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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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.


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.


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.