Garden tips for October | October 7, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - October 7, 2011

Garden tips for October

Much to do: harvest, plant and clean up

by Jack McKinnon

October is harvest month. It is also planting and cleanup time. There is plenty to do in our gardens — plenty of shopping in the nurseries and hardware stores, plenty of crafts to engage in that will make the season fun and colorful. I can almost smell the bread baking and the pies cooking.

Let's get to work and we will have a wonderful winter to look forward to. Here are this month's tips:

1. First of all, get out and clean everything up. Prune dead or scraggly growth, rake up debris, deadhead everything and do some preliminary pruning to thin out excess growth. Don't do your winter pruning yet though; it is too early.

2. Stop fertilizing roses now. This will give them a chance to slow down and go dormant. Here in California roses seldom go completely dormant (especially west of the Sierras), but they go somewhat to sleep and that is what we want.

3. If you have worm boxes, this is a good time to separate them out and clean everything up. You can then give them a new bed of green and dry matter (leaves and produce trimmings) and they will get working on that. Use the worm castings and juice to prepare your beds for winter crops and flowers.

4. Prepare your winter beds. This means digging them up, adding compost (including worm products from above), fertilizer and plants or seeds.

5. Check deer fences, gopher wire and any bird netting that may still be up (don't leave bird netting up after harvest; plants need growing room). Make sure deer fences are secure at the ground level. I have actually seen deer crawl under fences (it's pretty cute).

6. Make your front-porch decorations now. Bundle up a few corn stalks on either side of the door and place an assortment of gourds and pumpkins at their base. If you are really into it you can make an original scarecrow. I like to have a theme with a scarecrow like mother with baby scarecrow or extreme scarecrow or surfing scarecrow. You get the idea.

7. Time to go snail and slug hunting. There are several ways to dispatch them. I lived in La Honda for 10 years and we had humongous banana slugs. We would give them flying lessons. They never learned. You can give them to chickens or ducks — they love them. Or try feeding them corn meal and cooking them up with garlic and butter for your own escargot. Enjoy.

8. Plant bulbs and over-plant the beds with primroses, pansies and violas. Plan your color scheme to compliment both varieties. At Sunset Magazine we had two pots with tulips in them. One had purple tulips and the other had orange ones. We over-planted them with two-tone orange and purple pansies. I will never forget how stunning those pots looked when the tulips came up and all the colors complemented each other.

9. Plant winter vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onions and peas. Divide artichokes and replant to give them a fresh start. You can plant no-dig potatoes by putting your potato sets out on a well-composted bed. Pile up leaves over them and put straw over the pile. The potatoes will grow up through the thick mulch and the tubers will send roots down into the soil. When it comes time to harvest, you just clear off the mulch and your potatoes are ready to pick up.

10. I have been often asked what the heck to do with those huge seed zucchini that seem to hide until they are too big to slice up for a stir fry. Here are a couple of ideas. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the seed-filled middle. Sauté up some kasha or wild rice with onion, carrots, Swiss chard and other vegetables you might have around. Stuff the hollowed out zucchini with this mixture and put it back together with some toothpicks. Bake it in the oven until done and serve it as a harvest tradition.

The second method is to hollow it out as above, fill both halves with soil and plant flowers in them.

Good gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687 (cell), by email at Visit his website at


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