San Diego Gardener
Southern California Garden Guide
Month of October
October is when we see our first true days of Autumn. In Southern California, our mild mediterranean climate makes it possible to plant all year-round, but Fall is one of the best times of the year to garden: the soil is still warm and the rainy season is near. As the temperatures cool, working in the garden becomes even more pleasant. In fact, the only drawback is that as the days grow shorter and the shadows longer, you'll find that it's dark long before you're ready to quit for the day and picking the last of the tomatoes or the first of the lettuce by flashlight.
Plant for permanence. Fall is the best time to plant permanent additions to your landscape except for tender subtropicals and bare root plants. Tender subtropicals such as citrus, bougainvillea, hibiscus, mandevilla and banana are best planted in early Summer when the soil is quite warm and there is no immediate danger of frost. Roses, berries and deciduous fruit trees are best planted in Winter when they can be purchased as bare roots at bargain prices.
Cool-Season Lawns. Now is the best time to plant cool-season grasses like fescue, ryegrass and bluegrass.
Cool-Season Vegetables. Plant cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, lettuce and other greens.
Cool-Season Flowers. Plant cool-season flowers. These include calendula, cineraria, dianthus, delphiniums, Iceland poppies, nemesia, pansies, snapdragon, stock, wild flowers.
Garlic. Plant cloves base-down (pointy side up) 1-3 in. deep and 3-5 in. apart.
Spring-Flowering Bulbs. Plant drought-resistant South African bulbs and corms and Tazetta and Tazetta hybrids (Narcissus). Store other Narcissus and Spring-flowering bulbs for later planting.
Wild Flowers. For long-lasting color, choose a western seed mix that has both annuals & perrenials or make your own mix, using your favorites. Good candidates for a wild flower mix include California poppies, larkspur, linaeria, clarkia, Chinese houses, godetia and gypsophila.
Amaryllis Belladonna. Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Ladies) eventually form big clumps that push up out of the ground and need dividing. You want to divide these plants after they bloom but before new roots and foliage have begun to grow. If the bulbs are transplanted during this brief period of dormancy, next year's flowering will not be interrupted. If you did not divide large clumps in September because they were in bloom, do so this month as soon as the flowers fade.
Bermuda Lawn. If you have a Bermuda lawn and want a green lawn in winter, overseed Bermuda grass with annual winter ryegrass this fall. Cut the grass short and mulch it with composted manure or a fine-sifted compost. Keep the ground damp until rye seeds sprout.
Bird of Paradise. Cut off dead leaves. After flowers fade, pull out bloom stems. Small plants can be divided with a sharp knife. Left alone, these plants will eventually make such large clumps that the only way to easily divide them is to use a chain saw and replant salvagable sections.
Daylilies. After evergreen daylilies have finished blooming, renew plants by cutting back the leaves to 4 inches. Divide over-crowded daylilies this month.
Gladiolus. When gladiolus have died, cut them off and dig up the corms. A new corm should have grown on the top of each old corm and some times you'll find several cormels (tiny corms). Let the corms dry for a couple of days, then separate the new plump corm from the old corm and discard the old corm. Store these corms in a cool dry place till they're ready to be planted next February. The cormels are difficult to sprout, but if you want to try, prechill in the refrigerator for 6-8 weeks, then plant 1 inch apart in late winter; they will not likely bloom until their second year.
Geraniums. (Pelargonium hortorum) To encourage regrowth during the winter, cut back garden geraniums (Pelargonium hortorum) by half. Make straight cuts 1/4 to 1/2 inch above joints, leaving several healthy leaves on all branches.
Lawns. October is a good time to aerate your lawn. This will relieve compacted soils allowing air and water to reach the roots. You can rent a machine or do the job by hand with a tool made for this purpose. If you buy a hand tool, make sure it is the type that lifts out a plug, poking holes in the ground is not enough. There are also services that will do this for you.
Roses. Early in the month, feed roses for the last time this year. Give roses up to 1 inch of water twice a week unless it rains.
Sweet Peas. If you planted sweet peas last month, thin them out and pinch them back to force branching.
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Last update: Thu, Feb 25, 1999.