8 Things To Do In Your Garden in October

You know those long lists of to-do’s this month, with somewhere between 20 and 30 items? Honestly, instead of inspiring me to take action, they cause my eyes to glaze over at the enormity of it all.  What I’d rather know is what really needs to be done now. So here’s what I really, really do in October – maybe not every year but most years.


1. Making Sure Shrubs and Trees get Enough Water (this one’s mandatory)

This means noticing the amount of rain we’re getting and dragging out the hose for some deep watering if there isn’t enough.   Trees are my top priority for this treatment, especially conifers (of which I’m a huge fan).

2. Removing Some Dead “Plant Material”

Goldfinch and Purple Coneflower

Annuals and the foliage of some perennials (like hostas) turn to mush at the first hard frost and whenever that happens – this month or next – I pick up the mushed remains and compost them. Most perennials I leave standing until late winter or early spring because they look pretty cool, and often feed wildlife. Purple coneflowers, for instance, attract whole flocks of gold finches.

3. Planting Bulbs

Boxes of bulbs arrived by FedEx recently – one of the few perks of garden-writing – so I have dozens of tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and alliums to plant (though I’ll wait til late November to plant the tulips.)  I can never get enough bulb action in the spring.

4. Switching from Annuals to Junipers in High-Visibility Pots

The annuals in pots on my front porch – coleus, sweet potato vine and Persian shield – have been great all season, but any day now and most assuredly by mid-November they’ll all turn to mush but that doesn’t mean the pots have to stay empty for the next six months – no way!   I’ll just move the two ‘Gold Coast’ Juniper from where I planted them for the summer – in a border in the back yard – to fill the front-porch pots that’ll soon be empty.   Junipers are super-drought-tolerant, tough, and have survived being yanked around twice a year for years now.  I might even decorate them for the holidays.   The pines and spruces I tried previously?  Not so much.


5. Add a Touch of Color

I don’t always remember to do this til the stores are out of them, but I’m always glad when I do. Add a touch of color with Mums or even ornamental cabbage. 

6. Buy Plants & Put Them in the Ground

If you’re in the market for trees, shrubs, or perennials I try to buy them now because it’s the perfect time to plant them in our region (with very few exceptions among perennials).   This month I’ve planted ‘Blue Chip’ Buddleias, ‘Kaleidescope’ Abelias, dwarf crapemyrtles ‘Berry Dazzle’ and ‘Sweetheart Dazzle’, three Oakleaf hydrangeas and some ‘Heavenly Scent’ gardenias.

7. Dividing or Moving Perennials, Shrubs and Trees

I’m busy dividing liriope to cover a steep bank in the shade – they can really be divided any time – and some Sedum ‘Autumn Joys’.  A lot more work will be moving all these: a  tall ‘Shasta’ doublefile Viburnum, one Korean spice Viburnum, a  tall redbud, and a few azaleas. Their roots will have plenty of time to adjust before it heats up next May.

8. No More Lawn Feeding/Overseeding!

I no longer have a lawn but when I did, I fed it every fall. I also overseeded in September.

All photos by Susan Harris except goldfinch with coneflower by Runner Jenny.