Regional To-Do List: Southwest Gardening In October


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Southwest gardening in October is beautiful; summer has gradually winded down, days are shorter and more comfortable, and it’s a perfect time to be outdoors. Use this opportunity to take care of those October garden tasks. What to do in the Southwest in October? Read on for a regional to-do list.

Regional To-Do List: Southwest Gardening in October

  • Planting new perennials in October will give the roots time to establish before the cooler days of winter.
  • Fall is also a perfect time to divide existing perennials that are overcrowded or unproductive. Toss out old, dead centers. Replant the divisions or give them away.
  • Harvest winter squash, leaving one to three inches (2.5 to 7.6 cm.) of stem intact. Put the squash in a sunny spot for about ten days before moving them to a cool, dry spot for storage, but be sure to bring them in if nights are frosty. Pick green tomatoes when temperatures fall consistently below 50 degrees F. (10 C.). They’ll ripen indoors in two to four weeks.
  • Plant garlic in full sun and well-drained soil. October is also a good time for planting horseradish. Plant cool season annuals like pansy, dianthus, and snapdragon.
  • Gradually decrease watering to harden plants for winter. Stop fertilizing by Halloween, especially if you expect hard freezes. Clean up leaves, dead plants, and other garden debris that may harbor pests and disease over the winter.
  • October garden tasks should include weed removal by hoeing, pulling, or mowing. Don’t allow pesky weeds to go to seed. Clean and oil pruners and other garden tools before putting them away for the winter.
  • Your regional to-do list should also include at least one visit to a botanical garden or arboretum in the Southwest. For example, Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, ABQ BioPark in Albuquerque, Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City, or Ogden’s Botanical Gardens, and Red Hills Desert Garden, to name just a few.

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Last modified on Tue 27 Oct 2020 11.32 GMT

I f you were one of the estimated three million people who discovered gardening this year, don’t imagine that now is the time for hunkering down indoors with re-runs of Gardeners’ World and a pile of seed catalogues. There is much to be done outside, especially if you are determined that next spring and summer will bring an even more bounteous and beautiful garden. There is not much else to look forward to, so you may as well give yourself the gift – and smug satisfaction – of thriving plants. Here are some of the things you can do with optimism for better times ahead.


Mid-Atlantic

Spring will have completely sprung in April, for the most part. But some days will still be much nicer than others for working in the garden. Take advantage of those days and get some work done.

  • Sow seed outdoors for all but transplanted vegetables that you've started indoors.
  • Prune rose bushes before bud break. This may be your last chance.
  • This is your last chance to plant trees and shrubs without risking the chance that they will have to deal with hot weather before they become established.
  • Once nighttime temperatures consistently stay above 55 degrees F, transplant hardy annuals.

October’s Gardening Chores

Here is a list of some October gardening chores and tasks you can and should tackle this month:

October’s Gardening Chores

In The Garden

  • Potted plants need to be re-potted especially the tropicals in outdoor containers. Add new potting mix and increase the pot by one size to keep them happy all winter. This will be the last feeding until March. Make sure to check for any critters and pests before bringing anything inside, and consider applying an insecticidal soap to the soil after re-potting so it leaches down into the new pot.
  • Lawns are hungry as well. October is the time for your second application of fertilizer with a “winterizer” type on the label, one with an NPK (nitrogen/phosphorous/potassium) of around 28-0-14. New lawns, after you have cut them three times, can be treated for weeds, and yes, you are feeding the weeds too, so just be patient.
  • Bulbs. It’s also time to plant those spring-blooming bulbs. Pay attention to the planting depth as listed on the packages. Dividing perennials is a great way to make your beds fuller and, if you have too many of one thing, seek out another neighborhood gardener and swap — another great way to extend those beds, and make new garden buddies.
  • Pest Control. This is the time when grubs are hatching, and moles are getting active. With moles, you also most likely have voles, another garden pest. Remember: m oles are the meat-eaters, where v oles are the v egetarians. Treating for grubs now will eliminate future root destruction by the voles.
  • Vegetable Plants. Keep pulling up the summer veggies as they ripen, and make room for fall crops as they die off. Composting those “spent” plants will help your success next spring.
  • Frosts. Some areas have had some early frosts and freezes, even snow (hello, Montana!). If you still have tender plants in the ground producing for you be prepared to cover them on those nights you have a hard freeze. Usually, if you water them, and cover in the evening, the humidity inside will prevent frost burn on the leaves. See our average frost dates.
  • Gardening your soil is a must. After pulling out all the spent plants, add some amendments such as compost or manure along with mulched leaves and grass clippings. Let it all “cook” over the winter. And if you need to plant a cover crop, now is the time. A favorite is clover, as it helps correct any nitrogen issues.
  • Mulch. As leaves start falling, simply mulch them in place—the composting leaf litter will benefit your soil greatly. As leaves start to accumulate, and bagging is a must, use those shredded leaves in your beds, which gives you free soil and nutrients!
  • Pruning. October is good for pruning most deciduous trees (trees whose leaves fall off). After the leaves have dropped, pruning is easier, because you can see the “skeleton” of the tree, and they are in a dormancy period. Wait on the Crape Myrtles until March, and roses until February. Evergreens can be pruned now, and most folks feed them lightly after pruning, as well as in the late winter (around March). Camelias, Daphne, Sarcacocca, and any other winter bloomers, should wait until after bloom, but you can feed them now, to give them a boost.

In The Shed

  • Garden tool maintenance is a must. Sanding, sharpening, and oiling will preserve your tools for many seasons. Make sure to dip tools in a bleach/water solution (one-part bleach to three parts water) if you had fungus issues, otherwise, you will still have those issues next season. Let them dry, then spray with oil. Which oil to use? Boiled linseed oil, tung oil, motor oil, lamp oil, or cooking oil. Boiled linseed and tung oil are probably the best choices, but you can use whatever you have available.
  • Power equipment. It’s important to get those tools cleaned up and oil and filters changed, blades sharpened, add fuel additives, check pull chords, tires, lights, etc., before putting them away. When the seed catalogs start hitting the mailbox in February, you won’t have time to worry about your tools!

Other Maintenance Tasks

October is also a good time to check on your winter prep home maintenance, as well. Caulking, testing the heat systems, roofing repairs, checking gutters, pruning limbs away from doors and windows, testing and servicing generators, repairing cracks in sidewalks and driveways, just to name a few.

The great thing about getting these fall chores done early is it allows you to get out and enjoy the autumn leaves and any warmer temperatures of an Indian Summer.


  • Keep snow off low tunnels and greenhouse (see photo below!)
  • Keep harvesting veggies in low tunnels or greenhouse throughout winter.
  • If it warms up vent tunnels and cold frames.
  • Enjoy some rest after a long season! Relax, read some books, enjoy preserved harvests.

My name is Isis Loran, creator of the Family Food Garden. I’ve been gardening for over 10 years now and push the limits of our zone 5 climates. I love growing heirlooms & experimenting with hundreds of varieties, season extending, crunchy homesteading and permaculture.



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