University City

October garden tips: Prune after frost, watch for plant sales

It is balmy now, but Jack Frost could be back by the end of this month.

October is a month of changes and a busy time in the garden. But what a joy it is to work outside, now that summer’s skeeters, heat and humidity are finally gone!

October is prime time to plant new landscape plants and move plants around in your yard (something that painter and passionate gardener Claude Monet is reported to have done constantly at Giverny).

Hold off on pruning, though, until after plants drop leaves and go dormant. And stay strictly away from early bloomers such as azaleas if you want spring flowers.

Be on the lookout for fall plant sales, which are great places to find the right plant to put in this autumn. Here are a couple coming up:

• UNC Charlotte Fall Plant Sale: Oct. 18-20 (Oct. 17 for members only). Excellent place to find native plants, plus much more. 704-687-0719.

• Winghaven Fall Plant Sale: Oct. 10-12. Wide variety of fine landscape plants, including herbs. 704-331-0664.

Keep your eyes open at local big-box garden centers, too. They clean out inventory in the fall, and you can sometimes find exceptional deals on worthy plants.

October can be fairly dry, so be sure your plants don’t get water-stressed, especially such shallow-rooted varieties as camellias and azaleas, container plants and fall veggies. Use the hose or irrigation system to supplement rainfall, as needed.

Clean up garden beds now, pulling out annual flowers and vegetables as they start to look ratty. Except for diseased plants, put everything in your compost piles, which will soon be expanding after leaves begin to drop.

This is a great time to plant a cover crop on vegetable beds and other areas you won’t be using over the winter. Cereal rye (different from ryegrass) is an excellent choice. So are oats, which are easier to cut and dig into the soil in the early spring (it may be a little late for clover).

Annual ryegrass will also work as a cover crop, but you’ll need to cut it before seed heads form, since it can go to seed in the spring and become weedy.

Before frost arrives, usually around the end of the month (watch the weather report; it can be unpredictable), dig your sweet potatoes and cut and clean up any squash or gourd vines. The morning after the first frost, leaves of all those plants morph into a black slimy mess.

Pick all your green tomatoes, wrap them in newspaper, and you can have tomatoes for a few more weeks. Pick peppers and okra, too.

Leave cool-season crops such as broccoli, kale, collards and cabbage in the garden, however, since they taste even better after a frost.

October is too late for home and community gardeners to start garden vegetables outside a greenhouse, with one big exception: garlic.

Plant a good variety (I like Music) around the middle of the October in a sunny place where it can grow undisturbed until next June or July. Garlic does very well here, and it’s great fun to grow your own.

Flowering bulbs, especially daffodils, are also good to plant now. Some daffodils will naturalize, meaning they reliably come back every year on their own (something not true for most types of tulips).

Daffies do great in natural areas with lots of sun, though they also do OK under hardwood trees with branches high above the ground. If you are in an anarchistic mood, grab a handful of bulbs, turn your back, and toss them over your shoulder, and plant them where they land.

The following varieties are proven performers, year after year: Ice Follies (white), Mount Hood (white), Carlton (yellow) and Tête a Tête (a small and charming yellow type).

Lawn maintenance is a worthy chore in October, including aeration with a core aerator. You can also seed whole lawns or fix patches. When you seed, keep the area evenly moist and very gently remove any fallen tree leaves daily. You can fertilize fescue this month; see for directions.

Of course, it always make sense to consider shrinking your lawn, one of the most resource-intensive and costly parts of your landscape. Try replacing part of your lawn with an edible garden in sunny spots, or with natural landscaping and native plants in the shade (where a lawn won’t thrive, anyway, no matter how many chemicals you add).

October is a good time to start the transformation by preparing the site and soil.

Halloween is coming soon, and there are some local you-picks, such as the Hodges farms on Rocky River Road just past the entrance to Reedy Creek Park, where you can select your own pumpkin out in the field. It’s fun, and a boo-tiful way to support local farmers.