Sow What Now in October
October marks the last curtain call for tender plants. Although it’s hard to believe with the long string of warm days we’ve had this fall, the first frost date is just a few weeks away. As more plants die back and more beds empty, a nice moment opens up to think about the garden’s future. October, with its colder, wetter, and shorter days, shortens the to-do list and sowing opportunities, but provides a great opportunity to prioritize tasks that will benefit you and your garden in the next growing season.
Sow What Now: Winter hardy greens like Mache and Spinach can be sown this month and into the winter. They will grow roots with each warm day and thaw in the coldest months, and in early spring, will grow foliage for next season’s first salads. But, the theme of this month’s sowing opportunities aren’t seeds, but bulbs.
This is a perfect month for planting garlic. Garlic needs a bed with lots of organic matter as well as mulch. For detailed planting instructions, have a look at Erin's garlic planting guide. To learn more about this potent plant’s history and cultural reputation, take a look at our Garlic Plant Personality post.
October is not only great to plan(t) ahead for your taste buds, but for visual feasts as well. Fall-planted flower bulbs like Crocuses, Daffodils, Irises, Hyacinths, and Tulips can be sown now, and will be ready to emerge colorfully in early spring. Bulbs, unlike seeds, like to be placed deep in the ground. Dig a hole that is two or three times deeper than the bulb. Plant it right side up: the round end of the “tear-drop” should be on the bottom, pointy end facing up. Cover back up with soil and water in well to help the bulb establish roots. Flowering bulbs look extra good when grown together like a loose bouquet, so consider scattering them about (still mostly following the suggested spacing) instead of planting in straight rows. Keep the planted area weeded to eliminate the competition for water and nutrients. If you find that some bulbs get “un-planted” by hungry critters, consider protecting your bulb bed by laying down a sheet of chicken wire over it removing when the plants sprout in the spring. Aim to plant fall bulbs anytime before the ground freezes (which will be a few weeks after the first frost date).
Season Extension: At this time of year, just like in spring, it can be easy to be tricked by the warm days, but nights can quickly dip into low temperatures and the weather can take an unpredictable turn. To keep tender crops producing for a few extra weeks, season extension tools such as cold frames, row covers, and quick wire hoops are very effective. Look back to our Sow What Now in September post for more on row cover use, or have a look at our collection of articles about row covers here. Quick wire hoops are simple wire frames that can be inserted into the ground around plants to keep row covers from direct contact with crops, thus adding better heat retention, airflow, and overall plant health. They can also be used in greenhouses and high tunnels, or under taller low hoops that hold plastic, adding 5 degrees to any space. To learn all about the advantages of cold frames and how to build one yourself, take a look at Doug’s Quick and Easy Cold-Frame Tutorial.
Cover Crops and Soil Care: As patches of bare soil open up in the garden, take time to make sure your soil is healthy, fed, and ready for next season. Now is the time to add balance and add in nutrients, through amendments and cover crops. Before fall plantings, consider an additional application of one inch of compost as well as a repeat of your regular amendment regimen to keep your soil strong. For a cost effective way to build organic matter, fix nitrogen, draw nutrients from the soil, prevent erosion, and break pest and disease cycles - sow cover crops! Read about our variety and planting recommendations for home gardeners here.