October Gardening Topics

Fall Tasks

With the cooling weather and soon-to-arrive rains, now is the time to clean up your garden beds in preparation for the winter. Many pest insects and diseases live over the winter in the weedy areas and dead plants left from the summer garden. Keep your planting beds clean and you will reduce next year's problems. Roses, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas need cleaning of dropped and diseased leaves. Cleaning should stop, however, before removing leaf litter under oak trees and needles under pine trees and junipers. This leaf duff helps protect the roots of these large trees and shrubs. Adding a several inch deep layer of compost on your planting beds will provide much needed nutrients for next year's plants. Many perennials benefit from removal of a third to half of their growth. Salvias (sages), penstemons, yarrow, buddleia (butterfly bush) are among them. Create your own compost with healthy trimmings by alternating green cuttings with brown leaves or straw in a pile or a compost container. Free composting classes and low cost bins are available from the Master Composters who can be reached at 408-918-4640.


Soon those beautiful orange fruits will start ripening. In addition to providing fruit, the persimmon tree is an nicely sized landscape tree that grows to about 25 feet tall and wide. The tree drops its leaves quickly in the fall for easy cleanup, allowing the sun to warm the garden and nearby walls during the winter months. Persimmons come in two types - astringent until soft (Hachiya type) or non-astringent when still crisp (Fuyu type). Both have their uses and provide great fall color with the fruit on bare trees as they ripen. The fruit must be cut off the tree as you will damage them if you pull. To learn more about the varieties, take a look at some excellent information at the California Rare Fruit Growers web site.

Time to Plan and Plant

Now is the time to look around your garden and think about replacing tired annuals, perennials and shrubs. If you have a place for a small meadow, seeding of native wildflowers can be done now. Poppies, clarkias, lupines, collinsias and more are easy from seeds that are available at local nurseries or online. Planting just before the winter rains start can help perennial or shrub roots get well established before next summer's heat. By selecting plants that are native to areas of the world that have cool wet winters and warm dry summers, you can reduce the amount of watering needed during the dry summer months. Look for plants that are native to California, parts of Australia and South Africa, the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and Chile as these areas have the same climate as we do. Sunset's New Western Garden Book lists country of origin in each plant description.

Forcing Poinsettias Bloom

If you saved your plant from last year's holiday season, you can force it to bloom again. Poinsettias bloom only when the hours of darkness are longer than those of light. The plant needs 9 to 10 hours of light and 14 to 15 hours of darkness. The room temperature should be about 65 degrees. It must be absolutely dark with no light at all, even for a moment. You can put the plant in a closet, a box with a tight fitting lid or a black plastic bag. Setting up a schedule will help you through this regimen. Cover the plant at 5 pm and uncover it at 7 or 8 am. Do this for about two weeks starting now. After the dark period, bring them out into the light and care for them normally.

Prechilling Tulip Bulbs

Ideally a tulip bulb needs a chilling time of 6 to 8 weeks. This gives them the necessary amount of dormancy required before spring growth. To prechill tulip bulbs, put them in the refrigerator (not freezer) for at least 6 weeks in mesh or paper bags. The bulbs need to breathe. Do not store them with apples as the ethylene gas emitted by apples will sprout the bulbs. Plant the bulbs as soon as you remove them.