Ground rules and tools for October

October 7, 2004
Victoria County Master Gardeners

This bed of tulips and hyacinths is the result of proper bulb care in the fall, consisting of storage in a cool location for six to eight weeks prior to planting.  Make sure the bulbs remain dry to avoid mold or rot.

Fall is upon us - and the gardening cycle continues to go fforward. October gardening presents so many different options for "green thumbs." If your preference is for fresh vegetables and herbs from your garden, then now is the time for planting cool season blue-leafed vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts. It is best to plant them as transplants using a dilute fertilizer or seaweed and fish emulsion mix, feeding twice a week until well established.

Salad mix greens that do well are cress, arugula, fennel and sorrel. Thyme, oregano, rosemary, parsley and Mexican mint marigold do best in a bright location and the soil supplemented with a few inches of compost. Water these plants but don't keep them too wet. Pine needles and other leaves can serve as mulch and can aid in protecting seedling transplants.

If not intending to plant a vegetable garden, you can sow into your garden this fall a cool season green manure crop such as rye, vetch, crimson clover or oats. Green manure is a term given to plants that are grown to benefit the soil. Planting cereal rye (not ryegrass) now, however, can help you in controlling nematodes if you have that soil pest problem. Mow it down and till it under a couple of weeks before it goes to seed in the late spring to provide organic matter to the soil.

Now if you are interested primarily in floral plantings, transplant perennials that need to be relocated. Dig and store caladium bulbs, make cuttings of tender plants and plant container-grown landscape shrubs. Cyclamens are especially good for vibrant winter color. You are reminded again from a previous article recently published in this column that now is the time to either plant bluebonnet seed or set out bluebonnet transplants in full sun in a well-drained location. Spring blooming perennials will perform better when planted in the fall.

We are told that when you place a cardboard box over poinsettias and Christmas cactus during the late day from about 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. for about six weeks before Christmas that the blooms will be very abundant for the holidays. You might begin making preparations for this technique in late October for the upcoming holiday season. Snapdragons, stocks, phlox, nicotiana, chrysanthemums and marigolds are good choices for fall and winter color. Be sure to amend beds with organic matter.

Bulbs are another wonderful planting choice. Tulips and hyacinths need to be stored in the refrigerator beginning in late October for six to eight weeks before planting later in December or early January. Be sure that the bulbs remain dry to avoid mold or rot; wrap them in paper towels, and put them in paper bags to help assure dryness. Do not store in plastic bags or with apples, which can damage bulbs. Plant the bulbs immediately upon removal from cold storage.

Generally speaking, annual flowers need to be fed every month or so with a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio fertilizer because of lowered microbial activity in the soil resulting in less nitrogen. Start collecting compost pile materials such as leaves, grass and plant clippings. These should be sprinkled lightly with a garden fertilizer.

Last week's article in this column detailed weeds with recommended practices and methods to curtail them. As we move into October, winter weeds likely will have begun to sprout and could possibly continue even through November and December depending on growing conditions. To repeat, winter weeds that typically cause problems in our yards are annual bluegrass, bur clover, chickweed, dandelion, henbit, lawn burweed, stinging nettle and thistle.

Starting with the least to the more toxic weed control method, pulling weeds is recommended first, followed by applying mulch around desired plants and in walking paths to keep weed seeds from seeing sunlight and sprouting, and also keeping soil temperatures and moisture levels more uniform. Another option to minimize winter weeds is to use a pre-emergent herbicide, which if applied before weeds sprout, will kill sprouting seeds before they establish. There are several different pre-emergent herbicides that range from organic to typical herbicides. Further discussion on these can be found at - or by calling the Extension office at 3611-575-4581 for the list and use of various products, remembering to carefully follow all instructions.

Finally, your fall planting venture might include woody ornamentals, including trees, shrubs and vines. Generally the faster growth trees are the least desirable. It is important to regularly check newly planted shrubs and tree root systems for moisture. Make sure the soil around the plants is mulched with a 2- to 3-inch bark mulch, but kept away from the plant stem.

Basic to any planting is conducting a soil test whose results will dictate what amendments may be needed, and when applied in the fall will have enough time to benefit the soil for spring plantings. Stop by the Extension office for soil sample bags.

One more thing for your October calendar: The 20th Anniversary South Texas Farm and Ranch Show will be on Oct. 27 and 28 at the Victoria Community Center. The Master Gardeners' Garden Expo will take place again this year, with judging and awards for entries in field crops, garden crops, home products, orchard crops, cut flowers and container plants. Look for more information in future articles in this column or contact the Extension office for general rules and guidelines.

Various fall gardening practices mentioned in this article preempt the coming season, eventually following that same season, again and again in nature's gardening cycle. So, try the recommendations to prepare for the winter and spring, followed by those for next summer - which will precede preparations for next fall. It's kind of like the Energizer bunny - gardening keeps going and going - and going!