Gardening by Month - October

Monthly Tips and Tasks

  • Continue watering, especially evergreens if soils are dry.
  • Nuts or seeds of woody plants usually require exposure to 3 months cold before sprouting. This may be provided by outdoor planting in fall or "stratifying" in an unsealed bag of damp peat moss placed in the refrigerator.
  • Container grown and B & B trees and shrubs can be planted. Loosen the soil in an area 2 times the diameter of the root ball before planting. Mulch well after watering.
  • Plant spring bulbs among hostas, ferns, daylilies or ground covers. As these plants grow in the spring they will hide the dying bulb foliage.
  • For best bloom later this winter, Christmas cactus, potted azaleas and kalanchoe may be left outdoors until night temperatures drop to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Spring bulbs for forcing can be potted up now and stored in a cool, frost-free place until it is time to bring indoors, usually 12 to 15 weeks.
  • Cannas and dahlias can be dug when frost nips their foliage. Allow the plants to dry under cover in an airy, frost-free place before storage.
  • Transplant deciduous trees once they have dropped their leaves.
  • Plant tulips now.
  • Trees may be fertilized now. This is best done following soil test guidelines.
  • Seeding should be finished by October 15.
  • Broadleaf herbicides can be applied now to control cool-season weeds such as chickweed and dandelion.
  • Continue mowing lawns until growth stops.
  • Keep leaves raked off lawns to prevent smothering grass.
  • Now is a good time to apply lime if soil tests indicate the need.
  • Winterize lawn mowers before storage.
  • Sow cover crops such as winter rye after crops are harvested.
  • Harvest winter squash and pumpkins before frost. For best storage quality, leave an inch or two of stem on each fruit.
  • Dig sweet potatoes before a bad freeze.
  • Gourds should be harvested when their shells become hard or when their color changes from green to brown.
  • A few degrees of frost protection may be gained by covering tender plants with sheets or light-weight fabric row covers.
  • Continue harvesting tender crops before frost.
  • The average first frost usually arrives about October 15-20.
  • Store apples in a cool basement in old plastic sacks that have been perforated for good air circulation.
  • Persimmons start to ripen, especially after frost.
  • Monitor fruit plantings for mouse activity and take steps for their control if present.
  • Place wire guards around trunks of young fruit trees for protection against mice and rabbits.
  • Fall color season begins.
  • Begin peak fall color in maples, hickories and oaks.
  • End of peak fall color.
October Pests and Problems

  • Plant cool-season lawn grasses by October 15. Existing lawn or newly seeded areas that are at least one month old can also be fertilized at this time. Dig and divide or plant new perennials by October 15 to allow time for the plants to root in well before winter.‚Äč
  • Apply herbicides to kill cool-season, broad-leaf weeds in lawns, such as dandelion, plantain, chickweed, henbit and dead nettle now when the weeds are actively growing. Applying herbicides in the fall can reduce damage to nearby plants. Spot-application to individual weeds is more environmentally friendly than wholesale application to the whole lawn.
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Winter Annual Weeds
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)--also called, dead nettle, blind nettle, bee nettle--can be a pest of the lawn or garden 
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Winter Annual Weeds
Red deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) can be a pest of the lawn or garden 
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Perennial Broadleaf Weeds in Lawns
Dandelions are native plants but most homeowners would consider them weeds 

  • Protect newly planted spring-flowering bulbs from squirrels and dogs that can dig them up by covering the areas with chicken wire. Hold off planting tulips until November when the soil temperature is cooler.
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Squirrel eating apple in an apple tree (Malus





  • Collect and dispose of dropped and mummified fruit from fruit trees to help control diseases and/or pests that overwinter in dropped fruit. The fruit should be composted, buried, or sent to a municipal yard waste composting center or landfill.
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Brown Rot of Stone Fruits
Shriveled peach (Prunus) caused by brown rot 





  • Yellowing interior needles on white pine and other conifers can be normal needle drop which occurs in the fall. Ozone damage appears as bleached spots on both current and older needles that turn tan or brown. The lack of any fruiting bodies indicates an environmental problem rather than a fungal disease.
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Normal needle drop on jack pine (Pinus banksiana); note, yellow inner needles 
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Yellowed interior needles on white pine (Pinus strobus) caused by normal needle drop; note that growing tips are unaffected 
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Ozone Damage to Plants
Ozone damage to white pine (Pinus strobus

  • Before bringing houseplants back inside inspect closely for insect pests such as aphids, spider mites, scale, and whitefly.
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Aphids - Indoors
Aphids (Hemiptera) are a common problem on indoor plants. Sticky honeydew on leaves is a common first sign that they are present. 
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Spider Mites - Indoors
Close-up of two-spotted spider mite (Acari) on angel's trumpet (Brugmansia); includes adults, immatures and eggs 
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Scale Insects - Indoors
Close-up of scale (Hemiptera) on frond of kentia palm (Howia

  • Also check for whitefly, mealybugs and thrips. Treat if necessary.
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Whitefly - Indoors
Whitefly (Hemiptera) on underside of fuchsia leaf (Fuchsia
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Mealybug - Indoors
Mealybug (Hemiptera) colony on coleus (Solenostemon
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Thrips - Indoors
Close-up of cuban laurel thrips (Thysanoptera) on leaves of a weeping fig (Ficus benjamina

  • Swish cuttings taken of outdoor plants to root and over winter indoors in soapy water before placing them in water or a rooting medium to help control insects that may be present. Repeat monthly for cuttings you are rooting in water.
  • To help prevent a buildup of decaying leaves in your water garden, which can result in dying fish and lead to other problems, place netting over your pond.
  • Moles may cause damage to lawns as they feed on earthworms, grubs and other soil inhabitants. Control options are discussed in our IPM sheet on moles below. Mounds of soil that appear on the ground surface result from moles pushing soil upwards when excavating deep runs, nests, and food storage areas.
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Mole tunnels in lawn 
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Mole, common lawn pest 



  • Unlike many spider mites that are most active in hot, dry weather the spruce spider mite proliferates in the cool temperatures of spring and fall. They can cause substantial damage to spruce, hemlocks, and junipers. Examine yellowing needles on spruce now for these mites. Treat if necessary. Controls are the same as for other spider mites.
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Spruce spider mite
Spruce spider mite damage (Acari) on spruce (Picea





  • The first average frost date is October 15. Protect plants from early frosts to extend the season.
  • Both box elder and red-shouldered bugs are commonly seen in large masses on tree trunks and the siding of buildings at this time of year. They do little damage to trees but will feed on the seeds. Asian multicolored lady beetles may also be found this time of year. For home gardeners they are beneficial but a nuisance. Control out of doors for these three insects is not recommended, Homeowners may find them objectionable when they migrate indoors. Insects found indoors can simply be vacuumed up and released outdoors.
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Milkweed Bugs
Milkweed bug nymphs (Hemiptera) in various stages 
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Boxelder, Red-shouldered, and Scentless Plant Bugs
Red-shouldered bugs (Hemiptera ), black with red epaulets, and boxelder bugs, black with orange-edged wings, congregate together on maple (Acer); nymphs with partially formed wings also present 



  • Prune out and dispose of dead and diseased tips of pines infected with Sphaeropis tip blight. Also collect and dispose of as many of the pine cones as is feasible. Note: White pine is rarely affected by this disease.
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Sphaeropsis Tip Blight of Pines (Diplodia Tip Blight)
Dying branch tips on Austrian pine (Pinus nigra) caused by sphaeropsis tip blight of pines