Michigan Gardening To-Do List: October

October Raspberries

October means fall color, cool days, and the peak of Autumn here in Michigan. Northern areas most likely have seen a frost or two already, but there’s still plenty to do before the snow flies, both to keep this year’s garden going, and to prepare for next year.

If you have new beds to dig, or you want to extend some of your current beds, October is a great time to do that. The days are cooler and you have more time than you probably will in the spring. Instead of a flurry of activity, trying to get the beds ready to be planted, they’ll be ready and waiting for you. I dig all of my beds in the fall now, and it’s made my spring planting so much more streamlined.

Here are a few October garden chores you might want to work on this month.

Herb/Vegetable Garden

  • Plant garlic for harvest next year.
  • Keep watering and weeding.
  • Harvest regularly to keep plants producing well.
  • Reduce the numbers of overwintering pests and diseases by cleaning up garden debris, especially in the vegetable garden.
  • In zones 5 and 6, sow more fall crops directly into your garden, including mesclun, spinach, mache, radishes, and carrots. If you live in colder zones, such as in northern Michigan, you can still sow but the plants might not grow much before it gets too cold. Fall planting can be a bit of a gamble, but sometimes it can pay off. If you have the space and seeds available, it’s worth a try, and if you have an area in a low tunnel, cold frame, or greenhouse, you have a good chance of getting things growing, even in the coldest areas of the state.

Annuals

  • Keep deadheading to keep plants looking their best.
  • Water regularly.
  • Remove summer annuals that may be looking ragged and replace with fall flowers, such as mums, asters, ornamental kale, or pansies.

Perennials

  • October is a great time to dig and divide any perennials that look overgrown to you. To protect against a sudden freeze mulch the newly divided plants heavily with fall leaves. Check out our Michigan Frost Dates to find your frost dates.
  • You can usually get good deals on many plants this month, when garden centers and nurseries start running their “fall planting” sales. As above, make sure you protect these new plants with a thick layer of mulch.

Bulbs

  • You can continue planting spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, muscari, and snowdrops.
  • If squirrels or other wildlife dig up your bulbs, place a section of chicken wire or metal hardware cloth over the area. Pin it down and cover it with mulch. This should protect it from those pesky critters.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Trees and shrubs will need an inch of water per week to stay healthy, either from rain or from the hose.

Indoor Gardening

  • If you plan on growing veggies or herbs indoors over the winter, this is the time to get your shelving and lights set up and ready to go. Make sure you have plenty of potting soil, seeds, and containers on hand.

10 Ways to Recycle a Jack O’ Lantern

It’s the day after Halloween. No sign of the Great Pumpkin yet again, and I’m doing my best to resist the 4 huge buckets of candy in the kitchen. Mmmm….Snickers….

The other sign that Halloween has passed us by is the sight of dozens of carved, soggy, perhaps squirrel-chewed Jack O’ Lanterns sitting on the curb. Much like my obsession with leaves, I confess to wanting to give people who throw pumpkins away a good talking-to. Nearly half of all U.S. households carve a pumpkin every year (at least one!) That’s a lot of waste if even some of us just toss them in the garbage. So rather than raving like a lunatic, I’ll post some constructive ideas here, instead.

10 Ideas for Recycling Your Jack O’Lantern

  1. Chop them up (I just use a shovel) and toss them in your compost bin.
  2. If you like squirrels, leave the pumpkin out and let the squirrels devour it.
  3. If you have a worm bin, cut your Jack O’Lantern into smaller pieces and give it to the worms. They LOVE pumpkin, in my experience.
  4. Via my About.com colleague Melissa Mayntz, cut it in half and use it as a bird feeder.
  5. Chop ’em up a little and place them at the bottom of a lasagna garden or new raised bed. (I think just about every raised bed in my garden was started on a foundation of old Jack O’Lanterns and fall leaves.)
  6. If your Jack O’ Lantern is still pretty fresh (not moldy, soft, or smelly – meaning you just carved it in the last day or so) you can turn what’s left into pumpkin puree. Just remove any soft spots, wax or soot from candles. {You can also turn your puree into pumpkin butter — yum!}
  7. Pamper yourself with a pumpkin puree pedicure.
  8. Puree the flesh, and make your own pumpkin body moisturizer.
  9. Bury it. If you’re not starting a new garden bed, you can dig a hole in an existing bed (perhaps you’re planting some trees, shrubs, or perennials anyway?) and place pieces of the pumpkin in the bottom. Instant boost of nitrogen and organic matter!
  10. Science experiment. If you have curious kids, just let the Jack O’ Lantern sit in your yard for as long as you can stand it. Let them note all of the fun, gross things that happen to a pumpkin as it decays: the mold, the sogginess, the eventual collapse into itself. If you think ahead and happen to set your Jack O’ Lantern on top of your compost pile, you won’t have any slimy clean-up to do afterwards!

So, no more Jack O’ Lanterns on the curb after Halloween, right? Right.