October is time to start clearing one’s outdoor area for winter months and prepping for next spring. Photo by Sandy Cortez

October is time to start clearing one’s outdoor area for winter months and prepping for next spring. Photo by Sandy Cortez

Get It Growing: October chores for spring goals

October may be the time to start cleaning the garden, but a good gardener is always planning ahead.

Sept. 22 marked the autumnal equinox, the day the sun crosses the celestial equator, announcing the official start of fall. Many may look at fall as the end of the gardening season, but in reality it can be the start of the spring garden.

While October may be the time to start cleaning up the garden in earnest, a good gardener is always planning ahead.

October is the time to get the garlic planted. Come spring you will be welcoming strong plants that will be ready to harvest later in summer.

This is also the time to get the spring flowering bulbs in the ground. A little effort now will pay off in blooming color come spring. Look for next week’s “Get it Growing” column to read more about planting spring flowering bulbs.

Time to test

Testing your soil in October gives you the information and time to correctly amend it in preparation for spring. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, soil testing at the Clallam Conservation District (CCD) has been temporarily suspended. Not to worry: you can get the same test, for about $17, from A&L Laboratories out of Portland, Ore.

The CCD has clear, easy-to-apply information at clallamcd.org for collecting soil samples and submission.

Additionally, the CCD is eager to help gardeners interpret their results either online or by phone.

Fall cleaning, weeding

Now is the time to pull up, cut back and compost anything that no longer looks good or is not producing, being careful not to compost anything with weed seed or disease. Continue to deadhead plants that are still blooming. Rake leaves off lawns and chop them up to use as mulch or compost them.

The upside to cleaning is the possibility of preparing new beds. Use newspaper or cardboard to cover an area you want to convert to a new planting area or raised bed. Use the leaves and other chopped materials headed for the compost as a cover. Let nature keep the weeds out and start planning what to grow come spring.

On the North Olympic Peninsula, weeds are a yearlong chore. Waiting for a little rain may be a good strategy for weeding. The softer the ground, the easier it is to get the roots. Don’t wait for spring; tackle tough perennial weeds to keep their roots from getting stronger and deeper.

Once done, discourage all weeds by covering areas with some type of weed barrier, whether it is thick mulch, cardboard or permeable weed fabric. Whichever material you choose, it should be thick enough to block any light.

Weeds are not the only pests you can discourage from returning in spring. Slugs, snails, aphids, and other annoying pests love to overwinter in the garden. Removing weeds and dead plant material is the first step. Continue by removing any old pots, plastic, brick, boards, or other debris that may offer shelter to unwanted, overwintering pests.

Allowing a small pile of branches and other woody debris to remain will encourage ground beetles to take shelter. These do a wonderful job of controlling many undesirable insect pests. Mason bees, and other beneficial pollinators, can also take shelter in purposely arranged habitat.

Watch water levels

The winter rain may not provide a constant amount of water, so keep an eye on ground and container moisture. If you have a lot of your garden in pots or under cover, keep up with watering. Any newly planted, or transplanted, trees, shrubs or perennials are establishing roots and need adequate moisture.

If potted plants, indoor or out, need to be re-potted, pick a warm day and get it done. Add new potting mix and increase the pot by one size to keep them happy all winter and into the next growing season. Make sure to check for any critters and pests before bringing anything inside.

Remember, the chances are, whatever doesn’t get done this fall is going to be a much muddier chore come March.

Susan Kalmar is a Clallam County Master Gardener.

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