The Garden Guy: October in the Garden

Monday, October 17, 2022

The garden in autumn
By Bruce Bennett

It is difficult to believe that, as of September 22, autumn will have, all too quickly, arrived in the Pacific Northwest. There are still too many tasks in the house and around the landscape that need to be accomplished! 

Still, autumn does have its own set of enticements. There are those sweet, late-ripening tomatoes; the greens and purples of your various basils, the reds, oranges and burgundies of the changing leaf colors on your street; and, of course, the cooler days when sitting outdoors doesn’t feel like it is a grueling rite of passage. 

Normally, this column is not involved with ‘the tasks of the season.’ Too many such columns share theses perennial tasks with readers. Yet, this year, these are the questions being received through my virtual In-box. So, in trying to give the readers what they ask for, here is the requested information for the calm after our hottest summer on record.

When it comes to adding new plants to the landscape, yes, October is, arguably, a better month than April. This holds true whether for trees, conifer, shrubs, hardy perennials and, certainly, bulbs. The soil is still warm, roots are still active and wanting to investigate the territory around them. 

If you have timed it right, once the new members of the garden have been planted and thoroughly watered-in, the seasonal rains will take on the task for the next several months. The other positive aspect of planting in October is the end-of-season sales which many nurseries and garden centers sponsor. 

This month’s worse-for-wear-looking perennials will come back next year looking just fine. Shrubs may need a bit of pruning (after they have gone dormant), but, they also will come back fuller than when purchased. And, depending on the garden center, you could potentially save 25% - 70% over regular retail costs.

Photo courtesy
It’s also time to start cleaning the garden, protecting fall vegetables and preparing for frosts, but we’ll get into all that a little more below!

A traditional task of the season is the raking of the leaves (Leaf-raking and snow-shoveling paid for most of my freshman year fees for college. Do high school students even do that anymore?). 

Rather than raking and sending your leaves to the recycling center, repurpose and use these multi-hued beauties to save you money in the garden. 

Whole-leaf mulch is a bit too slug friendly of an environment. Use your lawn mower or the leaf vacuum capability on your leaf blower to shred the leaves. 

Add three inches of the shredded material to your beds as a mulch to insulate in the winter weather, hold in moisture in summer heat, add nutrients while decomposing into the soil and save yourself the price of many bags of bark mulch you may need to accomplish the same ends. 

If you add leaves as a top dressing and cover for your vegetable beds, simply till them in spring to improve the soil’s tilth. Any type of mulch should cover just the root areas and should never be piled up around stems or tree trunks. This situation could cause rot of the bark and underlying tissues.

With temperatures moderate again, it is an excellent time for planting any hardy trees and shrubs. Your soil should be workable if it is moderately moist. Generally, planting now versus next spring will result in better root development before next summer, which is often the toughest season on new plantings for about three years, until the roots become established

Transplanting. Photo courtesy
October and November are usually the best time adding new shrubs or moving established shrubs, if you feel you need to. Because of transplant shock, this will still be a difficult time for the plants -- even this time of year. It is not quite pruning season yet. So, sit back and enjoy the results of your labors.

Enjoy the changing autumn colors, and, once the trees and shrubs have gone dormant and dropped their leaves, then consider which of them may need pruning

October is one of the best months to plant hardy perennials and herbs. Many are still looking great right now, including hardy cyclamen, Japanese anemones and mints as well as evergreen perennials like Heuchera, rosemary and lavender. Almost any hardy perennial can be planted now, and most established ones that have been growing for more than four years, can be divided and moved with little risk of loss. 

If you are thinking about moving Iris or peonies, it’s time for that too! Keep in mind that moving plants can sometimes mean sacrificing next year’s flowers..

Bulbs. Courtesy of
It must be bulb-planting season. The box stores have multiple bins of bulbs set-up and on sale right now. 

The short response to the several questions received is, Yes, this is prime bulb planting season for planting tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and most other spring-blooming bulbs. 

To those of you who find a forgotten a bag of bulbs in December; plant them then. And, yes, if it is March, still get them in the ground. 

There’s always hope. That’s why you garden, the hope of a prettier garden?

Harvest. Courtesy of
Finish harvesting warm season veggies like green beans, herbs, tomatoes and potatoes. Apples, pears, fall raspberries and kiwi are potentially ready for harvest as well. 

Having mentioned apples, let’s digress for a second. Questions have come in about the scarcity of apples on Seattle-area trees (Mine included). 

Blame this state of affairs primarily on the unusually cool spring weather. The low temperatures caused flowers to die and pollinators to wait to do their tasks after bloom times. And, don’t think you are alone. 

The Washington State Tree Fruit Association on Monday projected the 2022 apple crop will see a decrease of more than 10% this year. Many crops can be stored for winter consumption, most notably potatoes, squash, apples and pears. Root crops like carrots and beets can be stored in the ground or in another cool location.

It’s time to clean up finished veggie and fruit beds. Much of the debris left in the garden after summer can be added to a compost pile or bin. However, the plants succumbed to a disease or insect infestation, be cautious and dispose of this end-of-season in a yard waste container and not your home compost bin. This is also a great time to prune (down to the ground) your raspberry canes that produced fruit this year.

Harvest. Courtesy of
Now that your planting beds are clean, they may look a bit forlorn and abandoned. If so and the gardeners’ power still burns within you, now is the ideal time to add some late season and overwintering vegetables. Bok Choi, Kale and Swiss chard can be grown and harvested all winter long. 

Cabbage, garlic, shallots and onion sets can be overwintered for an early harvest next spring. This late in the season, use starts as it is beyond the time for the successful planting of seeds.

Frosts can occur in October, but November is more likely in the Seattle-area. Still, having season extenders like row cover, cloches or cold frames close at hand will help to keep frost off of leaves and create a warmer environment under the cover. As always, watch for slug damage on your greens.

It is not quite pruning season yet. So, sit back and enjoy the tastes and visual displays offered to you through your seasonal labors and success in the garden. Enjoy the changing autumn colors and, once the trees and shrubs have dropped their leaves and gone dormant for the winter months, then consider which of them may need pruning (a gardener’s work is never done). Happy gardening all!

Bruce Bennett, The Garden Guy
Contributing columnist, Bruce Bennett, is a WSU Master Gardener, lecturer, garden designer and consultant.  

If you have questions concerning this article, have a gardening question or two to ask concerning your home or simply want to suggest a topic for a future column, contact Bruce at  


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