October 2003

Ground rules and tools for gardening in October

October 2, 2003
Victoria County Master Gardener
Attention all readers! Tomorrow, Oct. 3, is the last day, the absolute deadline for returning your soil samples to be included in the current one-half price campaign that is being conducted by the Victoria County Master Gardeners, in conjunction with the South Texas Farm and Ranch Show and Texas Cooperative Extension Soil, Water and Forage Testing Lab.

Soil sample tests are such valuable tools in the garden, and they are so simple to do, it would be a shame to miss this opportunity. Results will be given at the 19th South Texas Farm & Ranch Show held Oct. 21 at 3 p.m. at the Victoria Community Center Annex. The show features programs like this one, plus more than 125 agricultural-related exhibit booths. Don't miss it!

The show will also feature its second Garden Expo coordinated by the Victoria County master gardeners. Do you have a favorite potted plant or garden vegetable you grew and want to show? The Garden Expo held Oct. 21-22 at the Victoria Community Center Annex is the place. Call the County Extension office at 361-575-4581 for entry forms. Classes range from all homegrown container houseplants to vegetables, fruits, dried foods, honey, nuts, or even homemade products such as homemade wine and beer.

Speaking of garden veggies and the like, October is just the perfect time in the garden, for me at least. The heat of summer has passed and now we can grow all those wonderful veggies like broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, onions and Brussels sprouts, as well as the dozens of varieties of lettuce that are now available. Check the seed catalogs to see all the new varieties. And we can still have tomatoes and peppers, and the flowers are beautiful! What could be more perfect?

Purchase bulbs now while the garden centers have a good selection. They may be planted at any time with the exception of tulips and hyacinths.

If tulips and hyacinths are "must haves" for you, put them in brown paper bags and store in the lower part of the refrigerator until mid or late December. Do not store the bulbs in airtight plastic bags.

Start collecting leaves for the compost pile. Be sure you have extra soil, so that you can cover each 6 inches of leaves with a few inches of soil. Wet the layer of leaves thoroughly before adding the soil. Sprinkle lightly with nitrogen or a garden fertilizer on each layer of leaves to insure the necessary nitrogen for decomposition.

Keep Christmas cactus in a sunny spot where night temperatures can be kept below 65 degrees. Buds will drop if night temperatures go above 70 degrees or if you allow the plant to become excessively dry. They should also be kept in total darkness from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. for about 30 days in October to get the flower buds started.

If you have saved seeds of your favorite plants, allow them to become air dry, then place them in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Be sure to label each packet carefully.

Prepare beds for planting pansies when they become available at the garden centers. They need a well-drained soil and exposure to at least a half-day of sun. It is best to use started plants, as pansy seeds are difficult to handle.

If twig girdlers have worked over your trees so that many twigs and branches are dropping, be sure these are collected and destroyed, as eggs are deposited in that part of the branch that falls to the ground.

You still have time to divide and reset perennials such as phlox, violets, hollyhocks, irises, day lilies and Shasta daisies.

Holly plants with a heavy set of berries often suffer a fertilizer deficiency. An application of recommended fertilizer late this month can be helpful and provide a good start next spring. Get your soil sample in by tomorrow to know what to apply!

You can begin to move foliage plants indoors. Repot, check for insects and disease, and treat if necessary.

Plant cyclamen in pots for wonderful winter color. Protect when temperature dips below 22 degrees. Discard in the spring. If you have fall-planted strawberries, remove runners and blooms to encourage the plants to become established faster.

Consider over-seeding bare areas in St. Augustine or bermudagrass lawns with annual rye grass. Do not overseed solid, healthy stands.

Plant container-grown landscape shrubs now. Fall-planted, hardy plants have a growth advantage over spring-planted stock.

Plant onion seeds now. Varieties include: 1015Y, Grano 502, Granex or Burgundy.

Check your nursery or garden center for started plants of snapdragons, pinks (dianthus), alyssum, petunias, and calendulas. Plant now for a riot of spring color!

Consider paving the walkways in your vegetable garden. Lay thick layers of newspaper, wet down so it doesn't blow away, and cover with a good layer of leaves. You can always get into the garden with this kind of pathway, and at the end of the season, you till it in to benefit the plants in your next garden.

October is a good time to reduce the insect population and disease potential in next year's garden. Clean up the garden, removing all annuals that have completed their life cycle. Remove the tops of all herbaceous perennials that have finished flowering or as soon as frost has killed the leaves.

October is great for gardening!