October in the Garden

While you’re busy collecting rain water, why not dry some herbs? This area shows how practicality can be decorative!
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By Jane Gates, Signal Staff Writer

As weather starts to cool, getting the garden into shape for winter becomes important. Maybe we will have another rainy winter to relieve gardens after past years of low rainfall. Or maybe we will be back to drought again. No one knows for sure. But it’s best to prepare for anything!

My new gardening mantra is “hope for the best, expect the worst and get on with the present!” It keeps me focused.  Just in case we do have one of those heavy downpours that used to be common to the area, make sure you have your drains cleared and channeled where runoff will cause no damage. Even better, make provisions to collect whatever rainwater falls. 

Creating culverts with underground container systems or even simple rain barrels will serve. Just make sure you have any rain storage system screened off to keep mosquitoes from breeding in your saved water. Stored water can be very useful during the dry periods. And, this is the perfect time of year to add storage to your autumn to-do list.

There are plenty of jobs to do outdoors now. Here is a quick run-through of autumn garden chores you might want to consider doing. Some are reminders if you didn’t have a chance to do them this past month. 

Keep up with wildfire prevention for the property that surrounds your home. Despite the fact that the ”new normal” means wildfires can pop up at any time of year, the traditional autumnal Santa Ana wind season usually arrives in October. So, the potential is about to double.

Rake up leaves and dead sticks that could harbor over-wintering pests. Recycle as much of this material as possible in a compost pile or bin. Leaves can provide mulch that locks moisture in the soil so long as there is adequate rain to penetrate to the covering. A better alternative these days is to compost the leaves or shred them into small pieces before using as mulch. This way even light rain can be absorbed easier. Fallen organic debris is also less likely to offer safe harbor for insect pests when broken up for mulch.

As I’ve said before, we haven’t had old-fashioned frosty winters in many years, but that doesn’t mean one couldn’t happen this year. It used to be advisable to put water features to sleep by draining pipes of water so lines don’t freeze and break with expanding ice. Especially if you live in an open, vulnerable-to-cold area, it won’t hurt to drain or wrap exposed water lines and give delicate pond plants some protection. Lightly cover or bring indoors any sensitive plants, pots, décor, fish or other delicate garden residents that will not tolerate a possible cold spell. Or, keep a fabric tarp handy to drape overnight over tender parts of the landscape.

Trim trees and shrubs as they go into dormancy. Sap flow lessens in the shorter days of autumn and winter, so woody plants actually bleed less if pruned at this time. Planting trees is most successful now for the same reason. Young trees lose many of the fine root hairs when disturbed, but they will have more time to grow them back before they are needed to drink heavily for active growth. Autumn is the ideal time for doing all major work with trees and woody shrubs.

eyecatching Peruvian Lilies are actually not from Peru, but they sure add some decorative Sapphire glints to the garden.

It’s time to shop, order and set out autumn-planted bulbs for spring. Some showy bulbs that do well in our area are the big, showy Peruvian (or, more accurately “Portuguese”) Lily or Giant Scilla, Scilla peruviana, autumn crocus, Colchium, and any of a wide range of Narcissus/Daffodil bulbs. The gophers seem to have little interest in these bulbs as well as Crocosmia and related Chasmantha corms. California native bulbs like Calochortus and Triteleia have given me spotty successes. (Even a number of our local native plants are having a hard time with the drought and warmer temperatures.)

Calochortus, the Mariposa lily, are native bulbous plants that bloom in pinks, whites, purples and yellows with kaleidoscopic designs etched in the interior

Check your home and other structures for potential entries — gaps and small holes — and cover them with ¼ inch hardware cloth to keep rodents from moving in for the winter. Rodents are particularly aggressive about invading our spaces due to the reduction of land, water and food in the wild.

Clean and sharpen garden tools and store them in a dry place. An easy sharpening trick for shovels and forks is to store them in a sheltered, dry spot in a bucket of sand. Sliding them up and down helps to sharpen them while the sand supports them upright and keeps them dry.

Your landscape will have a number of its own special areas for attention, but these are just some suggestions that will help you get your garden into good shape for the coming winter season so it will be easy for both you and your garden to enjoy the coming months.

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