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October Garden Checklist

Learn what to plant this month, get maintenance advice and troubleshoot gardening challenges with an expert.

By Kelly Young

What to Plant

Low Elevations

Cool-season vegetables–Transplant head lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Sow seeds of leaf lettuce, chard, mustard greens, collard greens, spinach, arugula, radish, carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, and snow and snap peas. Keep hungry birds from eating young plants by covering garden beds with floating row covers, available at most garden centers.

Color bowls–Create beautiful container gardens by placing taller, upright species, such as geraniums or purple fountain grass, in the center, flanked by trailing plants including asparagus fern or petunias. Water daily while temperatures remain above 90 degrees, and decrease irrigation frequency to every two or three days as temperatures cool.

Citrus–Plant oranges, tangerines, lemons, grapefruits, pomelos, kumquats and other citrus trees in planting holes that are no deeper than the plant’s root balls but at least twice the width of their containers to promote root growth out into the native soil. Be realistic about how much citrus you, your family, neighbors and co-workers are willing and able to consume when buying trees. One lemon or grapefruit tree will produce more than enough fruit for you and 50 of your closest friends. If you want more than one type of citrus, select varieties with staggered harvest periods to prolong fruit availability and minimize waste. Tangerines typically ripen earliest, between October and January, depending on the type. Grapefruits usually ripen later in the season, with harvest extending until June.

Woody vines–For a fast-growing vine that can offer summer shade but goes dormant and leafless in winter, try Queen’s wreath (Antigonon leptopus), a Sonoran Desert native that climbs by tendrils and produces sprays of delicate flowers in shades of pink and red. Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera americana) stays green year-round and blooms pale pink, intensely sweet-smelling flowers in the spring.

Bulbs–After midmonth, plant tulip, daffodil, hyacinth, narcissus, paperwhite and iris. As a general rule, plant with the pointed side up at a depth that is three times the length of the bulb.

Middle and High Elevations

Cool season vegetables–Onions, radish, spinach and peas can be planted from seed. Stick with transplants for broccoli and cabbage.

Flowers and grasses–Seed a mixture of flowering, low-growing native plants, such as desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) and lupine (Lupinus spp.), plus native grasses including blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides)—not to be confused with the invasive species buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare). Become familiar with what the newly sprouted seedlings look like, so you can distinguish between your meadow plants and weeds. Promptly  remove weeds as they emerge to keep them from crowding out desirable plants.

Evergreen shrubs and trees–For small spaces, try Blue Star juniper, a shrub with blue-gray foliage that only reaches 3 to 4 feet in height and spread. Fat Albert is a Colorado blue spruce variety that slowly grows to 40 feet high with a spread of only 20 feet.

Garden Maintenance

Low Elevations

Clean up garden beds–Remove and compost summer crops as the plants stop producing.  Prepare for planting cool-season vegetables by mixing in 3 inches of compost and 5 to 10 pounds of ammonium phosphate, 16-20-0 per 1,000 square feet of garden space.

Adjust irrigation–Plants require less water when daytime temperatures stay below 95 degrees. Always check the depth of irrigation with a soil probe to be sure water is penetrating at least 1 foot deep for turf, vegetables and flowers; 2 feet for shrubs; and 3 feet for trees every time you water.

Scout for pests–Check the undersides of  new vegetable crops for caterpillars  feeding on the leaves. Manually remove the insects and drown them in a bucket of soapy water or feed them to your chickens.

Middle and High Elevations

Manage leaf litter–Leaves shed from deciduous trees and vines makes excellent mulch. You can let the leaves decompose in place or rake them up and add them to the compost pile if insects were a problem this spring and summer. The heat of the compost pile should kill any existing pests.

Harvest summer vegetables–Tomatoes can be eaten green and are delicious fried or pickled. Pick pumpkins once the skin has turned orange. Leave at least 2 inches of stem attached to pumpkins to make them easier to transport.

Garden Solutions

What plants deter rabbits? I feel like Elmer Fudd over here.

Rabbits, much like humans, prefer eating lettuce, carrots and other tender garden plants instead of their native desert counterparts, which can be leathery, prickly and not very delicious overall. If your landscape comprises mostly native plants, it will be no more attractive to rabbits than the surrounding environment. By offering comparatively defense-free species, you are creating an irresistible lure for rabbits and other herbivorous wildlife. If an all-native plant palette doesn’t suit your taste, try growing varieties with strong-smelling leaves, such as rosemary, lantana, Texas ranger and pines. When all else fails, fences at least 3 feet high that extend no less than 18 inches below the soil surface will keep most rabbits out.

When is the best time to overseed our Bermuda grass lawn?

Depending on your elevation and microclimate, the best time to overseed Bermuda grass is between late September and mid-November when daytime temperatures are consistently below 85 degrees and nighttime temps stay below 55 degrees. Two weeks before planting the winter lawn, raise the mowing height of the Bermuda grass by 30% to 40% and cut back on irrigation by 30%. This will help force the summer lawn into dormancy and cause the bases of the blades to turn brown. Stop watering the grass altogether a few days before overseeding and mow one more time at the usual height. This method is preferred to the old technique of “scalping,” or cutting the lawn very short, which can injure the underlying Bermuda grass stolons and impair spring green-up. Perennial rye is the preferred cool-season grass because of its soft texture and deep-green color.

Do people eat carrot tops? We have always thrown them away but that seems like such a waste if they are edible.

Carrot tops are, in fact, edible. Somewhere along the way the vicious but inaccurate rumor started that carrot tops are toxic to humans. They are similar in appearance to their deadly cousins, poison hemlock, but do not share the same lethal chemistry. Because they are a bit bitter and tough, carrot tops are not palatable to everyone when eaten raw and unprocessed. The internet is rich with recipes for concoctions, such as carrot top pesto, or you can simply chop the greens up and toss them into soups, salads and other vegetable dishes. Beet greens have become acceptable on restaurant menus in recent years, so maybe it’s time for carrot tops to have their moment in the spotlight.


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