go to seed, you'll have hundreds in the place of the one you coulda, woulda, shoulda pulled.
Clean up all debris left in beds and under trees. Compost what you can and dispose of the rest. If you see bugs, fungus, or other sorts of plant illness, get the plant debris out of the yard entirely. Burn it if you can, though that may not be possible in cities with strict air quality control. With many plants, fungal infections and plant diseases start in leaf litter. Clean is good.
The more you do now not only makes your garden look more tidy through the winter, but it makes it much easier to work next spring. Add compost and manure to enrich beds now.
And while it's technically a fall homeowner project, check your drains and gutters. Clean them if necessary. Direct run off to a location where it will not erode plantings around the house.
Edit plantings. This is an ideal time to remove any plant that isn't holding up its end of the bargain. Take out the old, the ugly, the sick, and anything that sucks up more of your life than you want it to take. You know which plants those are. It's okay. If it makes you feel better, find them a new home. Otherwise, ditch them and try something new. Consider planting natives to your region. They are low maintenance and usually trouble free.
Clean and store your pots. Extreme temperature fluctuations in the coldest part of the winter can result in the death of many of good pot. Empty them, compost the soil, hose them out well, and store them dry in a covered shed or garage. Take care not to nest "sticky" pots. You don't want to break them pulling them apart.
Clean all of your tools well. Sharpen edges, oil wood handles, and store in a dry location. Some folks like to store their cleaned tools in a bucket of sand saturated with oil. Move your tools through the sand a couple times to preserve the edge; the oil prevents rust.
Planted in the yard or in pots, chrysanthemums are a reliable burst of autumn glory. You can easily transplant them now.
Transplant any seedlings that you may have started earlier in the summer. If transplanted now to their permanent location, small perennials will get a jump start and reward you with strong, healthy growth earlier next spring.
Plant spring bulbs like tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils now as well as peonies so they can get firmly established. If you've lifted your bulbs during the summer, check each bulb for damage. Each bulb should be firm and solid. If you didn't lift bulbs, now is an excellent time to divide bulb sets. (For example, blue flag iris will fail to bloom if they get too crowded.) Discard bulbs that are shriveled or too small. Prepare your beds, place bulbs, then dig your holes. Add a little bulb fertilizer or bone meal to each hole.
Dig up dahlia tubers, label each, and store in sawdust over the winter.
Pansies can be set out now for a little extra color as can flowering kale.
In many temperate areas, tender perennials need be moved this month to a greenhouse or other protected area if you want to overwinter them.
Harvest seeds of all annuals and plants that you want to propagate next year. Label and store in a cool, dry location.
This month may be your last opportunity to remove old or dead growth. In trees this can be especially important because with winter storms, tree damage can cause havoc with not just the lawn and garden but a stray branch or two through a window can really spoil your day.
Now is also a good time to assess your plantings for fall color. If you would like to add something with a little extra color or texture, you can find plants now that can add to the seasonal value and place them for best effect. Depending on your area, sumac, Japanese maples, and barberry are just a few plants that can add color to your garden.
Planting trees and shrubs this month gives them a chance to settle in well for the winter and be ready to burst forth with fresh growth next spring. Don't hesitate to add if your yard needs an addition or two.
Fertilize azaleas and rhodies to promote good blooms in the spring. Water well if it's been dry.
In beds that have been cleared of plantings, sow red clover or fava beans. They add interest and can be dug in next spring as green manures. Your vegies next year will thank you.
Cut back your raspberries. Take out the completely spent canes by cutting them to the ground. Cut back the newer growth to 48"–60".
If you have hard winters, bring in herbs like parsley, chives, and thyme for fresh herbs during the winter. They'll do okay in a sunny window. In more moderate climates, mulch and enjoy them all winter long. Mark location of perennials like French terragon that die back during the winter.
Plant peas, onions, and leeks for a spring feast. Mulch well.
Have big plans for the garden next year? Hire a landscape architect through ContractorNexus now to plan your project and beat the spring rush.