October marks the last curtain call for tender plants. As more plants die back and more beds empty, a nice moment opens up to think about your garden’s future. This month, give yourself something to look forward to: Shop end-of-season seed sales, plant spring-flowering bulbs, or pamper your soil with a winter-hardy cover crop. October, with its colder, wetter, shorter days, shortens the to-do list and sowing opportunities, but provides a great opportunity to prioritize tasks that will benefit you and your garden into the next growing season.

Vegetables That You Can Still Plant

As October's chillier, shorter days set in, it's time to acknowledge what we know intuitively: there aren't many vegetables to be started at this point. That said, winter-hardy greens like Mache and Spinach can still be sown this month and into the winter. They will grow roots with each warm day, thaw in the coldest months, and in early spring, will grow foliage for next season’s first salads. Your future self will thank you for these sowings, even if the wait to enjoy the harvest is long and cold.

The main vegetable effort this time of year comes in the form of bulbs: in the northern and mid-Atlantic states, October is the best month for planting garlic and shallots. Both of these delicious alliums need a bed with lots of organic matter, and both benefit from mulch (though it's not strictly necessary). For detailed planting instructions on garlic growing, have a look at our Tips for Growing Garlic. One key takeaway: garlic demands soil with high fertility, so add as much compost as you can—along with a general purpose organic fertilizer—at planting time. For the biggest bulbs, be prepared to supplement with an additional round of fertilizer in early spring, before you even start preparing the rest of your garden.

Plant Bulbs for Spring Blooms

October is not only a great time to plan(t) ahead for your taste buds—but for visual feasting as well. Fall-planted flower bulbs like Alliums, Crocuses, Daffodils, Irises, Muscari, and Tulips can be planted later this month, and will be ready to emerge colorfully in early spring.

Bulbs, unlike seeds, like to be placed deep in the ground. Dig a hole that is two or three times deeper than the bulb. Plant it right side up: the round end of the “tear-drop” should be on the bottom, pointy end facing up. Cover back up with soil and then water in well to help the bulb establish roots.

To mimic a natural look, scatter your bulbs on top of the soil to achieve an uneven or "random" pattern; use this pattern to guide your digging (still mostly following the suggested spacing) instead of planting in straight rows. Keep the planted area weeded to eliminate the competition for water and nutrients. If you find that some bulbs get “un-planted” by hungry critters, consider protecting your bulb bed by laying down a sheet of chicken wire, removing it when the plants sprout in the spring.

Aim to plant fall bulbs anytime before the ground freezes, which is typically about 4-8 weeks after the first frost date. For more tips on bulb planting read How to Succeed with Fall Planted Bulbs. (One highlight: our hori hori and v-shaped hoe make great planting tools for bulbs!)

Flower Seeds to Sow Know

Many flower seeds, especially of perennial varieties, benefit from fall sowing, as the seeds require a period of damp chill to initiate the germination process. Perennials such as Echinacea, Wild Bergamot, Milkweeds, and Blazing Star all do well when fall or winter sown, as do some annuals—most notably Poppies.

We offer several wildflower mixes that do well with a fall sowing, including our Northeast Native Mix, our Eastern Pollinator Mix, and our four varieties of Wildflower Meadow Seed Shakers, each of which provides a fun, kid- and amateur-friendly way to cover about 100 square feet in attractive blooms.

Protect Crops from Frost

At this time of year, just like in spring, it can be easy to be tricked by the warm days, but nights can quickly dip into low temperatures and the weather can take an unpredictable turn. To keep tender crops producing for a few extra weeks, season extension tools such as cold frames, row covers, and quick wire hoops are very effective. Look back to our Season Extension post for more on row cover use. Our hoops are simple rounded wire lengths that can be inserted into the ground around plants to keep row covers from direct contact with crops, thus adding better heat retention, airflow, and overall plant health. They can also be used in greenhouses and high tunnels, or under taller low hoops that hold plastic, adding 5 degrees of frost protection to any space.

Nurture Your Soil

As patches of bare soil open up in the garden, take time to make sure your soil is healthy, fed, and ready for next season. Now is the time to add balance and add in nutrients, through amendments and cover crops.

For empty beds that you'll need to use first thing in spring, conisder laying down an inch or two of compost across the soil suface.

For empty beds that you won't need to use first thing in the spring, consider planting cover crops; these will add organic matter, fix nitrogen, draw nutrients from the soil, prevent erosion, and can even break pest and disease cycles. Learn which cover crops you can still plant now (hint: peek at Winter Rye and Austrian Winter Pea) and discover basic info about each one in our Fall Cover Crop Planting Chart.

More Garden Activities for October

  • Add a thick layer of mulch over carrots if you plan on leaving them to harvest beyond the first frost.
  • To extend their life, dig up and pot herbs–like rosemary, parsley, or chives–and place them in a sunny window sill.
  • Sow a mini meadow of wildflowers. Try Bird Lover's, Bee Friendly, or Shady Meadow Mix for fall sowing.
  • Harvest open-pollinated seed from your garden. For more seed-saving advice, read this post.
  • Harvest winter squash to cure indoors ahead of frost.
  • Read an autumn poem.