What to Do This Month
Rocky Mountain Gardener's October Checklist
Winterize now to save money and headaches later, but don't forget to savor this month's magic in the garden
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October is the beautiful bridge month between autumn and winter. The days are noticeably shorter, bright and cool. October is a busy month in the garden, the time to prepare for the harsh cold and snow of winter while enjoying every moment you can spend outdoors.
Winterize water features. The freeze-and-thaw cycle of winter weather can wreak havoc on these valuable garden assets. To minimize the damage:
- Drain, clean and store or cover freestanding fountains and water pots.
- Remove plant debris from ponds and set up a bubbler (a submersible pump with a short piece of pipe attached to the outlet) to keep some of the water surface free of ice.
- Disconnect pumps to recirculating waterfalls, especially if the water volume is fairly low. Ice buildup can divert water and cause problems. Moving water will also make your pond colder, which may be an issue if you have fish.
Prepare for snow. If you haven’t had frost or snow yet, you will soon. Early snows tend to be heavy and wet, and can damage plants — especially those that haven’t shed their leaves yet. Keep a broom handy and be ready to sweep the snow away to lighten the load on tree and shrub branches.
Winterize your watering system. Frozen pipes or components can be costly and inconvenient to repair. To prevent this:
- Drain your irrigation system and insulate the backflow preventer.
- Remove hoses from faucets and drain them. Store hoses and sprinklers in a handy location for winter watering.
Remove leaves from lawn areas. Leaves left on lawn areas will compact under the snow, smothering the lawn and contributing to disease problems like snow mold.
- Use leaves whole or shred them with your lawnmower or a commercial shredder.
- Add them to your compost pile now or stockpile them for future use.
- Use leaves as a mulch, 4 to 6 inches deep. Apply now to new planting areas to maintain soil warmth and permit better root growth, apply to bare soil areas to prevent erosion, or apply after the ground has frozen to prevent frost heave and premature soil warming in spring.
- Keep leaf mulch 6 inches away from the bases of trees and shrubs to prevent damage from rodents.
Amend the soil. Planning to install a new vegetable or flower garden next spring? Now's a great time to prepare the soil. Use organic amendments to increase water- and nutrient-holding capacity and to improve aeration and water flow. Adding amendments now allows you to work in the garden while the soil is relatively dry, thus preventing the potential for soil compaction that can occur if you try to do it during the wet months of early spring. Come springtime the soil will be ready to plant.
- Amendments must be mixed well into the soil — spade or rototill to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.
- Composts and aged manures work best for sandy soils; sphagnum peat or wood chips are ideal for clay.
- Incorporate 3 cubic yards of amendment per 1,000 square feet of soil. (That’s about 8 cubic feet of amendment for a 10-foot by 10-foot area of soil.
- Mulch the bed with a couple of inches of leaves or shredded wood to help prevent soil erosion during the winter.