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Rocky Mountain Gardener’s October Checklist


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Photo: Bev’s Colorado GardenOctober is the beautiful bridge month between autumn and winter. The days are noticeably shorter, bright and cool. October is a busy month in the garden, the time to prepare for the harsh cold and snow of winter while enjoying every moment you can spend outdoors.

Winterize Water Features

The freeze-and-thaw cycle of winter weather can wreak havoc on these valuable garden assets. To minimize the damage:

  1. Drain, clean and store or cover freestanding fountains and water pots.

  2. Remove plant debris from ponds and set up a bubbler (a submersible pump with a short piece of pipe attached to the outlet) to keep some of the water surface free of ice.

  3. Disconnect pumps to recirculating waterfalls, especially if the water volume is fairly low. Ice buildup can divert water and cause problems. Moving water will also make your pond colder, which may be an issue if you have fish.

Prepare for Snow

If you haven’t had frost or snow yet, you will soon. Early snow tends to be heavy and wet, and can damage plant – especially those that haven’t shed their leaves yet. Keep a broom handy and be ready to sweep snow away to lighten the load on tree and shrub branches.

Winterize Your Watering System

Frozen pipes or components can be costly and inconvenient to repair. To prevent this:

  1. Drain your irrigation system and insulate the backflow preventer.

  2. Remove hoses from faucets and drain them. Store hoses and sprinklers in a handy location for winter watering.

Remove Leaves From Lawn Areas

Leaves left on lawn areas will compact under the snow, smothering the lawn and contributing to disease problems like snow mold.

  • Use leaves whole or shred them with your lawnmower or a commercial shredder.

  • Add them to your compost pile now or stockpile them for future use.

  • Use leaves as mulch, 4 to 6 inches deep. Apply now to new planting areas to maintain soil warmth and permit better root growth, apply to bare soil areas to prevent erosion, or apply after the ground has frozen to prevent frost heave and premature soil warming in spring.

  • Keep leaf mulch 6 inches away from the bases of trees and shrubs to prevent damage from rodents.

It’s important to remove any diseased foliage from the garden completely – don’t compost it.

Amend the Soil

Planning to install a new vegetable or flower garden next spring? Now is a great time to prepare the soil. Use organic amendments to increase water-and nutrient-holding capacity and to improve aeration and water flow. Adding amendments now allows you to work in the garden while the soil is relatively dry, thus preventing the potential for soil compaction that can occur if you try to do it during the wet months of early spring. Come springtime the soil will be ready to plant:

  • Amendments must be mixed well into the soil – spade or rototill to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

  • Composts and aged manures work best for sandy soils; sphagnum peat or wood chips are ideal for clay.

  • Incorporate 3 cubic yards of amendment per 1,000 square feet of soil. That’s about 8 cubic feet of amendment for a 10-foot by 10-foot area of soil.

  • Mulch the bed with a couple of inches of leaves or shredded wood to help prevent soil erosion during the winter.

Enjoy Puttering

Pull weeds and spent annuals, plant bulbs and harvest herbs and cool-season veggie for hearty meals. Most of all, spend time with family and friends surrounds by nature’s October glow!

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Ready Your Home for Fall to Savor the Season More

Fall is a glorious season. With blazing leave and roaring fires, apple picking, harvest festivals and sweater weather, there is so much to look forward to. And with that studious, back-to-business mood permeating the air, we feel invigorated to take on new projects and work a bit harder. Kick off this busy season by taking the time now to prepare your home, incorporating both important tasks (like cleaning the chimney) and pure pleasures (like treating yourself to a luxury bath product).


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Photo: Handyman Matters

These 14 tasks will help you seamlessly transition your home from summer to fall.

#1 Inspect the roof, gutters and drainpipes

Depending on your climate, you may want to hold off until later in the fall (when most leaves have dropped) before cleaning the gutters, but doing a visual inspection now is a good idea. If any branches and leaves fell during summer storms, remove them so they don’t cause blockages during autumn rains. Inspecting your roof now will leave ample time to have repairs or a replacement made before the winter.

#2 Edit your crafting stash

If you knit, sew or practice any other craft that comes with lots of supplies, it’s time to begin sorting and purging that mountainous stash. Fall and winter will beckon with cold afternoons that are perfect for engaging in making something with your own two hands – be ready!

#3 Move firewood to a covered area

Be sure to check for insects before bringing any wood indoors. Don’t store wood with bugs, especially termites, indoors (or against the outside of your house).

#4 Have chimneys cleaned before you light the first autumn fire

Residue buildup and blockages in chimneys are a common cause of house fires, so be sure to have a pro take a look before sparking that first flame.

#5 Organize the entry

Fall brings with it loads of jackets, mucky boots and bundles of paper. Think ahead and give every type of item a home. That means baskets and bins for accessories, hooks for jackets and bags, and shelves or metal trays for shoes and boots. Add a pin board or a magnet board with a calendar, a place to drop keys and mail, and a bin for recycling, and you should have all your bases covered.

#6 Clear your desk

If you do any work from home (or have a student in the house), now is the ideal time to tackle those piles of paper and start this busy season with a clean and clear workspace. Have drawers, cabinets or shelving within arm’s reach so you can easily put things away and not clutter up that desk again.

#7 Sort the pantry

Set the stage for healthy dinners by creating a neat and orderly pantry with healthful choices front and center. Toss expired foods and consolidate packages that have just a little left. If you like, pick up a flat of canning jars and a packet of labels to create your own organizing system for bulk-bin goods.

#8 Deep clean the tub and treat yourself to something new

We may not be heading to the beach as often these days, but the time is just right for a relaxing soak. Give your tub a thorough cleaning and pick up something that will make your soak extra special, whether that is an essential oil you love, a beautiful brush or a luxuriously soft towel.

#9 Tidy the porch

After a season’s worth of sandy feet tramping back and forth, your porch deserves a good cleaning. Sweep away sand, clean the front window and door, check porch lights and add a few extras like hurricane lanterns or autumnal potted plants.

#10 Stock up on cold and flu remedies

Make a list of everything from your favorite preventative measures to the medicines and other items your family relies on while sick, and pick up these items now. You will fee good knowing you have everything you need if and when someone in the house feels under the weather.

#11 Check lighting throughout your home

As the autumn sun dips lower in the sky, you may find you crave a little extra light in your rooms. A few small table lamps or even a strand of twinkle lights can make all the difference in creating a cozy ambience.

#12 Refresh cleaning supplies

Take a few minutes to pull everything out from beneath the kitchen sink (yes, wads of plastic bags and all), sort it and put back only what you need. If this is where you reach when you need supplies for daily cleaning tasks, move everything not related to these tasks elsewhere.

#13 Swap out bedding

Bring cozy quilts and duvets out of storage so they will be within reach on that first chilly night. Check now if anything needs to be laundered and you’ll have time to wash it before you really need it.

#14 Savor you hard work

Sit back and enjoy a well-deserved rest. Brew a pot of tea, pour yourself a glass of wine, crack open a new novel or do whatever puts the icing on your cake.

Give Your Turf the Fall Tune-up It Deserves

Photo: Turfmutt.comYour lawn probably has taken a beating this summer – family gatherings, fetch with the dog, and kids’ games and toys have likely been working together with heat and drought to make your grass gasp for a breather. If you lawn is in need of a little TLC, you’re in luck – fall is the best time to revitalize it so that next year’s grass is the greenest and healthiest it can be.

Know Your Grass

There are cool season and warm season grasses, and several varieties in each category.

  • Cool Season Grasses: Kentucky bluegrass – fescue – perennial ryegrass; are better suited for cooler climates, are most productive in spring and fall, sometimes take more irrigation and are generally mowed higher than warm season grasses due to their erect growth habit. 
  • Warm Season Grasses: Bermuda – St. Augustine – big bluestem; grow best in warmer climates, are typically more drought tolerant and are often mowed at lower heights.

Be sure to check with your local lawn experts for specific recommendations for turf grass in you area.

Fertilize

In the fall, fertilize your lawn with an NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) ration of 3-1-2 or 4-1-2. The ratio doesn’t need to be exact, but do try to get a product with similar amounts. Plan to use approximately 1 pound of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn and always follow the package directions. Applying too much fertilizer will not help your grass and, in fact, may damage it.

Dethatch

Thatch is the buildup of dead roots and stems that develop between the soil and the green grass blades. If you have just a little buildup, you can use a hard rake or a dethatching rake to remove the dead grass, but if you have more than ½ inch you will need to core aerate in the fall or the spring.

Core aeration uses rentable equipment to remove plugs of soil, increasing the soil’s ability to receive water, air and fertilizer. If your buildup is thicker than ⅔ inch, you will need to not only core aerate but add ⅛ to ¼ inch of organci matter like compost or peat. Water in well. 

Control weeds

September and October are the best months to control perennial broadleaf weeds like clover and dandelions. These weeds are busy taking in sun and nutrients to get them through the winter months, so that means they are open to receiving weed killers as well. 

If you have just a few weeds, pull them out by hand, but more numerous weeds may require additional tactics or chemicals – either organic or non organic. As with fertilizers, always follow the package directions when applying any chemical to your lawn to avoid damaging it and the surrounding plants. Don’t worry about any bare spots left by weed removal; your healthy grass will take over those areas in no time.

Sow grass seeds

If you have large bare areas left by weed removal or simply need to establish a new or extended part of your lawn, mid-August to mid-September is the best time to sow grass seeds. Always check with your county extension office or trusted local nursery about the best times to sow seeds in your area, however.

Before you sow, be sure you have prepared the soil correctly to get the best results. Till the soil at least 6 inches deeps, add ½ to 1 inch or so of compost or peat, rake the soil smooth and sow the seeds. Water in well and keep the soil consistently moist until after the new growth emerges, or about 6 weeks.

 

8 Flowers That Dazzle With Fall Color

Although springtime seems to own bragging rights to the most profusely blooming flowers, autumn is not far behind. Now that we’re done with the scorching summer months, it’s time to kick our fall gardens in gear by adding some dependable bloomers in autumnal tones, offset by brilliant blues and purples. Most of these flowering plants will work well in many areas of the country, but be sure to check with your local nursery professionals to choose the best varieties for your area.

Photo: Heather Lacey | Gardening She Knows 

Purple Sage (Salvia spp)

The salvia genus offers a wide range of plants that feature those enviable purple fall blooms. This coloration makes it a perfect foil for more fall-hued plants, like rudbeckia and Red Hot Poker. Because there are a wide range of salvias with varying heights and sun requirements, be sure to check with your local nursery to make the best choice for your garden. Great varieties to consider are: Salvia leucantha, Salvia farinacea and Salvia guaranitica.

  • USDA zones: 8 to 10; colder climates can use purple sage as an annual
  • Water requirement: average
  • Light requirement: full sun to dappled shade
  • Mature size: 18 to 48 inches tall
  • Bloom time: summer to fall
  • Planting tips: plant in spring or fall and prune back after the first killing freeze
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

This staple in the summer-to-fall garden features sunny daisy-like blooms with dark centers on top of tall, coarse stems. Although it’s attractive to birds, bees and butterflies, all parts of this plant are poisonous, so be aware of this if you have small children or pets that frequent your garden. Black-eyed Susans pair beautifully with mums, ornamental grasses and Autumn Joy sedum.

  • USDA zones: 5a to 10a
  • Water requirement: average to low
  • Light requirement: full to partial sun
  • Mature size: 3 feet tall
  • Bloom time: summer to fall 
  • Planting tips: plant in spring or fall and remove spent blooms. Prune after the first killing freeze and mulch during winter
Fall Aster (Symphotrichum oblongifolium)

Asters are time-honored plants in the fall garden, and with their profusion of purple daisy-like blooms, it’s easy to see why. They are deer resistant and are attractive to bees, butterflies and birds. They also are a great companion plant for ornamental grasses and other flowering perennials, such as rudbeckia.

  • USDA zones: 4a to 9b
  • Water requirement: average
  • Light requirement: full sun
  • Mature size: 2 to 3 feet tall
  • Bloom time: late summer to fall 
  • Planting tips: plant in spring or fall and pinch back growth regularly throughout the summer to encourage a tight-growing form. Cut back after the first killing freeze and mulch lightly over the winter
Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia spp)

This unusual plant features stunning red and yellow flower spikes a top slim green stems and leaves, creating a dramatic focal point in the fall perennial bed. Red Hot Poker is also very deer resistant, while at the same time being attactive to bees, butterfiles and birds. Pair it with the blue or purple tones of Salvia leucantha or fall asters.

  • USDA zones: 6a to 10b
  • Water requirement: low once established
  • Light requirement: full sun
  • Mature size: 3 feet tall
  • Bloom time: Late summer to fall 
  • Planting tips: plant in spring or fall and prune back before the first killing freeze
Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum spp)

Nothing quite says “autumn” like mums, with their multipetaled flowers in shades of russet, cream, orange, yellow and pink. These mounding plants are perfect for edges of borders and beds as well as containers, and combine well with Black-eyed Susans, Mexican bush sage and fall asters.

  • USDA zones: 6 to 10
  • Water requirement: average
  • Light requirement: full sun
  • Mature size: 3 feet tall
  • Bloom time: fall 
  • Planting tips: plant in the fall, cut back after the first killing freeze and mulch lightly over the winter
Autumn Joy Sedum (Sedum “Autumn Joy’)

Also called stonecrop, sedum comes from the succulent family of plants, so you already know it’s low maintenance and drought tolerant. If you’ve never grown this plant before, you will be delighted with its fleshly leaves and broccoli-like blooms that start out green, changing to pink and finally bronze as they age. They will look spectacular when planted with other drought-tolerant plants, like succulents, ornamental grasses and flowering perennials.

  • USDA zones: 6 to 11
  • Water requirement: low
  • Light requirement: full sun to partial shade
  • Mature size: 2 feet tall
  • Bloom time: late summer to fall 
  • Planting tips: plant in spring or fall and remove flower stalks when they are done blooming, new growth resembling tiny cabbages will emerge in the spring
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia pulchella)

Blanket flower is a reseeding annual that features trustworthy blooms in shades of red, yellow and orange, making it a perfect addition to your fall-hued garden. Great for meadows and wildflower gardens as well as for perennial beds and borders, blanket flower pairs beautifully with ornamental grasses as well as rudbeckia and salvia.

  • USDA zones: as an annual, it will fare well in most all zones
  • Water requirement: average to low once established
  • Light requirement: full to partial sun
  • Mature size: 18 to 36 inches tall
  • Bloom time: summer to fall 
  • Planting tips: plant in spring or fall and let seeds fall to the ground when the plant is done blooming, remove spent flower stalks after the first frost
Rose (Rosa spp)

You only thought roses were just a springtime feature in your garden, but if you care for them properly, some of the repeat bloomers will give you a dazzling fall display as well. Pair them with ornamental grasses and other flowering perennials, like Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha)

  • USDA zones: 2 to 10, depending upon variety
  • Water requirement: average, but may need supplemental water during extreme heat
  • Light requirement: full to partial sun
  • Mature size: 2 to 4 feet and taller, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: spring, summer and fall intermittently
  • Planting tips: plant in late winter or early spring, and prune hard around Valentine’s Day
    • to promote more fall blooms, fertilize with a rose fertilizer in the first part of September and again in October, and give the bushes a light trim in late summer.