In Northern California, where it’s easy to grow crops year-round, gardening is one pastime that never takes a holiday. In addition to tending the broccoli, chicories, and other greens that do so well through the winter, there are the never-ending tasks that must be done every fall. Here are some of our favorite October gardening tips.
Plant Now – A Cool Weather Garden
Be quick – it’s not too late to plant starts or direct-seed these cool season vegetables, including: peas (English peas, snap peas, snow peas); greens (spinach, arugula, bok choy, mizuna, Asian mustard greens, chard, kale, and short season lettuces); bitter greens (chicories, endives, escarole, radicchio); root vegetables (carrots, radishes, turnips); and coles (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage).
Take a good look at your garden to determine the best areas for planting, remembering that cool-season vegetables need 6-8 hours of daily sun.
See this article on fall and winter vegetable gardening for more tips on vegetables to plant now.
Mid to late October is a perfect time to plant garlic.
Sunset Magazine offers these planting instructions: Break bulbs into individual cloves and set them, base down, in rich, well-drained soil. Cover regular garlic with 1 to 2 inches of soil; cover elephant garlic (not a true garlic but a bulbing leek with mild garlic flavor) with 4 to 6 inches of soil. Press the soil down firmly and water well. Continue to irrigate until winter rains keep the soil consistently moist. In late winter, side-dress planting with cottonseed meal or chicken manure.
More tips here on garlic growing.
Fall mulching has many benefits, as it conserves soil moisture, suppresses weed growth, and helps regulate soil temperatures.
A 2- to 3-inch layer of straw, shredded leaves, or compost makes a great organic mulch to protect perennials and winter crops such as beets, carrots, onions, parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips.
More about mulch.
Sow Cover Crop
Cover crops such as fava beans and red clover are ideal for putting nutrients back into your soil, minimizing soil erosion, and keeping weed growth to a minimum.
Till or rake empty beds about 2 inches deep, then broadcast seeds and rake in to cover. There’s no need to water if you plant just before the fall rains begin. Overwinter the crop and just as it comes to bloom in spring, cut down the plants for maximum nitrogen benefit, leaving the roots in the soil. Chop up the tops and add to your compost pile.
Here’s a short video on planting cover crops.
Native shrubs, trees, and flowers are well-adapted to your climate and soil, and support the butterflies, bees, and other wildlife that live with you. In California, natives are drought-tolerant once they are established, but need adequate water for the first year or two to establish a strong root system that will help nourish the plant for years to come. Planting in the fall gives them time to settle in before being hit by the heat of the summer sun.
Here’s more information on native plants.
Berries — including blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and some strawberries — can be planted in the fall through early spring.
When purchasing berry plants, it is best to get plants that are certified disease-free from a nursery. Most berries prefer deep, well-drained, loamy soil with a slightly acidic pH (5.5-6.5). Bare-root plants can be planted in the fall, winter, and early spring. Potted green plants can be planted any time they are available in the nursery. A northern sun exposure is best.
More on growing berries.
Fall is the perfect time to get your spring-blooming bulbs into the ground. It is generally easier to wait until after the first rains soften the ground to plant them, but buy them now so that you are prepared. Here are some bulb suggestions for Sonoma County; perhaps some of them will work in your neck of the woods.
If you haven’t been raking up those leaves as they drop, get started now. Dried leaves can be added to the compost pile, unless they’re diseased, in which case it’s better to dispose of them in your green bin or through your civic waste cycle.
Here are tips for easiest raking.
Maintain Your Tools
Once the work is done, autumn is the perfect time to clean, sharpen, and oil your garden tools and store them in a dry space.
Steel wool will remove rust build up (be sure to wear gloves when working with steel wool); some gardeners use wax paper throughout the year to wipe cleaned and dried blades after use to prevent/reduce rust.
Here are some useful tool care tips.